The other day, when I told Charlie we were going for a walk he ran into the bedroom, jumped onto the bed and sat there looking at the television. The screen was dark, the way all screens are when they’re still turned off. When I got his leash and approached him, Charlie stood up on the bed, tail wagging. He looked at the screen and barked. Then he looked at me and barked again.
I attached the leash and led him out the door.
“Come on,” I said. “There’s nothing for us to watch on TV.”
When we got to the hydro pole by the driveway mouth, he stopped for his usual long sniff and short pee.
“It doesn’t feel much like Christmas, does it?” Charlie asked with one back leg in the air.
It was a mild mid-December day. The sun was shining. There was no snow anywhere in sight. Squirrels were still running up and down trees and across front yards. I’m still not sure what Christmas is supposed to feel like, but it sure didn’t feel like December.
I agreed with him and we set off down the street. “What’s on the agenda for your Christmas movie day?” Charlie asked.
We’ve had an annual tradition for the past several years of getting together with some family and friends to watch a Christmas movie. It is always one from a limited selection pool.
A Christmas Carol, black and white, with Alastair Sim playing Scrooge.
It’s A Wonderful Life with James Stewart and Donna Reed.
Miracle on 34th Street, with Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood.
A Christmas Story with Darren McGavin and his leg lamp.
We never get tired of watching any of these, and sometimes add in A Child’s Christmas in Wales, the television adaptation of Dylan Thomas’s classic story.
Lynne and I try to watch them all, but there is always a Sunday afternoon early in December when people come over to watch one of them with us. It’s always the first wine and cheese event of the season.
“Well,” I said, “if you’re asking which movie we’ll be watching when the gang comes over, it’s going to be Miracle on 34th Street this year.”
Charlie looked up at me and shook his head, the way he does when he’s not too happy with what I’ve said.
“That’s not a good movie,” he said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“It doesn’t have any dogs in it,” Charlie explained. He has clear and simple criteria of what makes a movie good or bad. There’s no in between.
“The movies we watch don’t have many dogs in them,” I replied. “Do you have one in mind?”
Charlie paused to sniff around a neighbour’s lawn while he thought about this. “Basil says there are lots of movies about dogs who save Christmas. And he says there’s a really good one about a Golden Labradoodle who’s as mischievous as they come.” Charlie’s friend Basil is a big old Airedale with a mind as strong as his long legs.
“That sounds like Marley and Me,” I said.
“Yes, that’s the one,” Charlie replied with his tail wagging and his tongue hanging out. “That’s the one you should get.”
“It’s not really a Christmas movie,” I said. Marley and Me was released on Christmas Day 2008 and the poster has a cute as a button puppy with a big red bow around its neck. All resemblance to Christmas ends there. “Plus,” I added, “it has a real tear jerker ending. Not much Christmas joy in that.”
We walked along in silence for a bit more, then Charlie sat down on the sidewalk. I thought this didn’t look promising.
“Basil told me about the film you plan to watch,” he said. “It’s all about some lawyer who decides to meddle in the life of his neighbour and change the way she brings up her daughter. It’s also about how the key to happiness is getting expensive gifts, even a house. The young daughter, Susan, wasn’t going to start believing in Santa Claus unless he got her a house.”
“I like to think it’s about more than that,” I said. “There’s a character in the film who puts it all in perspective when he tells us there’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ floatin’ around this woild, but one of the woist is commoicialism. Make a buck, make a buck. The film is arguing that children need more imagination, more wonder, more adventure. We can make a better life if we care to dream of one.”
Charlie looked up at me with that look he always gives when he thinks he’s got me beat.
“That’s a better movie than one where a puppy makes everyone happy?” he said. “Basil told me the little girl in your movie said to Kris Kringle, If you’re really Santa Claus, you can get the house for me. And if you can’t, you’re only a nice man with a white beard like mother says.”
Charlie stood up and started walking. He went on in silence until he stopped for a lengthy sniff at the bottom of a cedar hedge. I was still thinking up an answer, one that would defend the film’s strength. I was about to tell him about the quick-thinking postal worker who saved the day by sending all the letters to Santa Claus to the courthouse where Kris Kringle was on trial. Charlie interrupted my thoughts with another quote from Basil.
Charlie told me to think about what Marley’s owner had to say: A dog doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he’ll give you his.
“A dog won’t ask you to buy him a house before he’ll lick your face,” Charlie said.” He’ll do it just because he wants to.”
“We’re almost home,” I said. “we’re setting up the movies for Sunday afternoon. Why don’t we watch them both and see whose version of Christmas is the better one?”
“Maybe we’re both right,” said Charlie. He must have been getting into the Christmas spirit, because he’s not normally that open-minded. “And don’t forget what Basil said. Stop Marley and Me ten minutes before the end. You don’t have enough Kleenex to get me through the end of it.”