As channeled to Henry and Betsy Cordes by Albert Bigelow Paine
One night, in the House of Many Windows, when the Little Ladies were all snug in their beds, their mother came into the drawing room to sit by the fire with the Storyteller.
“I wonder,” she mused aloud, “whether the folks at the Hollow Tree Inn ever have a little night cap?”
“Well,” said the Storyteller, “I’m fairly certain they must. Have I ever told you the story about Mr. Dog introducing them to the fine art of cocktail mixology?”
“Why no,” she chuckled, “I don’t believe you have. It sounds delightful. Why don’t I pour us both a sip of brandy and we can sit here together for a spell while you tell it to me?”
The Storyteller nodded his ascent, and in a moment his Mrs. was back with two judiciously-sized glasses of golden-brown liquor. They paused together to sip and savor before the Storyteller cleared his throat and began.
Well… The Hollow Tree folks were all sitting around the fire one dark December evening, with not much to do. They had each told their best stories three or four times, and even some of the not-so-good ones once or twice, so that they were all pretty tired of each other’s company. And yet there wasn’t any activity outside either, and it was dreadfully cold besides.
Mr. Possum was all stretched out latitudinally on the sofa, and the Old Black Crow was settled into a nice deep rhythm in his rocking chair. Mr. ‘Coon kept pacing back and forth, and peering out the windows into the darkness. And each of them was secretly wishing he were more tired, so that he could just fall asleep, so bored and restless were all three.
Well by and by Mr. ‘Coon noticed something out there in the blackness. It was a tiny little light, flashing on and off as it passed among the trees, getting brighter all the time.
“Look there!” said Mr. ‘Coon. “I think someone’s coming our way!”
“Really?” said Mr. ‘Possum with a hint of trepidation, as he lifted his head to peer over the back of the sofa.
“Mmbrghrrmm,” grumbled the Old Black Crow, as he rousted himself creakily from his chair.
The light came closer and closer, and soon enough revealed itself to be a lantern, swinging back and forth in the paw of some large creature.
Mr. ‘Coon hastily pulled the door’s latchstring inside, and swung the window out on its hinges, calling warily into the darkness, “Who goes there?” But when the visitor cried out, “It’s me!” they all recognized his voice at once.
“Why, that’s Mr. Dog!” said Mr. ‘Possum, spilling himself off the sofa and upright.
In their excitement they all three ran for the door, which they had a bit of difficulty opening, being a good deal tangled up. But open it they did, and fairly yanked Mr. Dog in out of the cold.
Mr. Crow, ever the gentleman, took Mr. Dog’s coat, and Mr. ‘Coon brought him some house slippers to keep his paws warm. It was just that moment that Mr. Possum noticed Mr. Dog’s enormous knapsack.
“What have you got in there?” he said, pointing to it.
As Mr. Dog swung the bag from his back, it emitted a very musical chorus of clinks, and when he flipped open the top he revealed a robust complement of unusually-shaped glass bottles, each filled with a mysterious liquid of its own peculiar hue.
“I got the idea last Friday night,” said Mr. Dog. “I spied Mr. Man and his friends having what they called a ‘happy hour,’ and I’ve been wanting to try it ever since. The very first minute I had a chance, I borrowed these things from the cabinet and set out for the Hollow Tree.”
So they commenced to laugh and hurrah, they were so thrilled to have this new entertainment to look forward to. And I wish I could tell you all that happened that evening, but I can’t, because this brandy is making me very sleepy. But before I nod off, I’ll share the recipes of the ‘Coon, the ‘Possum, the Old Black Crow—and, of course, Mr. Dog’s, too—so you might try your own Hollow Tree Happy Hour sometime this December.
Mr. ‘Coon’s “Eggnog Grog”
3 oz. coconut milk
One egg yolk
1 oz. dark rum
1 tbsp. simple syrup, or to taste
Nutmeg (whole clove, for grating)
Pour the coconut milk, egg yolk, dark rum and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker along with a good deal of ice. Rattle the shaker about vigorously, for as long as you can stand it. Strain the contents into a Nick & Nora glass (or a duck egg cup, which is what Mr. ‘Coon prefers). Use a very fine-toothed grater to sprinkle freshly-ground nutmeg generously over the top, and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
Mr. Possum’s “Dark Delight”
2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. elderflower liqueur
Generous handful of ripe blackberries
Reserve one especially plump and luscious blackberry for garnish, and muddle the rest at the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add the gin and elderflower liqueur and shake until your paws are frozen, nearly to the bone. Strain into your finest china cup and saucer and garnish with a sprig of mint.
The Old Black Crow’s “Devilish Green Sour”1.5 oz. Pernod
1.5 oz. gin
0.5 oz. Velvet Falernum
0.5 oz. lime juice
1 egg white
1 stick black licorice
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and dry shake (no ice) for two minutes, to blend and allow the egg white to develop a lovely foam. Add ice, and shake until your wing feathers are tinged with frost. Strain into a martini glass (or a festive parfait cup, which is what Mr. Crow’s favors for this beverage) and garnish with a stick of black licorice. You’ll get extra credit for artfully carving your licorice into the shape of a crow quill!
Mr. Dog’s “Long, Low Growl”
1.5 oz. blended scotch
1.5 oz. strong ginger beer
Blood orangePour ingredients into a rocks glass (or borrow one of Mr. Man’s antique Toby mugs, as Mr. Dog likes to do!). Add a jumbo ice cube, stir for a moment, and garnish with a generous slice of blood orange. Now take a bite out of your toothsome libation!
Sometimes I question whether the work I’ve chosen is worthwhile, important, valuable. Mr. Dog's Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn being part of the work I do, and this time of year being “Mr. Dog High Season,” and things being the way they've been lately, the worthiness question has been on my mind this week.
I started this project to share a story that is very simple but profoundly meaningful to me. In that sense, Mr. Dog feels like my artwork, even though I’m neither the author nor the illustrator. Despite those lofty creative feelings, there have been many days since I started the project, over three years ago, that I’ve questioned the value of my efforts. There are things happening out there in the world that demand our attention—injustices and inequalities abound, many of them so painful I can barely look or listen to the news. I argue with myself that what I’ve chosen to do with my time is frivolous, when these urgent humanitarian and environmental crises cry out, “All hands on deck!”
What possible import could a 100+ year old children’s story about a dog who plays Santa Claus have, in the face of this greater work that needs to be done? This week, I’ve faced that question yet again and I’ve found myself arriving at an answer that renews my sense of purpose. Here’s what I’ve been thinking…
We grow up listening to stories. At some point, we begin sharing them ourselves—stories we enjoy and sometimes even stories we’ve created ourselves. The stories that endure for us say something about our fundamental values, about what we hold most dear. For that reason alone, they are not frivolous at all. In fact, they can be a form of shared language, speaking for us across divides and helping us find common ground.
“Mr. Dog” pulls at my heart because it speaks of friendship, playfulness, creativity, ingenuity, devotion, kindness, generosity, and gratitude. These are qualities I try to cultivate in all my interactions, with both friends and strangers, in good times and in bad. My family’s 75+ year tradition with Mr. Dog has been a touchstone, something we unite around to remind us of how simple our true needs are, how much we have to share, and how much we love and appreciate one another despite the difficulties and differences that crop up between us throughout the year. So yes, it’s entertainment—just a silly children’s story—and yet, it’s so much more.
I feel so grateful each time I hear from another one of you who loves the story. If I know nothing more about you, I suspect that our shared appreciation for Paine’s story says a great deal about what we have in common, about what inspires and unites us. That feels very important indeed.
Though I grew up loving Albert Bigelow Paine’s “Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn,” it wasn’t until later in life that I learned of the existence of three volumes of Hollow Tree stories, a generous series featuring all the familiar characters from the Christmas tale—and many, many more.
As I became familiar with Paine's series, I was a little surprised to learn that Mr. Dog wasn’t always on such great terms with the Hollow Tree folks. If you only know Mr. Dog and friends through our book, you’re kind of in the same boat I was. Maybe you’ve wondered about that line “You see, Mr. Dog liked them all now…”. It certainly gives a clue that there’s a backstory, doesn’t it? Well, of course, Paine set it all up beautifully in the many stories that preceded “Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn” and they are well worth a read.
My hope is to someday republish a few more of them, each as an individual volume, to join the Christmas story in a beautiful slipcovered Hollow Tree Treasury (I dream big!). Until then, though, the magic of 21st century technology gives us an opportunity to share them with you another way…. Introducing: The Mr. Dog Podcast!
My son Henry, a renaissance man if ever there was, has created this show. Each week from now until Christmas, you can listen to a new episode of The Mr. Dog Podcast, as Henry reads aloud from Paine’s Hollow Tree and Deep Woods books. Along the way you’ll meet The Storyteller and The Little Lady, Mr. Turtle, Mr. Rabbit and many more, and you’ll get to know that backstory.... what's the history behind the cozy Christmas friendship of Mr. ‘Coon, Mr. ‘Possum, Mr. Crow, and Mr. Dog, anyhow?
Henry is a wonderful storyteller (wait til you hear his Mr. Crow voice!), and in each episode he gives helpful bits of historical context and definitions for unfamiliar Victorian terms. He provides sweet musical interludes and a cozy crackling fire ambience, too. I love imagining families gathered ‘round each week to catch the latest installment, and the anticipation building as he approaches the Christmas Eve episode.
Of course, Paine was a master storyteller and it seems he loved exploring the form—the Hollow Tree tales have layers upon layers of storytelling within them. I imagine him listening to our podcast, which adds a new storyteller and a new storytelling medium to the mix. I hope he’d be pleased to find his tales being shared this way, enjoyed by many more “little folks” (and their storytellers), over 100 years after he wrote them.