Lazy Sunday Afternoon

gratitude

gratitude (Photo credit: nathalie booth)

I’m still in my blue fleece pajama bottoms with cherries happily bursting on them and a 20-year-old mauve Cape Cod sweatshirt and I have no interest in getting dressed. This is my outfit today, I see no reason to change. It’s freezing outside, and if my tensed up bones need a break (no, not literally) I will give it to them. Cold weather is not good for people with chronic pain or Fibromyalgia. Trust me. I know. It’s too early to long for Spring.

The wind is howling outside, seeping in to our little house’s walls, windows. I am under a mountain of blankets with my dog. She could lie beside me or at the other end of the bed, but no, she picks the place over my feet to settle down. My dog, my mutt, was a wild puppy, I struggled bitterly with her biting and pulling and ransacking the house. How my friends encouraged me to “hang in there, she’s just a puppy.” At 8 months, she is still a puppy but a better one and most certainly a larger one. She no longer bites into my hand as if it was a cheeseburger. I’m not as steady on my feet as other people, because of balance issues, so I hope she behaves.

Our children have left for their respective colleges, the house is comfortingly quiet, and we are happy,  probably because I know the kids will be back in three weeks and because this happened to be a lovely Thanksgiving weekend. No fighting, NO DRAMA and a good time all around. My daughter didn’t even object when we told her she needed to see a doctor, she came home from her appointment with a package of antibiotics and a diagnosis of bronchitis. No, you cannot drink while you are on antibiotics. As my kids used to say “Nuff said.”

There are more leftovers to eat tonight, I’m not even sick of them yet. It’s hard to get sick of turkey, cranberry sauce, my Danny’s home-made, unbelievable stuffing and Polish rye bread “from the Homestead” in Kew Gardens, Queens where we both grew up. There is nothing like that bread, it brings back all sorts of childhood memories: standing in line, getting sandwiches made, deciding between the shrimp salad, or chicken salad, imported cheeses, home-baked desserts: cherry, apple and cheese strudel, chocolate layer cakes, and the traditional jelly doughnuts for New Year’s Eve.

Like last year, we won’t be exchanging gifts this Christmas. Everything is so expensive and times are hard. My husband has a job but I can’t work and I live in silent fear of him losing his job since the economy is so bad. If that happens, we will deal with it then. My present this year will be the memories of this past weekend, the family getting together at our house for Thanksgiving. The memories of the pretty amber lit candles that lined the middle of our long tables, my dog, lying on the green couch, the four cousins whispering together, the three grandparents still with us, childhood friends that I grew up with here, and the giant dessert spread we had, enough for 40 people not 14. We had a warm place to sit, food on the table, we were all grateful to be here, we escaped the worst from Sandy; we were very, very lucky. For this, and everything else, we gave and continue to give our thanks.

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Learning To Love Lexi

Lexi – photo by author

After our family dog, Callie, died from cancer of the spleen from one moment to the next, I was heartbroken. We all were. This happened shortly after her           tenth birthday party, a tradition in our home, mocked by the boys but revered by the girls. This year, being her BIG birthday, even the boys made an appearance and I was so happy. I even bought the number 10 candles and put them in her special mushy dog food that we gave her once a year as a treat. Little did we know it would be her last birthday and that she would die shortly thereafter. My son took me aside after she died and said quietly “Really glad you had that birthday party, Mom, it was a good party.” Of course, I burst into tears but was grateful.

Of the four of us and our neighbors, I was the most emotional; I’m always the most emotional. I couldn’t walk around our small, cozy house without crying. It was too quiet in the house, no one followed me or greeted me at the door, no one loved me like Callie did and I missed her desperately. I grieved intensely  for a while and then decided I was the type of person who needed a dog. Against the lectures of my family, I started visiting animal shelters on my own, with my husband and with my friend, Sarah.

After months of visiting, holding, petting, I hadn’t found the right dog for us. I had been told to adopt an older animal (and next time I really will) but at this point I didn’t want to miss a minute of a puppy’s young life. I looked at older dogs but not seriously. I was happy just being near dogs and puppies until one day, my thirtieth trip to an animal shelter but the second trip to the North Shore Animal League, my friend Sarah and I walked in and my eyes met the sleepy eyes of a rust colored puppy, curled up in a circle, sleeping. I had just met MY dog. We fell in love. I asked to see her, this “German Shepard Mix” and soon I was led to an inside room and she was in my lap, all kisses and hugs and sleepy sweetness. When another woman asked me if I was taking that dog, I immediately said “Yes, this was MY dog” and so she became mine. My friend Sarah and I filled out the papers, (I tell the dog that she has two mommies) and I called my husband and said “Honey, it’s a girl!”

I named her Lexi (were both names from my favorite show Grey’s Anatomy?) and I sat in the back seat, Lexi sleeping in my lap, while Sarah drove us home ever so carefully to avoid the huge pot holes in the road. I did not substitute Lexi for Callie, it was a different love, a new love, a love I had to grow into and an important lesson to learn. There are no two loves alike in this world. You can love equally but not exactly alike. This applies to every type of love there is, it’s a huge life lesson.

I admit, I had forgotten what having a puppy was like, after all, I was ten years older now and that makes a big difference. I think my puppy years are behind me and while I know I will always be a “dog person” I can see adopting an older dog in the future. But, what was most different were their personalities, Callie was a lap dog, a fearful dog, terrified of being in cars, scared of people, perhaps abused before she came to us. She liked nothing better than to stay at home in her comfort zone, yet she was perfectly attuned to my feelings. Lexi, wild thing, crazy dog, likes nothing better than to hop in the back seat and go for a ride, has the strength of a bull, loves to play, jump and go places and hasn’t shown a lot of tenderness (yet.) She’s fun and playful and but when I fell on the ground once, she didn’t leave me, I even saw concern in her eyes and gratitude in mine. Once she’s through her puppy phase I’m hoping she will settle down and be a really great dog. Actually, I’m counting on it.

If I Were an Animal

cute dog on table

cute dog on table (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Pedigrees Need Not Apply

Without a doubt I’d be a dog, but not just anyone’s dog, but my dog. A dog in my family is loved beyond reason, is treated with kisses and hugs and table treats and secret snacks. She is adored, deeply, fully; we go on walks, we play games in the back yard; I warm my feet underneath her body when she lies on the bed with me. We have a pretty albeit small home, we feel safe here together. My dog, Callie, gives back every ounce of love she gets and more. Every time one of us walks in the front door she is so happy to see us that she gives kisses and hugs and licks; there’s always a celebration at our house. A celebration of love and yes, she gets a small birthday party every single year that my daughter and I throw along with our neighbors. My husband and son are no longer even INVITED.

Besides, the dog and I have a secret promise together, something only we know. I promised never to leave her, ever, but also, not to let her suffer terribly in pain down the road. We will make decisions together, she and I, and that I will be with her, looking into her beautiful velvet eyes, as the last person she sees, the person who loved her the most.

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A Love Letter To My Dog

 

Bernese Mountain Dog, puppy, 7 weeks old

Image via Wikipedia

 

Dear Callie,

I adopted you from the Briarcliff ASPCA  animal shelter 8 years ago. When I arrived,” just to look”, the manager of the shelter was cuddling two tiny puppies, one on each side of her cheeks. She told me that they never got puppies but you and your sister had just been returned by a man who adopted you at 5 weeks old. He returned after a week to drop you and your sister off because “you were too much trouble.” What did he expect from two 5 week old puppies? You and your sisters and brothers were rejected by your mother who was very tired after having given birth a few years in a row and she would not nurse you. I’m sure in my own psychological, baby heart I related to you, having been born 6 weeks prematurely and in the Neonatal department of the hospital for 5 weeks, away from my own mother. I wanted to save you, to save myself.

You and your sister,  tiny,  black with white and tan spots were handed to me as I sat myself down on the cold, gray concrete floor. You fit into the palm of one hand. One of you ran around, eating electrical wires and trying to escape; the other one walked more tentatively and curled up in  the center of my lap. It was love at first sight. I admit, the other dog was more confident and feisty and she probably would have had fun riding in the car, unlike you.  But, we all know that I’m a softie and when the tiny fluff ball that was you crawled in my lap and sighed with contentment, I did too. We were made for each other, Cal.

When the kids came home from school, in 3rd and 4th grade, you were so tiny that they first thought you were a hamster. For the first week or two I slept downstairs with you on the sofa bed and I treated you as if you were a newborn baby. When you cried I held you, when you whimpered I soothed you and I put a stuffed animal in your crate and the sound of a ticking clock to simulate a heartbeat. You were never a dog that needed to be walked continously you preferred to be at home, safe in our tiny house that was always filled with warmth and lots of love.

You are a natural-born charmer.When we eat dinner you stay near me and you rest your soft, silky neck right on my knee. Oh, you’re a spoiled dog, but you don’t whine or beg, you just look at me tenderly, licking your lips, knowing I will surrender eventually. Who can resist your warm brown dog eyes, the way your fur is outlined  so it looks like you are wearing permanent eye liner. I covet your really long eye lashes that dip and curl.  You eat everything, and you especially love Lorna Doone‘s, spaghetti sauce and blueberries. You’re not a fan of broccoli or pretty much any vegetable that’s not covered in cheese sauce. But, I admit, you eat more things than my two teenage children combined.

I love you, Callie. You are so important to our family; you always have been. The kids used to lie on their stomachs with one arm around you and talk. My son would confide in you when he was furious, my daughter still whispers her secrets in your silky ears. I never knew the meaning of unconditional love before you joined our family. Your fur has white and gray in it now, and you jump more tentatively but that’s alright. We will love you as long as you are with us and long afterwards too.

Snow Dog (Repost)

The Wolf Dog playing with a ball in the snow

Image via Wikipedia

Callie, my beautiful 9-year-old dog lies curled up at the end of my bed; her black, white and tan fur as soft as down feathers.  Her paws are white with tan freckles, her stomach is pure white. Her long tail is like a sweeping paintbrush, like a peacock’s plume, black and tan, its softness tickles my nose.   Sometimes she shudders and shakes when she is sleeping and I reach out to stroke her fur and wake her up; she looks around and stretches one paw directly up into the air and audibly sighs.

Callie knows, instinctively, how I feel;  she is sensitive to my moods and especially to my sorrow.  She jumps up on my bed  and looks at me with her liquid brown eyes, knowingly.   After my father died, Callie spent a lot of time with me, she could comfort me as no one else could. She licked the tears away from my face and would not leave my side until I felt better.  I didn’t need to explain, I didn’t need to talk, she understood my pain at the most primitive level. Her fur was often damp from my tears, my arms curled around her body. Wherever I went, she went; she still follows me everywhere; I still call her “my little shadow.”

Nine years ago I drove to a few shelters, “just looking.” One day I arrived at a shelter to see a woman who worked there cradling two, tiny, adorable puppies in her hands, one to her left cheek, the other to her right. Apparently the pup’s mom had abandoned them and wouldn’t nurse them.  I arrived five minutes after a man who had adopted them for a week came back and brought   the puppies back to the shelter, because “they were too much trouble.”

I sat myself down on the dirty floor and the two, six-week old  puppies were placed next to me.  One was frisky and started eating telephone wires, the other crawled into my lap and stayed. It was love at first sight, for both of us.  I identified with the little ball of mush snuggling into my lap, sighing with contentment; if she had been a cat she would have purred.

I  watch Callie from the window, frolicking in the snow, barking happily, and hopping and skipping like a bunny. Snow is her favorite element and in it she acts like the same young pup we’ve always known.   Her favorite time is when we have a snowstorm and my husband shovels snow directly to her.  She can literally jump up to two feet in the air so she is just about vertical and she yelps and barks with utter joy.

I was never able to understand the bond between a human being and a dog, until we adopted Callie and then I knew what unconditional love was.   My children whisper their secrets to her, I have seen them bend down, close to her ear. She is the keeper of secrets and of sorrow, and she is constantly happy, even if we are away for five minutes, she greets us with great joy.

Now, her once black whiskers are turning white; the fur under her chin has also changed from black to white. My daughter asked me the other day “How long do dogs live?”  It’s the same thing I have thought about from time to time.  I hesitated, and  my daughter said the following:” Mom, I need to know. I need to be prepared.”   I told her what I knew and what the veterinarian had said and that I understood her completely because I needed to be prepared too.  What I did not tell her is that no matter what, you can never be prepared for death. Ever.

My daughter and I and our closest neighbors celebrate her birthday every year on March 1st. We buy her a present or two and she always gets a really good meal. The boys in our family want nothing to do with us. But, for my daughter and me, it’s a celebration of her life, year after year. I hope she is with us for a very long time but when the  day comes, I know that I will always cling to the image in my mind, of my dog, crazy happy, jumping into the air, covered with snowflakes.

newly dedicated to Rosa Michelle