LOIE AND FRITZ we named them. Mostly because he had bushy gray eyebrows like my cousin's husband and she . . . well, Loie just went with Fritz. Had since days in the canyon and 50 years of family reunions. And the names had to be German-sounding. For schnauzer puppies.

Loie was all I intended to buy. The thoughtful young vet had helped my alone cousin, my age - 60s - say goodbye to her pal, ailing Rosebud, Russian wolf hound, age 14 (90 they say, for a dog). When I asked, he advised me that three months was probably grieving time enough. A puppy different from that pet might just make Christmas. A schnauzer, he said. Companionable, loyal, gentle but sturdy, 14-inches full grown, no shedding, good in or out. What did I know? Except I wanted to find one. And he'd help me.Four days later I was holding a smooth, fringed wriggler with no tail, and ears that perked up and fell over. The size of a new baby, she was licking my chin and then snuggling into my neck. I was a goner. The mama had noted my arrival with a quick bark and then lifted her Van Dyke beard for a rub. The puppy would grow to be like this. Perfect. Christmas would be perfect. New life to comfort old grief.

And why not one too for our third daughter's family of seven? She'd been hunting for almost a year since Mishie, their American Eskimo, had also died, the puppy who grew with them, a gift from a groom to his bride on their first Christmas 15 years before. "Yes!" she answered when I described the surprise I had in mind. So, two puppies were bought, to be picked up on Christmas Eve. And two portable kennels. And puppy food. And rawhide to chew instead of furniture. Mel hadn't seen them, but he'd like them. Especially just in passing.

After dinner, two grandsons and I went for them. Darling. Bathed, groomed, sweet as our intentions. And shaking. Scared. Of the cold, of leaving their home. Of strangers probably. But in two minutes fitting into our laps like part of our arms. Excitement. Into the house. A baby yipe or two. But my cousin turned away. "I never want to see another dog." Tears. Too soon. Other comfort for now, a hug, a shared sadness.

Still Christmas morning for the other puppy surprise. But when our daughter and her husband came to our basement to retrieve their stash to assemble at home for Santa, he was more than surprised. She had not told him about a new pet. Dog lover, he picked up one puppy and stroked it, she the other. Hesitation. Ecstasy. Then, still reluctant, "No," he said. "With nine live bodies already (two cats) and two of them little boys under 3, we'll come to a time for a puppy."

So. Merry Christmas, Mel. Loie and Fritz were ours. Loie and Fritz and their newspapers strewn and their exploring unpredictable. Their deposits anywhere they accidentally slipped to. Work. Odor. Bending. Straightening. Garbage cans filled. But also their frolicking in the snow off the patio andcoming to our arms for a beach towel rub. Attachment. Dangerous.

We had passed our pet days, the resuscitation of kittens, the grieving for chicks, the planning for sitters for animals when our household of eight was on a trip. Turtles, hamsters, young dogs that dug to China in the geraniums. Grown dogs that played better than they trained, two killed following adventure into the street. Now, like our brood, we too were gone into another phase. And off where retirement or whim or need for solitude beckoned. Not a time for loving too much these newcomers scrambling to be picked up, to lie in our arms cocking their heads at the television.

But no returning them to the pet store. Part of the bargain. We spent the next week making calls to neighbors, relatives, friends. Asking the milk man, the checker at the store, a passing jogger. By then knowing they had to stay together, not be sold off alone. Too amiable, too good in the night, too. . . .

The ad read "Schnauzer puppies 81/2 weeks old, 1 female, 1 male, pampered, wormed, groomed, shots, sweet natured, need loving home."

Calls. Some visits. Not right. Two days into the ad, New Year's Day, a youngish man on the phone, "I'm from Roosevelt (in eastern Utah, maybe three hours away), and I've gotta find a way to cheer up my family. Our little schnauzer died on Christmas, and nobody's stopped crying." He'd be over to see the puppies the next day. I liked him. Please, no buyer showing up before he did.

In the night the storm began. The puppies slept as they had, warm next to each other in the portable kennel by the furnace. The snow stacked up, broke records, lasted. Eighteen inches. Two feet. Not even snowplows yet. No way that anyone would drive from Roosevelt for anything.

Then, about noon, into our twice-cleared driveway still a foot deep, turned a van, a Suburban, transport for major loads, iced and snow-covered. Out of it streamed what we'd find were two parents, an uncle and not two or three but eight children. Urged, they flooded into our kitchen, filled the quiet with unboisterous telling of their little dog's being found crushed without sound under a fold-down bed, of how she was named Nestles. (Their last name was Quick.) They told of her tricks and glowed in the telling.

I'd been watching Loie and Fritz bouncing in the snow in the back yard, almost disappearing, sliding to my feet for a climb and a pat and then flopping over each other racing back to the snow. The Quicks came out on the patio, picked up, quieted, romped with, passed along the pups. The 6-foot basketball player sophomore gentled one to the arms of his 2-year-old sister, who giggled as Loie squirmed toward her ear. Unafraid. All of the in-between kids took turns with the pups, in affection, not argument, some voting for Fritz, the dad saying he'd wanted a female. "They need to stay together," I blurted. "We've decided."

Without a blink Mel nodded, patted Loie's head, "Yep."

"Yes, Dad, Yes. Please." Two were few enough to go around.

"Two for one," I said as if rehearsed. And a kennel. And puppy food. And rawhide. I liked them together, the whole bunch. Mel nodded again, relieved I was sure though he'd been more than a sport in not blaming me for having two puppies by default.

We served salt water taffy, took pictures with all in front of the fireplace, exchanged histories and addresses, them promising to let us know how Loie and Fritz were doing, send pictures. Everyone was grinning a big grin. I swear even the puppies.

The Suburban had another 2 inches of snow on its top. The windows steamed immediately, took rubbings from within to round out a view, Loie and Fritz framed, their paws activated like toys by invisible operators waving goodbye.

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Goodbye little friends. Goodbye our eras of parenting puppies and babies and Christmases with five stockings for Santa and live actors for the manger scene on Christmas Eve. Goodbye and go well, new family to picture with a little schnauzer probably sneaked into at least two beds and romping into morning.

And thank You for the merriest Christmas since the last one.

(Oh, and they decided to keep the names Loie and Fritz. Like the whole thing, no doubt meant to be.)

Emma Lou Thayne, a poet and writer, lives in Salt Lake City.

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