Monday, February 28, 2011


Of all the gifts I received on my birthday, the one that I treasured the most did not come wrapped in festive paper and bows, but instead it arrived inside of an envelope; it was a letter!  Catching sight of it, folded carefully inside of a lovely birthday card, immediately transported me back to a time when life was simpler, and the things that I was most grateful for in life more often involved the expenditure of time, rather than the expenditure of the dollar. A letter was, and is, the confirmation that someone thinks highly enough of you to put pen to paper, and write down those thoughts that they might otherwise hold only within their hearts.  It is the validation that you matter to someone; that you are important.  In fact, on that day, at that moment, NOTHING  was more important than sharing those thoughts with you, and all else in their lives was put on hold,  just so that they could take the time to tell you so. What other gift could be as fine?
I would like to say that at the age of 52 I reacted in a manner befitting my years, and made myself a nice cup of tea and sat down in my most comfortable chair, so that I could savor the moment when I read my letter. As usual, I did not act my age. Instead, I yelled to my husband.
"Dave, guess what??  I got a letter inside of  my birthday card, and it's two pages long; FRONT AND BACK!!"  I shouted joyfully. "And the card is REALLY fancy; not a joke card...AND not only that, some of the passages on the card are underlined!!!  Plus, it has X's and O's on it, too!"  I didn't even bother to sit down on a chair to read it.  I stood at my kitchen counter and reveled in the moment.
The letter surpassed all my expectations. Its kind words conveyed the writer's thoughts about our shared experiences and her happiness at the bond that we have as both family and maybe, more importantly, as friends.  It was a verbal hug from a loved one too far away to give me one in person.  It made my day.
In recent years, I have become remiss in my efforts to let those I hold dear know how much that they mean to me on their birthdays or anniversaries.  When buying a card I often choose the most humorous ones, and dash off a quick signature, along with my good wishes. In the future I will try and do better.  Facebook and e-cards, too, are certainly a wonderful reminder  to those we love that they are in our thoughts, but they lack that effort that truly allows us to express the depth of our feelings for those who make our lives so special. They mean more to me than that, and I want them to know it...I want them to enjoy opening the mail as much as I did this year.
Thank you, Aunt Sandy...please consider this post my verbal hug back.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Just as I am convinced that dogs will always be secured a place beside the Creator, I am equally convinced that cats will be welcomed in Heaven, as well.  The big difference is that dogs will enter the kingdom with gratitude and joy in their hearts, while cats, on the other hand, will consider it more of a favor that they are bestowing on God.  I think this stems from the fact, that though dogs demonstrate God's unconditional love, cats demonstrate that love can have all kinds of conditions. Now I am not an authority on cats, since Copper, the cat who presently owns us, is the first cat that I have ever lived with, but if she is any example of the way cats behave I am fairly confident that I have made an accurate assessment.
Copper came into our lives as a kitten; not a brand new baby one but more of a pre-teen.  Once again, we were vacationing in Port Sanilac when, while shopping at the local IGA along with my husband and my youngest daughter Olivia, I noticed a small kitten hiding underneath the back tire of  a pick-up truck; motor running. I alerted the driver and then rescued the sweet little tabby bedecked in her bright blue collar and bell.  Although she had no name tag on her collar I felt sure that someone would recognize her and be filled with joy upon hearing of my heroic rescue, so I took her inside the store.  Sadly, the only person they suggested as a possible owner was me!
Olivia was, of course, delighted with this news and she wholeheartedly concurred with their thinking.  I reminded her though, that our pup Sophie, despised all other animals except for Emmy, the Border Collie who lived next-door to us. Bringing the kitten home was just not a viable option for our family. To this end we began our quest to locate the kitten's rightful owners. We traversed the nearby homes going door to door in the hopes of locating them, but not only did no one claim her, two homeowners actually released their drooling, growling dogs out after us, to clarify this point!
By now we were growing desperate, so I went to the police station to secure some insights as to what we might do to resolve our dilemma.
"Nope, never saw that cat before." came the officer's reply.
"Okay, well what do you suggest we do with her then?"  I inquired. "We can't keep her, because we live with a Kairn terrier who becomes unhinged when other animals are in her presence."
"Well," the officer answered. " You can take her to Carsonville.  They have an animal shelter there, but they are probably going to put her to sleep. (this was followed by a brief silence allowing the meaning of his words to fully sink in) Or, of course, you could keep her."  he added cheerfully, while looking directly at Olivia.  Clearly, due to his training as a law enforcement person, he was able to correctly identify the weak link in our group of three.
As Olivia's eyes opened wide with horror, he suggested our only other alternative was to drop the kitten by a nearby church in the hopes that someone might take her.
On our drive over there, our ten year old daughter began to recite a plaintive prayer:
"Dear God, Please don't let my parents release this defenseless little kitten out alone, by the church.  She will be torn apart by mean, drooling dogs, and she is just a baby."  I tried to cover my ears.
Dave stopped the car at the side of the church and then we proceeded to wait... in silence.
Finally Dave said to me, "Well, what are you doing?  Grab the kitten and put her on the lawn."
"Are you crazy?" I asked.  "I'm not going to be the one that puts that kitten on the lawn to be torn apart by a pack of mean, drooling dogs, so that Olivia can hate me for the rest of my life.  You do it."
"Well, I'm not doing it either." was his reply.  Clearly, God had taken Olivia's prayer seriously.
"Fine," I said. "Even though it will never work out, we will take the kitten back over to the trailer and see how Sophie reacts to her."
We returned to our trailer and were greeted by the rest of our daughters.  While they were filled with delight, Sophie, true to form, became unhinged at the sight of the interloper and began to bark and jump wildly. With that the tiny kitten hissed, and, much to our shock and dismay, Sophie ran and hid behind my legs terrified at the menacing three pound creature that we had brought home with us.  Our fate was sealed.
Our life with Copper was filled with surprises. Sophie and Copper became best of friends, as was illustrated by the team work they demonstrated when getting into trouble together.  Unbeknownst to me, for example, was the affinity cat's possess for climbing up ones Christmas tree and then pouncing on unsuspecting souls who came close to the tree, to admire it.  So as not to exclude Sophie in these Christmas festivities, she would also bat the ornaments down to our pup so that she would have a ball to play with; a form of entertainment they utilized frequently during the holidays.
Most disturbing to me however, was Copper's ability to catch small animals to present to the family as gifts; sometimes while they were still breathing.  She deposited a live chipmunk in our family room early on and one can only imagine the reaction of all the women in the house as the chipmunk went scurrying off out of sight.  Of course, this was not as horrible as when she deposited the ones that WERE NOT breathing any longer, on our doorstep; a sight made even more gruesome by the fact that they were often beheaded.  I have always suspected that Copper, like many hunters, has a trophy room somewhere in the house in which she has proudly mounted the evidence of her hunting prowess.
Copper loves us I am sure, but I quickly came to the realization that it is always on her terms.  She often jumps on our laps as we type at the computer, but once there, if we should stop petting her to type, she has no qualms about biting us to remind us that this is unacceptable.  When she decides to go outdoors her request is to be met immediately or she speaks to us in a disrespectful tone of meow, AND if we do not respond quickly enough after that, she slaps one of our dogs to demonstrate her annoyance at our pitiful lack of training.
Even so, I am sure that Copper will someday be waiting for me at heaven's gate alongside all the dogs that I have shared my life with.  I believe her tail too, will be wagging behind her.  The difference is that when a cat is wagging its tail it is usually a sign it is getting ready to pounce you. This will probably be in retaliation for keeping her waiting too long.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Throughout my life I have always been blessed to know the companionship of, that most faithful of all creatures, a dog.  They have been witness to my life's most joyful moments, as well as those most sorrowful, and in every instance they have made the journey right along with me; tails wagging behind them.  During my most difficult times, the ones in which despair even threatened to overcome faith, I have always had a dog or two beside me to remind me of the meaning of God's unconditional love. They have waited with me during the hard times, heads patiently resting on paws, for that moment when grief and worry must finally be set aside, so that the normal rhythm of life may once again be resumed. In return, they have asked for no more than a gentle pat on the head, accompanied by a kind word as way of payment for their selfless friendship.
I find too, that as memories fade, I can conjure them back up by recalling the dog that I owned during a particular period of time. As a teenager it was Amigo, a medium-sized, black, dog of unknown linage, that  comforted me when I was lonely, or insecure about my place in the world.  She was the pup that bonded with the boy that, as a man, would one day become my husband, and she was as loyal to him, as she was to me.  She helped him as he barbecued in my backyard; sitting atop a picnic table watching him grill on the hibachi that sat beside her.  She jumped up on chairs when no one was looking, to partake of the food on plates we had prepared for ourselves.  She accompanied us on walks or for rides in the car, and waited quietly by the door for our return on occasions when we went out without her.
When I married, we moved to an apartment, and Amigo remained at home with my mother. The separation was painful for both of us. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, Amigo became very ill and, after all attempts to heal her were exhausted, I went with her when she was relieved of her suffering.  I truly understood the meaning of  the word "heartache" when I lost her, and that same painful understanding has accompanied the loss of all the dogs I have owned, ever since.
There have been many pups since Amigo; Saucy, Sasha, Rusty and Sophie, to name a few.  Each one represents a specific period of time to me, and remembering them helps me to recall my own life, and all transpired while they were a part of it.
Sophie, a Cairn Terrier mix, was the dog that brought light back into our lives, after Dave was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  Initially, the diagnosis hovered over our household like a dark cloud, and fear, of both the known and the unknown, seemed to color all of our activities. I sensed that Dave was not the only one who now suffered from Multiple Sclerosis: five other lives were irrevocably changed on the day of that diagnosis.  I knew that a distraction was imperative, and to that end I spontaneously took my four daughters to a pet shop and bought the tiny little bundle of fur that was destined to bring joy back to a household that had become far too somber.
She was a whirlwind of happiness, and her lack of training did not help to subdue her unabashed jubilance. She jumped on guests, as she ecstatically wagged her tail, upon seeing them.  She raced around our unfenced yard, and became best friends with the border collie next door. Emmy would come to our backdoor daily, and bark to be let in.  They would race around the house together, and, frequently, we were delighted to have Emmy spend the night, whenever our neighbors were away. We called Sophie our "circus dog", as she entertained us with her trick of throwing a tennis ball in air and bouncing it off her nose like a seal.  She engaged in the "night wildies," as we referred to her habit of suddenly jumping up, late at night, and racing full speed around the house, wagging her tail uncontrollably as she approached any member of her family.  She was exactly the dog that we needed to restore the happy chaos that had, so suddenly, been missing from our lives.
Sophie was no saint though, and during our excursions to our travel trailer in Port Sanilac she often engaged in a wide variety of bad behaviors.  She barked aggressively at every passersby, resenting their presence in the park she considered her own. Walking along the beach she would dive into the cold waters of Lake Huron, and then roll happily in the sand, to the point that she became almost unrecognizable.  If a dog happened by during her beach walks she would pull at her leash; barking wildly and looking like a deranged hyena.  We loved her, and all of her failings, and she loved us, and all of our failings equally in return.
Sophie was only with us for six short years, when, once again, on a visit to Port Sanilac, I let her out of the trailer and heard a terrible yelp.  She had broken a part of her back, and the lower half of her body became paralyzed.  She could no longer walk, and although we took her to three veterinarians, no one could undue the damage that had been done.  The day I put her to sleep I was accompanied by my daughter, Jamie.
I insisted, as I had done in the past, that I be present during the process. I had made up my mind that no dog of mine would ever die alone, in the presence of only strangers. They had stood by me in my hard times, and painful as it was I was compelled to stand by them in theirs.  Jamie and I looked into her loving brown eyes and gently petted the dog that had been our salvation during one of our most difficult times. As the veterinarian prepared the needle I spoke to her of my great love and affection and said the phrase that I always told her whenever I left the house.
"Wait for me Sophie...wait for me. You are my best friend; wait for me, and I will be back."
I once saw a movie in which a priest tells a parishioner that his dog can't go to heaven, since dogs have no souls. I would dispute that claim, because an eternity without those faithful friends that have shared my life could never be called heaven.  With dogs, I believe no atonement is necessary; their place beside the Creator is secured. I have no doubt that I will join each one of my pups, some day in the future.  I can picture them now lined up at heaven's gate waiting patiently for me; their badly trained little tails wagging happily behind them.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


As a child, I grew up in Detroit...only about three or four blocks away from City Airport. The neighborhood was comprised of a lovely mix of residences; no two just alike.  There were colonials, bungalows, and many others, and each one was sure to be surrounded by a well-manicured lawn and carefully-trimmed shrubbery. The streets themselves were shaded by a canopy of Elm trees, and walking along them on a summer day, was an experience sure to envelop all of the senses.  The sunlight would dance along the sidewalks as it filtered through the gently rustling leaves, and branches would sway in the wind providing nature's finest air-conditioning. Front and back doors were always opened to allow the summer breeze to pass through the houses' unlocked screen-doors. One would hear them squeaking open and slamming shut all summer long, as children raced continuously, in and out of them, to every mother's dismay. They would admonish their children to keep the door shut because they were letting the flies in, but never before a few more had made their way inside. Neighbors sat on mesh-backed lawn chairs placed on their porches if they were big enough, or in their driveways, if they were not.  Occasionally, a chair would be placed underneath an opened garage door to provide shade for a backyard barbecue, on days too hot to cook inside.  The aromas from a sizzling grill would waft through the neighborhood causing neighbors to lean up against their fence posts, so that they could inquire as to what might be cooking.  Every window in the house remained opened and the sounds of summer filled the air both day and night.
There was constant activity, as I remember it.  One would see the paperboy riding his bike, as he tossed newspapers onto porches. The mailman could be seen pushing his mail cart with one hand, while glancing at the addresses on the envelopes that he was holding in the other.  Next, the milkman stopping his truck at the end of every driveway, so he could deposit his bottles of milk in his customers' milk chutes. Once a week, the produce man would slowly drive by, to allow time for mothers to send their children out, change in hand, to purchase "strawberries, blueberries...four quarts for a dollar."  And, perhaps, finest of all, the sounds emanating from the Good Humor truck, which provided its treats curbside to the delight of every child in the neighborhood.
It was a wonderful time to be a child, for, although there were plenty of rules and an equal amount of discipline should you break them, there was also great freedom.  Chores had to be done and every sibling was assigned them, but, once they were finished, the days were your own.  I would walk over to a friend's house and stand on their porch and call them, not on a cell phone, but literally at the top of my voice.  When they answered, we would decide upon the day's adventure; walks or bike rides or swimming in the pool, and as long as you made it back on time for dinner, all was right with the world.
For supper we would each sit on our own specific chair.  As the youngest this meant, of course, that mine was the one that was always by the table leg.  We would take turns discussing our day as we unknowingly, learned the give and take of polite conversation, as well as good manners. After dinner, we would take our turn clearing the table and doing the dishes, allowing our mother a minute or two of well-deserved rest.  Then, we would be off again until the street lights came on; the universal signal for everyone my age that it was time to go home.  We would take our baths and get into pajamas...exhausted from a day filled with all the adventure and excitement a child could ever hope for.  Finally, we would drift off to sleep to the sounds of the crickets chirping, underneath a sky full of twinkling summer stars.  Every childhood should be as magical....

Friday, February 4, 2011


I have always appreciated the beauty of God's artistry following a snowfall in Michigan.  Looking out of my window I am witness to the majesty of nature, as both the snowy expanse of land and the snow-covered tree limbs glisten brightly in the winter sun. I am thankful, too, for the warmth from my fireplace on days such as these, and I am enchanted by the charming picture created by family and pups, as they gather close to its hearth. All is tranquil and calm, and I am filled with serenity...which is all negated should the need to drive anywhere in this weather, happen to arise. Even for a seasoned driver, such as myself, driving anywhere after a Michigan snowstorm can prove to be quite a challenge.  This point was illustrated quite clearly the other day when, following a temporary loss of sanity, I decided to venture out with my youngest daughter and her friend to go to a nearby drugstore.
The first indication that it might not be a great idea to brave the elements was when I got stuck pulling out of my driveway.  I am a Michigander though, and no real Michigander is ever faint of heart when it comes to winter driving.  True to my heritage I scoffed in the face of danger, and, after rocking my car back and forth until I had burned most of the rubber off of my tires, I soldiered on.   I made it to the first corner.
Once again I found myself stuck in the snow, but after enlisting the aid of my daughter and her friend, Paige, we successfully negotiated our way out of the offending snowdrift.  All was well for the next two or three minutes when, once again, I found myself lodged firmly in a snowdrift while turning another corner.  This time things were looking rather bleak, until a kind young man came out of his house to help us. He graciously offered to shovel my rear tire out of the snow,  and then assist the girls in their efforts to push the car out.  While this all was transpiring the girls and I noticed a truck, with a snow plow on the front of it, clearing out a nearby street. 
When he had finished we saw him turn in our direction, and we happily watched as he approached our car to offer us aide.  Our joy began to change to bewilderment though, as we noted that his truck appeared to be accelerating the closer he came to our vehicle.
"Wow," Olivia said.  "It seems like he's coming down that hill pretty fast."
"Don't worry," said Paige. "He is just doing that to "bump" your car out."
I, myself, stood mesmerized as I marveled at the amazing driving abilities he must possess, which would allow for him to approach our car at such a high rate of speed, while still providing himself with enough time to stop just inches from my front bumper.   I was mistaken though.  I quickly discovered that rather than using the brakes to stop his vehicle he would be using the impact from hitting my car as his means for making a quick stop.
"Whoa dude!!! Son of a pup!"  the young man who was shoveling my rear tire yelled out, as my car lurched towards him. (note to reader...please insert more colorful language in place of the word pup to get a more accurate description of what the young man actually said.) 
The young man driving the truck now leaped out of his vehicle, and laid his upper body across the top of my hood, in despair.
"Oh my God," he lamented. " I was trying to come and help you, but it was very icy on that incline, and I couldn't stop."
"Yes, we noticed that." I replied.  "I really appreciate your kindness in trying to help us though, and I am very sorry that it resulted in your hitting my car."  I meant both of these things sincerely.  I  did appreciate his kind gesture, and, even more so, I was really sorry that he had hit my car. I think the subtle irony may have been lost on him, though.
In any case, our car was freed once again, and the only damage that we incurred were some scratches and paint scuffs on the front of my bumper.
The plow driver then cleared a path out of my subdivision for us, and the other young man gave me further instructions.
"I want you to back up a little, and then go forward.  Don't stop for anything...not even to thank me again.  Just keep going."
"Okay, " I said, but then noticed a car coming in our direction. "What about that car though?  I don't want to get stuck again.  Do you think I should just hit it, and keep going?"
The young man leaned over to look down the road at the car.
"Oh....well that's my mother-in law," he said, and then paused to think about it. "Yeah, just go ahead and hit it if you have to."
Fortunately we managed to pass by each other without further incident.  Let this be a lesson to all of you who may someday find yourself driving in Michigan, following a snowstorm. You can't trust any of us; not even kindly snowplow drivers or your own son-in-law.