Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Farewell to Four-legged Friends

When John and I moved back to Las Vegas after living four years in New York State, we returned without one of our beloved dogs.  Cochise, a frisky, devoted and beautiful Rottweiler/Doberman mix had been put to sleep a few months prior to our departure.  Oh, did John and I cry over that decision!  It was time for him, however, and we knew it, so as hard as it was, we knew we were doing what was best for him. 
  Cochise loved water

Cochise, Tiffany, Dusty, and Lady - all in Doggy Heaven

Last week, I had to make that decision once again. After our return to Las Vegas we waited before thinking we should get another big dog. As is the case with us, however, an animal that needs looking after usually finds its way to us. That’s how we obtained Zeke. A friend of ours who happens to be a veterinarian had come by to welcome us home. We casually mentioned that if he came across any dogs, let us know. As it happened, he knew of one we might be interested in. His staff had arrived at work one day about three months earlier and found a dog tied to a light pole outside the clinic.  John and I couldn’t stand the idea of a big dog being confined to a kennel for so long so we said we’d take him. 

That’s how Zeke came to live with us.  He was a big dog; a Shepard-mix, handsome and sweet.  But, he came to us traumatized.  For the longest time he would not readily enter a dark room, go around corners, nor go into small places.  On walks he would stop short if there were trash bags on the curb or any large, foreboding looking object blocking our way.  It took years to coax Zeke into realizing that he was safe.  Once he came to that conclusion, he showed no fear and became a great watch dog.

Zeke loved to play and even in his last year, when it was difficult to get up from his bed or climb up and down our porch stairs, he could muster enough to run with me a bit, once his limbs warmed up.  I knew it was time to start thinking about letting him go, but I kept putting the idea to the back of my mind.  It became harder and harder to ignore it, however, and every time I looked at him I thought about the inevitable.  Last Friday I once again brought it up with John.  “I don’t want to be there,” he said. 

Knowing I would have to do this on my own, knowing there was no sense in putting it off, I coaxed Zeke into the back seat of my car.  He showed enthusiasm as he had always loved going for car rides.  I was fine from that moment on until the vet came into the room; then, my face crumpled and I turned away to cry.  I soon collected myself to shake the doctor’s hand.  Within fifteen minutes, Zekey was asleep for good.  He went gently.  I stayed with him and bid him farewell. 

Bye, Zekey. Thanks for the memories.

I’ve done this many times over the years; it can’t be avoided when you have had as many animals as I have, but it doesn’t get any easier.  I am grateful, however, that I have the strength to let go so the animals can pass away peacefully and not live with pain and suffering. 

I know it’s not an idea that everyone would agree with, but I can’t help but think that people should be so lucky. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

An Apparent Parent

“She’s such a mother, isn’t she?” 
My daughter said those words to a friend of hers as I placed a plate of cheese and crackers on the coffee table.  Dinner was still about 30 minutes from being ready and I wanted to ensure my guests were not going hungry.  Yes, I guess I am a “mother,” the good kind, not the one with a swear word after it. 
Years ago I attended a function for my daughter’s school where she and several students were being honored for their academic accomplishments.  I mingled with other parents, many of them prominent members of the local community; their name tags identifying them with their company names.  My tag just had my name on it.  When someone asked me what I did, the words came out of my mouth before I realized what I was saying.  “I’m just a parent.” 
At the time I was a full-time student working toward my master’s degree and was not gainfully employed.  I felt “less-than” amongst my peers who were successful in business. 
It was when my daughter went up to the podium and gave a speech that I realized just what a fool I was.  Being “just a parent” to that incredible young woman I gave birth to and raised made me the most successful person in the room. 
Since that day I have joined the ranks of the successful; I am a practicing historian, college professor, and still chase dreams of glory.  But I also cook everything from scratch for dinner guests, teach my children and grandchildren the beauty and practicality of planting a garden, make sure the kids are bathed and well-fed, and cuddle and kiss them incessantly.
Yep.  I’m a mother alright.  I would not want any other label placed on me. 

If you like this post, you might like the blog written by new blog pal, Mark Wilcox at Apparent Parent.  Check it out!  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Treasures Lost and Found

I try and give myself one day a week when I don’t do any work-work. The computer stays off if I can help it and I resist the urge to go through my notes in preparation for my college classes. In doing so, I find many other things to occupy my time. If I’m feeling up to it I will put on my work boots and gloves and go outside to work in my yard.

One of my garden projects

Sometimes I head to the storage shed on our property and reorganize my treasures. That’s what I did two Sundays ago and I came across things I knew were stored there but I had not seen in quite a while.

One of those long-lost treasures was Annabelle, my childhood troll doll.

   Annabelle.  Her hair is nearly gone and is fragile to the touch     

So happy was I to see her again that I promised never to relegate her to a box in a shed. She now sits on my night stand where I can acknowledge her and wish her a good night and good day.

Annabelle (I have no idea how I came to give her that name) is a piece of my history that evokes keen memories of me as a little girl. In the third grade I took her to school with me every day. In my desk, one of those desks that had the lift-up top, I had a whole house set-up for her; there she would wait until the school day ended and we could go home together. She was my constant companion, keeping the lonely little girl I was occupied in a place of imagination. I told Annabelle secrets no one else would hear.

Many times over the years I would find her in one of my boxes. Each and every reconnect with her would prompt a recall of memory that involved the two of us. With so many years between that little girl and the middle-aged woman I am now, many memories are lost to time passing. But having this tangible piece of childhood to remind me keeps certain precious memories within reach.

I have many such containers that hold these treasures. Some are scrapbooks, photo albums, old trunks, and boxes of every size, shape, and material.

Just a couple of the boxes I have holding treasures

And another storage place, filled to the brim

The house I live in is so small that it is necessary to house these items in the shed, but I find I have to “visit” them on a fairly regular basis. I get such joy in touching things from my past: the ballerina doll my grandmother gave me on my 10th birthday; the childish drawings I made, my children made; the love letters between me and my husband; the fur clippings of animals I have loved and lost; the cats-eye glasses that were my first pair. Perhaps these things would be trash-worthy to some; for sure when I have passed on they will be meaningless to anyone else, but to me they are as priceless as items in the Smithsonian.

At fifty-three years of age I know that my collecting days are not over, yet I find I save less that pertains to me and more on what will be important to my children and grandchildren. I am the Keeper of Things and take my job very seriously. Just hearing eight-year-old grandson Aiden’s joy when I presented him with the scrapbook of his young life to date is all the encouragement I need.

What childhood treasures have you kept? What feelings and emotions to you experience when you come across them?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Photographic Memories

When I finally obtained photographs of my parents, many years after they had died, I couldn’t take my eyes off the images. Not only did I stare at their faces looking for features similar to my own, I also scrutinized the background images. I checked out the setting, be it a kitchen or in front of a Christmas tree; I sought out the familiar things that make up a life: photos on a mantle, leavings of an eaten meal; it was evidence of a life lived that I guess I was searching for.
My mom with brother, Joey. I think she is at her mother's home

My dad in front of the house we lived in, playing ball with my brothers

My parents on the right, maybe getting ready for an evening out
My dad in the middle, his brother, Dick on right and a friend.  Going fishing.
My mom holding Joey, with brother Mike to the right. Maybe this is in the yard of our home in Batavia

Since then I have become a photograph hunter. I love to collect old photographs and they don’t even have to be of people I know.

I remember one of my history professors once asked the class what we looked for in old photographs and how they affected us. My response, “I see myself in the photo” took her aback. She couldn’t understand what I was saying. It’s not like I see an image of myself in the picture; it’s hard to describe but I become so immersed in the scene that I can almost feel a part of it. The best I can do to relate how it feels is what the book character, Harry Potter, feels when he falls into the pensive, a magical bowl of liquid memory.

Some time ago I found a great film on the Documentary Channel called, “Other Peoples’ Pictures.” It showcased several individuals who scour flea markets and yard sales looking for photographs. They each had particular themes in mind in their searches, seeking out pictures of strangers, buying and displaying them. I knew exactly why they were obsessed because I do the same thing. In antique stores I head to the section that has photographs. I especially like daguerreotypes, the early method of photography. The dour faces of the individuals who are no longer on earth fascinate me.

I am as much a photograph hound taking pictures as I am collecting them. Knowing how significant the found pictures of my mom and dad are to me I can’t help but feel I’m doing a service for my descendents by chronicling life as I live it. I hope they appreciate the effort. One of the things I find disgraceful is seeing contemporary photographs discarded: children’s school pictures, an unknown family portrait. I think it is sad no one cherishes the pictures enough to pass them down in the family. I hope the appreciation I, and others like me have, will suffice in honoring the images of those looking out from the place where they are frozen in time.