Our Little Angels

Cooper and Luna

I have a little friend at the house for a few days. His name is Cooper and he is my grand dog. Over the years Cooper has been here for many sleepovers while his family travels. He’s no trouble at all and he brings a great deal of love when he comes. This year he had some tough times. He had surgery in the fall and for a while we really wondered if he was going to make it. Thanks to a good vet and some tender loving care from his family he has rallied back, but he’s really showing signs of being an old man now. His coat is becoming more and more grey over time and his legs don’t always work as well as they once did so he sometimes struggles just to get up from a resting position. He doesn’t do much running around theses days. Instead his pace is slow, steady and deliberate. He’s missing teeth that he once had, making him look a bit forlorn.

There was a time when Cooper was athletic enough to leap up onto our bed like a super hero. We would awake in the morning to find him snoring at our feet. Now he can’t even climb the stairs to be with Mike in the man cave the way he used to do. Now He prefers having a soft quilt on which to relax, and even then he struggles a bit to find a comfortable position. Still, he’s as lovable as can be and enjoys back scratches and tummy rubs as much as he ever did.

Cooper is little trouble. He only barks when he wants to go outside or when it’s time for a meal. It’s nice of him to remind us to take care of his needs because we sometimes get busy and don’t notice what hour it is. He dutifully lets us know what he wants and when he wants it. The rest of the time he mostly follows us around and watches us doing our chores. He is a model guest and a great companion, so we never mind having him. He’s as sweet a dog as ever there was.

Cooper doesn’t play much these days. When he was younger he was like an athletic clown, making us laugh with his antics and prowess. He often flew into our laps wherever we happened to sit and ran across the yard with ease. Since he was adventurous we had to be certain that there were no cracks along the fence line or he would find a way to wiggle outside of the barrier and wander around the neighborhood exploring. He wound up at somebody else’s house more than once. We’ve engaged in many a frantic search but we always found him and felt a sense of relief along with a great deal of amusement.

Cooper is a pug, by the way, and as cute and sweet as that breed of dog generally is. His eyes have always been so enchanting. All he has to do is stare at us and we have to give in to whatever he wants. Now they are a bit sorrowful owing to the passage of time and the aging of his body, but he is still irresistible when he uses them to beg. He knows that I am a real pushover when he patiently stares at me with his now old man puppy face.

We haven’t had a dog of our own for some time now. We are always on the go and having to consider the needs of a pet just doesn’t work with our present lifestyle. I imagine that we will eventually slow down just the way Cooper has. Maybe then we will once more enjoy the companionship of a dog. A large creature like a golden retriever or a collie might be fun but I like the idea of a lap dog like Cooper. I want a pet who can sit beside me in a chair without taking up too much room. I like the idea of a pet that I might cuddle without feeling as though I am being crushed by its weight.

It’s little wonder that dogs are used to service people with disabilities. They are so remarkably loving and conscious of our moods and our well being. They communicate with us as though they understand exactly how we are feeling. When we are happy they rejoice with us. When we are sad they loyally offer us comfort. It’s a silly idea, but also quite profound to note that the word dog is God spelled backwards. In so many ways they are indeed like little angels sent to love and care for us as long as we treat them well.

I’m happy that my grandchildren have grown up with pets. Their dogs have all been sweet and quite smart. I’ve loved them as if they were my own and grieved when they passed. I wish that our dogs would last longer than they do. We become so close to them that our hearts break when they die. It is as though a member of the family is gone, and we remember them forever.

It saddens me a bit to know that Cooper is truly an old dog and that he shows so many signs of slowing down. I want to enjoy him as much and as often as I can while I still have the chance. He has burrowed his way quite deeply into my heart. These days he does nothing extraordinary other than to be as sweet as he ever was. I take joy in simply listening to him snore as he lies at my feet. I laugh when he barks at me to let him go outside or indicates that he wants me to give him a treat or a bit more food. I could sit all day just watching him sleep. There is great comfort in having him near.

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The Brilliance of Forgetting

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Well that’s a relief! I just found out that forgetfulness is a sign of exceptional intelligence. If that’s the case I must be a genius because I’m one of those folks who walks from one room to another with great purpose and then ends up wondering why I’m standing in a closet in a state of confusion. I’ve had to incorporate all sorts of apps into my routine just to keep track of appointments and passwords and even to handle a record of tasks that I need to complete. If the electricity ever went our for several days I’d be up a creek wandering about dazed and disorganized.

I’ve never been good at recalling things like my license plate number. That’s why I so loved my GAMMY 7 car with its never to forget personalized identification. When I eventually gifted the car to my grandsons I was happy to help them out, but I hated losing the one thing identified by a series of letters and numbers that I never ever forgot. It does’t even seem like the same car with its now generic set of symbols. I’d probably lose it in a parking lot without its familiar name smiling at me on that little metal plate. I’d be wandering about hoping to hear a little honking sound as I pressed the remote on my key fob.

I have to look up the numbers on my driver’s license every single time that someone asks me for that bit of identification, but I can spout my social security info without even thinking because I’ve had to be able to retrieve that combination of numbers since I was a student. It’s been an important piece of usefulness for jobs and all sorts of situations, so it’s become second nature to me like my name or my phone number. Speaking of which, having both a land line and cell can become a bit confusing, but so far I’ve managed to differentiate between the two. I keep wondering if it’s time to ditch the land land though because it has become rare for me or anyone that I know to use it.

I’ve always had a bit of dyslexia so I frequently transpose numbers, a tendency which can be lethal when teaching mathematics. I learned long ago to always check my solutions to problems. I became rather adept in determining if an answer appeared to make sense or not. Whenever I made a mistake while instructing my students I used it as a way to encourage them by admitting that we all have those moments of imperfection. I also took that time to demonstrate how to assess an answer in terms of whether or not it made sense. Nonetheless to this very day I sometimes find myself freezing in terror when faced with the seven and nine multiplication facts. I have to take a deep breath and hope that my brain is not so rattled that I make a fool of myself in front of my students.

When it comes to birthdays I’m really bad. Facebook has done me one of the grandest favors of my lifetime by reminding me of who is celebrating on any given day. Unfortunately their algorithm does not always choose to keep me in touch with all of the people that I definitely want to remember, so I suspect that I am missing a few of my favorite people from time to time. I ask anyone who has been forgotten to just understand that I’m not a birthday wizard. I know mine, those of my children and my grandchildren. After that I have to check a calendar.

A friend was asking me about someone’s address recently. I had no idea how to respond. I’m one of those kooky women who is able to drive to the homes of my friends and family members strictly by dent of landmarks and house styles and colors. If you ask me for numbers and sometimes even street names I’m lost, but I know exactly what places of business are on the corners where I must turn and I have an uncanny sense of direction. I know immediately whether or not I am traveling the right way even in a deep fog. In spite of that I still think of Siri as my new best friend as she navigates me all over the country. It’s as though I have a dear companion in the seat next to me making certain that I will never get lost.

I know people who describe life events with exact dates. I can’t remember whether an occasion transpired this year or a decade ago. I hate the medical forms that ask me when I broke my foot. I really have no idea how old I was other than the fact that I was young enough to participate in a miles long fund raiser. I didn’t wear proper shoes for the occasion and I ended up with a stress fracture because I did not yet I know that I had osteoporosis and was more likely than most to get broken bones. i suppose that I am one of those folks whose mind keeps track of general details rather than specifics.

I am able to recall events and conversations from my childhood quite vividly. For that matter any situation involving an encounter with another person is planted clearly in my mind. I suppose that such incidents are of particular importance to me. It is as though I can actually relive them, hear the voices, see the details and colors, have the same feelings. I find myself back in those times as though they were happening right now. It’s so strange how the mind works. I wonder how we unconsciously decide what is important enough to recall with clarity?

When I was a teenager working as a receptionist for our family doctor during the summer I learned about the power of knowing how and where to find information. The kindly physician showed me his vast collection of medical books and demonstrated how he would listen to a patient’s description of symptoms and then use the volumes to match them to a disease and its requisite treatments. That’s when I realized that we never really know everything, at least those of us who are not brilliant savants. It was quite freeing to understand that much of education teaches us how to find the resources that lead us to the answers that we need.

As I grow older I must indeed be getting more and brilliant if the research is to be believed because I am more and more forgetful without the electronic reminders that I have set in place. I have to say that our brave new world of information right at our fingertips has come along at just the right time of life for me. I can at least face the world without looking ridiculously confused about what to do next. Still, I miss those lovely calendars that I used to religiously carry in my purse or briefcase. Being the tactile learner that I am made them all the more meaningful. I found myself recalling the color coding that I used and the little pictures that I drew to emphasize the importance of certain things. I suppose that like Mitt Romney I still prefer relying on binders to sort and organize my life. Those images on little screens sometimes rattle my dyslexia in a way that the paper images never did, but at least they don’t get lost and they take the time to remind me of what I need to do with bells and whistles and little bubbles. I’m growing more and more fond of them by the day, at least until those moments when I can’t find my phone or my laptop.

A Month of Madness

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As I took my plants back outside after a couple of days of freezing weather I thought of how cyclical life is. I’ve been through seventy one winters now and watched the seasons change in quirky ways, but always somewhat predictably. Life is a series of repetitions during which we grow just a bit older and hopefully a bit wiser. We learn about the way of things and understand that while it’s unusual, it is possible to have a freeze in March in the south. We go with the flow and the routine even as big changes may occur to make things so very different. We understand that we can count on the calendar moving at its”petty pace” but surprises both good and bad may come our way at any moment. The traditions to which we often cling are ways of keeping us anchored even as storms roar around us.

March brings us the Houston Rodeo and Mardi Gras and Lent and the madness of basketball. In this month we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day even if we don’t have an Irish bone in our bodies. We decorate our homes with colorful beads and then replace them with shamrocks and finally bunnies. We take a break from work and school with an eye toward warmer days and fun in the sun, hoping that our plans to visit a beach aren’t spoiled with rain and cold temperatures. We seek a sense of control and continuity with our rituals. They create cohesion and memories that sustain us, but they can also be a source of sorrow when things spiral out of our control as often happens.

I remember a year when my friend Pat secured a beach house for all of us to use during spring break. Our children were teenagers who were not yet driving and doing things on their own although they may have been dying to do so. We happily packed enough food and clothing for what should have been a fun adventure, but things began to fall apart almost immediately beginning with the fact that we had to wear coats because it was so chilly. Nonetheless, by the time we had reached the rented house we had outlined a Plan B that did not include swimming in the still frigid ocean, but would still be filled with tons of fun. We were bound and determined to make the best of our situation.

As soon as we opened the door of the vacation home we somehow knew that even our alternate ideas were doomed. The place reeked of deceased rodents and there was no way that we were going to be able to stay inside. At that point our anger and disappointment reached its limit. We had no choice but to complain to the owner of the place and then return home. After shedding a few tears of frustration we were on our way back to where we had started with only a few lame ideas about how to have a fun time in spite of the frustrating developments.

I don’t remember what we actually did after that. I do know that we eventually found ourselves laughing in a kind of hysteria about how awry things had gone. At the time our misadventure had seemed so significant and horrific but as the seasons came and went and our children grew into independent adults the story of that spring break became more of a treasured memory of our continuing friendship than a terrible experience. Today my friend Pat is gone and I know in my heart that I would even stay in a stinky rat invested house if it meant that we might have a bit more time together. Such is life.

After someone dear to us dies the first few cycles of the the year are exceedingly difficult to endure. Each occasion reminds us of how much we miss them. Over time our wounds heal, toughen up, and turn into scars. We once again find joy in our traditions and the memories of those who once shared them with us. We realize how lucky we were to have them and the pain becomes bearable. Just as the dormant trees bud forth each spring, so too do we find ways to carry on even after we have felt as though we too have died inside.

I love this time of year. It is one of those grandly transitional months when we humans find ways to muddle through the last gasps of winter with the promise of spring just over the horizon. We gather together to celebrate all that has gone before and all that is yet to come. Our hats, parades, ashes, decorations, foods, and gatherings are inventions of the human spirit, attempts to maintain our optimism even when everything around us feels so wrong. How wonderful it is!

March is a hopeful month even as we witness destruction from the last gasps of wintery weather. It’s a month when we never quite know how things will turn out, but we plan them anyway. We may go to the Houston Rodeo in heavy coats with rain falling on our heads, but once we are inside the arena all of our worries seem to evaporate. March is ever a new beginning, a time to set the problems of the past aside and hope that better days are ahead. It’s also a time to prepare ourselves for whatever challenges may come our way by thinking outside of our own worries and needs. I’m now old enough and experienced enough to know that it’s often a month of madness that always seems to end with a feeling of peace.

It’s Never Too Late

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Back in 1988, he headed off to college. At some point on his way to earning a degree things got complicated and he quietly dropped out of school. He moved to Chicago, enrolled in the Police Academy and became a cop. The years passed by and in the interim he raised a family and made a nice life for himself, but he knew that something was missing. Not long ago he retired from the police force with a pension that gave him enough income to follow a dream that had never really left his mind. He applied for admission to college and when the acceptance letter came he proudly announced that he was going back to school to pursue a major in engineering, undaunted by the fact that he is only a year or so away from turning fifty.

I did not know this man very well, but when I heard his story I wanted to jump for joy. I admire his willingness to keep learning and to make sacrifices to enrich his life. All too often I hear adults bemoaning the trajectory of their lives and blaming all sorts of people and situations for their plight. Whenever anyone suggests steps that they might take to improve their lot in life they are filled with excuses of why it is simply not possible to make changes. They note that educational programs cost too much or take up too much of their time, and yet they prefer being miserable for the long run rather than making sacrifices for the moment.

Again and again I see examples of people who take charge of their lives and push themselves just a bit harder to make changes and reach goals that may at first glance appear to be unattainable. I recall a woman who got married and began having children right out of high school. She and her husband barely got by as they worked at a series of low paying and dead end jobs. In their late twenties it seemed as though they would always struggle just to make ends meet. Neither of them had high school transcripts worthy of even the mid range universities and they wondered how it would be possible to pay the tuition and fees even if some institution accepted them. Nonetheless they agreed one evening that they had to redirect their destinies and they applied to every sort of program imaginable. Their journey began in a local junior college where they took courses one or two at a time while working all day and managing a family.

Before long they had both earned associate degrees with honors. This one step allowed them to get better jobs, but they were not yet done. Eventually the woman became a registered nurse and the man earned a law degree. By the time they were nearing their forties they were able to purchase a nice home and treat themselves to vacations and luxuries like nice furniture. They had so inspired their children that the kids were excelling in high school and headed for some of the best universities in the country. To all the world they appeared to be a power couple. Few realized how far they had come.

I could go on and on about people who reclaimed their lives with a willingness to work hard to bring about the changes that would help them to escape the debilitating grind of the mistakes of their youth. Instead of wallowing in self recriminations or envy they did something positive to make changes. They went back to school and worked in the wee hours of the night and on weekends to master skills and write papers. At times they were exhausted and worried that they might never recoup all of the money that they spent for courses. It was a slow and demanding process, but they never surrendered to the little voices that tempted them to throw in the towel. In every case that I heard of they were victorious, standing out as exceptional students and the kind of employees that any organization dreams of having.

I tell people that no one need ever feel stuck in a rut. I think of the bookkeeper who earned a degree in accounting, became a CPA, and opened her own firm. I remember the man who was miserable in his job who attended night school to become certified to be a teacher. I applaud the friend who graduated at the top of her law class when she was almost fifty years old. I have witnessed brave souls who demonstrated with their determination that where there is a will there is a way to control destiny rather than being ruled by it. All it takes is a willingness to divert the energy wasted complaining and parlay it into tangible efforts to learn and grow.

There are countless opportunities for anyone of any age. It is never too late for any of us to become the person that we have always wished to be. If we wait for privileges to suddenly appear or lottery tickets to pay dividends we will be sorely disappointed. For most of us it will take time and money and effort and no excuses. 

I hope that the man who is embarking on earning a degree for a second career will find the success that he seeks. His is an admirable goal, and even before his journey is done he has inspired those of us who have heard of his courage. He reminds us that it is never too late.

Older Than Dirt

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I just saw a Facebook post called Older Than Dirt that lists seventeen items that have mostly gone the way of the buggy whip. If you are familiar with ten or more of them you supposedly qualify for the title Older Than Dirt. There were seventeen things listed and I not so fondly remembered all of them, so I guess that I’m officially ancient. I hadn’t even thought about or missed most of the items, but I felt a slight tug of nostalgia when I saw them on the list. I also realized that in many ways I’m part of a generation that has straddled the old ways and the new.

I still recall the weird inconvenience of being on a telephone party line. I must have been about five or so when we finally got our own private line. Before then it was not all that unusual to lift the receiver and hear someone who lived in another house talking away. My mom taught me the code of phone etiquette which meant that I would hang up quickly and be certain that I never mentioned anything that I might have heard. Even then it seemed weird to have to share telephone time with complete strangers, but it was the way things actually were. I had totally forgotten about that strange situation until I saw it listed with a string of other oldies. While party lines may sound unbelievable to young folk, I encountered an even more old time way of talking on the phone when I visited my grandparents in rural Arkansas. They actually had to go through the services of an operator to make a call, something that I had only seen in old movies from the thirties and forties.

I never knew what eventually happened to Studebakers, but my aunt and uncle owned one. It was a sporty little car that was much more adventurous looking than than the big featureless models that most people drove back then. I still remember being filled with awe whenever my aunt and uncle drove up in their Studebaker. They were young and attractive and newly married. To five year old me they looked like movie stars, and when they took me for a ride in their automobile I felt like a celebrity. The last Studebaker I ever saw belonged to my husband’s best friend. The car was old and doing its best to fall apart. The designers had lost their mojo and turned it into a featureless box, which is no doubt why the line of cars went the way to the junkyard, but I would always remember just how sweet the models were in the early nineteen fifties.

By the time my girls were using roller skates they simply slipped on a boot with wheels, but when I was a child we had roller skates that would last a lifetime because the parts were adjustable. The process of properly sizing the skates involved using a metal key to lengthen or shorten and fit the mechanism onto the sole of whatever shoe the skater was wearing. A pair of skates that came to a five year old at Christmas time might last until they were no longer used as a teenager. Our mothers usually found some twine or ribbon to make a kind of necklace on which we kept the key that made the whole thing work. I used to keep mine inside my jewelry box so that I might quickly find it whenever I got the urge to skate.

We had very few luxuries in our home, but one that my mom faithfully used was milk delivery. Our milkman left the white liquid on our front porch in big glass gallon containers. Once the milk was gone Mama would rinse out the bottle and then leave it on the porch to be recycled by the milk company which for us was always Carnation. We got to know the milkman better than the mailman because he came with three or four gallons of milk every week and rang our doorbell to let us know that the bottles had arrived. My brothers were voracious milk drinkers and my mother often attributed their strong teeth and bones to the calcium that they consumed. Eventually grocery stores were close enough that it was easier to just make a quick trip for some milk and the idea of having things delivered to the house went away. Now I laugh that young folk think that home food delivery is a new thing.

We used to use ice trays to make the cubes that we used to cool our water or tea. Back in the day they were made of metal and used a large handle to release the ice. Even the best ones never really worked very well, so when the flexible plastic ones came along it felt as though someone had invented a miracle device. The problem was that the trays took up a considerable amount of space inside the freezer section of the refrigerator so there was never much ice available at any give time. If someone neglected to refill the trays, which happened far too often, we were reduced to drinking things at room temperature like so many Europeans do. The ice makers of today are a joyful luxury that still leave me in awe each time I see the almost boundless supply of frozen water.

The Older Than Dirt list included drive in movie theaters which are worthy of an entire blog, and candy cigarettes which made us feel grown up and sophisticated in a time when it seemed as though every adult smoked without knowing the dangers. There were metal lunch boxes which often featured our favorite movie and television characters like Roy Rogers. They held our baloney sandwiches and apples and thermoses of warm milk. There were forty five rpm records that we played on speakers that sounded tinny, and Blackjack gum which to me tasted like melted blacktop. Our soda machines dispensed glass bottles that we had to either leave once we were finished drinking or had to pay a deposit to take with us. There was Butch Wax for styling hair that I never used because it was a product for the boys, but we gals had Dippity Do which we slathered on our hair along with our curlers so that we might create the enormous bouffants of the sixities. There were five and dime stores which were small versions of Walmart, and home economics classes where students learned how to run a household efficiently long before Marie Kondo came to tell us what to do. Books came with records that in a sense were the first audio versions of our favorite stories, and rather unsophisticated drinkers consumed Boone’s Farm wine.

Yes, I knew about all of those things, but I also realized how far we have come in making the world far better than it once was. I can only think of a few things on the list that we might do well to emulate in a more modern way. Recycling glass bottles was a great idea and I’d like to see it happen again. Those stunning Studebakers of the early fifties were a sight to see. Drive In movies were a great place to take the kids on summer evenings. The metal lunchboxes were akin to Bento boxes and prevented much wasting of paper. Most of the rest were fun while we had them, but hardly worth reinventing. We’ve moved on and in most cases it has been for the best. I like my streaming music and the mountains of ice at my fingertips. Nostalgia is fine but progress is better, especially when it takes the health of our planet into account.