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Posts Tagged ‘Memories’

I guess I need to plant more blueberries. The other night, I dreamed I was buying organic blueberries for $3 a pint. “That’s a good price,” I said. My father didn’t think so. He was thinking 20th century prices. Behind the table where the blueberries were displayed in my dream was a poster about growing blueberries. “You really should, you know,” said Dad. I had to agree with him.

My dad was a real character. He could be cantankerous, especially in his later years. Although he dropped out of high school, he was one of the most intelligent men I’ve known, and he never stopped learning. He didn’t see much value in fiction, but he read things that interested him. He was definitely a male chauvinist. He didn’t put much stock in daughters, expecting them to marry and become another man’s responsibility, but he expected his sons to become partners in his businesses. I don’t know why—he left his parents’ farm and went his own way, to the disappointment of his  father. His sons followed suit and went their own ways, leaving only daughters to help out.

The last picture I took of Dad, with two of his farmhands (granddaughters).

He was jealous of people with a college education. He’d call them “edjicated fools.” He especially saw no sense in a girl going to college, but I went anyway. Before I retired, I told him I might go back to graduate school. He said, “Why? You can learn anything you want to know on your own. There’s always the internet.” And this came from a man who hated computers! I concede he was right on this one. Most anything I want to know I can find on my own, on the internet or the old fashioned way, in books. I don’t need more letters behind my name, nor do I want another career, except writing. Maybe that’s why I listened to him when he said I should grow blueberries.

Although he grew up on a farm, the only farming he did before he “retired” was beekeeping. He liked honey and always wanted his own beehives. When I was a teenager, a swarm of bees flew though our yard and he caught them. From this first hive, he expanded to a successful honey business. The lure of farming never left him and he eventually bought a farm in Blackfork, Arkansas. Most people retire to Florida. My parents retired from Florida to Arkansas and my sister and her husband took over the bee business. Dad tried to establish a honey business in Blackfork but, no one is sure why, honeybees wouldn’t thrive there.

You’ve heard the expression, “God put me on earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now, I’m so far behind I’ll never die.” I lived by this axiom for years. Look at Dad. At the age of 80, he had more projects going than anyone knew. His parents had lived to 95 and 96 and I expected Dad to make it to 100. I also considered my prospects promising, as long as I followed his example. When talking about how busy I was, I’d say, “It’s not that I have too many irons in the fire. It’s that I have too many fires.” I too could live forever!

Dad sorely disappointed me when he exited this world at 81. The day of his funeral, the farm was suddenly full of honeybees. They must have come from miles around to pay their respects. Then they went away and never came back.

In the years since, many times I’ve wished I could talk with him. I miss calling him up and saying, “What do you think about this?” I wonder what he would think about what’s going on in the world. At times I’m glad that he didn’t live to see certain things.

Lately I’ve heard a lot about the virtues of blueberries. My property is just right for blueberry bushes. Wild ones grow in my woods. A few years ago I bought five commercial plants and three of them survived neglect, drought, and late spring freezes. A few more might make the effort worthwhile.

Gardening in the woods has its challenges—finding enough areas of sunshine and battling wildlife. I had a nice patch of strawberries once, until wild hogs plowed them up and destroyed them. The few survivors were too traumatized to live. I planted a lily bed which the armadillos dug up. So I went to container gardens and raised beds. A crop of broccoli was almost ready to harvest when the deer ate them down to bare stems. So I put chicken wire over the beds. The deer squashed that down to feast on my carrot tops. In this constant battle of wits, the dumb animals are one move ahead of me.

Other people have a problem with deer eating their blueberries. Not me.  Besides vegetables, they eat my ornamentals, even my succulents, but so far no one has eaten, dug under, or plowed up my blueberry plants.

Maybe it’s worth a shot. Thanks, Dad.

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Halloween isn’t what it used to be. But then, maybe it never was. When I was a child, we didn’t call it Trick-or-Treat. It was Halloweening. We didn’t dress up and go door to door anonymously collecting loot from strangers. In my neighborhood we had friendlier traditions.

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My family lived in a rural community of small farms and households whose occupants worked in town. The neighborhood encompassed about a square mile, a small school district once served by the one-room schoolhouse, Barnum Hill School. After I finished first grade, the school was closed and we were bussed into town. Since we all rode the same school bus, everyone was acquainted.

Halloweening was a ritual. When we knocked on a door, the family invited us in and tried to guess who we were. That was fun. The better the disguise, the more difficult it was to recognize us. Seldom were costumes store-bought. Usually we made our own. Old sheets became ghosts, scarecrows emerged from rags, and dress-up clothes and hand-me-downs outfitted princesses, witches, and anything else our imaginations could conjure. Some clever mothers sewed elaborate, almost professional, costumes for their offspring. Everyone wore masks or makeup to change their appearance. After the family guessed us right, we unmasked and they gave us our treats.

Walking two or three miles was a lot for one night, especially for small children, so we spread Halloweening over three nights. Two days before Halloween, as soon as we got off the school bus, we’d dress up and head out. One evening we’d walk up East Maine Road, down the road another night, and the third night we’d canvass Reynolds Road. The only time our parents drove us was over to Finch Hollow where Grandma and Grandpa Masters lived. Pretending to be neighborhood kids, instead of calling at the kitchen door as usual, we’d go to the front door and make them guess who we were.

Grandma always made popcorn balls for Halloween. In those days, we didn’t worry about razor blades or poison, because we only went to homes of people we knew. Years later, I was appalled when a friend told me she went through her children’s Halloween bags before they were allowed to eat anything, and she threw out all the homemade treats! But she was one of those who took their children to neighborhoods where they didn’t know anyone, prosperous areas where they could get lots of loot. Better than candy were the homemade goodies from our neighbors, and of course Grandma Masters’ popcorn balls.

Only once did anyone question our arrival before Halloween Night. A new family moved into the neighborhood. We went to their house because their kids rode the school bus and we knew them. “But it’s not Halloween yet,” the man said and refused to give us treats. I’m sure someone set him straight by the following year.

Parents sometimes accompanied their children. My mother went Halloweening with us when we were young. Once she dressed as a scarecrow with a straw hat pulled down over her face. “I bet this is Barbara,” a lady said, as she tugged the hat up, and both of them laughed. Another new neighbor brought her children around so she could get acquainted. When my brothers and I were older, we went by ourselves and took our younger siblings with us. It could turn dark before we got home, but no one worried because all children in the neighborhood were out Halloweening.

One year I made a papier-mache Frankenstein mask at school. Somehow, word got around and my mask became the talk of the neighborhood. I was quite proud of it, but come Halloween, I knew if I wore it, everyone would know who I was, so I dressed as something else. That proved to be a disappointment to neighbors who had been looking forward to seeing “Frank.”

There was always a little mischief in the neighborhood, but nothing serious. Although most homes were modern, a few outhouses remained. Grandad had a little rental cottage with no plumbing, only a well pump and an outhouse, which was routinely tipped over every Halloween.

Ancestral Ourhouse

Ancestral Ourhouse

The schoolhouse had two outhouses, one for the girls and one for the boys. Apparently, the boys’ was adequately secured to its foundation, but when I was in first grade, someone tipped over the girls’ outhouse and we had to use the boys’ until it could be set right again. Today the culprits would be hunted down and charged with criminal mischief, but in those days, it was just part of Halloween.

This outhouse at Purdue Hill, Alabama, is similar to the girls' outhouse at Barnum Hill School.

This outhouse at Purdue Hill, Alabama, is similar to the girls’ outhouse at Barnum Hill School.

Ours was a three-seater, too.

Ours was a three-seater, too.

When I was older, our school district elected a trustee who let his position go to his head. He began making decisions contrary to the wishes of the parents, who got up in arms. The teenagers, aware of their elders’ discontent but too young to vote, took matters into their own hands. On Halloween night, the trustee found out what is meant by “tricks.” No real damage, only toilet paper, eggs, and garbage thrown at his house. He called the police, but as I remember, nothing much came of it except that the next election saw him voted out.

After we moved away, I was disappointed that other people didn’t practice Halloweening. When we went to neighbor’s houses, they’d just shove candy at us and send us on our way, no guessing or socializing.

Today, Halloween has fallen into disrepute. Some people think it has something to do with devil worship. Actually, the old Celts of the British Isles celebrated Sondheim, a harvest festival. They dressed up in costumes to trick the evil spirits, so they could do no harm. The early Christians adopted the holiday and called it All Hallows Eve, meaning the evening before All Hallows or All Saints Day, November 1st. What’s ironic is that those who today substitute “Fall Festivals” for Halloween have returned the holiday to its ancient Celtic purpose—a Harvest Festival!

 

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The first time I watched the movie Labyrinth with David Bowie, I recognized those ugly little things disguised as Muppets. They had plagued me during my most dire illness.

I was in high school when I came down with strep throat. I’d never been so sick in my life. For an entire week, I went to school with a sore throat and low grade fever because I hated to miss school. Instead of shaking it off, which I might have done had I stayed home a few days to rest, I became too ill to go anywhere but to a doctor. I lost a week of school and a noticeable amount of weight. During the worst of my ailment, I suffered hallucinations.

It was winter and our house didn’t have central heat. My bedroom being the coldest, I was allowed to sleep on the living room couch, near the fireplace. Only I couldn’t sleep. Every time I dozed off, goblins would fly out from behind the couch, fill the room, and squawk loud enough to wake the dead. I didn’t know how anyone else in the family could sleep. I was too sick to be frightened by them, too sick even to wonder at their existence. (The goblins didn’t bring David Bowie with them, but even if they had, I was too sick to care.)

Could you sleep with these guys in the room?

Could you sleep with these guys in the room?

Finally, I got up and went to my parents’ room to tell them I couldn’t sleep because, “Those things in there are making too much noise.” What things? I got no sympathy. The goblins’ racket apparently hadn’t disturbed their slumber, but I had. I was told to go back to bed. They didn’t even get up and shine a flashlight behind the couch to show me nothing was there. Maybe they thought I was old enough to figure it out for myself.

During the day, with sunlight to chase the goblins away, I was finally able to rest. Lying in the living room in my feverish malaise, I heard my little sisters whispering. An elderly friend of ours had recently died. My sisters thought I was asleep and couldn’t hear them. One of them (You know who you are!) said, “Is she going to die like Mrs. Brant?” I actually was miserable enough to die, but since I was more amused than offended by what they said, I didn’t wish for the Goblin King to carry them away.

The medication kicked in. The congestion in my throat began to break up and I started to cough up phlegm. With it came copious amounts of blood, too much for a few tissues to handle. I ended up in the bathroom. Too sick to stand at the sink, I sat on the floor by the tub, hacking and spitting. With all that blood, I thought I really was dying, but my parents didn’t act very concerned. As I hung over the bathtub, coughing up my guts, I saw something I’d never noticed before.

Our house was old and the bathtub probably older still. Our well water contained so much iron it stained everything. The tub, originally white, was almost entirely orange. Many months of diligent scrubbing had reduced the stain somewhat, and as I stared at it for what seemed hours, I saw that beneath the stains were pictures— black ink drawings of cowboys, as though someone had painted them on the bottom of the tub before the artwork was covered by iron deposits. I marveled how those pictures had survived years of staining and scrubbing. I wondered why no one had noticed them before.

When my throat took a breather from shedding bloody phlegm, I told my mother about the pictures. She must have thought I was crazy. As my fever receded, so did the drawings on the bottom of the tub. What had been so distinct was no longer apparent. After my recovery, I searched the floor of the bathtub for anything, even a rust stain, that could be mistaken for a cowboy, but I found nothing.

Fortunately I didn’t develop schizophrenia or any other delusional condition and haven’t hallucinated since. From time to time, like everyone, I see things that turn out to be something else at second glance, such as a stick mistaken as a snake. But I tell you, at the time, those goblins and cowboys were as real to my vision as the words on this page.

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This was my first post when I started this weblog four years ago. I thought it was time to rewrite and republish it:

On Christmas night when I was a child, we would go to my grandparents’ house for supper with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Of course there’d be presents for all. I don’t know where she got this idea, but instead of labeling gifts with store-bought stickers, Grandma Masters used old Christmas cards.

When I became an adult and began exchanging Christmas cards, I continued Grandma’s tradition. The front face of a card is ideal for a large package. For small gifts, I use the tiny pictures on the back or cut pieces from cards. It’s nice to coordinate the card with the wrapping paper, such as a poinsettia card for paper with that pattern. A card may be a clue to the gift inside—labeling a box containing a doll with a card showing a little girl holding a doll. If the gift is opened at my house and the card not spoiled, it can be used again next year.

I keep a box of old Christmas cards for this purpose. Like most folks, I display new ones as they come in, but after the season is over, I put them in my box. It’s handy to have plenty of cards to choose from, and every year my collection grows. Some years I’ve had to graduate to a larger box.

I may have to find a bigger box.

I may have to find a bigger box.

My Christmas card collection has yielded an unforeseen delight. It has become a time capsule, going back many years. As I dig to the bottom, it’s like an archeological excavation, refreshing long forgotten memories. Most senders list their children, and I have a record, in reverse order, of the changes in their families. Children who have grown, moved out, and are no longer listed appear in earlier cards. Their names disappear again in cards sent before they were born. Some senders named my children individually and that list also grew and shrank over time, as some of my adult children moved out, and in, and out again.

Here are cards from nieces and nephews before they had children. Afterwards, they get too busy. I have a record of my former boss’ daughter growing up, in the photo cards he gave out every year. Since those are not suitable for labeling gifts, they collect in my box. Here is a card from a family I cannot recall. Perhaps one day something will nudge my memory. One is signed “your paper carrier” with only her first name. And one from my daughter-in-law before she married my son. Some people faithfully send cards every year and some are sporadic. One couple sent cards for seven years after they moved away, then silence. I never found out what became of them.

Like an archaeological record, the collection is incomplete. Many cards no longer exist as they have been used and discarded, and some lack the signature page, so their origin is forgotten. Here is one I will never use, from a dear friend who has passed away. Indeed, the deeper I dig, the more poignant they become. One card from my parents is also signed “Cookie Grandma”, in the last year of her life after my grandfather had passed. Another is signed only “Grandpa Masters” after Grandma Masters was no longer with us. There is one whose picture page was used long ago and only the message page remains, signed, “All our love, Grandma and Grandpa Masters”. I will keep this forever. It was the last I received from them before Grandma died.

Some of my relatives sent home-made cards so special that, although I may use them to label a gift, I will not throw them away even if they become wrinkled or torn. Of course, cards made by my grandchildren are sacred. Deep in the box are some my own children made when they were small. Scattered throughout are annual letters sent with or in lieu of cards. Someday I will go back and read them again.

What will happen to my Christmas Box of Memories after I am no longer able to enjoy it? Before then, I should put the cards into a scrapbook, making a history for succeeding generations. In the meantime, I continue to dig through the box every Christmas, looking for just the right card for a particular gift, being reminded of the past, and surprised by new discoveries.

 

 

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Antique Dog

Last winter, my firewood man made a delivery when I wasn’t there. Later he remarked that no one was home but an “antique” dog. We now come to the last chapter of Teddy’s life.

As he aged, his arthritis progressed. One winter I decided he should no longer live outdoors, so I gave him a bath and let him in the house. He instinctively knew life had changed for him. The dog who’d never tried to climb on furniture took one look at my favorite chair, scrambled in, and curled up. I didn’t mind, as long as he was clean. To protect my good furniture, I’d set a basket of crochet on the seat. He knew it was off limits, and obeyed. Later, when he became incontinent, I had to keep him off all the furniture. Eventually, he became unable to climb on it anyway and could barely make it up steps. In the meantime, with Teddy indoors at night, deer and rabbits ate my vegetables and wild hogs rooted up my garden beds.

Living with Teddy was like sharing a house with a 90 year old man. He wouldn’t talk to me. He snored so loudly I could hear him through the walls and I swear he slept 23 hours a day. On nice days when he was outside, he’d crawl under the house and I could hear his snoring through the floor. He began to stink. I’d bathe him, he’d lick himself, and within hours he’d stink again. His incontinence grew worse, even with medication. I tried to diaper him but he developed diaper rash. Finally, I barricaded some rooms to keep him out and resolved to throw away the rugs in the others after he was gone. Despite all this, I loved him and (when I wasn’t mad at him) I enjoyed his companionship.

His traveling days came to an end when he couldn’t climb in or out of the van. Once when I went on a trip, a friend kept Teddy. Afterwards he told me, “He kept chasing my chickens!” Now, Teddy had never chased anything besides wild animals (or any cat who challenged him) and by now he couldn’t get around well enough to chase anything. I asked my friend what he meant. He laughed and told me how Teddy would lie in the yard and occasionally raise his head, turn towards the chickens, and bark. The chickens paid him no mind.

For three winters, I did not expect Teddy to make it another year. He was a tough old guy, but his mobility steadily decreased. He’d bark at the porch steps. When I told him barking wouldn’t make them go away, he’d glower at me. I knew he was in pain despite the medication I gave him twice a day.

Then he started to poop in the house. He’d never done anything like that before. I knew it wasn’t accidental—he just didn’t want to tackle the porch steps. My fussing and cussing must have been less trouble to him than climbing steps.

Finally, the time came. I called my vet. She had been treating Teddy for 16 years and was fond of him, but she agreed it was time. She prepped him and I stood beside the table with my arms around him when she gave him that final injection. I talked to Teddy, telling him how he would now be able to chase the rabbits and deer again, and it would no longer hurt. I felt him relax. I felt his gratitude and relief as the pain subsided. Don’t tell me dogs don’t have souls. The vet checked his heart and nodded. She was crying almost as much as I.

Wild sunflowers where Teddy rests

Wild sunflowers where Teddy rests

Afterward, it was so strange to come home and no Teddy to greet me. Or walk around the house and not see him in his usual napping places. Then I dreamed of him. Nothing significant, only a dream that he was in the house with me, doing normal, everyday things. These dreams came three nights in a row. On the fourth night, no dream. I knew then he had finally passed on to the Happy Hunting Ground, where all good dogs go.

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Why are we willing to spend so much money on a dumb animal? I used to think people were crazy to pay large veterinary bills for a cat or dog. I never thought I would be one of those crazy people until I had a million dollar dog of my own.

Country people don’t always take their animals to a vet. My parents never did. Teddy was my first dog to get veterinary care. Living in the woods, with the possible threat of rabies, and having children around, I took no chances. I kept his check-ups and shots up to date.

When the vet recommended he be neutered so he wouldn’t “chase the ladies,” I had it done. I felt bad for him, but Teddy didn’t seem to mind. He always liked going to the vet, despite all the indignities they inflicted on him. All I had to do was say, “Time to go to the vet,” and he’d hop in the truck.

Often I wished I could clone Teddy, because he was such a good dog. Maybe that’s why I was willing to pay a $1500 emergency clinic bill to keep him alive. Here is how it came about. On our walks I noticed he’d pee only a few drops at a time. I thought he was just marking territory. Then he started dragging around, not acting his usual self. When I found him under the porch steps totally listless, I knew I had to do something. Since my vet didn’t have emergency services, I took him to a clinic an hour away.

The young veterinarian said Teddy had kidney stones and was unable to pass water. He was near death and needed immediate surgery. Or I could choose to euthanize him. I weighed my choices—money or dog. But, really, what choice did I have? This was the dog who was willing to lay down his life for his family. (Read “Pup Dog” if you haven’t already.) I paid for the surgery with my credit card and spent the night in the waiting room. After this, I kept him in the house and nursed him to full recovery.

Even that wasn’t the end of the expense. I took Teddy to his vet for follow up and was told he needed to be kept on a special diet for the rest of his life. The food was expensive, but I didn’t want a repeat of the kidney stones episode. After I retired and could no longer afford the special food, the vet prescribed a powder to add to regular dog food. Teddy never liked the special diet and refused to eat dog food laced with powder. Finally I gave up and fed him Old Roy and watched to see if he had any trouble urinating. He never had a recurrence of kidney stones.

In his later years, Teddy developed eczema, which required many trips to the vet. We tried several treatments, all temporary fixes. Often his beautiful coat was marred with bald patches. He also suffered with arthritis and hip dysplasia, and it became increasingly difficult for him to go on long walks or climb stairs. I laid boards over my porch steps to make him a “wheel chair ramp” but he refused to walk on it, even though climbing was obviously painful. The vet put him on drugs for arthritis pain. Then he became incontinent. More drugs. More expense.

At first it was no trouble to give him pills. I just put them in his food. Then one day he caught me in the act. He looked hard at his dish and ate around the pill. After that I had to trick him by crushing pills and mixing them with leftovers or canned dog food. He was so suspicious he wouldn’t eat unmashed peas because they looked like pills.

At every setback, I’d take him to the vet and each time he was prescribed more drugs. By now I was spending more money on Teddy’s medical care than on my own! I began to call him my “Million Dollar Dog.” But he was such a good dog.

One day a visitor referred to Teddy as an “antique dog.” That phase of our life together will be the subject of the final post of this series.

 

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Travels with Teddy

When my daughter Amber lived at home, she took care of my animals when I traveled. Once she said Teddy missed me so much he wouldn’t eat when I was gone. It turned out she was feeding him twice as much as I did! He ate like a cat, nibbling his food throughout the day, not gulping it down all at once like some dogs. He’d leave what he didn’t eat.

When Amber was not available, a neighbor tended my animals. One summer, I came home to find Teddy wearing a pink flea collar. No one knew where he got it. Of course, he managed to scratch it off and lose it. One day Teddy and I took a walk on the dirt road. A neighbor I didn’t know well said, “Hello, Teddy.” I stopped to inquire how he knew Teddy and learned that while I was traveling, instead of staying home to keep the varmints out of the yard, my faithful dog was nearly living at their house! That’s where he got the flea collar.

After this, I took him with me. Teddy loved to travel. If I went somewhere in my van and didn’t take him, he’d pout. On the road, he was well- behaved and even tolerated a leash once I explained that city dogs had to wear them. He accompanied me as far north as West Virginia and as far west as Arkansas. On hot days, I couldn’t leave him in the van and tour a museum or antebellum house, but we stopped at parks and walked the trails. Here are Teddy and Tristan, both dog tired after a long walk through a North Carolina swamp:

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One summer we spent several days on the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping at every cabin and walking every trail that wasn’t too steep for him to climb. I’d go sightseeing and Teddy’d go smell-sniffing. He delighted in new and unusual smells. Here he is checking out something that looks disgusting to a human:

Copy of 10-15 131

He seemed to understand that the van was our home away from home. If a park ranger stopped by our campsite, Teddy would bark until I told him it was ok. One year we went to Arkansas. From there my mother and I flew to Washington to visit my sister Sue. I left Teddy and my van at Mom’s house, under the care of my nephew. Teddy made himself at home and didn’t leave the farm as long as my van was there.

But things were different in the city. One summer when we visited Amber in Virginia Beach, I tied Teddy in the back yard at night and slept in the house. The next morning he was gone. I hiked all over the neighborhood but no one had seen him. We called the pound but he wasn’t there. I was afraid I’d lost him forever.

That afternoon, Amber’s father-in-law returned home and said, “Get your damn dog out of my car.” He’d found Teddy! On a whim, he’d decided to take a different route home, spotted an Animal Control truck, and Teddy being led toward it. Randy convinced the officer he knew whose dog it was, and Teddy was released without bail. Apparently, Teddy had gone as far as a house on a lake and hung out in the backyard all day. When the owners got home from work, they called the pound. After this, I slept out in the hot van with Teddy so he wouldn’t escape again.

Teddy got along with most dogs but my sister Bonnie’s dog is jealously territorial. He wouldn’t let Teddy out of my van. Brutus sees me only once or twice a year but always greets me with wagging tail, even if no one’s home. He doesn’t even object when I use their hidden key to get into the house. Some watchdog! Bonnie said he senses I belong there. But Teddy was not welcome. Brutus had to be distracted so Teddy could get out to relieve himself. Then Brutus got curious about my van and wanted to check it out, but that was Teddy’s territory. He wouldn’t let Brutus near.

As he aged, Teddy had trouble climbing into the van. He could get his front paws in, but I’d have to pick up his hind quarters and shove. Sadly, his traveling days were over. I always felt safe when he was with me, and I missed his company when he wasn’t.

Next time I’ll tell you how Teddy became known as my Million Dollar Dog.

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