Monthly Archives: January 2017


Visiting by brother toward the end of his life, when he was under Hospice care, I found myself thinking as I  turned the corner to enter his corridor, “What should we chat about today?” It’s a weird transition to get to that point with family where, because of  the elephant in the room, we think ahead occasionally of discussion topics.

Not that the depth of the relationship is any different but with terminal illness there is so much medical stuff to discuss, that talking about the weather seems trite.  But heavier life/death discussions seem a waste of precious breath at this point.

So as I entered his room I said, “I got a dog.”  And my bother, who after recent treatment was functioning with half  his brain power which for most people would feel perfectly normal on a good day said, “A dog? Why would you do that?”  And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Because it is a dog.”

We both laughed and I have thought about that conversation many times since my year-old Gracie entered our lives.  She seemed so simple and sweet and the perfect addition to our family when I purchased her.

We “rescued” her actually but as my husband loves to remind me, she is the most expensive rescue dog on earth. She was purchased as a purebred by a woman who mistreated her and then rescued and trained by a lovely woman who trains service dogs.  She’s actually head of the National Association for Service Dogs.  So when I “rescued” Gracie, she was a certified emotional support dog and came with a pretty big price tag. But who doesn’t need emotional support and with my brother dying, I surely did.

So I brought this dog home and all was well. She was my little bundle of grace that I needed at the time and by little, I mean eight pounds and a handful of ounces little, so how much dog trouble could she be?  As it turned out, rescuing a dog at eight months right before the holidays gives you little time to spay a dog. So when she went into heat, which in my part of the country is like saying you just married your first cousin, I remembered what my brother said and thought how “doglike” of her to go into heat without checking with me first.

I even went to the vet to discuss this heat thing, which we are now on week seven of, and the vet after my first question said, “Honestly, I don’t get these questions often.  Ninety percent of our dogs…”

Point taken.  Point confirmed that I am a hillbilly owner in a neutered world.

In this part of the country, we go to the anti-cruelty society for mutts. We don’t breed them. Dogs don’t just show up one day with a litter under the basement stairs like my childhood pet, Chips, did. I know, go figure. Male name. Female dog. No wonder my sweet mama was surprised by the pups. I’ve joked with friends that with all the “fixed” dogs in my neighborhood the only chance Gracie will get pregnant is if a coyote slips in the yard. Which God forbid they have been known to do now and then as we live near a heavily wooded forest preserve.

Which brings me to another interesting tidbit. The east coast has recognized a new breed of animal in the last decade or so. A coywolf. And no, I’m not kidding. Over a century ago, as wolves were nearing extinction, nature took it upon itself to preserve this species by having them interbreed with dogs and coyotes. All with similar DNA, this new “species” has produced enough offspring to be recognized as a newly evolved animal. Ten percent dog and the other ninety wolf and coyote, these coywolves run in packs, combining a dog’s fearlessness of humans with the open prairie instincts of a coyote and the woodland preferences of the wolf. Before you think just I’m blowing smoke, read for yourself.

These animals are roaming closer and closer to urban settings and survive on rodents and small animals. Rodents, cats, squirrels. Small mammals as in little white dog. Like the one in my view, in my yard, off-leash as I type. Guess I’m two for two in flunking Rescuer 101. Fenceless yard.  Allowed heat.

Male dog magnet, fences, vet visits, coyote bait, tripped-over chew toys at every turn.

A dog? Why would anyone want a dog?

Because in spite of her messy little problem and her penchant for toppling wastebaskets and barking at the wind, she loves me best– completely and unconditionally. And on my lonely days when I miss my brother most, she finds a warm spot on my lap and licks my face if I cry.

That’s why.

Full Circle

I wait for blogs to come to me. I hope for them.  When I go months without one, I feel guilty as though I have failed my readers. That is silly, of course.  Really.  I am not your weekly anticipated op-ed or Anna Quindlen column.

But God, how I’d love to be.

babiesTonight I had dinner with old friends at a cozy local pub. Soon after we sat down, talk drifted to our grandchildren. And other friends walking by chimed in about theirs and iphones flew out, pictures were passed around, voices became more animated and joy was shared.

I thought.  Oh my.  We have come full circle.

One of the ladies at the table was a friend who used to hitchhike about the country. Alone and uninhibited. Blonde and happy and free as a bird. Male drivers, female drivers, pick ups trucks, semis–nothing daunted her.  Her baby pictures were the first to show up.  Hers were some of the proudest. From seventies liberated chick to grandmother. Just like that. A blink. A blur.

I ordered Christmas cookies this year, as I did last, from my college suite mate who was the sassiest girl I had ever met at that point in my life  She wore a kimono as her robe and sang like an angel in the shower.  She snuck boys up the fire escape in an all female dorm. I adored her spunk. Her cigarettes.  Her joie de vivre. She was exotic. And now she is back home with her beloved mama making hand-cut sugar cookies. She even admitted to me recently, she doesn’t like to “merge” on highways and often takes the backroads.

Another high school buddy, who had her share of uninhibited youthful escapades, makes sausage now. Like her daddy. And her grandfather. And probably his. She is the backbone of her community and works hard for clean water and fair trade and lends a generous hand to all those who need it. When the city’s main water source was polluted by corporate monsters for months, she and her Uncle Dewey handed out crates of free bottled water from her factory dock.

We all rebel in some way, at some time against all we needed, loved and believed in. And then, most often in the end, we do what we know.  We come back.  We come back to some part of those who loved us best. Who shaped us. Gave us the chutzpah to stick out our thumbs on a freeway or buy a pack of Winstons on the sly.

And if we don’t return, we miss it.  Even if the people that formed us broke our hearts or, intentionally or unintentionally, tried to take our souls. Messed with our minds or confused us. Inspired us to turn right when our hearts craved what the enticing left offered.

We miss that familiar sound of the familiar. And we come back.

It’s a good thing to come home to that intrinsic part of ourselves. For me, it keeps me sane. I often joke that I open my mouth and my mother talks. I view a situation in a way I never did before and I hear her voice in my head. I look in the mirror and remember her saying her reflection didn’t match the 25-year-old girl that still lived in her heart.

And now I understand.

I understand her unabashed adoration for her grandchildren because I have my own now.  I understand the joy of loving a child, a tiny human miracle, without the angst of making it perfect or changing its dreams. No desire to guide its direction in life. Just a heart full of boundless love and awe. Grandchildren are our gift for our own sleepless nights and driver’s license tests and “wherearetheywhenwilltheycomehomewhydonttheycall.”

They are our gift for hanging in there.  Through medical crises, marriage crises, death, disappointment, loss and renewal. These babies are a welcome tonic for the unsettling understanding that we are the older generation now. With few left to look up to and seek for guidance. But many to thank and look back upon with grateful hearts and a new understanding of how hard it is to do all of this gracefully.

Now it is our turn to be the guide. And sometimes just watch it happen.

Because that’s how people and traditions and families survive.  And hope remains.

We pass the baton to the new ones.  The next generation. Whether they are our own babies or students or neighbors, these fresh, innocent faces are who will bring on the future. Embrace it and love it. Mold it to make their own version of history.

And hopefully, occasionally, they will hear our voices in their heads.