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This Week's Issue: Over the years, Homer has learned that each day that dawns brings with it some of the innate mysteries of the future, and this Christmas will be no different. Life is, indeed, uncertain; and we don't know from minute to minute where it will lead us. Being positive and ready to "seize the day" seem to be Isabel's keys to survival in life's great crapshoot.

T'was The Day Before Christmas

(Part Two of Three)

The day before Christmas dawned cold and windy. By noon, our horizon was defined by ominous layers of gray low-lying clouds, and the relentless wind was laying down a dusting of snow and tiny balls of frozen sleet. As Isabel darted about straightening up the Christmas garlands and stoking the glowing embers in the Inn's fireplace, Louella, who had spent the beginning of her day baking, now stared wistfully out of the window saying that she was hoping for a white Christmas

Hank and Micah had made sure to leave a large supply of firewood stacked conveniently on the porch near the portico before leaving the Inn nearly a week ago. The outside temperature at the Inn dropped to 22 degrees, and the wind gusts outside were making our old Victorian 'painted lady' creak like a haunted house. Isabel placed a large rib roast in the oven and settled down with me in front of the warm fireplace while Louella continued to crash about in her kitchen.

At 3 p.m. the phone rang, and Isabel, who was in the middle of lifting a heavy log onto the hearth, hastily completed her task and headed for her desk in the front hallway to answer it. The caller was Lisa Tipton asking if Micah Davenport might be available to give her some help. "Micah is gone for the holidays and won't be back for another four days," Isabel replied; "Is there anything I can do to help, Lisa?" "Isabel, Daisy, our black Lab, went missing on Wednesday, and because she is expecting a litter of puppies, I have been looking all over for her. The wind is blowing up a storm and I just came back from closing up our barn. While I was down there, I heard a puppy -- or puppies -- yelping from somewhere underneath the barn floor. I called for Daisy, but there wasn't any answer, and she didn't come out. I thought Micah might could crawl under and get the pups - being it's so cold and all." "Hold on" was Isabel's reply, "I'll be right down; I just need to get into some overalls, and I'll be right there." Without waiting for a response, Isabel hung up the phone and said "C'mon, Homer, want to go for a ride?" I thought to myself, "Not really; but, this does sound a little interesting."

It was still spitting sleet and snow as Isabel and I left the warmth of the Inn and got into Isabel's Lincoln for the short ride down to the Tipton Farm. I jumped in through the driver's side door and curled up on a wool throw on the passenger's seat. Moments later we were standing at Lisa Tipton's door, shivering, and hoping for a moment's respite from the howling winds.

As Lisa was pulling on her coat and galoshes, she explained to Isabel that Daisy was very pregnant and near delivery when she disappeared on Wednesday afternoon. Lisa figured Daisy would be back by nightfall and really began to worry when she hadn't returned by morning.

It isn't much fun crawling under old barns, but it is even less fun in a blizzard. As Isabel got down on her hands and knees, she did look rather comical with Ray's small survival flashlight clenched between her teeth. Thank God dogs can't laugh. The only saving grace to the exercise was the fact that we were finally able to get out of the wind. Meanwhile, Lisa stood next to the foundation holding a much larger flashlight which created eerie shadows and strange silhouettes on the granite support blocks under the huge barn. Isabel's small light must have startled the puppy because a pitiful yipping began deeper under the barn over to our right. Having four legs and being a bit more agile, I forged ahead of Isabel in the dim light and came upon Daisy and one very scared and undernourished puppy. Considering the weather outside, Daisy and her pup had managed to find a reasonably warm spot to protect themselves from this bitter cold onslaught.

One hour later, with the use of a large nylon towing strap, Lisa and Isabel were able to pull Daisy to safety and rescue her and the pup. Daisy was in no condition to stand, walk, or even nurse; in fact, she was barely conscious. Because of Daisy's size and apparent lack of mobility, Isabel went back to the house to call Dr. Stubbs and ask him if he would be willing to come over and help. Because it was Christmas Eve afternoon, Isabel was surprised that he even answered his phone. Without hesitation, Dr. Stubbs replied, "I don't have any other place to be. I'll be there in 45 minutes."

During their wait for Dr. Stubbs, Lisa asked Isabel if she knew anyone who would take the puppy - should it survive. Isabel couldn't conceal her surprised reaction to the question and replied, "Why don't you want the pup, Lisa?" "Now that I'm alone, I just don't have the patience to raise another dog, Isabel, and I want to leave myself open to any life-changing opportunities that might come my way without having to worry about a puppy; it just wouldn't be fair to the dog." Lisa seemed adamant in her decision and logical in her reasoning, and Isabel began to wrack her brain in an effort to identify a possible recipient for Daisy's pup. As I watched, knowing Isabel as I do, even yours truly could predict the final outcome!

Dr. Ben Stubbs arrived about an hour later, and I must admit that the news didn't come as a shock to me when, after a thorough examination, Dr. Stubbs told Lisa that the kindest thing she could do for Daisy would be to euthanize her and end her misery. He went on to say that the puppy could be saved, but he would have to receive his nourishment from baby bottles filled with warm vitamin D pasteurized cows' milk. Sure sounds like a plan to me!

The time was 6 p.m., it was Christmas Eve, the outside temperature had dropped, and the weather had deteriorated to the status of a full-blown blizzard with prevailing west winds of at least 50 m.p.h. It didn't take a rocket scientist to realize that with the gale winds driving the heavy snow, our options were quickly evaporating.

Isabel immediately suggested that we get in our cars and head back up to Faded Glory where Louella was undoubtedly putting the finishing touches on a roast beef dinner. Luckily, Dr. Stubbs had driven his Dodge Ram 4X4 pickup, and by the time Lisa and Isabel had packed Isabel's Lincoln for the short trip back to Faded Glory, it promptly got stuck, leaving the Dodge pickup as the only remaining vehicle capable of driving up the incline to the Inn. Of course, you know who ended riding back to the Inn in that freezing pickup bed! Yes, that would be 'yours truly.' and the luggage and coolers placed back there with me became deadly projectiles, causing me grief as they slid backward on the hill. Daisy and her pup spent their short journey on the soft, inviting laps of Lisa and Isabel. Comfort doesn't necessarily come based upon tenure!

Dr.Stubbs had given Daisy a mild sedative, and she was sleeping soundly as he gently carried her across the porch and into the front room at the Inn. Because the outcome of the storm was still very uncertain, Isabel had suggested that Lisa pack up some essentials for the ride up to Faded Glory because, by the looks of things, both Lisa and Dr Stubbs would be spending the remainder of their Christmas Eve with us at the Inn. Preparations for dinner were not as far along as Isabel had guessed, and Louella was glad to accept the help of Isabel and our newly arrived visitors for the final preparations of the meal. Pauline Patrick had already stopped her work upstairs and was busy preparing a large mixing bowl full of mashed potatoes.

Ed Hightower had left a phone message with Louella saying that he didn't want to risk an accident by trying to come down from his home in Hiawassee during the storm, and Isabel was relieved to think that he would be safe and sound at his home until tomorrow. In keeping with the occasion, Isabel went to her beloved basement wine cellar and retrieved two dusty bottles of a 1958 red Bordeaux wine that Ray had been saving over the years for a 'special situation.'

Louella's dinner was wonderful. Lots of tidbits hit the floor as the wine flowed, and plates and platters clattered back and forth, heaped with their delicious contents. Isabel had taken time to feed Daisy's puppy before dinner, and he was placed in a shallow cardboard box next to the buffet where he dozed quietly on one of Isabel's old wool cardigans.

At 9:30 p.m. Ben Stubbs went to the front door and opened it in an attempt to survey the weather outside. He was literally blown backwards and almost lost his grip on the brass handle as a torrent of wind-blown snow blasted him and the front vestibule with a low roar. I saw a different side of Dr. Stubbs as he wrestled the door closed, retreated from the stormy intrusion, and returned to the table laughing loudly. "Tis fit for no man or beast, Isabel, and I think that we will be most grateful to spend the night in your gracious home." I could tell that Isabel was now caught up in the excitement of the storm as well as this serendipitous situation that had unraveled over the past six hours. The wind was shrieking outside, the Inn's wooden shutters were banging loudly, and Christmas would be here in less than three hours.

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