Friday, November 30, 2018

Pearl is Gone, and I Am Lost For A Bit

You know, I really don't want to be that person. You know the one. The one who won't stop talking about her dog, how great she was, how much you miss her and how you should have done more.

But, I am.

I went to an art show this past weekend, and it was a good one. I currently use a camper in my travels, small but efficient, with a shower and a place to sleep. And Pearl was with me. I worried that the trip was too much jostling, too much here and there for her frail health. But, being away from her in her passing would have filled me with so much angst that I had to take her. She was comfortable in a little rolling cart, on her favorite pillow, and at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon, she passed.

I knew it somehow - that it would happen that weekend. She drank some water dutifully, tried to walk and pee, then stretched her neck over the top of the cart and gasped a few times...then, peacefully passed. I was holding her, touching her heart and calling her name. I had to keep my head and heart in check for three hours during the show, then another two hours while packing up the tent...but the minute I was in the car heading home, I was lost. Lost to grief, lost to infinite sadness.

I really don't believe in the afterlife, honestly. I believe that we return to energy, as we are born of energy and live as energy. I buried her body that night, and haven't been able to visit the grave yet. I am grieving and think of her every hour of every day since she died. She has left a wound in my heart. I miss her.

I'm not quite all right yet. I'm in a bit of a fog. I'm adulting. But what I really want to do is push the grief to a crescendo so that I can get over it. I want to look at all her photos, I want to relive all my best moments and remember all the goodness that was that little dog. I helped her with all her puppies, and nursed her through her worst times and would have gladly taken care of her for years to come, even if it meant constant attention. She gave me unconditional love, even when I was impatient with her, or complained of how I had to walk her or groom and bathe her. She was a loyal companion.

When we leave the earth, we are gone, and all that remains are memories. When I die, she will die with me.

She deserved so much more.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Foods Of Historical Significance

I'm not sure why, but recently I felt compelled to revisit some of the foods I grew up eating when I was a child.

I think it was an old Monty Python sketch about Spam that launched this uncomfortable journey.

Because, like most every American household in the 60s, we ate a lot of Spam.

Spam was the meat du jour on any given day, and to my recollection, almost every Friday evening. The big thing in our household was "Breakfast at Night," whereby we ate scrambled eggs, toaster waffles, bacon and fried Spam. Saturday's lunch menu was always Spam sandwiches (on Wonder bread, of course, with plenty of mayonnaise. As kids, we didn't care, because Big Meat was always cooked on Sunday (whether it was a gorgeous beef roast, complete with savory veggies or a roast chicken, with dumplings cooked in the juices), so we knew we would have "real" food to gorge ourselves on the next day. Sunday's all-day cooking would result in lots of other leftovers that did not resemble Spam.

Dad loved the stuff. I loved opening the cans, because it required a mysterious "key" with which to hook onto a small metal tab, and if you took your time and rolled back the metal just right, you could open the can. If you broke off the metal, well, then it was time for the pliers, because no can opener, electric or manual, could open that rectangular contraption. It was my singular achievement to roll back the metal so tight that you couldn't tell where the metal and the key became fused. It was something I was quite good at.

I decided that a taste of the 2018 variety of Spam was in order.

I had recently purchased a tin of Deviled Ham, another of my childhood memories (again, on white bread with a lot of mayonnaise) and I found it to be suitable for a chip dip, but not a sandwich. One can was all it took for me to decide it wasn't suitable for that, either, after I had a bit of stomach distress after eating the whole thing (I bought the double-size). I had also bought a can of "Sweet Sue Chicken and Dumplings," which we ate in double doses when we had a no-cook evening, and I remembered it to be a savory meal of tasty dumplings with real chicken, stringy and pressure-cooked just like the real thing. The can I opened had the dumplings stuck to the inner lid, smelled of Alpo, and had bits of rubber squares masquerading as chicken. We won't even get into the description of what the dumplings tasted like.

Spam has tried to corner the market on all things instant meat, with several varieties, ranging from "spicy" to "lemon-pepper." I bought the normal, run-of-the-mill Spam, marked "original," and was dismayed that the can no longer sported the essential "key" with which to open it. After opening the can, the first whiff brought back all those things I loved about Spam, along with the "squishy" sound it makes as you pry it from its container. I sliced it up, and placed two on a piece of sandwich bread and took a bite.

I'm not real sure how I survived the 60s, eating Spam as a food source. Or, for that matter, Deviled Ham and Sweet Sue Chicken and Dumplings.

It tasted remotely of ham, but mostly of a slimy grease, for want of better words. The next morning, I decided that I would fry up a slice. Needless to say, I did not need to put any oil in the pan, as it contained plenty all by itself. It did make a slight difference in the taste (better) but not on the "this will give me a heart attack if I eat any more of it" register.

And, since I am not fond of, but have had plenty, "TV Dinners," mostly Swanson, I think I'll leave those convenience foods off my list for a little while. When Mom discovered the Amana Radar-Range (it took up half of the kitchen counter, and shined like a beacon in the night), she also discovered Swanson dinners, pre-packaged with meatloaf, fried chicken and salisbury steak, along with a spoonful of corn or mashed potatoes (heaven forbid green beans) and a brownie that never quite came out of the paper dish. There weren't a whole lot of varieties of food in TV dinners back then, and unfortunately some of them still came in the aluminum plates, which took care of Mom's first microwave in about 30 seconds. After much wailing and absolute despair, another one was purchased at Sears, and TV dinners were no longer in the freezer, for fear of another incident. It was a bit of a status symbol back in the day to have an Amana Radar-Range, and Mom was very proud of her new appliance. She wasn't going to take another chance. Dad's limit on purchasing appliances had been reached.

I've never been able to master a lot of the great foods I grew up eating, such as fried okra and green tomatoes, Sunday roast with Yorkshire Puddings (cooked right in the enamel roasting pan - yum!) and fried fish (I ate the crunchy fried fins like they were candy). Dad cooked frog legs and oysters and rabbit (and I ate every single thing without hesitation), but I wouldn't not touch a frog leg today, and certainly not rabbit. I haven't cooked a Cornish game hen for decades, nor have I dined on goat, dove or alligator, also dishes prepared by Dad on any given weekend. I'm giving up on Spam and Deviled Ham, and gladly so. Cans of Sweet Sue will never grace my pantry shelves again, hurricane or no.

I have yet to revisit tins of Corned Beef Hash (also a staple of my youth) or LeSuer English Peas (try as he did every year, Dad could never grow English peas to any great extent, and love them he did), but I think I'll let my digestive tract recover for a while. Some things you don't need to remember.




Monday, October 15, 2018

Beware the Awareness of Greatness

As some of my friends know, or don't know and perhaps don't care, I have a true affection for Tom Robbins.

Not Harold Robbins, also a novelist, or Tim Robbins, an actor of dubious fame who had the also dubious pleasure of sharing a great deal of his life with Susan Sarandon, another one of my mental idols, along with Marilyn Monroe and Will Rogers, all for very different reasons.

No, I was introduced to the written meanderings of Tom Robbins back in 1980, when I read his third novel, "Still Life with Woodpeckers," having been an aficionado of book stores (and reading) back in the day. I was looking at a table stacked with the newest publications and saw his face on the back cover. So, I suppose, even before I read a word, I was intrigued by his "look," which in a word, looked almost exactly like a cartoon I had drawn on a paper bag back in high school, a vision of what I hoped my future husband would resemble. In fact, my husband at the time did resemble him, with a bit of a lackadaisical swagger, tousled wheat-colored hair and that crooked smile. But, soon after our daughter was born in 1979, I was divorced from the aforementioned husband, and sadly so. But I digress, as usual.

The book's cover also intrigued me. It was a beautiful rendition of a woodpecker (the large variety of the bird, I believe) holding a match, and was reminiscent of a pack of Camel cigarettes. The back cover touted that it was a "sort of love story" that "dealt with the problem of redheads." Flipping immediately to the back of the paperback, as I am wont to do before reading any book, there was a scrawled statement: "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." I purchased it ($4.50) and I have been hooked on Tom Robbins and his books ever since.

But, I have never, in all these years, dug into the man himself, preferring to learn him from his words, and to savor the snippets of his life written on the inside covers of said books. When I learned he had written books prior to this one, I was down at the local Barnes & Noble, purchasing them to savor up even more of the strange wisdoms I found to be so like my own. I have purchased every one of his books since, reading them with cookies and milk, reading them on buses and planes, reading them after Friday night beer escapades (although not for long).

In 2011, a sort of autobiography was released, "Tibetan Peach Pie." Of course, I had been out of the reading habit for well over two decades by this time, and didn't find out about this book until 2018, but in need of diversions, and having a bit more free time via self-employment and semi-retirement, I purchased it.

 I read about his childhood, his marriages (which also strangely resembled my own) and his former and current philosophies of life: then, now and forever. He described his voice as having a North Carolina affectation with a heavy dose of Appalachian twang. I realized I had never heard his voice.

I had never, in this age of internet stalking, googled him. I was content to read his words, marvel at his acquired wisdoms, gobble down all of his imaginative scenarios with singular characters of whom I would have been sitting at a bar with, and probably have at one point or another. But now, I needed to hear that voice.

So, I found a YouTube video of an interview done with Tom Robbins. An 80-year old Tom Robbins, who had lost that boyish grin, that tousled hair that bloom of youth. Not the Tom Robbins I had admired for decades.  I am only loyal to two novelists: Tom Robbins and Carl Hiaasen. I've heard Carl Hiaasen's voice and it matches his writing, and that lovely slightly honey-smooth Southern accent is definitely pleasing. But, Robbins' voice is creaky like an old pantry door, with almost no discernible accent, much less one of the Southern variety. I attributed this to his many years in Washington state, where there is no accent to speak of. I wasn't devastated, but certainly not overjoyed. What I had expected to hear, and what I heard, were not cohesive.

Sometimes, I have found, it is best to leave a bit of mystery, a bit of wonder, in all that which we find interesting. It's good when we can have that tiny tidbit of our own imaginations about something - or someone - unknown. Perhaps knowing everything about those whom we hold in high esteem is not necessarily a good thing. If Robbins manages to crank out another novel, I will surely buy it, if only to see what bit of takeaway wisdom I can glean from it. But I will never, ever google him again. I am content to know just enough.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Pearl is Ending Her Journey

After a series of what appeared to be small seizures, my little Black Pearl may be on her last and final days.

Pearl is my little Scottish Terrier, purchased for me not long after I lost my soulmate dog, Rita, to a brain hemorrhage brought on by a nasty fall on the staircase leading to the second floor of my building in Kentucky. I grieved for months. So did her companion, another Scottish Terrier named Lucy, and she died three months later, in her sleep. My husband informed me that we needed to have a nice dinner out, and he proceeded to drive south from our home. I loved being in the truck with him, he was always full of interesting stories. I do have a thing for storytellers.

Two hours later, we arrived in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where we stopped at a Cracker Barrel. That's where we met a wheaten Scottish Terrier, a beauty of a puppy, although he was almost a year old. This was to be officially Dandy Jack, called affectionately "Jarhead" by my former Marine husband, TJ, who wanted to ease my heartache a bit. He was a wonderful dog, perfect actually, but he wasn't my Rita. He followed me dutifully, was easy to train and love. A couple of months later, we went on a road trip to Missouri, where I met a small Scottish Terrier, who became my Black Pearl. She was offered up to me, along with her littermate, and I saw the she was the shyer of the two, and seemed a bit sickly. 

So, of course, as she was in need of a caretaker, and I was in need of a little soul to take care of, I chose her over her feistier sister. As we drove away, the first thing little Pearl did, after licking me to death and yipping off and on, was to pee on my lap. Yep. We were bonded. 

Since then, my Pearl and I have been inseparable. Her first-born son is my Wiggles, whom I adore. I also have charge over two of her pups, Calypso and Violette. When my painful divorce brought me back to Florida, she rode with me in the truck, hanging out the window, ears flapping in the wind. The first time she had ever been to a beach, she threw herself into the sand with a vengeance, immersing herself in the salty sand. She chased crawfish in mountain streams, but the ocean was altogether different. How she loved the beach!

It's always Pearl with whom I have shared my heartaches, my loneliness, my solitude for the past twelve years. She has given me total loyalty and immeasurable happiness. If I had a bad day, Pearl was there, giving me those eyeballs of love, pleading with me for a walk and a talk, and somehow she knew that just her presence was enough to ease the anger, the hurt, the confusion and the frustrations of any given day. She hated that, after the first years of my being home every day, I was soon back at a full time job, leaving her looking at me out the window of my bedroom.

She has been showing her age of late. The past month has been a heartbreaking decline in her physical health and she appears to be fading. As I write this, she has had small seizures off and on during the previous day and night, and I have not left her side. She has bounced back from each seizure, slowly, but has been eating and drinking and walking, if but incredibly slow and measured. I do not see pain in her eyes, and she is comfortable, being transported outside for pees and poop, and whatever room I end up in, she tried to follow me, as she always did.

However, this morning, she cannot move. She won't eat or drink. She has labored breathing. I am giving her eyedroppers of water and milk every half hour or so, but she is going. She knows it, and is leaving me with grace and dignity, while I am in denial and can't accept her passing. I am too selfish to let her go. She is not in pain, and sleeping mostly, even when the other dogs come around and sniff at her, sometimes licking her face for a drop of milk caught in her whiskers. 

I won't have her euthanized, because I don't believe in it, unless an animal is truly in pain. I have her progeny here, and they seem to know, and I have to give them love and care, even while my Pearl is  resting on her pillow, near my art desk, and I will give her as much comfort as she needs. She will go in her sleep, so I stay awake as much as I can, so that I can be there when she does pass. 

I just don't want her to go. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

She's a Brave Little Toaster

I made an analogy a few days ago to one of my favorite cartoon movies, "The Brave Little Toaster," in which a group of outdated appliances are left in a remote cabin by their owner. They get lonely and decide it's time to go find him. It's really a story of bravery, loyalty and courage – and friendship.

The analogy I made was to my youngest little dog companion, Violette. I have five dogs. Two of them had a former caretaker, my daughter, who could no longer keep them because of a rental agreement, and when I married my husband (should I say current? I get married a lot), he came with an old spaniel mix who was a Christmas present for his son, over 12 years ago, who quickly decided "dog life" was not for him. So, yes, five dogs, whom I would never abandon.

Long story short, or at least semi-short, is that Violette has gone mysteriously and rather suddenly, blind. Not sure why, and can't really afford to have a series of very expensive tests and vet visits to determine the cause, because the outcome is still the same. She cannot see. It doesn't appear to be cataracts, as her lenses are clear. They're just, for want of a better word, vacant.

My hubby's dog is blind as well, and cannot hear, either. But, she's well into her teens, the oldest at about 16, and has been this way for at least two years. She's a pro at being blind. She sleeps mostly. You don't have to see to sleep.

But this little dog, the smallest of all my Scottish terriers, was just about the most ferocious little rat-killer on the planet. She lived to chase vermin, whether they had scales, fur or feathers. Nothing escaped her rattlesnake-like aim when it came to disposing of Other Creatures In The Yard. She and her siblings would hunt in a pack, one scaring the ne'er-do-wells out of hiding, one chasing it right into Violette's path, and of  course, that was certain doom. My hubby took to calling her "Pineapple," because she was so snappy and fierce, but could be the biggest mush when you scratched her ears just right. Violette had been sold to a retired couple in Cincinnati when she was 9 weeks old, but they didn't know how to deal with a puppy this lively, so they gave her back to me at 13 weeks of age. She was a mess for a while, having been caged for all of those horrendous 4 weeks, not allowed to interact, no playtime, and very little human contact - or dog contact. She proceeded to hide under the sofa for a month, refusing to come out, not sure of what had happened or where she was, not to mention four other curious dogs who thought they smelled her before...

I would gently slide a plate of food and a bowl of water under the sofa, and within an hour the plate and bowl were empty. She sneaked out at night to use a pee-pee pad (my former husband and I lived in a building and no yard) and she just wasn't ready to endear herself to any human, much less her dog-pimp mama. Finally, after many days of coaxing, putting her food closer to the outside of the established Violette-Zone, she started to soften and became the glorious rat-killer and barky-thing we grew to know and love. She stopped snapping at her siblings, started to actually enjoy playing with them and was finally able to interact, which included being the best little dog on a leash ever.

She stayed this way most of her nine years. Until about three months ago. Literally, overnight, this dog could not see. And, she has developed a large lump, which the vet said was most likely mammary cancer, and would require surgery and treatments, to which an estimate of well over $5,000 was snootily given by the woman, who eyed me up as not only a dog hoarder (they were all in for annuals and rabies), but as an uncaring and obviously unfit human mother for the little thing. So, as she is not in pain (I have that written down on a piece of paper by the aforementioned arrogant vet, along with a sour recommendation that I have her euthanized), I am sadly letting Violette be one of the statistics of People Who Cannot Afford Her Own Insurance Much Less That of Her Treasured Pets.

Violette went back into hiding for a while, unsure of what was going on, and took up semi-permanent residence under a huge bamboo armoire in the living room. She did come stumbling out for her daily walkies, and she always got extra attention, always being paired up for walkies with her lifelong sibling and litter-mate, Calypso.

She started to walk into furniture, walls, people, car tires, trees and the miscellaneous objects that she probably never took note of when she was a seeing-eye dog (puts a whole new perspective on that moniker, doesn't it?). Once she started to get her bearings, though, she started to shine, however dimly compared to her previous luminescence.

She walks very slowly, not out of pain, but out of necessity, in the house and yard. She only time she resembles her old self is when she trots down the middle of the road on her walkies like a champ, because she senses there are no obstacles to maneuver around. She adores this time of her day. She instinctively pulls me over to relieve herself on the grass, and then goes right back to center lane, jauntily prancing about like nobody's business. And, this is where my heart breaks, every single evening.

She has taught me what true bravery is all about. She has no hesitation in finding her way, although she has lost partial hearing, too (that was a while back, because of an ear infection, and yes, it was vet-treated). She investigates and goes under, over and through, without an iota of where she is or what she is getting in to. When you call her, she sweeps the area with her eyes, moving her ears, trying to eco-locate. She inevitably turns the wrong way, not sure where the sound is coming from. She runs into things, she underestimates depths and sometimes just stands, unsure of her whereabouts, searching for clues. She learns how to navigate with the feeling of wood deck, stone, grass and asphalt under her feet, and trudges bravely on, to find her path. At night, she is no longer crated, but comes in to the bedroom after I make my way to sleep and jumps on the bed, cleans her paws, scratches here and there, and finally, as I have settled in, she jumps back down and makes her way to Under The Armoire, where she prefers to spend the rest of her evening.

She does all her usual dog things. Barks when the others bark, cleans the food bowl like a champ and occasionally lets me love on her a bit, returning it by licking my face and putting her head close to my chest. I still treat her like I always did, letting her stumble a bit sometimes, waiting until she determines what is in her way, and watching her move around it, slowly, but very surely. She doesn't jump on any furniture anymore (the studio chair was always her territory) but sometimes, I put her up there, thinking that's where she wants to be. She jumps down, preferring to be on the floor, where she has familiarity.

Her quality of life appears to be normal, if but a bit arrested. It's my quality of life that has changed. I now have a heart more full of love for this previously annoying little critter, who barked and barked and barked and barked some more. This dog, who was always getting under bushes chasing God knows what, and digging at the fence line like a crazed inmate at Alcatraz nearing the point of freedom. This dog, who was constantly killing cute little furry rats, which I had to cry a bit over and bury in stone-covered burial plots because she would then try to dig up her quarry again for double-measure. This dog.

Sometimes, in the midst of hardship, we should all look to the lessons that life is teaching us, no matter in what form it takes. This little mess, this little problem child, this little annoyingly loud and irritating creature...has taught me what bravery and courage and will to live is all about.

I am well and truly humbled.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Checking In

From time to time, I get a bit nostalgic and review my early posts. There are 160 of them, you know. Actually, this one will make 161.

In fact, I was numb when I read some of the earliest ones, back when I was married to someone else, living in a different state - and state of mind - and questioning my life and all of the drama in it.

I gave a quick, horrified thought to deleting them, lest they be read and my life from then to now be summarily dissected.

But, you know, in the spirit of authenticity, I left them in situ. They were my thoughts, they were my emotions, they were - and are - my truth. It is my progression from doubtful, scared and pensive to empowered and fearless. I had to give to receive. I have always felt a need to write, almost as much as I've felt the need to create art. I jot down phrases I hear, descriptions of people and their actions, and search for my own truths via words on paper. I love to read other blogs, written by people acting out their lives and emotions without fear of reprisal. Some people are more private, and prefer the comfort of a personal journal, only read by themselves, but I write for anyone to read. It's who I am, it's my extension of authenticity.

How can a person know another person without seeing them as their authentic selves? What do you have to lose? Afraid of someone seeing you as you are? No, that should not be a fear. It's an honor to experience a person at their most truthful and vulnerable. Respect that honor, for it is those people who will become part of your story. The others who scoff or do not attempt to understand - those are the people that are very rarely a true part of anyone else, because their ego is too powerful a deterrent to becoming part of someone else.

So, although it pained me to relive some of those feelings, those questions I never got answers to, well, it was a much-needed reminder of just how far I've travelled, both physically and emotionally. I treasure the written word for remembrances, almost more so than photographs. When you write things down, it comes from somewhere deep in the soul, and photographs are visual memories of the past. Words speak volumes. Photographs are worth a thousand words? Not in my mind.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Loud Silence

I'm a busy person. Busy with normal chores, busy with art, busy with being busy. Most people are, and the times of old and the times of the future are all the same. We are all just busy.

This morning, and it is barely so in my neck of the woods, I sat completely still for a minute, and it was not on purpose. It was as if someone somewhere had pushed the pause button in my brain and my body happily responded.

I heard the silence in my world for the first time in ages.

I liked it.

I used to read quite a lot of books. I don't anymore because when I read books, it takes me out of my reality and into a world created by someone else. My eyes get tired reading books. But, it had to be silent when I read, because I totally absorbed myself into the characters and the situations created by the book authors.

My eyes get tired watching movies and television shows, too. And listening to NPR sometimes really jacks me up with all the coverage in Iran and Syria and Presidential Crap. The endless cackling of the two car guys drives me up a wall and the radio game shows are becoming a bit banal.

And, I discovered just today, just a very few minutes ago, that I like silence.

It feels good to have a few moments of nothingness. No radio blaring, no television, no audible interruptions. No dogs barking, no traffic noise, no aircraft overhead. Mental yoga.

I could concentrate.

I could pull clear thoughts out of my brain. I could rationally separate the dramas of the weekend into little storage compartments, to save or discard. I could let go. People have told me for years that I needed meditation and I wryly joked that possibly they meant to say "mediation," and didn't even consider sitting in silence for a few moments (or more) to recharge, reset and just breathe. I sat in silence this morning, and watched cardinals on the tree outside my window, dragonflies bobbing along with the wind and the butterflies moving erratically from one flower to the next in the garden. I started to focus on what I could actually hear from inside my studio (there are no ticking clocks here), which was the steady breathing of one of my dogs, summer crickets from outside one of the windows and the air from the A/C vent...and that was it. Before, I had not heard these things really.

Even in silence, there is noise. But, it is less severe, less intrusive. To a deaf person, it must be like closing one's eyes for moments of silence. Limiting the senses seems to strengthen them.

If I had to lose of of my senses, I'm certain that I would much prefer to lose my hearing. Because, in these few moments where there was no noise, it was blissful.