Saturday, November 6, 2010

Love That Dog

I've heard it said that of all the things a person misses, they sometimes miss their dog the most.

I miss my dog.

Callie was an Australian Shepherd. She was black and white and looked more like a Border Collie, but wasn't.

A church friend was selling their dog's latest batch of puppies, and I'd wanted a dog in the worst way. Dogs put such an exclamation point on a home. For me, a dog signified stability, laughter, family and all good things.

I picked up the pup on Christmas Eve and tried to hide her upstairs in the bedroom, while the kids were fast asleep. The first thing she did was make herself comfortable right on top of the Husband's pillow. The next thing she did was urinate all over his pillow.

I put an enormous red bow on her head and brought her downstairs on Christmas morning. There are no words to express the elations emanating from my children. They were enamored of her, as was I. She was smart as a whip and had a spunky little personality....and, curiously...she was very....snouty. As in, she used her 'snout' a lot. To unearth things, and almost as another limb. Like an ardvaark. It was funny to watch.

Being an outside dog, and living on a farm, she learned the parameters of the acreage and rarely crossed them. We didn't have fences up yet, and so I was impressed with this. I was irritated, however, when we rode the four wheelers around the track we'd constructed, taking them over the jumps at high speeds, only to find Callie waiting for us at the end of the track, too late to stop sometimes. I ran right smack dab over her, once, and felt terrible about it. It seemed like every time we turned a corner, there she was. It was causing me to take oaths.

It wasn't until the trampoline incident...Callie had leapt up onto the trampoline to join the kids up there, much to their delight... (where she was actually nipping the kids in the leg to collect them into a tight, circular group), that it dawned on me. I smacked my hand on my forehead....of COURSE, of course! She's a herding dog! She was HERDING us!

The appearance of a dozen chickens solved that problem. Callie had her work cut out for her, trying to keep them all confined to one little circle....all the livelong day. We all felt somewhat sorry for those chickens....acres and acres to roam on, and the dog made them stay in just one tiny spot, all the time. She was very O.C.D. that way.

Adding to her joy was the adoption of two turkeys, male and female, named Tom and Girl Turkey. Then, the ducks...also a couple....Daffy and Darla. Callie was in her absolute element.

She was an ideal dog, in every way but one. Scads of room to relieve herself, and she had but one favorite spot. The very middle of the very front of our yard. And not only that...she never failed to squat but at the exact, precise moment that a car was driving by.

It began to be a joke among the neighbors. Need to find their house? Just look for the black and white dog, doing its 'business' front and center of the yard!

I got fed up with it once, and yelled (as if she understood) out the front door while she was in the very act, with an audience driving slowly by in a roadster on a Sunday drive....."WHAT!" I yelled at Callie, "Have you no PRIDE, Dog?"

She merely glanced at me. She was too busy...concentrating.

"We have a BACK YARD, too, ya know!" I hollered. She didn't seem very interested at the moment.

The only thing I could do, after years of trying to dissuade Callie from using the front yard...was to own it. We had a farm with a publicly defacating dog. A ranch, really, with all of the animals grazing and roaming (when Callie wasn't looking). In my mind the idea was forming for an archway at the head of the driveway, with a lovely sign, in fancy letters. Perhaps if we put it into a foreign would sound better.

"Squatting Dog Ranch" was what I'd wanted to name the place. But that was hard to translate out. So, I tried, "Ranch of the Dog that Squats". Which in Spanish is:

"Rancho del Perro que se Pone en Cuclillas".

A bit long, but there you have it. I thought it had a certain 'ring' to it. Not unlike the urination ring that was forming in the dead-center of my front yard. Perhaps we could further assist her, by painting a bull's-eye in her usual spot, I suggested to ExMan. He didn't think that was very funny. Being the private type, this blatant display of Callie's bodily functioning was extremely painful for him. At church and around the area, he'd been teased mercilously. Somehow, that made me love Callie just that much more.

Years later, when the kids and I made a run for it, needing to leave the situation at the 'Ranch', we took our Callie with us. She spent one miserable day and night in the little square, fenced backyard that didn't have any foul at all to chase...and we knew. You can take the country kids out of the country...but you can't take the dog. It would have been animal cruelty. The farm was all she'd ever known. We brought her back and released her onto her beloved pasture, with her friends the chickens, the turkeys, and the ducks....and her favorite yellow spot on the lawn. It was where she belonged, after all.

I haven't seen Callie in a long, long time. I heard that she wore reindeer antlers for Christmas, and had a sweater on last summer. It doesn't seem right, somehow, for such a spunky dog to have been brought so low. Does her 'new' mistress know that if you're not nice to her, she'll wet on something very personal of yours? Does she know that Callie is a passive-aggressive, like me, and will chew up the Italian shoes of the very person you're trying the most to impress, while they're visiting your home? If not, she had better beware...

Love that dog. Always have, always will.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I Want A Wall Like That

I am drawn to the Wirewood's home. From the moment I met them, I just wanted to be a part of their family. Two empty nesters, they'd just built their place on a lot overlooking the lake; a lovely yet modest dwelling with a great big shop out back for him, and a nice kitchen with large windows for her.

Their peace didn't last long. Just two weeks after they moved in, one of their daughters discovered she, husband and three young boys needed a place to stay while they were between jobs. Of course the Wirewoods couldn't say no to family. Their peaceful haven turned into a lively cottage.

Shortly after that, their youngest daughter was struggling, too. They made space for her.

When the daughter with the three sons moved out, another daughter whose husband had also lost his job moved in. They had four children, two of them twins. They were welcomed.

When that family moved out, the daughter with the three sons, upon finding that a divorce was necessary, moved back in and stayed for another year. The Wirewoods never complained, but rather enjoyed their company. No one in their home acted like they were put out or irritated by the living arrangements.

I got to be good friends with all of them; they were such warm and loving people. In their home I learned to can tomatoes, picked from their huge garden. A musical family, my children and I have sung while gathered around their fireplace. My son took piano lessons from the daughter with the three boys. One dark night, several of their daughters came to my home to 'kidnap' me. I'd just had surgery and they were worried that I wasn't being properly nurtured, so they drove me up the hill to their home to pamper me as only Wirewoods could. I'd needed sympathetic ears that evening, so I talked and they listened.  I will never forget that. We still laugh over the abduction.

To say I dearly love these people is an understatement. I am amazed that I was given complete acceptance without even trying, included without having to ask, and that I've had a standing invitation to anything family ever since I've met them. It's just the sort of folk they are.

My favorite part of their home is what I call the Smile Wall.  It has to be said that these people all have the most beautiful smiles. Nailed onto this wall in every frame available are members of the family, enjoying each other. Camping trips around the bonfire. Singing together. Anniversaries. Mirth and happiness within each frame. I could sit and stare at that wall all day long, since it is beautiful evidence of a life well-lived.

In contrast: there is a wall in a small western town at this very moment that is  covered with awards. Volunteer this or that, or Exceptional this or that, or This or That of the Year. These awards were hung there by a man that desperately needs to feel important. He's had a wall like this in every home and office he's ever occupied. He's hungry to be mentioned in the newspaper, or get himself on tv, and will do anything (picketing, making angry comments in the newspaper, volunteering for sometimes absurd causes) to get some ink or air time. Retired, he spends his days not helping his terribly arthritic wife, but being involved in the community in carefully calculated places where he's sure to be noticed.

Years ago, when doctors told him he had what they thought was a terminal illness, his wife and family simply accepted it. When he suddenly recovered, that was harder for them to accept. He had lived his life for himself; none of them really knew or, sadly, loved him. They had rarely heard him say, 'I'm sorry,' or 'I was wrong'. There had been little tenderness involved in any of his relationships. He called his children 'parasites', and acted as if he believed that people were merely for using, to get into the all-essential public eye. If they were not obediently falling in line to further his power and importance, they were easily discarded. His increasingly crippled little wife did not fit into his picture of fame, so she usually got left behind to fend for herself at home.

This man will gladly walk you through each framed award, and give you long-winded explanations over how he got them. He could talk about himself for hours without once asking how his listeners are doing. Those subjected to the oration have often found it repugnant, but he is too self-absorbed to see it. When one of his children recieved a prestigious award in her community, one she had not sought, she called to tell him. In a child-like way, she'd hoped for some fatherly recognition. Instead she was met with a 'that's nice, here's what I've done throughout my lifetime' speech. Later in the day she was even sent a list it in its entirety for her personal viewing. Her father expounded that he liked to keep that list in his wallet, as a frequent reminder of all of the terrific things he's done, all he's achieved, and of the many ways he's been publicly recognized. What was the message his daughter got on that day? "You are not really that important. But I most certainly am."

If the Wirewood father or mother passed away today, the home would be flooded with people immediately missing them. I would be one of those people. I would be able to walk right in without even knocking. They've told me I'm one of the sisters. I'm sure there would be tears, but there would also be a lot of those big Wirewood smiles, some laughter, and yes, probably even some singing, in honor of Mom or Dad. There's no doubt I would need to spend a moment to myself, once again looking at the Smile Wall and thinking that Mr. or Mrs. Wirewood really did this life thing right. The grinning children with their faces close together within the frame is proof enough. No one needs to present me with a lecture on how important their 'awards' are. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the Smile Wall is surely worth a million of them. There is no need to make a list, or carry a reminder of how great they are around with them in their wallet. The undeniable evidence is walking around in the form of five well-adjusted, happy curly-haired daughters with large smiles, and one musical, curly-headed son. These angel people have been as important as it gets. They've been vital where it really the place of the heart.

There are Walls of Fame, and there are Walls of Shame. It's entirely up to us which one we wind up with. Awards versus rewards.

As for me, I want a wall like the Wirewood's.