The Christmas Wolf


Julie Therese Christopher

          Little Gertie was seven the year the wolf came. She was outside playing by herself in the snow. It was Christmas Eve.
          Gertie was scared when she saw the wolf approach her. "Nice doggie," she said to it, her voice shaking.
          "Do not be afraid. I will not hurt you. I am your friend," the wolf told her. Gertie could tell from the wolf's eyes that it was wise and kind and she was no longer afraid.
          "What kind of dog are you? My cousin has a dog but it don't look like you."
          "Oh, I am not a dog. I am a wolf. My name is Noacee."
          "Noacee. That's pretty. My name is Gertie." Gertie frowned and dropped her face towards the ground as she sat on the snowbank and made a snowball.
          "Don't you like your name?" inquired Noacee.
          "It's okay."
          "What don't you like about your name?"
          "It's not the name, really. It just makes me sad." Noacee snuggled up closer to Gertie.
          "Why does it make you sad, honey?"
          "Because I was named after my Grandma Gertrude. She always baked me cookies."
          "That sounds wonderful. Your grandmother must love you very much."
          Gertie began to cry. "Noacee, I don't get to visit her anymore!" she wailed. The wolf nuzzled Gertie's neck.
          "There, there, little one. Let it out. Tell me what happened."
          "Mommy and Daddy said there's something wrong with Grandma's brain that makes her sick. She lives in a nursing home now. Some big word that begins with an 'a'. Like Alzentimer's or something like that. They won't let me see her. They said she's going to die." Gertie could barely whisper the last two words. Noacee could feel the little girl's pain cutting her tiny heart into a million shards.
          "Do you know what it means to die?" asked Noacee gently. Gertie sniffed and wiped her nose on the back of her glove.
          "Yeah. You go to Heaven to be with the angels. You aren't here anymore. You can't bake cookies or blow bubbles or read comics." Tears fell freely from Gertie's clear blue eyes.
          "Gertie, will you do me a favor?"
          "Depends. My brother Johnny asks me to do favors for him and they're yucky. Like doing his chores for him all for a measly quarter."
          "Ah, yes. Older brothers. Does he pull your ponytail?"
          "All the time!" Noacee could sense Gertie's exasperation at her brother's tormentings.
          "Johnny loves you, Gertie. That's just his own way of showing you."
          "Well, I wish he wouldn't love me so HARD!" exclaimed Gertie. Noacee smiled. This was one beautiful little girl.
          "Gertie, I want you to try something. Close your eyes. Now, see if you can picture yourself in your Grandma's kitchen. Can you?" Gertie squeezed her eyes as tightly as she could.
          "What do you see?"
          "I see the counter. It has cookie sheets on it. There are bowls and pans in the sink soaking in suds. There is a stool near the counter where I usually sit when Grandma bakes."
          "Now picture yourself on the stool. What is your Grandma baking? Can you see her in the kitchen?" Noacee prayed to SpiritWolf that this exercise would work.
          "She's here!" Gertie sat up taller in excitement. "She's baking cookies. My favorite -- chocolate chip! She always lets me lick the bowl." Gertie licked her lips as if she were eating raw cookie batter.
          "Gertie, why don't you give your Grandma a hug and thank her for the cookies?"
          "Thank you, Grammy. I love you a bushel and a peck!" Gertie's arms moved as if she were hugging. Now for the tricky part, Noacee thought.
          "Okay, Gertie," Noacee said gently. "Open your eyes." Gertie did as she was told and Noacee could see they were filled with wide-eyed wonderment.
          "Where were you a minute ago, Gertie?"
          "Well, you know, silly. Grammy's kitchen."
          "But your body was here the entire time. I watched you," Noacee informed her softly.
          "Nu-uh! I was there! I could smell the cookies! Grammy let me lick the bowl like she always does!" Gertie began to cry. She wanted to be with her Grandma.
          Noacee gently laid a paw on Gertie's leg and nuzzled her again. "It's okay, sweetie. You are right. You were there. But it wasn't your body that was in your Grammy's kitchen. It was your soul."
          "What is a soul?" Gertie turned to the wolf, bewildered and confused.
          "Let's start with the easy stuff. You know what your body is, right?" asked Noacee.
          "Duh. It's my head, my arms, my legs" Noacee let Gertie ramble on and name every body part she could.
          "Gertie, that's excellent! You are exactly right!" Gertie beamed as any seven year old would when praised. "Well, my dear, a soul is the stuff inside of you. It is part of you, but you can't see it."
          "If I can't see it, how do I know it's there?" This was going to be very difficult to explain, Noacee could see that.
          "Gertie, do you like apples?"
          "Yes. Grammy always said an apple a day keeps the doctor away so she always gave them to me. I liked them best when they had caramel on them."
          "Okay, well an apple has an outer skin. Within that outer skin is the fruit itself, the part that is the tastiest. But when you eat the fruit until it's all gone, you are still left with a core. Deep inside that core is what makes an apple an apple. Your soul is similar to that core." Noacee let this sink. They were both silent for a long while, huddled close together on the snowbank as the North wind moaned as it passed through the pines. Finally, Gertie spoke.
          "So, it's like the suckers."
          "Suckers?" Now it was Noacee who looked confused.
          "You know. The Tootsie Pops and the Blow Pops. They are both suckers. But the Tootsie Roll inside is what makes it a Tootsie Pop and the gum inside is what makes it a Blow Pop."
          "Yes, yes!" Noacee was very pleased. This was going better than anticipated.
          Gertie looked thoughtful and then spoke again. "So is my soul like my blood and stuff because it's deep inside? Like what's deep inside the apple core?" Noacee's heart sank. Uh-oh, now what?
          "No, Gertie, that would still be considered part of your body. I'm afraid I didn't give you a very good example with the apple core. You cannot see your soul and your soul is not a physical part of you. Your soul is what makes you love the color purple, enjoy swinging on swings, and hate peas and carrots. It's what makes you want to make angels in the snow, run around the block, and curl up with your Mom with a good picture book. Your soul is the reason you love and miss your Grandma so much."
          "But how can my soul do all that if it's not something I can see?"
Noacee sighed. This was one shrewd seven-year-old girl.           "Gertie, do you know who God is?"
          "Yes, we learned about God in church. Mommy and Daddy and Johnny and me go every Sunday. But if Mommy's out of town, Daddy lets us skip. But don't tell Mommy!" Gertie giggled.
          "Oh, I won't tell. But why don't you tell me what you know about God." "Well," said Gertie as she stood up. She and Noacee began walking in the snow, each enjoying the crunch, crunch beneath their feet and paws. "God made the flowers and the trees and all the animals He made two of, but on Sunday He does nothing. Except Daddy says that God watches football on TV on Sunday, but that's all -- no mowing or cleaning out gutters or painting or anything." Noacee laughed, delighted this precious baby girl was growing up in a family with a sense of humor.
          "And have you ever seen God, Gertie?"
          Gertie huffed impatiently. "Of course not, silly, no one can see God -- He's up in Heaven with the angels." Gertie pointed to the sky.
          Noacee repeated Gertie's own question back to her. "But how can God do all that if He's not something we can see?"
          "I know that!" Gertie answered proudly. "It's called FAITH!" Gertie had been listening in church rather than counting hats or flipping through the hymnal like Johnny did every week.
          "And FAITH is what your soul needs as well. Just because you can't see your soul, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist." Noacee continued talking as they sat back down on the snowbank. Noacee prayed again to SpiritWolf that Gertie would somehow understand. "You see, sugarplum, when you closed your eyes and pictured your Grandma's kitchen, your body stayed on the snowbank, but your SOUL went to the kitchen. That's why it was so clear in your head and why you could not only smell the chocolate chip cookies but taste them as well."
          Gertie again looked at her wolf-friend with wide eyes. "And my soul is what made me feel Grammy's hug?" she asked hopefully.
          "Yes. Absolutely. And the wonderful thing about souls is that all of us have one. Each soul is different, of course, just like each of our bodies is different, but everyone has a soul. All you have to do to go somewhere with your soul is to remember."
          "And Grammy has a soul, too?" Gertie's eyes were shining brightly and Noacee knew immediately what she was thinking.
          "Of course your Grammy has a soul! I bet that when you remembered baking cookies with your Grandma, your Grandma had that exact same memory and that is why you were able to feel her hug and her love so much."
          Gertie looked crestfallen. "I don't think so, Noacee. That's what's wrong with Grammy. Mommy said she doesn't remember too good anymore." Noacee could see Gertie's eyes begin to fill with tears. Noacee could not think of any analogy, any explanation that would give this beloved little girl hope that she could still -- and always -- be with her Grammy. Noacee remembered one important lesson the Guides had taught: Keep it simple. Turn to faith.
          Noacee turned to Gertie and looked deep into those blue eyes tinged with sorrow.
          "Gertie, how do you think I knew those things about you? That I knew you like the color purple but hate peas and carrots?"
          Gertie frowned, deep in thought for a moment. "I don't know," she answered. "How did you know?" Noacee got even closer to Gertie as if what was about to be shared was a sacred secret.
          "It was a miracle!" Noacee responded in a lower voice, with the last word stressed.
          "Like Baby Jesus?" Gertie asked incredulously.
          "Like Baby Jesus. You see, miracles can come in all shapes and sizes, just like the Christmas presents underneath the tree with your name on them. Some are big and some are small but each one is just as important as another. All it takes for a miracle to happen is faith. Just believe and it can be. I needed a way to explain 'soul' to you and I had faith I would somehow be able to. And so the miracle of my knowing all about you happened just so you could see one firsthand. So that you could trust and believe that miracles can and do happen here on Earth every day, not just in some Bible story." Gertie's face was getting less furrowed by the second so Noacee knew she was comprehending what she needed to.
          "If I have faith" Noacee knew exactly what Gertie was going to ask.
          "So if you have faith that your Grammy can remember, then she will," Noacee assured her.
          "But that sounds simple."
          "Ah, my child, it is very simple but not always so easy. And humans tend to make things harder than they have to be far too often."
          "So if I remember and Granny remembers then our souls can meet in her kitchen and make cookies anytime we want to?"
          "Anytime you want to! Or you can meet on her porch swing and read the funnies or you can blow bubbles in the yard. Anything, anywhere! And Gertie, even when your Grammy dies, her soul will live on in Heaven and her soul will always remember. The soul never forgets. You can always be with your Grammy and your Grammy can always be with you. Do you understand?"
          Gertie's face glowed with peace. "Yes, Noacee, I understand." She paused. "And maybe tomorrow Grammy and I can go to church. Grammy always loved going to church." Noacee smiled. Gertie had learned her lesson well. She would live in peace now, not incomprehensible grief.
          Gertie wrapped her arms around Noacee's neck and squeezed.
          "Thank you, Noacee."
          "Thank you, Gertie." Gertie was grateful that her wolf-friend was able to finally make sense out of all the confusion surrounding her Grandma. Noacee was grateful that this innocent young child was able to grasp so easily what some adults took an entire lifetime to get. They said their goodbyes, Gertie heading for the back door and Noacee heading for the mountains.

          "Did you have fun? Are you frozen?" Gertie's mother, Joan, asked as her only daughter entered the kitchen.
          "Not yet, Mommy."
          "I'll have hot chocolate in awhile if you want some."
          "With colored marshmallows?" Gertie asked hopefully.
          "With colored marshmallows." Gertie and her Mom smiled at one another. It was a tradition.
          "Ask your Dad for help with your boots while I whip up the best batch of cocoa ever!"
          "I don't need any help, Mommy. I can get them off okay. I'm a big girl." And now, in many ways, Gertie was.
          After getting unbundled, Gertie went to her bedroom and sat down on her bed. She wanted to be with Grammy.
          Johnny came down the hall a few minutes later and peeked into his sister's bedroom to find her sitting on the edge of her bed, eyes tightly shut and a smile upon her face.
          "What are you so happy about, Squirt?" Johnny asked snidely.
          "Oh, nothing," Gertie replied as she opened her eyes, her face a blissful expression of peace and love. "I'm just remembering."
          And so was Grammy. And so was Grammy.

written by Julie Therese Christopher
in honor of
Gertrude (Grandma) Holland
and with love for Mom and for all of us whose lives have been affected by Alzheimer's Disease
December 10, 2000

Copyright © 2000 Julie Therese Christopher
Used with permission of the author.

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