I think about this a lot around this time of year—Princess and Christmas in 1969. My twin brother and my younger brother and I grew up on a small farm outside of East Enterprise, Indiana. Back in 1969, it was a town that had two grocery stores, a bank, a barber shop and a gas station that was closed. I doubt if it’s changed very much. East Enterprise is about 12 miles north of Vevay.
I’m writing this from memory, but I’m thinking two years earlier, sometime in the spring of 1967, my parents decided their sons needed a dog. My twin and I were 12-years-old and my younger brother was 9. No doubt, we had begged for one for a long time.
I remember my mother saying to my father that the American Eskimo Spitz breed was supposed to be good with kids. She found a picture of one in a magazine. It was a smaller dog with white, long hair, erect and triangular shaped ears and a plumed tail curled over its back. We all liked the dog in the picture. Before we knew it, we were looking at Eskimo Spitz puppies on a farm just outside of Aurora, Indiana.
All six of those puppies we saw were really cute, but we found one we especially liked. Taking her home with us, we decided to name her Princess, I think, because she kind of looked like one. It didn’t take long for Princess to become a big part of our family. She was such a wonderful gift to us. She was a smart, gentle dog who was very protective of us kids. She was always allowed in the house, but Princess really enjoyed the outdoors. She could spend hours simply roaming around on our farm. Princess was having the time of her life.
Moving forward to 1969, I know I’ve mentioned here before that when we were little, my brothers and I were Country Music entertainers. That first week in December of 1969, we had a recording session in Nashville, Tennessee. We would be gone for three or four days and my grandmother, who lived a little closer to East Enterprise, would take care of Princess while we were away.
Looking back now, I think I know why Princess did what she did. She was a dog who liked to be free, but my grandmother, who was probably a little too old to watch and take care of a frisky dog, was tying her up inside her farm which was several feet away from her house. Princess, who didn’t like being tied up, was smart enough to figure out a way to get untied and when she did, Princess ran away.
My mother would talk to my grandmother on the phone everyday while we were in Nashville, but she said nothing to my mother about Princess running away. By the time we returned home, she had been gone for two days. Neighbors of my grandmother were searching for Princess, but there was no sign of her.
Me and my brothers and our parents felt sick about it. Forgetting about school, for the next two or three days, we conducted our own searches. When my father was working, my mother would drive down all those back country roads around us and also around my grandmother’s house looking for our dog.
Despite the fact it was winter, us kids would sit in the bed of the pickup truck calling out her name. When my father would get off work, he would relieve my mother and we would continue the search. We would do this until it became dark outside, and then would resume the search the following day. We were losing hope. I remember on that last day when we searched, while calling out our dog’s name in the back of that pickup truck, I started to become panicked. Soon, it would be Christmas time and Princess wouldn’t be part of it. She would still be out there lost or dead. I remember I started crying and calling out her name even louder and more frantically.
How could we have any kind of Christmas without our dog? After that last search, I felt heartbroken. My parents started talking about getting a replacement for her, but I, nor my brothers, wanted that. We wanted our family dog—Princess—to somehow come home to us.
One morning, some days after giving up our search, a neighbor, less than a mile from our house, called on the phone. He talked to my mother wanting to know about the dog we had lost. Was it a small dog with long, white hair? Yes. That neighbor had found our Princess. We immediately went over to his farm.
She was in bad shape. She had scratch and claw marks all over her body and her bowels were messed up from eating junk while trying to make it home.
The vet in Vevay attended to Princess until she was on the mend. Princess was back on our farm—back home—by Christmas, 1969. We were lucky enough to have her around for several more Christmases after that. By the mid to late 1970’s, my brothers and I had moved away from home, but we would visit our parents and family dog on most weekends. Princess was always excited to see us.
In her later years, she had developed arthritis in her joints and was starting to go blind in both eyes. It was constant work and supervision for my parents, but they continued to let her roam free on the farm that she loved. They always remembered how Princess didn’t like to be tied up. She passed away in her sleep a few days after Christmas, 1981 and while my family and I grieved while cherishing those memories we had of our beloved dog—our Princess—somehow, in my head, I think she knew it was better to hold off—to wait on dying until after Christmas. Again, she was a smart dog. She knew she was old and tired and I think she knew dying when she did would give us almost an entire year to try and figure out how to get through that next Christmas without her. In a way, I think maybe that was Princess’s final gift to us.