Gene and I went into self-quarantine on December 22nd, after being exposed to COVID-19. We had taken son David birthday presents on the 21st, and he tested positive the next day.
Then, on Christmas morning, daughter-in-law Kim needed to go to the hospital, having cut her forearm with a knife while trying to remove one of those awful zip tags from some packaging. The paramedics had come and stopped the bleeding, but she needed stitches. Of course, I offered to drive her, so David and the kids could stay home. Kim and I wore masks, she sat in the back seat, and I waited in the car while she went into the ER. The next day, she tested positive.
So, feeling like Thurston and Lovey Howell on Gilligan’s Island, Gene and I settled into self-isolation. We ordered our groceries through InstaCart and put off errands unless someone offered. We took walks, binged on “The Queen’s Gambit,” watched old movies, read books, and even played double solitaire, something I have never been able to get Gene to do.
I gardened and cooked, had long phone conversations with family and friends, sorted old cards and pictures, did some deep cleaning, and made 100 phone calls to people in Georgia who were registered to vote in the run-off election for two U.S. Senators.
We had to skip Christmas Eve outside at Church with some of the kids, and I set the Christmas Eve table for just the two of us. But between Christmas Eve and Christmas day, we were able to FaceTime with all five of our families.
On January 6th, Epiphany, my side of the family congregated in our daughter’s back yard for a twice-postponed Christmas dinner and gift exchange. We wore masks and practiced social distancing to the extent possible with 10 grandchildren, as they played chess, jumped on the trampoline, swung in the hammock, ran around with the dogs, and rode scooters on the Sport Court.
The timing was good, since the big kids had been home from school on Christmas break and the little ones are mostly home anyway.
Like so many others, we are feeling grateful – for what we have and for what we haven’t caught. And in the process of our self-quarantine, I have acquired a new vocabulary from my husband, who could have been an electrical engineer. He kept busy working on an old chainsaw, his 1948 Chevy pick-up, and the hot water heater. And because he had no one else to talk to, I learned about magnetos, gap gauges, distributors, timing lights, circulating pumps, and temperature sensors.
I imagine this knowledge, which I plan never to use, will need to be refreshed occasionally, sort of like the game of football, which Gene patiently explains at the beginning of every season. But it is satisfying to know that I can turn on the hot water in our bathroom and understand why it takes so long to get hot, and why you need a gap gauge and timing light to fix a distributor.
Who knew that a pandemic would present an opportunity for me to learn how things work?
It’s New Year’s Eve, a time for reassessing our lives and ourselves. What have we learned? What have we achieved? Where have we failed? It’s a time when many set goals for the coming year.
If I am any indication, many of us keep setting the same goals and ignoring them as the years roll by. For example, there are books I thought I wanted to read, but never have. There are pounds I thought I wanted to lose which now have company. There are religious practices I thought I needed to follow that have gone unincorporated into my daily routine.
So this year I’ve had a good talk with myself and set goals that are based on thoughtful reflection of who I am and who I want to be.
Conservative rabbi Harold Kushner writes in his 1986 book, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, “Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve. Our souls are hungry for meaning; for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through it.”
Despite the tragedies, frustrations, isolation, and inconveniences of this past year, it has given us many gifts, among which is the time to assess ourselves — our motivations, our priorities, our behavior. Today, as we turn over a new page in our lives, I’m setting goals that will help me live so that my life matters.
I’m going to take care of me, so that I’m available when my family and friends need me.
I’m going to pay special attention to my husband and family, so they know they are the most important people in my life.
I’m going to read more books.
I’m going to continue to write regularly because it forces me to think about what’s important.
To accomplish these goals, I have a list of activities, and one is to look at my goals every morning, so that I start each day reminded of their importance. Because if I forget what they are, they won’t become part of my routine. And having a routine is comforting in uncertain times like these, even for us spontaneous types. And when we’re comforted, we feel motivated and joyful and free to live so that our lives matter.
I will end my little essay with the following poem, which I hope will help you focus on the one main thing I believe will bring you joy in the coming year, and that is keeping your own company. Second to that would be carefully choosing all others with whom you spend your precious time.
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
THIS BLOG HAS THREE PARTS. TOGETHER, THEY WILL TAKE ABOUT 20 MINUTES TO READ.
It was 2013 when King Tut died. As you can imagine, by then I had a collection of pet ashes. We decided to have a Pet Funeral when the kids were with us for Thanksgiving.
I thought it would be nice to gather under the big mesquite tree under the dining room window and bury the ashes of Libby, Allie, and Tut there, and recognize Sunny, too, even though we had already buried her in the herb garden. Since Gene and I had taken care of stepdaughter Katie’s bunny, Miss Piggy, while Katie was a visiting nurse in California, we included Miss Piggy in the ceremony.
David suggested hanging pictures of all the pets from the tree branches, so I bought little black frames and ribbon, and the day after Thanksgiving we got everything ready.
My father, an Episcopal priest, had written a prayer for a friend’s dog in 1939, when Papá was in his 20s.
A Prayer for Taffy
O Lord, we pray thee to receive into thy
kind hands this, thy servant, a dog. Look upon
him with the love thou showest all thy creatures;
and, as thou art the final judge of evil and
the eternal reward of good, take this clear heart,
faultless in our eyes, under thine own protection,
making such provision as thou hast ordained for
him in thy goodness. For, as the temptation
toward evil and the opportunity for good were
both less freely offered to him than to us, thou
knowest, Lord, what little evil was in him and
what great good. Finally, we are grateful that,
having lent him to our imperfect affection, thou
takest him back again to thee. Amen.
A few days before the service, I asked Aidan, our oldest grandson, who was nine, if he would read the prayer for Tut. He said, “Well, Nonnie, Tut and I never really hit if off. But I’ll read the prayer for Allie!” Then I went to daughter Annie and asked her if she would like to read the prayer for Tut. She said, “Tut and I were never that close, Mom. Why don’t you ask Mamá?” So much for Tut being the favored pet.
The big kids hung the pictures, daughter-in-law Kim helped me bring out my clay garden animals and some flowering bougainvillea. We gathered around the tree, read the prayer for each pet, and shared memories of them. David dug the holes around the tree, and Gene poured the ashes into the tiny graves and covered them with dirt. Grandsons Caleb and Asher, ages six and four, collected rocks and decorated the little mounds. It was a sweet day.
And as I think about the animals that have been a part of my life, I am thankful for each one of them.
Whether it’s trust or responsibility or the importance of consistency and predictability or simple affection or biology, our pets are some of our best teachers. They are role models for unconditional love.
But it hurts deeply when we lose them. And sometimes we wonder if we want to take that leap again because we know what’s going to happen: we’re going to lose our greeting committee, our biggest fans, our quiet companions, our exercise buddies, those who love us no matter what.
And we usually take the leap, figuring the many gifts they bring us far outweigh the pain we know will come when it’s time for them to leave.
this blog has three parts. together, they will take about 20 minutes to read.
So, on to the pets our children had. We started with guinea pigs, then bunnies and hamsters and hermit crabs and turtles, and finally dogs. (Annie was allergic to cat hair, so we skipped cats.)
In the late-70s, Annie and Phoebe were small, and we had guinea pigs; they were a cute diversion. After we moved, Phoebe got a big, gray lop eared rabbit we named Cottontail. About that time, we also got our first dog, Chester, a Lhasa Apso mix. Annie adored Chester. He was just her size, with a cute little body and a face to match. Although he was small, Chester wasn’t a barker; he was a lover. And Cottontail was a sweetheart. Cottontail and Chester were great buddies, and used to chase each other around the back yard, going one direction and then the other, taking turns doing the chasing.
We moved to North Central Phoenix, and one day, Cottontail got out of the yard and was nowhere to be found. I heard the sheepdog next door barking loudly, and when I looked through the fence, I and saw that he had Cottontail up against the wall. The poor bunny had dug under the fence and gotten into the neighbor’s yard, gotten himself cornered and, not knowing what to do, sat in fear, shaking all over. I ran next door and got him, rounded up the kids, and we sat with him in a circle in the grass. I could feel his little heart pounding. I held him in my arms while the kids took turns petting him and after a few minutes, he stopped breathing. There were a lot of tears that day. I imagine Chester was sad, too
Phoebe had several Hermit crabs, which all died attempting to move to a larger shell. We had a red-eared slider turtle, who also died. That was probably my fault, as I didn’t really know what to do with him.
Eventually, we got a dear little Holland Lop bunny for Phoebe. His name was Charlie, and he was a character. Phoebe trained him to use the litter box in his cage, and he lived in her room, keeping her company and humping her stuffed rabbits. (Yes, really!) David loved taking him on a leash for walks in the neighborhood. Charlie lived to be about 10, when he succumbed to an infection.
We had two hamsters, Apply Dappley and Ralph. Ralph was given to us by my friend Nancy, whose boys had lost interest in him. He was a sweet guy, but like so many hamsters, did not want to stay in his cage. One day he escaped. Two days went by, and I woke up late one night and walked out to the kitchen. I could hear scratching under the oven. I pulled out a drawer and saw two beady eyes looking at me from behind the partition. He couldn’t climb out.
I went to my dresser and found a bandana. I twisted it, dropped it down to Ralph, and literally prayed to God to help him find his way up the bandana and out on the drawer guide. He slowly crawled up and barely onto the guide when he fell back down. I tried again, and this time, he made it. I can still see him carefully walking out on the guide and into my hands. I put him in his cage, locked it up tight, and watched him drink an entire bottle of water. I went back to bed relieved and happy.
Two days later, Ralph was gone! And we never heard from him again.
When David was about 11, we got a black lab puppy, and named her Libby. She became David’s dog, and they were inseparable. Libby, like so many Labradors, was a destructive puppy. She ate through an entire Haitian cotton sectional while we were gone one day. I crate-trained her after that, and she was a changed girl.
When she got older, she slept with David. Even though she was a Labrador, the only way to get her to swim was for David to dive into the deep end of the pool and pretend to drown. He would call to her, and she would run to the pool, hesitate for a moment, jump in, and swim to him.
Libby and Chester were great pals, dashing out of the house if we didn’t pay attention and running around our cul-de-sac peeing on every bush they could find, having a great adventure. As Chester got older, he began to get grouchy, and I worried he might bite one of the children who liked to come over and play.
One day, the two dogs ran out the door, but only Libby returned. David and his dad went to find Chester, and they did, but he had been hit by a car and had died. They wrapped him in a towel and brought him home. When we buried Chester, he took a piece of our hearts with him. But he died having a great adventure.
About that time, David, knowing how much I loved birds, gave me a lutino cockatiel. It was too young to sex, so I named it Sunny. Sunny later produced two little eggs. So, then we knew. The other tip-off was that Sunny never spoke, which is typical of female cockatiels. She loved people, though, and sitting on my shoulder.
In the mid-90s, we decided to get another dog. After much research, I decided on a long-haired Dachshund. Shortly after I began looking for my dream dog, a friend at work brought in a homeless Golden Retriever mix puppy she and her husband had found tied to a tree downtown. All my research went out the window when I saw Allie, and I took her home. She was my dog and my faithful companion through my divorce in 1996 and living alone until I remarried in 2001. She helped me feel safe at night and took me for three walks a day.
And I mean it when I say that she took me for walks, stopping whenever she wanted to and pulling me this way and that. I found a trainer to help me, a Marine veteran. He was a no-nonsense guy, and he made it clear from the get-go that I was the one he was training, not Allie. And it worked. With the help of a choke collar, she became a dream dog, and our walks were fun!
One weekend when Phoebe was home, she, David, and I went to the Humane Society to pick out a cat. I had my heart set on a tuxedo, but an all-black kitty with gold eyes, the most relaxed kitty of any we met in the Get Acquainted Room, won us over. I named him King Tut, and he was my baby.
Libby lived with David and his dad after our divorce. She was the sweetest dog you could imagine, but as she got old, arthritis set in, and she wasn’t able to get up anymore. When it was time to say good-bye, I met David’s dad at the vet, and we patted her as she slowly let go and died. David was 17 and heartbroken. I gave him a big stuffed black lab for Christmas, and I think it helped a little, but nothing could take her place.
I met Gene in 1997. We were married in 2001 and moved to Tucson in 2002 with a dog, a cat, and a bird. I had married a man who lived like a monk, with little furniture and no pets, and he had married an animal lover.
Sunny had trouble adjusting to our Tucson house. I tried putting familiar artwork near her cage, setting her cage near the deck so she could see out, changing her diet… But she began screeching incessantly. I took her to a bird specialist, who said it could be that being by the window seeing the hawks and other birds scared her. Or perhaps she missed her old surroundings. Or maybe she was needing more attention. I did my best by her, and she seemed to calm down once we moved her away from the window. She loved being held and talked to and lived to be 19.
Although he had sworn never to have another dog, Gene was incredibly good to Allie. She got Valley Fever in Tucson, and it weakened her terribly. Our house was a tri-level, with no doggie door (we didn’t want Tut to go out and be eaten by a bobcat or hawk or snake or great horned owl, all of which we had in abundance on our acre of desert). The only way for Allie to do her business was to walk down two flights of stairs to the ground level and wait for one of us to let her out and back in. She weighed 62 pounds, and when she got too weak to walk downstairs, Gene carried her down and back up, so she could be with us.
While I was visiting my mother in Seattle, Allie was bitten by a snake, and poor Gene had to be the one to put her down. He may not have wanted a dog, but he got attached to Allie.
Tut was the last of my pets to go. He and Allie had been great pals, sitting together at the screen door watching the birds, sleeping together, and simply being companions. I’m sure he missed his doggie friend. When he got to be 16, his kidneys began to fail. Gene, who adored Tut, set up a MASH unit in the laundry room for his IV’s. We gave them to him several times a week, and they did wonders initially. But after a few weeks, he finally began to fight the treatments, and Dr. Kaufman, our vet, said, “Sometimes they’ve just had enough,” and we let him go. He was 17 and my sweet little man.