Tuesday, March 24, 2009

For Me

Thanks, Laurie Erickson for this wonderful photo of Carolyn and Jack, who gave her so much love and laughter.

Just about one year ago, Carolyn called me up and said she didn't feel right. "Something just isn't right," she said.

Carolyn was the perennial picture of health. Always fit, trim, though she'd tell me she'd been 'eating like a hog' and had gained five pounds. I knew better. She loved DQ.

She was so well versed in things medical, but this had her puzzled and she went to the doctor. They didn't find anything, but tried some meds. They didn't help. Maybe they did, she said. Maybe a little.

I saw her at the American Whippet Club National in April. She looked great! She traveled from western Pennsylvania, and I travelled from western Kentucky and we gave each other an excited hug in Oregon. To my relief, Carolyn looked fine.

"You look great," I said.

"I'm feeling better," she said. But...

Days after we got home she called again. "Something is really wrong. I've been tripping. I fell down this morning. And have you seen how many typos are in my emails?" [We phoned and emailed every day. She was better at phoning than me.] "My hand doesn't do what I tell it."

I felt a chill. One of those deep, soul-stopping bad feelings. You need to go back to the doctor. Today. Tomorrow.

It was Carolyn, so she already had an appointment for the next morning.

And then there was the emergency CT scan and Greg was calling me from the hospital and she was having brain surgery to have the damned damned damned glioblastoma removed and I felt so useless and how on earth could this be?

Carolyn did everything in her power to recover.

Greg died in December. Carolyn was talking to me on the phone that morning. We talked about how Bea did at the show. When she went upstairs to wake him he was gone.

They were friends in kindergarten. Prom dates. Married after college. Greg was fifty-six.

I have worried every day about Carolyn for a year. I have felt so sad that she has had to face this. She loved this life. She loved all the birds at her feeders. The best fed birds in the world. She loved "Chipper" with his full cheeks. She loved Greg so deeply. She loved her dogs, God knows she loved those dogs. The first time I heard of the miracle of puppy breath was from Carolyn. She loved her little 94 year old mom, who stayed by her side. She loved Greg's dear sisters.

And she loved her fortunate friends. She loved her brother who fixed her computer. She loved her flowers and her vegetable garden. She loved to cook. She made the best salsa from her garden in the world. And Christmas cookies! She loved to laugh. How much we laughed! We would talk, sewing machines whirring in the background, one in Pennsylvania, one in Kentucky, and laugh until we had to put the phones down, get up from our sewing machines and go pee.

She loved to go and do. To watch dogs running in the yard. To watch Spice stalk a squirrel, so quiet and patient like a cat.

And this morning, she peacefully passed from this life into the next.

It occurred to me, when I hung up the phone from the 5:30 am phone call, that I am relieved of the sadness I have felt for Carolyn.

Now, I am left with my own.

Friday, March 20, 2009

This I Believe Party

Our local NPR station, WKMS, and our wonderful magazine, Paducah Life, sponsored a This I Believe essay writing contest, and yesterday they held a party to celebrate. It was held at our most wonderful independent movie theater, Maiden Alley Cinema. (Maiden Alley, just a block off the river, used to host another ... um ... business ... er ... clientele... oh, never mind.) This weekend the theater is playing The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes, a documentary on Garrison Keillor.
At the party, there was an open mic (mike?) session, and I read this:

I believe that if you walk through a busy airport with a big bunch of daffodils that you just picked from your garden people will smile at you. Everyone. Daffodils have the power.

I believe that a lifelong laughing friend of the heart can recline, supine, paralyzed by a cancer in her brain, locked by her disloyal body in a little dark room, with the blinds drawn so she can “rest”. This friend who always laughed and helped, loved open fields and dogs running, and brought more smiles than any daffodil, now in her special hospice gown with oxygen and sensory deprivation. I believe that her soul will triumph and I won’t understand the mystery of it.

I believe that God reveals himself in the friend with cancer when she cries, “Oh help me” and in the baby who smells right and who searches my face with virgin blurry vision. Those eyes not fully of this world. Yet. Still.

And yes, I believe there is God deep in my Old Dog’s eyes, eyes of knowing and acceptance and love resounding. Tolerance.

God is revealed in the gentle back rub of a soul mate; that touch which asks nothing but to give comfort. Feeling the softness of skin on skin. Humanity in touch.

I believe in community. In a fine southern river town where people care. In the mysteries of that water, quiet, deadly, beautiful, peaceful, powerful as heaven.

Constant as a friend.

hug your friends today, be they human, hound, far, near, gone, new, needy, laughing or sad

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The most generous friend

[If I've mastered the technology correctly, this will be posted while I am on a plane somewhere above Ohio.]

I'm going to visit my friend. It's her birthday and we're having a party. But Carolyn sent me a present.

It's her birthday.
She's in hospice care.
She sent me a present.
That's what kind of friend Carolyn is.

And what a present. I squealed like a ten year old. Just take a look at this.

Oh my ten year old STARS!!! Candy from my childhood! Long lost treasures. Mint juleps! Charleston Chew! I scared the living snot out of Bill when I screamed TEABERRY GUM!!! Candy cigarrettes, candy necklaces (yes, Laurie there it is, circled in green just for you), CHUCKLES!!!Jujyfruits, Chicklets, Necco wafers, Fire balls, Jaw Breakers, Wax bottles, Wax lips, Chunky, Buble Gum Cigars, and so very very very much more!

I'm putting the whole box in my suitcase and sharing it with Carolyn and our friends. Well, almost the whole box. The sugar daddy is gone. The Sky Bar mysteriously disappeared. Hey, where did those mint juleps go? And there was a box of Good 'N Plenty, I know there was. I don't need to take the Junior Mints - you can still get them anywhere. So I'm taking the rest of the box with me in my suitcase.

I can't wait to see Carolyn. I can't wait to see Easy and Spice, and Early, Beauty, and Jack. There is a lot I'm not saying out loud in this post. I'll leave that to you, dear readers.

Thanks, Carolyn! You're the BEST!!! (That is not a Sugar Daddy in my cheek! It just looks like one.)

hug your hounds and think some thoughts of comfort for Carolyn and hers, if you would be so kind

Friday, March 13, 2009

Good Therapy

Sam I Am went to the women's shelter. The weather was rude - sleet, snain, freezing cold - but our visiting room was warm.

I would love to tell you about each visit in minute detail, but of course I can't. But I can share some of the absolute, unqualified miracles performed by one little therapy dog.

We haven't visited in a while. Sam doesn't like visiting the hospital so much, and I've decided to stop going there with him. I think it's just too much for his sensitive self. He's not afraid, he's sad. Sam is so attuned to human worry, pain, fear; I think he is bombarded with too much sickness at the hospital.

So I was relieved to see him wag like crazy when we got out of the van at the shelter and pull me to the visiting room. He jumped around doing the "I'm too sexy for my coat" dance and said hey to the staff member.

And then, when his client came in, he sat facing her on the blankets on the floor and devoted himself to her for the next forty-five minutes. He smiled at her, over an over, because she was so thrilled when he did. He kissed her, Sammy style (nose dabs). Sammy smiles and kisses are rare indeed, but he did both repeatedly. When she said something from her heart, he stared right into her eyes, his own eyes huge and deep.

a rare Sammy smile
I pretty much stay out of the interaction. I will offer a few words. "Dogs don't judge." "Dogs understand feelings, spoken or secret, in a way we humans simply can't." "He likes you."

I watched Sam engage this client. She needed reassurance that she mattered to the dog, and over and over and over, Sam offered a paw, a smile, a kiss, saying as loud as he could, "You MATTER to me!" He did his tricks. He sat, he downed, he play-bowed, he wagged. He bowed his head into her chest and closed his eyes.

By the end of the session, she believed him. Softly she said, "I think you really like me."

I took him outside for a quick pee, just for a break, really. He pulled me right past the van, back to the visiting room to meet his next client.

I watched my little dog transform.

This client was different. She was weeping softly as she sat on the blankets. Sam looked at her. He looked at me for assurance. Good boy. You're fine. You're a good dog, Sammy. He completely changed his manner, his posture, his dialog, his shape. He quietly curled up next to her. Her hand never stopped stroking him - not once in the next forty-five minutes. He lay quietly, perfectly still, his head resting on her thigh, his eyes not leaving hers. She softly spoke of mistakes made. Dogs don't judge. Of not being able to express herself. Dogs understand feelings, spoken or secret, in a way we humans simply can't. Of feeling unlikable. He likes you - just look at his eyes.

I would have sworn I was watching two different dogs.

Sam - and the whole waggle - got hamburger for dinner.

And my reward? Hearing a woman say, "You know, I feel so much better now. He has really made a difference. I know I'm going to be all right."

hug your hounds

Sunday, March 8, 2009


(Giacomino - Very Old Dog - on the porch, yesterday at noon.)

in Just-
spring when the yard is brown-
green-scented the fragile Very Old Dog

piddles far and wee

and LindyandWilliam come
running from tugs and
dinosaur rahrs and it's

when the yard is wormsquish-wonderful
the dear old
Very Old Dog snuffles

far and wee

and CharlieandMama come alloverwagging
from perfect sunny spots and


Very Old Dog gambols

(humble apologies to e. e. cummings)

(Sammy and Very Old Dog - just 4 weeks from their 7th and 15th birthdays, in the yard yesterday)

I write of personal feelings.

Today we saw straightline winds driving rain perfectly perpendicular and heard loose things crashing and our windows rattled. The emergency alert (this is not a test) interrupted Prairie Home Companion; the nerve. And then we walked the dogs, not a half hour later, in clear blue skies, so warm that in short sleeves we glowed.

The malignant Bermuda grass is still brown, but the fescue, what's left of it, is Kelly green. Grass green. Daffodils opened up for the sun, and the not-really-tulips on the tulip trees. The new little birthday lilac bush sports a riot of brazen buds. It survived.


From the ice storm, the wounded grand trees in their prime will die. Like a best friend whose very name has always made me smile. Who has malignant tumors in her brain, but still possesses her special grace, and dignity, courage and humor; I hear the oxygen whoosh on the phone. I have your smiling name in my heart when I go to sleep. When I wake.


A tiny soul has arrived. In the usual way, thank you paul simon, but not. I didn't know he was en route until he was nearly here and now he is and I want to hold him and smell of him and fill his eyes with my face so he will know that I will love him like a gramma. And cry over him and fuss and fill my heart with his. His name is Brody.


And Bill is away, so I float just out of reach, a deflating balloon's silly careening. Untethered. He'll come home to my telling him how much I love him. But the dogs and I did just fine.

Delia keeps a constant eye out for her Bill. One ear tuned to the street for the right car door to slam.

But she's an unconscionable liar who tells me she always was my dog.

Until she hears that car door slam.

most all of the time I write for you, dear readers. tonight I wrote for me, but you can still

hug your hounds

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Just for a smile.

now hug your hounds with your heart (I did)