Beka told Dion she didn't have to make her a Christmas stocking if she would just make one for each of her pets. Dion was a good sport and obliged her. Now, besides family stockings on one side of the room, there are eight pet stockings hanging on the other wall in the shape of a Christmas tree.

Dion figures it could have been worse. The three ducks share a joint stocking, though it is a little larger than the others. Beka is currently doing odd jobs around the house to earn money for stuff to put in the stockings. When she gets paid, it means stopping at the pet store for a piecemeal purchase of a mini-salt block or a bag of hamster mix. She is going to wait until just before Christmas to buy fresh carrots with the green tops still on them for the bunny stocking.Beka's most special pet was a hamster named Oreo that she raised since it was no more than a tiny, pink, hairless ball. No hamster ever received better care than Oreo. Beka would set aside a half hour each day, rain or shine, weekdays, weekends and holidays to take him for his daily "walk," which consisted on letting him loose in the house and patiently following him around so he wouldn't get into mischief. He was totally at home on Beka's shoulder and would cuddle up against her neck for hours at a time.

They say hamsters aren't a particularly good pet for kids because they have such a short life span. By the time Oreo was 2 years old he was already showing signs of old age. The whiskers on his face were gray, and on his daily walks he moved much more slowly and deliberately.

The day he died was a traumatic day in the Barron household for more than one reason. It was also the day Leslie burned her hand. In fact, it was when Beka discovered that Oreo had died, and Dion went to her room to comfort her, that she forgot about the oil she was heating on the stove.

It overheated and burst into flame. Leslie hurried to put it in the sink, and the oil splattered on her hand.

Over the next several days, Beka had to deal with the loss of Oreo pretty much on her own, since Paul and Dion were totally pre-occupied with Leslie, taking her to the hospital for treatments, changing dressings and staying up with her at night.

Beka buried Oreo in a corner next to the side of the deck west of the house in a little wooden box Paul made for her. She made a headstone out of a small scrap of wood and groomed the plot all through the winter.

Last summer she planted flowers on Oreo's grave while Dion planted flowers in the garden. When her mother's flowers did better, she switched them.

One of the eight stockings hanging on the wall is for Beka's new hamster. But there is also one for Oreo. Dion asked her why she wanted a sock made for him. After all, he's been gone for over a year now.

"But, he'll see me give him something" was her simple and immediate reply. Diondidn't have a comeback for that one, and went back to sewing stockings.

Early in December, Beka kept talking about getting some Christmas lights with some of the money she'd earned, but Dion couldn't figure out why. The Christmas tree and lights were already up.

Then one morning she noticed an orange extension cord trailing from the garage toward the back of the house. She followed it along the side of the deck to a little wooden trellis set up next to Beka's hamster's grave.

A single strand of twinkle lights threaded around the trellis and looped over the wooden headstone. The writing on the headstone in felt tip marker is beginning to fade. But it is still readable. It says, "MY FAVORITE HAMSTER. I'LL NEVER FORGET HIM."

Of all the Christmas lights I've seen this year, among the brightest ones, which truly convey a spirit of Christmas, are those strung behind Barron's house, lending a glow each evening to the snow by the side of the deck over Beka's favorite hamster.