No matter what your religous or cultural background, the holiday season is the proper time to count your blessings, big and small.
The latter suffices for me, in the form of a 30-some-pound "pocket" basset hound named Abby, complete with the big, floppy ears, soulful eyes and ability to generate the strangest noises ever produced by a canine with that hound-dog bay.
Abby is robust and has eaten like a pig the last few weeks. But we thought we wouldn't have the little girl for Christmas and New Year's, three years after we adopted her through Guardian Angel Basset Rescue. She had been a stray, with no prospects and no future, before Guardian Angel took her in. Whomever let her loose should be charged with animal cruelty or whatever the legal name.
Abby came into our lives only a few days after we lost our 6-year-old golden retriever, Hunter, to a lung disease, succumbing the day after Christmas 2007. Life wasn't fair -- all Hunter wanted to do was please people. He was a 1-in-1,000 dog, an assistant human. But it was the proverbial one door closes, another opens. I wish fate had allowed us to have both Hunter and Abby. We still have Hunter's sister, Polly, a blonde retriever princess, who is at my side almost every waking minute when I'm home. The dogs keep a columnist company through the long, lonely hours of writing, researching and phone calls.
Since summer, Abby was ill. First it was a liver problem. She recovered, but then got sick again, her condition even worse than before. She wouldn't eat or drink, had no energy and wasted away before our eyes. The veterinarians were stumped at first, then looked at Addison's disease -- which throws the body's electrolytes out of whack -- as a possible culprit. Addison's affects humans, too. John F. Kennedy had the disease. Tests confirmed the vets' theory. Hospitalized, Abby was treated and turned around on a dime. Thank goodness this wasn't 1960 or 1970, with veterinary science and treatment progressing through the ages. Abby's long-term prognosis is excellent. We now have to learn how to give her periodic shots for the rest of her life, but that's a small price to pay for having her abject sweetness in our daily lives.
You can tell I'm a proud dog parent. All of us dog people have a common bond. Which is why back in September 2002, I was very appreciate of Ron Santo when he expressed sympathy after the death of our first dog, Samantha, a nearly 15-year-old cairn terrier just like Toto in "The Wizard of Oz." Santo loved his dogs. He brought one pooch with him when he threw batting practice to Joe Girardi at Northwestern during one of his stints as a Cubs catcher. According to Girardi, dogs weren't allowed in the workout area. Santo didn't care. He loved the dog romping around, and I'm sure the dog loved the errant baseballs that rolled his way.
I was thankful for small kindnesses. The best I could repay Santo was to bring a precious artifact from earlier in his career to him on Aug. 13, 2004 -- the proud possession of a dear but lost friend, Kenny Hubbs.
During 2004, I found out Hubbs' brother, Keith, was living in Chicago while working on a Mormon mission. Kenny Hubbs, the Cubs second baseman who was NL rookie of the year in 1962, was killed in the crash of his private plane in Utah just before spring training 1964. Keith had taken possession of Kenny's glove from 1963. The connection to Santo -- they were nearly inseparable as young players on a Cubs team that included young Billy Williams and Lou Brock, and 22-game-winner Dick Ellsworth, and seemingly was on the rise to contention after '63, until the death of Hubbs, the trade of Brock and the backsliding in performance of Ellsworth.
When rummaging through a closet at his parents' old home in Colton, Calif., in 2002, Keith Hubbs found his late brother's Cubs bag in a closet. He hadn't looked at it in nearly four decades. He donated the glove Kenny used in 1962 to set a fielding record and the record-busting ball to the Hall of Fame. Keith Hubbs kept the '63 glove and took it with him on the Mormon mission. I arranged for Keith to show the glove to Joey Amalfitano, a Dodgers coach and Kenny Hubbs' second-base Cubs successor in 1964. But my main focus was to re-unite Santo and the glove. Santo and Kenny Hubbs were roommates and close friends during Hubbs' two-plus Cubs seasons. Santo even went up with Hubbs in his plane when he took flying lessons.
We all met at the back of the pressbox, after a gaggle of media types crowded around to examine the glove. Santo tried on the glove, pounded his pocket with his right fist and grinned at the reminder of his youth.
"I can't tell you how much our family admires what you've done and what you've meant to the Cubs," Keith Hubbs told Santo.
Keith Hubbs insists there's a spiritual aspect to his brother's story. Kenny Hubbs had a ruptured hernia as an infant and wasn't expected to live long. But he survived and prospered as a three-sport athlete. Best of all, he was close to his family.
"We were brothers who hugged each other," Keith Hubbs said.
After the 1964 crash, Keith had nightmares about the accident three straight nights. But on the fourth night, he had a different dream. Standing still, he witnessed Kenny walking toward him. He stopped just short of hugging him. 'Quit worrying about me. It was quick and it was no pain,'" his brother's image told him. Keith Hubbs never had the crash nightmare again.
If the visit and message from Kenny Hubbs was real, then we're all a lot better off, in mortal life and perhaps beyond. If real, then Santo and Hubbs have connected again. Buddies deserve nothing less.
And if real, they'd all have dogs at their sides, hopefully with baseballs in their mouths. Can't go anywhere at any level of existence without our four-legged, furry best friends. In this level of existence, though, it's a relief to go through a holiday without losing another treasured companion. Gorge yourself silly, Abby, you deserve the benefits of the best advancements of the human mind put into perpetual motion eons ago. Give a little something to you and we get it back a thousandfold.