Weaving In The Ends

yellow ribbon

For the past three years, it’s been the Labor Day holiday that marks a bittersweet end of summer. This weekend means that the daughter will be making the 1100 mile journey to college. The first year, we took her – and all the belongings that she was convinced she simply had to have. It was an epic journey for a young lady that had never left her home state. She was so unnerved at our eventual arrival that she couldn’t even look at the beautiful Bell Tower and Chapel spire that marks the location of Cornell College in Iowa. It was hard for all of us, but we the parents put on a brave face and smiled in relief as the athletic students lined up to offload the arriving freshman. Her dorm room was on the third floor and there weren’t elevators….schlepping all this stuff up six flights of stairs would have invited a coronary in our unfit bodies!

At first, we simply couldn’t afford airfare for the winter break round trip, but we bought bus tickets and she managed the 18 hour long ride with patience overcoming hesitancy. The stories she would tell at the end of each journey were worth the nail-biting wait to see that she’d make it home and then back again safely. Her first summer, she brought home a classmate who couldn’t go home after a phone call home pleading for us to add to our brood. His sexual preferences and the politics of the emerging ruling party were at serious odds with his longevity as a human being. That the Buddhist priests in his native country were complicit in this travesty dropped my respect for their basic humanity and compassion considerably.

This was the summer of an education for all concerned, but it was also the summer of watching the joy of a newcomer to this country as he experienced the Fourth of July as it should be; with barbequed brisket, cold sliced watermelon, swimming in a spring-fed paradise and watching fireworks from the sweet scent of a newly mowed hayfield. It was also a wake-up call for the Dane and I – when we saw how desperately unhappy he was, we challenged him to follow his dream. Life is too short not to give it a go. He changed majors, colleges, and with his dream firmly in hand went to welcome his sister to America and her college. Whether he fails or succeeds, he will never have the regret that his dream went unpursued.

All too soon, it was time for Kat’s sophomore year to commence and this time, we could put her on a plane for the journey with a ticket to come home over the Yule holidays. What we didn’t even think of was the probability of the fickle Iowa winters when winter break came upon us and the encroaching blizzard that her plane barely escaped. There was a quick prayer of gratitude that her plane didn’t go through Chicago and as soon as it had come upon us, her winter break was over and she was back to deal with snow, classes and the season of cold that couldn’t seem to let go.

Now the second summer break is over and yesterday, after a meal with family at a Vietnamese noodle restaurant we put her on a plane to return for her junior year. Kat is no longer the uncertain student that she was when she first peeked through her fingers at the beautiful hilltop campus. Her friends, now lovingly known as her “posse’” have come to love her and us as we them. Not unlike something growing into being from yarn and a crochet hook, all the loops and twists are coming together into a solid body of education for our child, now nearly full-grown.

We are at the half-way point, and we see such a change. It’s beautiful, it’s breathtaking and a miracle almost equivalent to her birth. Within my heart, I sincerely pray that everyone with a child in college steps back to watch the unfolding, the rebirthing, and the forging of an individual that this process creates. Oh, it’s not over but when you could only see the misty edges of a dream, seeing it at the halfway point begins to awaken a belief in the impossible again.

I must admit to a bit of tongue biting when she announced that she would be the “house manager” for the year at the 8-person housing unit this year. My beloved child is about to learn all about ‘tough love’ and setting boundaries. My prayers go up that she won’t come home bitter and bald; however a certain knowledge of human nature predicts several phone calls home for a “What in the Hell do I do about this?” session. Her Dad will field those phone calls, because he married a Valkyrie who would rather pull a sword to dispatch a problem than negotiate an agreement on the bridge.

When it all comes down to it, it truly a matter of weaving in the ends rather than leaving something that could be snagged and pulled apart. We are all one, we are all woven together, and it helps to remember the feel of the threads in our hands when what we weave grows beyond the skein.

Quiet Lives of Desperation

Three guesses about what I spent my afternoon watching. Oh Hell, I can’t keep anyone in suspense – which is why I buy Yule gifts at the last minute. I used to claim that it was because I spent so much time finding the perfect gift. Bullshit. Pure and utter bullshit. I simply can’t wait to see the look on their faces when they see what I just had a gut-felt feeling would rock their world the instant it was in their hands.

The husband and I were broke newlyweds of 4 years when “Good Will Hunting” debuted at the theatre. We had three kids, one with the genetic birth defect of PKU and her metabolic needs required weekly trips to a San Antonio hospital to make sure I was “getting it right” with blood tests and frequent adjustments to her diet. Had we been able to afford seeing the movie, perhaps my venture into writing would have occurred earlier and I wouldn’t have had to spend a week in ICU and two months learning to walk without appearing inebriated.

Let’s start with a fairy tale, then. It will start with the frightening little kernel of Truth Robin Williams stated as Sean Maguire when he’s telling Will that he could do anything freakin’ thing he wanted to – “No, you were born with it. So don’t cop out behind “I didn’t ask for this”.

As all good fairy tales begin – Once upon a time, there were twins. Born in the middle of the nastiest coldest sleet storm you can imagine. They were also six weeks premature in an era where preemies just didn’t have good odds of survival. It wouldn’t have mattered to the mother of these children. After all, she didn’t marry the sire of her kids. He was Mormon and a good Southern Baptist girl didn’t do that sort of thing. Then again, neither did she get knocked up on her first Spring Break fling from college. So she lied to the grocery delivery boy after some serious seduction on her part and bada-bing bada-bam, the 4th generation of a Founding Family failed to handle the legacy and instead married a butcher’s apprentice.

The twins, you ask? Ah, yes. One little girl with curly red hair and a little over 4 pounds, one little boy, with dark hair like his momma at about 5 pounds. Neither had good chances of survival, and the attending physician told the anxious husband “Don’t get too attached to the little girl. She’s far too fragile to last the week.” Surprisingly, the little girl did last the week, and the next one and so on until after two months they were told to “come and get her, she’s quite capable of taking on the world now.” Only, they didn’t take their daughter home. No, they took her to the husband’s grandparents in a far flung rural area where the only advances beyond electricity were regular postal delivery and automobiles. They left her there, with aging individuals that had done their share of raising children, 13 to be exact. What energy did they have left for another? Oh, of course the little boy would stay in town. Better access to doctors and all, and he was the heir, right?

Fast forward 18 months, and the spring of that year was delayed by cold and windy weather. The little girl got to see her twin brother about once a month, sometimes twice. They delighted in each other, but the little girl was clearly an instigator if there was trouble to be found, gotten into, and created. She stood up and by virtue of being able to jostle the playpen by sheer tenacity, she was able to reach both the lipstick (Ruby Red) and the dusting powder (My Sin.) It was time to explore creativity with her brother as a canvas, and then herself. This display of mischief was captured by a relative with a camera and the resulting photo would surface many years later after all the lies began to unravel. In the meantime, it meant a bath for both in a house poorly heated, and by a mother who was more about appearance than care or concern for her offspring. After all, she was about to give birth to another child, it was about time that the girl went back to her country home. Then, there was that nagging cough that the little boy had developed. It was the last time the little girl would see her twin, ever.

Time to jump ahead a couple of more years. The little boy had died with complications of pneumonia and the little girl didn’t see her parents for over a year. “It’s far too hard on her mother to see this child when the other didn’t make it. He was such a healthy child, too!” But the little girl didn’t understand the emotional distance, she didn’t know exactly what was missing, and it was just easier to stay with Nanny and Papaw. The farm was her world; the gentle chuckling of the chickens, the earthy smell of the cattle, the warmth of being on the broad mule’s back when Papaw plowed up the garden for Nanny, standing behind Papaw’s shoulder on the rides into town once a month to “take care of business.” It was an easier existence than having to stand still in a starched pinafore and black patent leather shoes and “be good.” Being barefoot in a simple cotton sackcloth shift, having her unruly curls braided into pigtails, and squishing her toes in the warm dirt while looking for the first of the ripe cherry tomatoes was a better fate than anything anywhere else could offer.

All too soon, the big brown leather suitcase came out of the dark recesses of attic and when Nanny opened it up, there was a tiny wristband from the hospital, a small pink receiving blanket and 3 neatly folded tiny diapers. A tear escaped from Nanny’s eye and the little girl didn’t understand why her Nanny’s eye leaked. Papaw gruffly mumbled, “Come on woman, let’s get this done and over with. It’s not like she can go to school out here.” All the little girl’s clothing and possessions were being packed and when Nanny went into the bathroom to get the small toothbrush, the little girl grabbed a small stuffed lamb from the belongings so carefully arranged in the suitcase. Her small sneakered feet took her to the living room where she handed the lamb to her Papaw. “Here Papaw. You said that Nanny always would need a lamb to look after. Give her mine, please.” She turned and went back into the small bedroom she’d always known as hers to help her Nanny finish.

That was when the night terrors began. Every time the little girl saw the suitcase, she’d start crying. When she cried, the spankings, the whippings would start. So she learned to cry silently; to sit up in the horrible metal crib and smell the night air through the zinc screening on the window and sob in silence. She had a younger relative that would often show up and bully her by taking her clothes to wear them, even though he was a boy. She misjudged the ominous click of the gas floor heater and suddenly flames were melting her tiny feet to the metal grid because he’d stolen her slippers and dared her to come get them. Two weeks alone in a hospital burn unit with only nurses to see to her cries because, the husband was too busy working to support his family and the wife was too emotionally fragile to see a child of hers in this setting. There was also the matter of a younger sibling, who was often sick and screaming.

It was there that the little girl heard classical music; her godfather brought her an album and a child’s phonograph to listen to it in her room. The little girl soon learned that it was better to sit still and listen to “Scheherazade.” She could sleep, she could dream happy dreams, and she could heal. When she got home, another album joined the first, and strains of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” could be heard echoing down the hall. Her godfather and her grandmother began to take the little girl to symphonic presentations, much to the jealous dismay of her mother. Soon, all the little girl wanted to do was go to school so she could read and learn all about the music she was hearing, the stories that the music told. She even ran away one bright September morning to get on a school bus that was picking up other neighborhood children. However, 6:30 was really very early to an excited young lady and she fell asleep before they ever made it to the school. Upon being discovered by a bus driver and escorted to the police station to hopefully be reunited with her parents, the little girl steadfastly refused to give her name, her address or any other information that would help in the process.

Eventually, a panicked grandmother verbally sparred with her old school mate, the current Police Chief, and the little girl was returned to her home; but not without some string pulling that resulted in a placement in a private school. Even that day would have some distinct consequence, as the little girl had to be tested for placement. While she couldn’t yet write her name, she could effectively draw a man, anatomically correct of course, but with a hat to keep his ears from sunburn. The docent and school administrator had to walk away from the little girl for a moment to keep from laughing, so serious was the child about the addition of a fedora to her rendering. So, into the first grade went a child 5 ½ years old, but with a wisdom far older about her.

First grade flew by and so did the opportunity to continue in private school. The little girl overheard the heated arguments that resulted in her going to a public school for second grade, but she had to be “tested” again. Again, it was a sultry summer day when she was walked into the nearby elementary school, all her paperwork presented and then the testing commenced. She looked up as she’d completed the last question and saw the others still working. Her confusion must have garnered the attention of the proctor, because a tall blonde lady came and took her small hand into a much larger, cooler one and they walked out of the room with her completed paper. There was a softly spoken conversation and she was told she could go home, they’d be calling her mother later. It was frightening, but she would walk home alone for the first time in her young life. True, it was only a block, but at 6 ½ the world is a pretty big place. She would soon get used to walking home alone; and by then she would learn to love the solitary nature of each step.

Soon, the third grade came around, there was a heated controversy going on about “new math” and how it was going to cripple some children because they simply wouldn’t be able to make the transition from the older methods. German measles was also going around and this time there simply wasn’t a vaccine for this form of the virus. Both the little girl and her younger brother were stricken with the disease and both ended up spending two miserable weeks in a darkened room as the virus had “spread to their eyes” and there was a danger of going blind. Other children in their neighborhood had contracted the disease and one of the neighbor’s children was in the hospital fighting for his life. Three weeks later, short one neighborhood child and 15 days of valuable lesson time, the little girl returned to her classroom. She’d never really liked her teacher, sensing that the woman had favorites, and then overhearing her say “Well, wouldn’t you know that the white trash would survive?” An inner fear that this woman was not going to help her catch up with the lessons she’d missed began to grow and was well founded when she wasn’t promoted to the fourth grade with her classmates.

The teasing and gossip would begin, and it was simply better to turn inwards and read. The little girl, skinny from illness, began to take on some height which resulted in an awkward gawkiness. It was just better to curl up in a corner of the library and read rather than attempt to play kickball or four-square or hopscotch. The librarian appreciated the assistance in re-shelving books, and re-filing reference cards. Things at home turned darker, however and now a young lady beginning to bloom into a young woman at the young age of 9 began to hide her library books. However, there was yet another sibling joining the already crowded nest, and sometimes library books were forgotten in the mad scramble of the mornings. When the late notices began to show up in the mail box, the beatings commenced. When the young lady brought home books for a book report, she had to ask the teacher for a written assignment stating such, else face the inevitable belt whipping.

Somewhere in all of the blur of elementary school, all the children were set down with Stanford Binet IQ tests. It was just another test, the young lady thought; never even comprehending that this would change her life from “get by” to “unbearable” when her parents were contacted by the school. “We don’t have the capability to educate her properly,” her parents were told. “We can’t afford to send her to private school,” came the reply. What had been just a “deal with the child until we can marry her off” attitude, changed overnight to “how do we deal with the freak?” Then came the joys of a Yule where all her dreams of being a scientist came true with a small German microscope, a huge chemistry set, and a telescope all showing up under the Tannenbaum. There was so much to see, to observe, the sheer joy of making a “wet mount” slide and then sharing her finds with anyone she could coerce into looking thru the small oculus. So what if her grandmother was permanently sickened by the sight of chicken fat enlarged 200 times under the lens?

Santa had also brought a bicycle and it was a joy and a danger because the young lady’s mind would wander frequently while riding, thus ensuring many cuts and scrapes along the way. Other neighborhood children would gather in wheeled packs and thus conquer the adjoining streets and driveways on daily rides. Of course, shortening the distance by “cutting across” the corner lawn was a given, but so also was the anger of the lawn’s owner and Mrs. Baum was very likely to take her complaint directly to a parent. The resultant disciplinary correction inspired the creation of smoke bomb with the chemistry set that would ultimately blow a 3 x 4 foot hole in the bedroom wall of the young lady. This explosion ended the gifting of any additional scientific equipment for fear of curiosity levelling the dwelling by flood, fire or some other mishap.

The remainder of her education would pass fairly unremarkably save for the constant impediment of chronic depression. When she would ask for direction, or guidance with where her education should go, there was the stand-by answer of “oh, you’re so bright you can do anything” with never an interest taken to see where her heart might lie, what might make her sigh in the joy of completion. Somewhere in high school, an English literature teacher took an interest and challenged her to write a screenplay for a 5 minute movie. Something ignited and a joy burst forth. While the end result was a cheesy Grade B science fiction 8mm creation, that it was done and a small figment of a germ of an idea sat in the dark shadows of a heart.

It would be a dream denied not because of the young lady’s wishes, but because of parents too self-absorbed to guide their child beyond what was “expected of a young female after high school.” They’d never noticed that she’d turned her back on religion after a playmate’s grandfather molested both of them before either was 12. They’d not given much credence to a letter sent to them by the school counselor stating that their daughter had earned no less than 5 scholarships and would they please consider making an appointment for college placement?

When the young lady brought home all the paperwork from her counselor, her ‘father’ sneered and challenged, “You don’t have the guts to get your education the way I did. You and all your pot smokin’ friends are too lazy to even consider the military.” Something inside the young lady snapped; she’d worked damned hard to master Spanish classical guitar, 6 and 12 string, and spent endless hours researching the correct translations of Chaucer. Lazy? Then, there was her mother who told her that the “most correct path” for her to follow would be for her to attend a junior college and then transfer to the local university to obtain a teaching degree. A correct path? Whatever happened to “you’re so smart you can do anything you put your mind to?”

This young lady instead went to a recruiting office, with a signed age waiver and raised her right hand. Nothing prepared her for basic training, but then nothing prepared them for her intelligence when it came to radio communications. Somewhere in the marching and drill, between the rifle range and personal defense lessons the bookworm found her voice and her spine. Nothing prepared her for the politics and personal gamesmanship that the military foisted upon its cadre, however; she opted to leave when she made an issue of a misplaced hand on her thigh, and the resulting career backslap would have had her on a mountaintop listening to alpine goats take a piss.

All of her training and credentials amounted to nothing on the civilian market when she came back home; it was by happy chance that she landed a technician spot in a naval laboratory….until the funding was cut and she was facing eviction from her first small apartment. This young lady sat in the quiet of her own dining area and thought…numbers had always been difficult for her, but basic maths were nothing. Her grandmother had told her that folks would always need someone to keep their books straight, and she could at least do that. Thus began 30 plus years of taking care of other people’s money, credit cards, bills, and insurance. The dream of writing thus deferred again; sometimes it couldn’t be silenced and came out in strange little poems written in a journal or a diary. Or sometimes in a ballad or two when a guitar found its way back into her hands. Then came an accident, and accidental addiction to the pain pills…and just as quickly, the young lady found a resolution to the addiction, but the pain remained.

The years stretched out; three then four marriages failed and as a single mother, the daily grind for survival and sobriety outpaced her inner muse. Until, one night she fell off the tailgate of a U-Haul truck while helping a friend move. She hamstrung both ankles in the accident, and a sober friend took her to the ER and thence to a couch with a nearby monitor and keyboard attached to a dial-up modem and a BBS bulletin board. There, the young lady met the one, the one who would be there for her through two more babies and 20 years of marriage. He would also be there for her when her old nemesis depression came back with a vengeance and a new angle of horror known as PTSD. Then, in the long shadows of an October afternoon, after a particularly fractious phone call with the insurance company, she would stand up and a blood vessel that had formed a deadly bubble in her brain would burst. He would find her unresponsive and unconscious after coming home because ‘something didn’t feel right.’

Everything she had every taken for granted would be gone within 3 days of bleeding within her skull. Gone was the near instantaneous recall of minutiae required for her job, gone was her sense of balance, gone too was the surety that she could just “move on” when she found her way back from conquering the re-awakened demons of depression. After 10 days in the hospital, she was home – to nothing. She was on total bed rest until they could do a “follow-up” CT scan to determine the nature of a tumor discovered in her stay. Somewhere in the drab grey dullness a friend put a series of books in her hands to read and something stirred to life, something long denied stood up and said “No. Not this time.” Then, her beloved echoed the same words that her heart had been saying. “No. Not this time.”

Behind the eyes of every writer, there is a simple trigger; a switch, if you will. It takes us from those “quiet lives of desperation” that used to echo around me in every morning’s traffic, to a life spent describing the moment that a simple dragonfly landed within the landscape of my inner eye, and I want to share that moment with you. The little girl, the young lady, the single mother of this narrative was me. The story is still unfolding, but like Matt Damon’s character, I have learned my lesson about denying what you love and who you are. Hello, I am a writer.

Nugget – the opening chapter

Shortly after the death of our little dog Sterling, I found myself sliding down into the Abyss once again. Even though at best our relationship was one of cuss words and willful disobedience, Sterling was one of those four-legged critters that managed to worm his obstinate way into your heart….and chew up your best slippers at the same time. He was a creature of bad habits and worse body odor, requiring a bath at least three times a week to keep from smelling like the goat shit he loved to roll in, was convinced that the kitchen trash can was his own special diner and that the best self-entertainment was to sneak up behind a sleeping cat and bark furiously at nothing. Did I mention that he thought my panties were a gourmet treat?

Sterling Argente’ came into our lives in a serendipitous moment of crossed paths. The family was cleaned up and dressed reasonably well; it was New Year’s Eve and my birthday dinner. This has become a very special and happy treat for me and it memorializes those family members who are precious to me. We were picking up the youngest child from her friends when I see this small gray shadow at her feet. “What’s THAT?” I asked her. “Oh, it’s just a dog. Someone dumped it in this neighborhood thinking everyone here has money and they’ll take it in. It’s been hanging around about a month and the dog catcher can’t find it when he comes out.”

It was drizzling rain, freezing cold and that animal was shivering under its matted fur. “Nope. That ain’t gonna happen, see if you can pick it up and give it to me.” The youngest child reached down, scooped down and picked up the small animal; the dog was a surprised as I was to find itself in the arms of a human being. Despite being dressed for a fancy dinner, I snuggled him close and we made the quick turnaround back to the house. A clean towel, a bowls of food and water with a promise to return and Sterling was settled in the bathroom for the evening.

What followed was the battle of the wills regarding grooming, (he wasn’t huge fan) a thorough medical exam, (he had two cracked ribs and a phobia of loud voices), and repeated dips, shavings for fleas and rolling in barnyard animal dung. We really never figured that peculiarity out, what we did figure out was that he was a Schnoodle – a so-called designer dog, about 5 or 6, was going blind and maybe a bit confused due to what appeared to be repeated beatings. After removing three teeth, Sterling began to get some of his old spark back and became a feisty contender for love, affection and a proud master of cat-herding – sort of. Of course, Toby, our huge ginger tom, curled up next to him one frosty morning in February, and we knew that the herding was just a form of tag, the charade was busted. We had to keep Sterling close to the house because he tended to wander if he found any lack of integrity in the fencing, he would be out.

There was never a moment that he felt overawed by big black George, the 180 pound Anatolian Shepherd. In fact, it was cute to watch the two of them play, George being ever so careful not to crush his new little buddy. If Sterling got too eager or too rough, George would lie down and put a saucer sized paw on Sterling as a warning.

June thunderstorms tend to wreak havoc on trees, fencing, roofing and anything not exactly sturdy enough to stand up to the 60 mile an hour straight line winds. Sure enough, one came up when we were out grocery shopping and it was strong enough that it blew the doors open on the house. We’d known that we had rain coming and had put Sterling in the house; George in his giant kennel. If there was to be thunder, Sterling had access to a nice dark closet with a thick towel in a storage crate. We never dreamed that both French doors would nearly be blown off their hinges, as well as about 300 feet of fence being blown over. Sterling, of course, bolted out of the house in panic. Over the next two days, we had sightings of him but couldn’t catch him. I left kibble and water out and we nearly caught him twice. The third and final time, I learned that bacon is a wonder panacea with small frightened dogs. Again, Sterling had managed to find sheep dung to roll in and this time we almost shaved him naked so matted was his short curly coat.

He was home and back up to his usual mischief. In fact, I got so pissed at him with one incident, I ‘dog-shamed’ him with a placard. He’d gotten into the kitchen garbage again, (I think he was almost monkey-like with his paws and opening doors!) and when I took his prized possession of a hotdog wrapper away from him, Sterling promptly went over to my recliner and pooped in front of it!

We thought we had all the fencing fixed, so when he whined and pleaded to be outside with George, we let him go play with his giant buddy. It was inevitable that he would find some sort of dung to roll in back in the farther pastures, so I pulled the grooming equipment and the shampoo into the kitchen in anticipation of the next day’s use. The late afternoon was warm and pleasant; when I looked outside, George and Sterling were laid out on the cool expanse of the back deck. Later that evening, I spied George through the kitchen window making his way thru the tall grasses of the far pasture and knew that he and Sterling were headed to the waters of the creek at the back of the property. Tomorrow, both of them would have a bath, I thought; and finished dinner’s preparation.

Dinner was over, the dishes and all the prep cookware were soaking, it was time to call the boys in. Both were down at the creek and with the heat, there was no calling them back; I could hear them happily splashing. With a sigh, I kissed the other half goodbye as he left for his overnight shift, and left bowls of kibble out for George and Sterling. Like kids, they’d be ravenous après’ swim.

I went on to bed, and before I knew it there was a gentle rocking on my shoulder. The beloved was home from work, and dawn was approaching; but the look on his face told me something was wrong. “Honey?” I inquired. “Babe, Sterling got out of the fencing somehow. I found him this morning in the middle of the road. I only hope it was quick.” There was a moment of shock and then a flood of sorrow.

Sterling was gone. We buried him in the garden he used to chase the cats into, under a rambling Don Juan rose and next to the Chablis grapes I’d given up on ever growing. It wasn’t the same – his muted old man growl was missing, the clicking of his nails on the wooden floor, even George was moping. I wasn’t prepared to hit the emotional slide into shadow, either. The beloved and the daughter urged me to look at adopting or rescuing another dog. I wasn’t sure that I could make that kind of an empathetic investment again. After all, the daughter would soon be leaving to go back to college and I wanted the peace and quiet to write and think.

The nagging from the others in our circle began, and was added to by the husband and the daughters. “Ok, I’ll look.” It kept them at bay, for a while. “You really need a pocket pooch,” the mate insisted, “One that you can carry in a bag and take with you everywhere.”

“Ahem. Dearest. I am not that kind of a woman.”

“Mom, you need a companion.”

“I have George and 6 cats. My companion card is pretty full.”

“You can’t have George in the house! The last time he knocked over everything his tail could reach, as well as tipped over the couch AND the recliner!”

“Ahem. Did you forget the cats?”

“Mom, on a good day you might be able to find one, maybe two to come sit on your lap. Violet and Spot hunt the doves, Phred likes to sit on the roof, Toby is out in the barn, Luce-purr is usually under the house and Lucky is always out catching rabbits. When they DO come in you get all upset about cat fur on your keyboard! Do I need to remind you about Phred knocking EVERYTHING off of the altar last week and destroying your alabaster offering bowl?”

“Sigh. I give up.”

Thus, my search for another small furry critter to add to the colorful menagerie began. I looked at the rescues and their current inventory. Nope. We braved the heat and the humidity to look at the local pound and ASPCA. Nope. So, I started looking online. I found a breeder of Yorkshire terriers in San Antonio and inquired if she’d had any pet quality animals or returns. She told me that she’d retired her male stud and he was available for a small transfer fee of $150. Hmmmm…something was buzzing around me like a suspicious bee, but I asked for a picture of the animal.

She sent the picture via e-mail and something told me to “GO get him, and get him NOW.” Ok, I’ve learned my lesson over the years – this was one of those gut-level directives you don’t ignore. I told her that I would take the retired stud and made the arrangements to meet her. The trip would have been uneventful, but that traffic was insane; my daughter and I were looking at each other in wonder. Then I realized we were within shouting distance of the 4th of July – oh joy – JUST what a small dog could tolerate – Not! Oh yes, the driving directions via Google? Not their best effort, in fact my directionally challenged husband could have arrived there better.

So, we arrive. First alarm bell tips off – she wants to meet with us in her front yard. She explains that “she is in the process of moving and the house is in Chaos.” Ok. I can understand, but the little bells in my gut are still chiming. She takes us to where she has lawn chairs set up and then goes back to bring the dog out to me. The daughter stands by me and I sit; the door opens and she comes back out with the dog. He looks terrified of her AND of me. Something inside me says, “Be still, be welcoming, be gentle.” So, I take him from her and look into his terrified gaze.

“Do you want me to be your mommy?” I ask. Something inside this little dog melted, and despite his fear, he stopped shaking and was more of a “just get me out of here” attitude. I handed him over to my daughter to finish the financial transaction and he melted into her arms as well. The breeder was telling me that he was not a “cuddly” Yorkie. Oh yeah, like I could see that, (insert sarcasm font here.) I asked for his papers, and his vet records. “Oh, I’ll mail them to you. Everything is all in a turmoil in the house. If you text me your address, I’ll send them to you.” I was going to put up a fuss, but the little dog kept looking at me with such a pitiful plea, that I told my daughter to put him in the carrier and we’ll just go.

Before we left, she tried to put another puppy in our hands, a 6 week old female. Nope. I felt for the puppy, but I wasn’t going to hand over $750.00 for a puppy that was sired by the male I now own and had no papers on. We couldn’t get out of there quick enough.

Well, we stopped for a quick bite of lunch and to see if our little one, known to us now as Nugget, needed to potty before the long trip home. He was sick, all over the inside of the carrier and all over himself. It appeared that someone had fed him a hamburger before we’d arrived. I called the breeder to let her know that I was going to need those vet records immediately. She asked if I was going to bring him back. (Are you insane, woman?) Not a care for the animal, just wanted to know if I wanted my money back. Second alarm bell was going off. No, I wanted his records and within a week.

We must have stopped no less than four times on the way home to allow him to throw up, try to get him to drink some water and clean him up. No way was I about to put him back in the carrier, he was going to be held, fussed over and taken care of with loving hands. We get home and George just about has a happy dancy-paws fit he’s so excited to have a little buddy again. Nugget, on the other hand, wets himself. Well, when you’re all of 4 ½ pounds and a 180 pound giant wants to make kissy-face, it’s easy to understand a bit of hesitation. George is confused and looks askance of me. I tell him, “Just wait, our new baby is a little bit sick and a whole lot scared right now. He’ll be out here playing with you eventually.”

Ummm, not exactly. Over the next week, we determine that Nugget has never been outside of a kennel in his life. Never once walked on grass or for matter peed or pooped outside. He’s terrified of turf and dirt. Doesn’t walk on a leash well, either. Ok, more and more of the misrepresentations of this animal are coming forward. I chat about it with other rescue friends who can do a bit of checking and before you know it, there is a suggestion that I make an anonymous report. Back yard breeders are rather illegal and it appears that Nugget was retired from stud service because he became cantankerous.

At the vet visit we discovered that he had burn marks on his neck under his chin from an electronic bark collar. His feet were splayed due to being in a cage constantly, and one of his paws sustained a strain injury (untreated) from where it’d been caught (it appeared) in the kennel grid. Happily, he had no dental problems, just a long road to learn to be our beloved. So far, we’ve got him on training pads for potty purposes and he’s slowly getting used to ‘gargantuan’ George. We’ve managed to get him to eat something other than table scraps, and healthier dog appropriate. (Ok, I do slip him a bit of chicken now and then, but I’m Mama – I can spoil him!)

The unexpected end result of our little adventure is that I had to shut down a Facebook account for multiple reasons, but the tipping point is that one of the threatening messages that I received was from someone associated with Nugget’s breeder. Everything is copacetic now; but there was a 24 hour period that I was ready with a 10 gauge, a huge dog and a whole lot of righteous anger should anyone attempt to infiltrate our home. This is why Nugget’s story was delayed and everything was quiet. But, now you know….and I have a new cuddle buddy/furry shadow. Even the cats like him!

Excerpt from WIP – “Of Snips & Snails”

As promised, the YA story is coming right along, and as what always happens, the cast of character sometimes wake me up in the middle of the night demanding that I get their yarn woven into the current tapestry of tale….

Enjoy! (As always, feedback is deeply appreciated!)


Odie & Anya

The school year progressed and Odie, under Dr. Belling’s tutelage, had become a much better student through the hours of time spent around his mentor and friend. Honors Chemistry was a course that strained the gray matter of all its’ attendees, but Odie it appeared, had a natural gift for working the most difficult of problems.  Excelling at schoolwork is not exactly part of the formulary for dealing with bullies, however. Especially if your bullies are on the football team and grades below a C got you benched for a game, or until you brought your average up. While he’d managed to escape the usual crush tactics at his locker, and the expected trip in the school cafeteria, Odie had his own set of tormentors who delighted in tagging him with the name “Slug-Boy.” This year, they were not above including his friend Anya in the abuse; pulling her hair, grabbing at her breasts, slapping her on the seat of her jeans, teasing her in derogatory innuendo and making racist remarks about her half-breed status by yelling out “Hey, Tomahonky! Slug-Boy treating you right?” She’d not revealed the depth of the bullying to Odie; he was working so hard on his own scholarship that she wasn’t going to let his defense of her honor get in the way of college opportunities for the both of them. But reporting the bullies wasn’t going to stop them if she went to the trouble. Anya was a “half-breed rez kid”, and anyone that cared for her welfare was a rarity.

Odie was weaving his way through the maelstrom of students leaving class just before the Christmas holidays when he saw Anya hiding her face in her coat. From her defeated posture and the shaking of her shoulders, he could tell she was sobbing. He reached out to gather her close to him, “Anya! What happened?”

When she turned to face him, it was apparent what the problem was as a large swath of her hair was chopped off in front to make ragged bangs.  A volcanic rage roiled up in his demand through a gravelly harsh voice, “Who did this to you?” His anger was just below the surface but rolling through his body. Anya was stunned almost out of her tears; she’d never seen him so enraged. Haltingly, through the tears she explained, “Those jocks, the ones that are always teasing you were mouthing off, and I told them to shut up. Billy pulled a knife, while the rest of them held my arms and…OH, Odie, my hair!!” She dissolved into tears again, and Odie gingerly pulled her into a gentle, if awkward, embrace, placing a gentle kiss on her forehead.

A sudden, complete understanding flooding him; if the thugs couldn’t stop him one way, they’d use their tactics on whomever he cared for as an additional tool.  In their obscene need to dominate through testosterone and fear, they’d either forgotten or failed to care that there are consequences for outright assault on another student if you left enough evidence. With a firm voice Odie wrapped his right arm around his girlfriend, “Come with me, Anya.” As if he was a force of nature, Odie separated the traffic flow of students and pulled her along back into the Chemistry lab. He wasn’t going to stop, he wasn’t going to allow anyone to stop them either. With a hard edged voice he announced into the nearly vacant classroom as they entered, “Mrs. Turner? I need, um, we need some help, please.”

Amanda Turner was hard pressed every year to explain why she returned to teach High School Chemistry, however every year there was some student that showed some sort of promise that confirmed her commitment to teaching one more year. Odie Fentner was her reason for this year and possibly next year unless he tested out; he had a natural gift for understanding the most difficult of problems, and she was looking forward to writing his recommendations for college. With possible cut backs in budget and layoffs, retirement was looking like a better option; besides, the local school board had always been slightly hostile to math and science teachers.

But there was another consideration when Amanda Turner began seriously considering drafting her resignation letter.  Students were always getting themselves into situations that would have been better handled with a good sex education class or sometimes a lawyer, but it appeared that Fate would hand her those challenges to handle with her calm good sense and an intuitive sense of human nature instead. Upon hearing her prize student’s voice cut through the between-class vacuum Mrs. Turner was a bit startled, but the no-nonsense experience within her took over.

“How can I help you, Odie?”

When she turned around to see a tear-streaked young woman that had clearly been assaulted, that calm good sense abandoned her and a sense of indignant rage boiled up. Anya Zoltiz was one of the “rez” kids – students from the local reservation that were incorporated in the school district when the Bureau of Indian Affairs shut the funding off for the reservation schools. Because most of them were from impoverished families, the children of local stockmen and ranch owners had been told they were the equivalent of human detritus. It wasn’t any better for Anya that even the “rez” kids wouldn’t talk to because “half-breeds” were considered lower than cockroaches. Anya was one of the better students, one that Amanda Turner knew would be able to make it out of the reservation given a chance.

“Who did this, Odie? Oh damn, come here young lady!” Anya burst into tears again as Amanda Turner enveloped her with a swift hug, and then held her at arm’s length to look at the damage. Odie and Anya began to detail the identities of the offenders and Mrs. Turner interrupted them, “Ok, first things first; Odie, use the classroom phone and dial the front office. I want Mr. Kingley here, now. And I want him to call the sheriff; they have laws against this kind of thing.” She quickly took Anya back to her office and set her down, then opened the connecting door to the classroom next door to speak to a colleague. “Ann, can you cover my next class? I have another situation.”


Time to OWN it….

roast goose

OK…Time to “come out of the pantry” so to speak. While I am NOT any type of Domestic Goddess by any stretch of the imagination, I am the Goddess of Comfort Food. The kind that has folks hanging around our campsite for a bite of whatever I’m whipping up to feed the Horde of the Half-NeKkid when they return from wheedling vendors, fly-by huggings of folks that they haven’t seen for moons, and just to keep the hands busy because dammit, I forgot my damned crochet at home and my freakin’ brain is wound up tighter than a virgin’s knees at Beltane!

I suppose I was sorta shy to do more than admit to it, but after some reflection on the whole thing AND the fact that my far-flung offspring have been calling me for recipes and “how-to” tips, I’m gonna OWN IT, DAMMIT.

I COOK…and I cook DAMN WELL. Ya’ want Roast Goose with Apple-Walnut stuffing and savory gravy? Fine – get your ass out of the kitchen unless you’re willing to help under my direction (that means you can take orders and follow directions EXACTLY) and be prepared to worship me properly when I’m done. Unfamiliar with a spice? Ask me – I can probably tell you what it is, what it’s used for, any alternative you can use if you’re out, and the best varietal to purchase when shopping.

Other people count their wealth with CD collections, gold, silver, stocks, mutual funds and Universal Life insurance policies. I take stock in a well-stocked spice cabinet, pantry, fridge and freezer. My chef’s knives are worth more than your IPhone, and I lust for cookware and stoneware like other women lust after designer pumps! I have a choice of an alabaster slab, a hard rock maple cutting board, and a beautiful block of crafted glass with which to begin,  to fashion and perfect my culinary creations upon.

Recently, I have discovered and am returning to “the joy of aprons” after one too many mishaps of braising the boobs with hot broth. I tend to prefer cheesecloth dishtowels, and hand-crochet dish cloths to hand wash my more prized containers, bowls, and cookware. All of this descriptive phrasing leads me to another eye-opening personal observation: some folks paint literary masterpieces with words, I prefer to create 7 course meals complete with finger dishes of lemon-scented water adjectives and palette cleansers of minty metaphors.

This alone has enlightened me as to why there are sudden long stretches between my writing. I’ve mastered the art of feasting upon creativity to create gluttonous wonders, but I’m still in the apprentice stage of crafting the thin, meager portions of famine sentences and the simplicity of a daily meal of prose. Further – this is OK, because a well-rounded human being needs to learn throughout the lifetime granted in order to keep itself viable as a contributing member of humanity. There is no final graduation ceremony until your loved ones bid you goodbye until your next incarnation.

Additionally, a well-seasoned meal and a well written composition should have all the flavors of life incorporated from bitter tears to sweet laughter and all the rich fullness of existence layered in-between. In truth, we can neither write nor cook a meal without the influence of others. Whether they are in our heads, hearts or by our side, the presence of those who inspire us are as much a needed ingredient as the entrée to a dinner or the healthy plot bunny who leads us a wild chase in the merry meadow of metaphor.

We desperately need all the shades and shadows of humor and pathos, we need to both stand alone and be woven together as the tapestry we are; and we dare not deny ourselves the basic nature of identity, either. Looking at the whole tableau and table, there is no place nor space for judgment, just simple acceptance of what is placed before us.

Now, all that being said, shall I put the kettle on?