A parental decree was issued after my youngest brother got into a tug of war with a candy cane and managed to pull down the Christmas tree, breaking several ornaments, staining the carpet with water from the stand and frightening our puppy, a mutt named Freckles, who stained the carpet some more.

Back in 1975, a puppy saved our Christmas. This is ironic, considering dogs had never been particularly helpful in my family.

My sister Karin can tell you. When she was about 6, she got the bright idea to wrap the leash of our white Lab, King, around one wrist, hop onto her skateboard and, with her free hand, toss biscuits ahead of the dog. She was enjoying her ride and had made it about three-quarters of the way down the block when my brother happened down the driveway and noticed the family pet off in the distance.

“King!” he shouted. “Here, King!”

King obeyed.

Like a water skier in choppy seas, Karin fought to keep her balance. She lasted about three seconds. By the time King returned, Karin was bumped, bruised, bloody and a born-again cat lover.

I was used to such crises. My first memory of a family pet, in fact, involves the fire department. At age 5 or so, I glanced into the backyard one morning and noticed our German shepherd had managed overnight to get his head lodged inside a heavy plastic pail. The hourglass-shaped container, used to store coal, proved a surprisingly tight fit, if the grunts of my father were any indication. The firefighters used a bolt-cutter to hack the hapless canine free, but only after he spent half and hour trotting around the yard — into the fence, into trees, into the side of the house. I felt so sorry for him I almost stopped laughing.

Even dogs that weren’t ours caused trouble. My mom was once house-sitting and had to walk the family’s pet, a chocolate Lab. As they stepped onto the back stoop, the dog became excited, circling my mom and getting her tangled in the overlong leash. Then he leapt off the stoop, pulling poor ol’ mom’s legs out from under her. She caught her breath, did a quick inventory and was just thinking, “no broken ribs,” when the Lab bolted.

Have you ever seen one of those Westerns where a cowboy is shot off his horse during a battle, but a foot stays caught in the stirrup and he gets unceremoniously dragged along the ground? That was mom.

With a history like this, you can see why a dog made an unlikely hero in our house. But here’s what happened: As Christmas 1975 approached, my siblings and I had been repeatedly warned not to take candy canes off the tree. This decree was issued after my youngest brother got into a tug of war with a candy cane and managed to pull down the tree, breaking several ornaments, staining the carpet with water from the stand and frightening our puppy, a mutt named Freckles, who stained the carpet some more. He then raced into our bedroom and darted around in circles, alerting me to the excitement I was missing (Freckles, not my brother). I arrived in time to hear an ominous parental declaration: “If one more candy cane gets pulled off this tree, we’re canceling Christmas.”

Needless to say, this put the fear of Santa in us.

And it stayed there until Christmas Eve morning, when my brother and I were awakened by Freckles, who was darting around in circles. We saw our youngest brother’s bed was empty. Put two and two together? This was more like one and one.

Fortunately, falling Christmas trees don’t make much noise. We raced upstairs to find the youngest Frisch boy pinned under the tree but no sign of the parents. We hastily righted the tree, which wobbled a little but stood. We replaced the fallen ornaments — broken ones around back — and rearranged the lights. We shuffled the gifts to hide the torn wrapping paper. We were just admiring our handiwork when a voice from behind startled us: “I hope you boys aren’t thinking about snatching any candy canes. We don’t want to have to cancel Christmas.”

Candy canes? Not us, Mom.

Thanks to the puppy, we had covered up the crime. Freckles had saved Christmas!

Of course, we received some suspicious parental glares the next morning when, as we opened gifts, the tree fell over seemingly on its own. But it was too late to cancel Christmas by then.

Contact Kevin Frisch at (585) 394-0770, ext. 257, or at kfrisch@messengerpostmedia.com.