Wow! Can you believe how time flies? I mean, you go for a few walks, chase a few squirrels, fetch some tennis balls, sniff this, lick that, and before you know it seven years have whizzed by and it’s time to crank out the Kidder Family Holiday Letter once again. I hope this installment finds you happy, well-fed, and parasite-free. As for me, I’ve just scarfed down three (okay, four) slabs of Roadkill Rawhide™ from Clem’s Club, so I’m raring to go. To those of you who remember me as more of a Chipotle Chew® enthusiast—oh, the tender mouthfeel of those fragrant ingots of pure Angus beef! Ah, the complex piquancy of that patented spice-and-MSG brine!—well, certain fluctuations in the Kidder fortunes have given me occasion to review my long-cherished brand loyalties, and you know what? I’m okay with that. In this time of austerity, all of us must do what we can. Take Wally, our paterfamilias. He switched to boxed wine, and he seems to enjoy it.
Gosh, I honestly didn’t mean to get into the Kidder setbacks. I meant to do the classic holiday-letter thing: to boast about the challenging, rewarding, deeply meaningful careers being pursued by Wally and Holly; to trumpet the scholastic milestones, sporting triumphs, and moments of sheer adorability achieved by Raleigh and Lolly; to natter on and on about the fascinating and thoroughly educational vacations we all took together; and to close with some smug reflections about my own life of faithful companionship and carefree frolicking. I meant, in other words, to lie, having briefly forgotten that it isn’t something I’m capable of.
So anyway, one day in late February, Wally came home in the middle of the afternoon and informed me privately that he had lost his job in sales. I don’t know what he had been selling—over the years Wally has sold cars, real estate, home appliances, and medical supplies, among many other things, and I stopped paying attention long ago—but whatever it was, the customers were no longer buying it and Wally was out on the street. He managed to keep this news from the rest of the family for almost a month, hoping he could quickly land another job and breeze in to dinner one night with a charming tale of opportunity freshened and hope redeemed. This was not to be, and I for one was glad when Wally finally fessed up about his misfortune. If I were to sketch out a continuum of invigorating aromas, there are any number of things I could put at the positive end (for instance: the scene of a fight between a skunk and a wolverine), but down at the negative end I’d have to put the smell of secret shame. There’s nothing more repellent, more paralytic, more enfeebling, and our whole house was full of it in the weeks after Wally’s layoff. Of course, the truth brought the scent of Holly’s anger—imagine an electrical transformer catching fire in a paper mill—but even that was preferable, if you ask me.
Apart from the aforementioned reduction in the quality of my eats, Wally’s hard luck has turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. My walks are longer, my visits to the park more frequent, and I get to ride around in the car a whole lot more. At home, I don’t have to spend the days in my kennel, since Wally is almost always there, looking for jobs online or Googling “inexpensive family dinners” or standing in front of the TV muttering and groaning his way through the Yoga for Mood Swings DVD that Holly got him for his 53rd birthday. (Funny/true/inspirational story: After seeing that DVD about 87 times, after absent-mindedly watching the nice people stretch and de-stress and self-actualize again and again, I happened to be doing some personal grooming one day, and I—let’s see, how can I put this? I managed to reach a spot that I had long ago given up on ever reaching. A spot, indeed, that everyone I’d ever discussed the matter with had declared absolutely inaccessible to mere mortals. It was kind of a Holy Grail moment for me, and I owe it to Wally’s unemployment.)
Not that there haven’t been some tough times. The kids have used me as a crying towel on more than a few occasions, and for quite a long while Holly would shoot me very unsettling looks whenever we crossed paths. She gave off a pungent whiff of bottom-line thinking at those moments, as if, now that she was our sole breadwinner, she was mentally entering data in a cost/benefit spreadsheet devoted to yours truly. I think Wally may have been similarly analyzed. The look I’d give her in return said Maybe you hadn’t noticed, but I’m actually damp with your children’s tears. That seemed to turn the tide in my favor, but it also led Wally and me directly to the Clem’s Club Value Hangar, where the low, low prices and big, big savings threw the poor man into a spiritual crisis.
As Wally loaded his purchases into the car, his skin gleaming with anxiety-sweat, his whole being exuded a cry of Salesmanship! Where is the salesmanship? If price is the sole factor, then where is the toehold for a guy like me? I took a sniff of his pant cuffs: concrete and chromium, pasteboard and printer’s ink, plastic clamshells and refrigerated air, with an overlay of fluorescence and a faint note of dead pine from the pallet wood. And longing—the vast yet aimless longing that humankind seems to specialize in, that they can’t focus the way we can focus ours on a particular smell or face or squeaky toy or couch cushion or lickable piece of personal real estate. We all know how that longing feels in the nostrils: the wince of it, like wood smoke; the depth, like a very old swamp; the sweetness, like a fruit tree on the other side of a stone wall. We know, and we try to assuage it, and we fail. I don’t want or need 99 percent of the things in there, Wally was musing, but if I come back here too often, I might just save myself to death. We haven’t gone back. Luckily the Roadkill Rawhide™ comes in such a gigantic carton that we haven’t had to.
In the evenings lately, with the Christmas tree lit and the dishwasher running and the TV muted during a commercial, Holly has taken to expressing the notion that the Kidder family is really very fortunate, all things considered. This makes Wally uncomfortable and the kids scornful, but it freshens the mood all the same. It’s as if there’s a small fog sifting up through the floorboards, a breath of something I can only describe as all-right-ness or good-enough-ness. Dodged bulletude, maybe. It doesn’t last, and why should it? But it comes, and it’s noticed, and it goes. It’s something I hope you and your people experience, if not during this holiday season, then sometime when you need it.
I’ll close as I always do, with the ancient blessing: May you live in interesting smells. I hope to see you at the park soon. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and give the yoga a try. You can thank me later.
Pasquale Kidder is a collie/Chihuahua mix who lives in Minneapolis. Translated from the original Hydrantish by contributing editor Jeff Johnson.