My grandmother took these pictures of me and our family’s adored pet Sheltie, Skipper. I was 13 years old, a brand new teenager, and Skipper was about 4 years old. My sister has been diligently digitizing my grandmother’s huge slide collection and it’s been fun discovering these glimpses back into our childhood.
Skipper was the only dog I’ve ever had. When I was a toddler I was bit by a dog, an event I don’t remember. But I do remember my parents encouraging me to pet a friendly dog at some point afterwards, in order to help me overcome my fear. It didn’t work. My fear of dogs has plagued me for my whole life, although now it’s only with larger dogs.
I was about 9 years old when my mother brought a little puppy named Skipper into our lives. I was afraid of him in the beginning. The first time my parents left me at home alone with him I got very nervous and climbed up on top of the dining room table. Skipper kept running circles around the table and there I sat until my parents came home. Goodness knows what he must have been wondering about me!
Eventually I lost my fear of him and we became good friends. My mother took him to obedience school and he was very well-mannered, affectionate and loyal. One day I brought a new kitten home. Christopher and Skipper got along well, right from the start. One evening while we were watching TV, Skipper nonchalantly walked into the living room with a playful kitten hanging on to his belly fur, upside down. 🙂
We took Skipper camping, hiking and canoeing with us on summer vacations. During the school year my sister and I were responsible for “running” him when we got home from school. (We were latchkey kids because both of my parents worked outside the home.) He was good about fetching sticks and balls, and obeyed the “drop-it” command flawlessly, but eventually he couldn’t resist his natural instinct to herd. And he loved to herd us around the yard and into the woods.
Since my father was a research scientist at the University of Connecticut, originally an agricultural college, he got permission to take Skipper to the sheep barns on campus. They allowed him to herd the sheep around the fields. It was fun to watch him zipping around, completely in his element.
He had one quirk we laughed about often. When visitors drove down the driveway and came to the door he would never bark to announce their arrival. But when my parents came home he would bark and bark until they got inside. My father kept joking that he didn’t make a very good guard dog. 🙂
Even though I do miss Skipper, I’m pretty sure he was one-of-a-kind and I’ve never desired to have another dog. But whenever I’m out and about and happen to spot a Sheltie my heart stirs and I ask permission to pet them.
Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself. ~ William Martin (The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents)
Our wait continues…
Yesterday I went with Larisa to see one of her midwives for a routine appointment and everything looks good, except that Mother Nature doesn’t seem inclined to acknowledge the human-determined due date! So, if nothing happens before Thursday night labor will be induced on Friday morning.
I vaguely remember my mother saying I was two weeks late and had to be delivered with high forceps. And first babies are often late, they say. I had three planned Cesareans so all of my babies were born a few days before their due dates. But we’re still enjoying watching the little one wiggle around in her mother’s womb!
Yesterday Bernie and I went for another walk… It was so clammy outside, though, that after he did his business he decided not to take his usual trek through the woods. All the greenery was drenched with moisture even though it was early afternoon. He headed for the fenced-in garden (to keep the deer out), a place I rarely enter.
Once inside the enclosure he sat very still by the fence for what seemed like an eternity. The sun was beating down on me and I was getting restless. So I began to suggest that we move on, but Bernie ignored me completely. I found a shady spot and took a peek into my brother-in-law’s little greenhouse. Bernie still hadn’t moved. So I ventured into the greenhouse to satisfy my curiosity…
After poking around I peeked outside and Bernie was still lost in contemplation. I sighed. It was so muggy! He looked over his shoulder and decided to move. Yea! But as soon as we left the garden he plopped down on a small spot of semi-shaded bare earth… This outing was so strange, he rarely sits or lies down when he’s outside! Maybe he’s grounding himself, I thought, and decided to lay down near him and annoy him by taking eye level pictures…
After this Bernie decided to go back inside, where my brother-in-law was installing the window mounted air conditioners. Phew! Even Dad was hot, and he’s “always” cold.
Dad and I watched a little opera on TV. The word “doge” popped up in the subtitles. “Doge?” asks Dad, so I reached for the dictionary. It might seem a little weird, but Dad and I both love etymology and looking things up is still a pleasure he can enjoy with my help.
(Doge = chief magistrate in the republics of Venice and Genoa, Latin and Italian)
When the opera was over we switched to golf. The ocean scenery at Pebble Beach made him recall the one time he stuck his toes in the Pacific Ocean. With the air conditioning now doing its job it was turning into a nice Father’s Day. Dad also told me about the one time he ever played golf. He was having a stroke of beginner’s luck when the guy who invited him to play got mad and quit the game.
Then we got a huge thunderstorm! I opened a door to see outside and took the picture below, which I’m guessing is mostly raindrops, but I think I see a couple of orbs in there, too. Or maybe they’re all orbs? The camera was not out in the rain. That will have to be a future blog.
Later, when it was time to go, I discovered a gift that Thor or Mother Nature left on my car. 🙂
Whenever I make the hour drive north to sit with my father, I use the time to listen to my iPod play list, set on shuffle. It’s kind of like drawing cards, I listen for messages in the string of songs it “selects” for the day. Since I have 1,328 songs on my “car” play list, there is always something “new” to contemplate. Or, if Dave Matthews’ The Best of What’s Around comes on (I have fourteen versions of it, including studio demos and live performances), I might hit the repeat button again and again to energize myself with the sentiments expressed for dealing with an often discouraging situation.
Yesterday I started connecting some dots… Last week I wrote about changing perceptions and mentioned the tetralogy by Sigrid Undset, The Master of Hestviken, a story about the lives of Ingunn and Olav, set in medieval Norway. I mentioned all the waiting the characters had to do. This week I started and finished the second book, The Snake Pit, and started the third, In the Wilderness.
I’ve noticed that most of the blogs I like to read have a theme or a focus, like art, history, nature, photography, places, poetry, quotes, writing, etc. And at times I feel left out because I can’t seem to find a theme for my blog. Others seem to have more time to pursue their interests, careers and dreams. But at this point in time my energy is focused on waiting!
Last month, when writing about the volcano in Iceland I observed that years ago people used to respect the power of Mother Nature and they did their best to live in harmony with it. It seems like today we are determined to carry on with our plans with no regard whatsoever for the weather, the seasons, the climate, or natural disasters.
Well. Isn’t dying a part of nature? Doesn’t it sometimes take a very long time to die? Am I doing my best to live in harmony with this reality? In The Master of Hestviken, when a character became incapacitated or gravely ill, his or her family would take turns “watching with” the one who was bedridden. Sitting by the bedside of a dying loved one was an honor and not considered a waste of time. Surely other pursuits were neglected and other plans put aside, but that was the way it was done. Even if a person lingered near death for years, like Ingunn did at the end of her life.
So I think this will be my focus, what I think about and what I observe around me as I “watch with” my father. Emotionally refreshed, I arrived at the house my parents built themselves when I was a preschooler, and went inside.
After greeting everyone, I went to use the bathroom. I couldn’t help noticing next to the toilet what appeared to be a plunger made out of a silver-toned metal. Huh?? Could not comprehend what I was looking at… So I picked it up to move it out of the way and it started ringing very loudly! It was a huge bell!! It struck me so funny – what on earth was a bell doing next to the toilet? The more I laughed the more it clanged and I heard my sister asking, “What is she doing?” and then my brother-in-law teasingly inquired, “Do you need some help in there?” Haven’t laughed so hard in ages!
Turns out it is Dad’s new bell to ring when he’s alone and needs someone. The little bell he had previously just wasn’t loud enough to wake anyone up and it was getting to be too hard for him to pick up and grasp. Beverly found this “Captain’s Bell” somewhere and now he’s back in business.
Now that I had arrived my brother-in-law took off for parts unknown and the grocery store. As he is the primary care-giver, a trip to do errands and go food shopping is a real break for him that he enjoys. My sister had been up much of the night with Dad, so she went upstairs to take a nap. And I brought Dad’s bell back to him and began “watching with” him. We talked for a little, he’d ask about the book I was reading and I’d tell him a bit about it and then he’d fall asleep. Twenty minutes later he’d wake and ask another question and then he’d fall asleep again.
After a while, the cat, Bernie, started yowling to go outside. Dad suggested I take him for a walk in the woods, so I did, knowing that monstrous bell would wake my sister if he needed anything. Bernie and I had a splendid walk! I had hoped to encounter Harriet, a wild turkey hen who has been hanging around lately. I think we heard her, but I couldn’t see her.
Something else was new in the house. My parents had always used space between the studs in the wall of the stairway going down to the basement for storing canned goods. I did a double take as I walked past the opened basement door. My brother-in-law had dry walled and painted the stairway and added shelf paper under the cans! I thought of Kathy’s ‘playing with your food’ blog and snapped a picture of it. 🙂
In the evening we were all amused by the antics of two adorable baby red squirrels who couldn’t figure out how the adult red squirrels made the jump from the tree to the bird feeder. No good pictures – they’re fast little things!
The joke in our family is that Dad is eternally terminal. (Fear not, he finds this very amusing coming from a family with a delightfully dark sense of humor.) His “little” sister, who is 80, came to visit him from Maryland last week. She says he’s like a potted plant. Every time it seems to be almost dead it revives with a little watering and/or plant food. Maybe he’s a succulent. There’s no way of knowing when the end will come, but I feel a little more settled now about making the best of whatever time there is remaining, the best of what is now. “Watching with” Dad.
The past few days have been stressed with still another false medical alarm, although this time it was Tim’s… To deal with the stress I’ve been distracting myself by adding and adding to my quote site and family history site, and have not felt much like writing anything new here. Today after receiving good news about Tim I came home to find that a third cousin I’ve never met before had found the family history and wrote me a lovely comment. Our grandmothers were cousins, but because they were both an “only child” they felt they were more like sisters. What a wonderful surprise to have at the end of a difficult day!
Above is a new picture I took of Bernie a couple of weeks ago, on one of our walks. I decided to dig out my story about him from last year and post it now that it is spring again.
The following blog was originally posted on Gaia Community on 19 April 2009:
This cat is named Bernie, a delightfully domestic old fellow who is still in touch with his inner bobcat. He was born in New Mexico and is at least 17 years old. My sister and her husband adopted him from a shelter while they were living there. They also adopted an iguana named Lizzie and a spider named Olivia – all of them had the run of their hovel, which is what my sister affectionately called their very modest duplex. When it came time to move back to Connecticut Lizzie and Olivia were left behind to other good homes, but Bernie was brought to the land of trees and snow…
It was quite an adjustment for him. He is a very athletic outdoorsy sort of cat who used to love running just for the sheer joy of it. When my daughter’s cat was living there with him for a while he would try and get her to play tag, but she just looked at him like he had to be kidding… He enjoyed exploring the woods, but his main objection to Connecticut was the long snowy winters here. Whenever it snowed he would go from window to window yowling, hoping to somehow spot a landscape without snow. My brother-in-law took pity on him, and to this day shovels a few paths through the snow so Bernie can get his exercise without too much contact with the white stuff.
A few years ago he was taken to a veterinary ophthalmologist for a problem with his eyes. They think he may have Lyme Disease, but whatever it is it has gradually robbed him of his vision. They give him eye drops every day to slow down the progression, but he is now blind. He does very well, though. He still catches mice – we can’t figure out how. He gets around the house pretty well because most things stay where they are, but he bumps into people, my dad’s wheelchair and stray laundry baskets or shopping bags inadvertently left in his path. He seems to take it all in stride, though.
Since he had a run in with a fisher they aren’t letting Bernie outside by himself any longer. They’ve also had two coyotes near the house. He gets several walks a day with whoever is on hand to escort him. Last week Bernie and I took a walk and had a good time exploring the bushes, flowers and trees. And I got this picture of him coming toward me, only possible because he doesn’t run anymore. He walks very carefully, but doesn’t seem to feel sorry for himself. I admire his spirit of acceptance and adaptation, making the best of things.