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Posts Tagged ‘Memories’

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:

2011 pics 391

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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In the spring of 1999, Amber and my niece Arianne found a puppy on the side of the road. They brought him in the house wrapped in a towel and all I could see was a friendly little brown head. Then she took the towel off—there was not a hair on the rest of his body. He was covered with mange. The girls promised to find a home for him.

Teddy

They named him Teddy and took him to the vet. He responded well to treatment and before long, he was covered with a beautiful brindle coat. But before they found another home, I had grown attached. Teddy was a big a name for such a little puppy, so I called him Pup, and later Pup Dog. For the remainder of his life, he was known to the rest of the world as Teddy, but to me he was Pup Dog. If I called him Teddy, he knew I was mad at him.

At first I kept him on the front porch and cleaned up behind him, but I didn’t mind. What I did mind was when he ate the potted plants on the porch. If they were in plastic pots, he ate the pots, too. He even ate a bag of potting soil! I’d never seen a dog go through a worse puppy-chewing stage. Of course he’d also eat any shoes or other objects within reach.

I don’t think he ate anyone’s homework, but he did eat my beeper. One night when I was on-call, coming home late and tired, I must have dropped it in the driveway. I found it the next day, too badly chewed to function. I had a good excuse for work—my dog ate my beeper! He never got sick, so the diet must have agreed with him. In fact, he thrived. He grew to full size within a year.

I could not keep a collar on him. I bought a nice collar with his name on it, only to find its mangled remains in the bushes months later. Afterwards, I kept his dog tags with his vet records.

Teddy was an outside dog most of his life. He did a good job keeping varmints out of the yard. He’d sleep all day and patrol at night. I could hear him on one side of the house, then another, barking a brief warning to any intruders that infringed on his turf. His barking was never a problem. If someone drove into the yard, he’d bark once to let me know they were there. I never had any unfriendly visitors, but if I did, I believe Teddy would have kept them at bay.

Some people have problems with deer or rabbits eating their gardens. I never had such a problem when Teddy was in his prime. He also kept coyotes away. The only creatures he cowed to were wild hogs. A herd of them lived in the woods behind me and would come to my yard to eat acorns and earthworms. Teddy knew they were bigger and meaner, so he stayed out of their way. The only time he stood up to them was to protect Amber. One evening, she walked to the neighbor’s and when she came home, the hogs were in the yard. Teddy drove them off.

Then there was the cottonmouth. For a day or two, Teddy had fits, barking frantically at something in the yard. When we discovered the cottonmouth, Amber decided to kill it with a hoe. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to bring Teddy inside out of harm’s way. Amber chopped at the snake with the hoe and missed. She squealed and jumped back. Teddy thought the snake bit her. He immediately went after the snake, and the snake bit him. I took the hoe and finished off the cottonmouth, then took Teddy to the vet. Dogs often survive such snakebites because the snake is frightened and doesn’t always inject a full dose of venom, but I took no chances. What else could I do when the dog was willing to lay down his life for my child’s?

Teddy was good company. He’d follow me around the yard. He was so curious he’d get between me and whatever I was doing, which could be aggravating. When I went for walks, he always accompanied me. That is, until a rabbit or deer crossed his path. Then off he’d go, paying me no mind. Hours later, he’d trot home. I never worried about him getting lost. Sometimes he’d go off on his own excursions and bring home a dead animal. Farmers disposed of dead livestock in the woods. Teddy would find them and drag home part of a cow or some other unidentifiable beast. Cow skulls and bones littered my yard, and of course, Teddy would smell just as bad as the rotting carcasses.

I’d bathe him before taking him to the vet, and even then he’d manage to get smelly before we left the house. His veterinarian appreciated that he was a free-range country dog and said, “He sure leads a dog’s life.”

Next week I will write about my travels with Teddy.

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Dogs I Have Known

This summer, after sixteen years of companionship, I laid my good dog Teddy to rest. In saying goodbye, I thought back to other dogs I’ve known through the years.

When I was a child and we lived with Grandma and Grandpa Rogers, two dogs lived in the house with us, Grandma’s beagle Tinker and Aunt Hazel’s cocker spaniel Curly. In my memory they were big dogs, but at the time I was small. Curly had curly black hair. Tinker’s dog tags would tinkle whenever he moved, so I always associated his name with the sound. I remember them scurrying through the house, always together, it seemed, often underfoot. Grandma would call them to go out, or come in, “Curly and Tinker!” or “Tinker and Curly!” as though they were a single entity.

I recall one other dog on the farm, a German shepherd named Lady, who was kept chained up in the cellar. I felt sorry for her. We didn’t play with her like we did Tinker and Curly, but I don’t remember her being anything but docile. German shepherds were popular at the time and for awhile Grandma raised them. Lady had a litter of pups but we didn’t keep any. Mom said she disliked the breed because one of Grandma’s was mean and attacked her. Grandma probably kept Lady chained out of caution for her grandchildren.

I developed a dislike for German shepherds when I was older and we lived across the road from my grandparents. Our next door neighbor had a mean one he kept in a pen. Sometimes the dog would get out and come over to our yard. We were scared of him and would run inside if he got loose. Once when Mom was hanging out clothes, he chased her into the house. I never understood why my father didn’t shoot that dog.

Grandpa Masters had a hunting dog named Skeeter. He was a nice dog but had to be kept tied so he wouldn’t chase game out of season. His leash was attached to a clothesline so he could run back and forth. He lived in a cozy doghouse summer and winter.

My first dog was a small hound I named Poochie. I don’t remember where I got her, but I loved her very much. Unfortunately, she learned the bad habit of chasing cars from other dogs in the neighborhood. One day she chased the school bus. She ran into the wheel and died instantly. The bus driver was distressed, but it wasn’t his fault. I was inconsolable. Dad handled my grief by grumbling that I wouldn’t cry so much for him if he died. How unfair—I was thirteen and had probably told Dad many times that I hated him, but he knew better. I buried Poochie in my flower garden “with her tail to the North and her head to the South” as I wrote in a poem about her. After this, I tried not to let myself get so attached to a dog.

Before we moved to Florida, we had a nice little Scotch collie named Topsy. Since we couldn’t take her with us, we left her with Grandma and Grandpa Rogers. They grew to like her and kept her the rest of her life.

Next week I will write about dogs I knew in Florida, including Dad’s He had one who climbed trees and rode behind him on his motorcycle.

For another story about dogs, read:

https://marieqrogers.com/?s=Joe+and+Sally

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I’ve been reminded of my mortality. My cousin Michael died recently. I hadn’t seen him in years, yet it saddens me. Mike was only two years older than I, too young to die. I’m told he drank himself to death.

Mike hardly lead a charmed life—his mother died in childbirth. Uncle Buck remarried to a widow from Alabama who had two daughters. Aunt Ora Mae was no southern belle, but a scrappy gal who gave him two additional sons.

Mike grew up believing Aunt Ora Mae was his biological mother, until some “well-meaning” relative told him otherwise. Although given the same love and attention as the other children, Mike seemed to feel out of place. He was the only child in the home who’d been born to a different mother. I remember a conversation between him and his brother when they were very young. Uncle Buck, frustrated as parents sometimes get, had threatened to put the boys in a juvenile home. Paul, too young to know better at the time, bragged that his mother could get him out of the home but not Mike because he wasn’t hers. Ouch.

He was actually my father’s first cousin. Dad was born to Grandad’s oldest son and Mike to his youngest. With only a few years’ difference between them, my dad and Uncle Buck were buddies. Both served in World War II, came home, married, and started families. When I was born, Mike was only two and couldn’t pronounce my name. He called me “Tishie” which stuck as a nickname until I was a teenager. Then I decided I no longer wanted to be called that, but by my real name. Somehow I bent most of my relatives to my will and was able to change my appellation.

When I started school, Mike was put in charge of my safety, to walk me to our one-room schoolhouse each morning. He and I were among the last students to attend that school. After it was closed we rode the bus together to the city schools, but following Mike through the academic ranks was not easy. I was a well-behaved scholar and he was not. In junior high, one teacher asked if I was related to Mike Rogers. When I said yes, that I was his cousin, the teacher said only, “Oh.” That one word spoke volumes.

I had an English teacher who never seemed to like me. I got along well with most teachers because I was a good student. I was a favorite of English teachers, especially, because I enjoyed reading. I couldn’t figure out why this teacher never warmed up to me. Later, I learned that Mike had previously been in her class. He told me he got in trouble when she found girlie books in his desk. How unfair! After nine months of school, you’d think this teacher could have figured out that I was quite different from my cousin.

Mike’s family lived in an apartment upstairs in Grandad’s house, just up the hill from us. He and his brothers, and my brothers and I, were childhood playmates. In winter, we would ice skate on his grandfather’s pond and during summer we played baseball in my grandparents’ field.

Then time and distance separated us. My family moved to Florida and I saw Mike only a few times when we returned to visit. I did not know him as an adult. He married and moved to California, and I did not see him for a lifetime. I never met his wife or children.

I had led a rather sheltered childhood. The only people I knew who died were old people who had lived out their years. Even during the Viet Nam Era, most of those around me avoided the draft and I lost no one I knew well. At my 40th high school reunion I was shocked to learn that some of our classmates’ lives had been snuffed out, at least one by suicide. Mike’s death was similarly unexpected.

When my grandparents were still with us, I made a point of visiting them often. I didn’t want to regret not spending enough time with them while they were alive. After I became interested in genealogy and family history, I found holes in my knowledge and often wish I could ask my elders about this or that person or event. Despite my efforts, I have regrets.

In the summer of 2009, Mike accompanied Uncle Buck to our family reunion. I had not seen him in over forty years and would not have recognized him on the street. He’d turned into an old codger with a grizzled beard. With over a hundred other relatives in attendance, I didn’t have much time to visit with Mike. I didn’t know I would never see him again. He was not supposed to die so soon.

And so I regret not having made more effort to know my cousin Michael. I also wish I had collected his stories. Living in close proximity to Grandad, what family history did Mike know that died with him? And with two more years at Barnum Hill School, what memories did he have that I lack? Must we always regret such missed opportunities?

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