My son and daughter-in-law had to put down their fifteen-year-old poodle this week. Every dog lover understands the heartache that comes when its time to say goodbye to a loyal, lovable, and forever-a-part-of-the-family pooch. It’s especially tough when you have to explain such a loss to your two young daughters.
My son shared how he took the opportunity to have a teachable moment with his daughters. After explaining how their canine companion was going to go to be with God, his three-year-old daughter runs to the kitchen door, opens it, and says, “God and Jesus are in heaven. And heaven is way up there in the sky!” She points upward, then stops, and looking perplexed, she turns to her parents and asks, “Hmmm…how are we going to get him up there?”
Oh, the simplicity and honesty of childhood wonder.
This event reminds me of a story my wife shared with me two years ago. 2017 found us celebrating our first Christmas as husband and wife. Much of our first Yuletide was spent sharing memories of Christmases past. Patrice shared one particular story I found especially sweet, poignant, and touching. It was a reminder that some of the best gifts come in small packages.
So, sit back and enjoy reading, for the first time on TheBuddyBlog.com, the story about A Mouse Named Noel, as told to me by my wife, Patrice.
A Mouse Named Noel
Christmas can be a very lonely time for a child away from home and her parents. Christmas of 1966 was just such a time for me. My mother was ill, so ill, that when work required my father to be out of the country for several months, he had to find someone to care for me. That someone was his brother, my Uncle Eddie.
My Uncle Eddie was a Catholic priest and the Reverend Rector of St. Cecilia’s Catholic Parish in East Harlem, New York. The year was 1966, and winter was a bitterly cold time to be in New York. Spending Christmas on the ground floor of a Rectory proved to be one of the loneliest experiences of my life…and one of the most memorable.
Uncle Eddie created a small bedroom for me in one of the Rectory’s oversized closets. The radiators did not often work, and the constant chill always found me trying to get warm. Having spent my earlier years in Europe, my English was poor. So communicating with my Uncle was frequently awkward. To make matters worse, having been “dropped off” with an Uncle I barely knew, the feeling of abandonment only served to heighten my sense of coldness and loneliness.
My uncle’s solution of a baby-sitter when he needed to preside at Mass was to have me sing. I did enjoy singing and that Advent I sang many a song, in Latin, during worship. A German immigrant, whose name I have long forgotten, accompanied me on the organ. He only spoke German, but we got along as I knew a little German from my time in Europe.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1966, I sang at all the services and was an exhausted 4 1/2 year old by the end of Christmas Day. Crawling onto my mattress, I shivered in my bed, still cold, still confused, and still alone.
Then I heard the scratching.
Sitting up, I quietly leaned toward the clawing sound. It came from a closet cupboard where I kept my only pair of extra clothes. Slowly opening the cupboard door, I discovered a sock that seemed to be alive. It twitched and moved. I soon noticed one end of my sock had a hole in it, and something was trying to get out. First, I saw whiskers. Then I saw a nose. Reaching in the cupboard, I gingerly picked up the sock to get a better view of my surprise guest. To my amazement, there was this puny little creature, a tiny mouse that appeared to be just as cold and lonely as I was. Very carefully, I held the sock up and allowed the mouse to roll out gently onto the floor. Expecting him to run away, I was surprised to see him stand and look up at me. A withered right front foot hung limply by his side. I started to talk to him. With his nose and whiskers twitching, he remained standing upright and simply stared at me as if intently listening to every word I spoke. Placing my new roommate and his sock in an empty shoebox, I found some leftover crackers, broke them apart, and served him dinner.
I named my new friend Noel.
Over the coming weeks, I bonded with Noel. I fed and cared for him. For a child, lonely and separated from her parents at Christmas, this newfound companion was, for me, a gift from God. Suddenly, I was not so alone anymore. I know people may question how a four-year-old could have such feelings about God. All I can share is what I remember. And I recall being grateful to God that He cared enough to send me Noel.
Noel only lived a few months. While I thought my Uncle was unaware of this new houseguest, I later learned he was well aware but content to see me enjoying my new responsibility as Noel’s caretaker. When Noel died near Easter, it was my Uncle Eddie who helped me bury him in the Rectory yard. Uncle Eddie used that teachable moment to talk with me about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Who knew a little mouse first discovered at Christmas would help a four-year-old begin to understand the meaning of Easter?
Many Christmases have come and gone since that Holy Day in Harlem. But I shall never forget my first Christmas memory when God encouraged my oh-so-young-soul with an oh-so-tiny-three-legged-mouse named Noel. Ever since, I have wondered if there will be animals in heaven. I kind of hope there are.
Well, at least a certain mouse named Noel.
Now, some fifty-three years later, two little girls hope a certain poodle is up there too.