Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Introducing Jenny

The naming of cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

T.S. Eliot

(What IS it with cats and bags?)

When Sugar Plum died in May, I started chanting "I don't want another cat." I said it when my beloved little ginger cat, Sweetheart, died in 1988. But my daughter gifted me with Calpurnia anyway. And Cal was enough; I never wanted to bring Boo home, but what else could I do? It was a matter of life or death for him. I said it again when Boo died and it was just me and Sug alone together way up there in the wilderness in Mt. Baldy... but then came Purrl. I tried not to take Purrl, but no one else would and she desperately needed a home. When Sug was gone, I thought it would be enough for Purrl to hang with her best buddy Thomas, but she cried and cried for Sug, going to the door and emitting the most piteous cries of grief.

And so, two weeks ago, I sent up a quick request to Sug and the Universe to guide me, then headed out to Friends of Upland AnimalShelter because the word was out via social media that the shelter had been inundated with kitties. Specifically black kitties, still the hardest to place. (Why?? Who would not want a beautiful mini-panther running around the house?)

I took a stroll through the dog kennels (just to see who was there), came back out to the hallway, saw a little black female cat in a cage, talked to her for about five minutes, took her picture, and told her I'd be right back. The name on her kennel card was Jenny. I made a polite but cursory examination of the other kitties in the cat room, then went up front and told them I wanted to adopt Jenny. (We did do a mandatory "meet & greet" that lasted less than five minutes as she promptly ran and hid under the bench where I was sitting. "I'll take her!" I told the very helpful employee. Twenty minutes later she was in my cat carrier, and we were on our way home.

Despite having a list of cute names all prepared to try on her, "Jenny" stuck because, when I sent my kids her photo, they loved her name. How could I change it? She is "Jenny" when I'm calling her, looking for her all over the house because she's small enough to fit in tiny places. "Jenny-fur" if she has done something naughty like knocking all my pencils off the drafting table or jumping up on the kitchen counter. "The Little Minion" to Thomas, who is still anxious around her, expecting to be swatted or swiped at—because that's what Sug would do. By the time she is old and fat I will no doubt be calling her "Jen" or "Mini" or some other diminutive.

She is "Jennyanydots," of course, when she is being a Gumbie Cat—as described by T.S. Eliot in his delightful book of poetry, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats:

I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots;
The curtain-cord she likes to wind, and tie it into sailor-knots.

(She definitely has a sense of humor.)

How I knew that Sugar Plum picked her out:

1. The first thing I noticed about her was her long beautiful tail. In my morning meditations, Sug has, on several occasions, reminded me that while she is no longer with me to hold my paw in life, she is quite happy where she is, and she has her whole tail back again. Jenny's is quite lovely.

2. On the second day after I brought her home, I opened the bathroom door (where she was confined for the first few days until Purrl could get over telling her in profanity-laced language to "get out of the house") to find her curled up and sleeping in the sink. One of my favorite pictures of Sug shows her curled nicely in my bathroom sink.

(Sug not Jenny)

(Definitely Jenny; see the tail?)

3. On the first day she was allowed to explore the whole house, all doors open, I was making dinner, listening with one ear to the rustle and bump noises a new cat makes when squeezing in and out of spaces, when I heard a particular sound that froze me in my tracks. We are all aware that a certain sound, just like a certain scent, can evoke deep and vivid memories. On this day, for me, it was the sound of a small, hard rubber ball bouncing on the laminate flooring. I hadn't heard that sound in nearly a year. When I did, I had to stop what I was doing and grab a tissue. Somewhere in the den, way back behind my big writing desk, Jenny had found Sug's ball. It was Sugar Plum's favorite toy. When I lived on the mountain, I would often go up to the loft to read or write. Sug would follow me up, and as I sat on the bed and tried to focus on the material at hand, she would chase that little ball around the room, her stubby little legs pumping, her claws scratching their way across the slippery surface. It was a happy sound.

4. Jenny played with the ball until she finally chased it under the couch. (I had to move all the furniture the next day to retrieve it, but I needed to vacuum under there anyway.) Later that night when it was time for all of us to go to bed, I found my new cat in the den, sprawled across the top of the writing desk (just like Sug used to do), her long tail swishing back and forth across the photos of Sug I've placed there so I can still keep her close when I'm writing. "Jenny," I said. She winked at me.

So here is yet another 'extra add on' cat in my life. Each one I've brought home has had a specific role to play. Calpurnia was my constant snuggler in the horrible year that I got divorced (for the second time) and also navigated through a bout with cancer. Boo was my comfort when Cal passed, just as Sug was my comfort when Boo passed. Purrl came only months before Thomas arrived, but she has only ever offered him comfort, as she offered it to me when Sug died. Since Purrl is only five and Jenny is two, they have the next decade or so to become close friends. I hope they do. Because I don't want another cat.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Thomas, Five Years In

I’m happy to say that when I brought Sgt. Thomas Tibbs home in January of 2014, he did not look like the above photo. The shelter staff at Friends of Upland Animal Shelter had already been feeding him healthy food, treating him for mange and brushing him, so that by the time I brought him home, he had already undergone a metamorphosis into the incredibly beautiful dog that he is.

In fact, this is what his Merry Christmas photo looked like just before I adopted him:

If you’re a longtime blog follower of mine, you’ve read updates on how this once-feral dog has slowly been rehabilitated, learning to accept and trust humans (and cats). But I haven’t posted an update on Thom for a while, so I thought I’d let his fans know, he’s continuing to make progress—yes, even five years in.

Most notably, in the past year, he has finally given in and accepted Purrl as his buddy. She was a young cat, seven months old, when Thomas came to our home. Each night as I sat beside him, brushing him and singing to him, Purrl would creep to the doorway and glare at him. I’m not sure she’d ever seen a dog before. As time went on, she would belly crawl closer and closer to him. But if he so much as twitched an ear, she would shoot out of the room. At some point, though, she realized he posed no threat, so she set about to be his best friend. And boy, that girl kept working on it, rubbing up against him whenever he was captive on the leash, often trying to lie beside him in his bed, only to rebuffed again and again and again. Love is patient….

In May, when Sugar Plum died, Purrl was bereft. She has never been a talkative cat, but she cried daily at the door, wondering where Sug had gone and why she hadn’t returned. It was heartbreaking—for me and apparently for Thomas. If I left the house, I would often come home to find Purrl in Thom’s bed—and he had begun to stay and sleep beside her, whereas in the past he would have gotten up and trotted away to a different spot in the house. I am so proud of him for this, for taking on the role of the comforting big brother.

He even shares his favorite blanket with her.

Something else that has transpired in the past year is a game that Thom made up all by himself. When he first came home, he was difficult to catch. He had to be patiently cornered, and then he would drop his head and turn away from me while I tried to slip his collar and leash on. He still hates having his collar on. But finally, after all these years of daily walks, he almost sort of kind of a tiny bit looks forward to walking in the morning (most likely because he knows he gets a Kong toy full of treats afterward). So instead of getting anxious now when I get his leash, he has made a game out of it. He will trot away from me, but only a few feet. Then he looks back, wagging his tail, making sure I’m following.

“I’m gonna get you!” I tell him, and he’s off and galloping down the hall, sometimes spinning in a circle in the bedroom, dog bowing, his rump in the air like a mountain, flying the flag of his big beautiful tail. We play this game every day, but as he is still a bit camera shy, I’ve only been able to capture small bits of it. If you click on this link, you will find a very short video on YouTube of Thomas happily engaged in his game.

When he first came home, Thom was shut down, barely approachable, as sad as a dog could be. After some months, he had occasional moments in which he relaxed and wagged his tail, but he spent most days curled tightly in a ball, waiting for the “cloak of darkness,” as Shakespeare put it, to shield him from the world. He still prefers only to venture out at night, so taking him out midday is always a conversation that begins with, “If you want a cookie, you have to go outside and go potty….” But as long as he in the house (which he is all day every day), he is happy, for the most part.

And when he is anxious or fearful now, he comes to me. If he hears a car backfire or a firecracker—anything that sounds like a gunshot—he runs to me instead of trying to hide. When he does, I wrap my arms all the way around him and hold him, my face against his face, until he feels safe again. It works better than anything else I’ve found to calm him.

Does he still have issues? You’d better believe it. My cell phone is perpetually on “Do Not Disturb” mode as the tiniest “ting” of a text alert will send him flying out of his bed, trotting anxiously. Even the buzz of silent mode frightens him. If I have to print a document, I must first call down the hall, “Thomas, come here, buddy, I’m going to print,” at which point he sprints for the garage and stays there until several minutes after the printer has stopped making noise. Mind you, I can vacuum or run the garbage disposer or shred paper—none of those sounds bother him.

We still begin our daily walk before dawn, while it’s dark enough for him to feel comfortable, but even then things can get dicey if we see another human out walking. There are certain places here in the park he doesn’t like to go, because perhaps once—and it only takes once—he saw a human come out of a house or start a motorcycle or shout hello while gardening. If he doesn’t want to go, he sits down, and it takes a great deal of persuasion (and some perspiration) to get him to continue. Walking out in the hills, however, is another experience altogether. Since I’ve lived here, he has actually begun acting like a real dog if we’re on the trail—stopping to sniff and sometimes (Good boy, Thom!) peeing on a bush if it smells like coyote or another dog. He will walk miles with me out in the hills or in the mountains, even if that means crossing streams, and I am so grateful for this. I love having him with me when I hike.

As I write this, something is making Thomas anxious, but I have no idea what it is. For the past 30 minutes, he has been trotting down the hall, out to the kitchen, around the island, and back down the hall—non-stop, except when he comes to me for a few brief moments and lets me pet him to try to calm him. Maybe he heard a neighbor taking his trash cans to the curb. Or maybe my computer ‘pinged’ and I wasn’t even aware. Or perhaps he was sleeping and had a bad dream. (He still has nightmares on occasion, but nothing like what he had in his first year with me, when he would startle awake crying out or whimpering. Mostly now he emits soft sighs in his sleep, and I love hearing him if I wake in the night.) Guess I’d better go give him a hug.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Hiking in Oak Glen

I've been trying to hike at least once a week, though my hike today was a short one, given that the temperature was below 40 degrees at 6:30a.m. when Thomas and I headed out. But last week! Last week I drove up to hike on land that now belongs to the Wildlands Conservancy Oak Glen Preserve, and oh, it was a sweet hike indeed.

I arrived at 8:30a.m. (because that's what time the gate opens) and headed up the trail immediately. The temperature was in the mid-60's, with clear skies and no wind. Truly, it was the perfect fall day. Normally, I would do this hike with Sgt. Thomas Tibbs, but since it's apple season, I knew there would be lots of folks on the trail, so I left him at home, snug in his bed.

I did have company, though; there was fresh bear scat everywhere. I didn't see a bear, but I know how they do--climbing steep slopes and sitting behind a tree to watch the humans stroll by. (If you look closely, you can sometimes see their big ears silhouetted against the sun.) The only wildlife I observed was a few ducks and coots on the pond as I passed by.

Further bear signs here: This log was shredded by someone looking for termites or ants to snack on.

The deceptive thing about this trail is that it follows a gentle downhill decline past blackberry bushes and beautiful oak, sycamore and elm trees, into the quiet of the woods where bluejays jump from tree to tree. It's magical. Until you get to the far side of the property and realize that, yeah, you have to go up as much as you went down. Only the ascent is not gradual....

... and going up, up, up for someone with diminished lungs is quite a challenge... which is why this is the perfect hike for me. I do have to stop occasionally and force some air into my poor lungs, but that's a good thing. "Vigorous exercise" is what the doctor ordered back in 2012 when this malady was diagnosed, so vigorous exercise it is. Besides, when you finally top this incline, you end up in the oak grove where the picnic area is.

These early morning photos don't do this place justice. But just trust me: It's really, really lovely. Can't wait to go back! Maybe next time I'll see a bear. 🙂

Saturday, November 10, 2018


BFF Pet Rescue is a small rescue in Cherry Valley. With only a handful of volunteers, they accomplish super-human feats of heroism on a near-daily basis by going to local kill shelters, pulling dogs on the euthanasia list, comforting and socializing them, then getting them adopted. I follow them on Facebook, and I'm always encouraged and amazed by the enormity of the good work they do.

Last week, BFF put out a call on Facebook stating that they needed blankets for the dogs as nights are getting cooler and winter is approaching. (No doubt about that; it was 44 degrees when I stepped out the door to walk Sgt. Thomas Tibbs this morning.) I had an extra dog blanket or two, but I knew they needed, like, fifty. So I put a short post up on the Facebook page for Plantation on the Lake residents, asking for blankets and offering to pick them up. Plantation on the Lake is the senior community where I now reside, and let me tell you, these folks really, really love dogs. There are dogs all over the park, from Greyhounds to Yorkies and everything in between. I posted my request for blankets a few evenings ago, then I went to bed.

Twenty-four hours later, I was close to the fifty-blanket mark I'd been hoping for. People dropped off bags and boxes of blankets on my porch. A few commented their space numbers, and Thomas and I took a happy drive around the park, picking up blankets and also receiving a hug and a helping hand. (I was struggling with a huge box of blankets and a new resident happened to be walking by. "Do you need help with that?" she called. I had no idea who she was; we'd never met. Now I know her name is Carla and she is very kind.) In two days, we managed to fill the bed and passenger seat of Cloud (my truck) with blankets.

I know the photos are dark and not very good, but the wind chill factor was pretty severe yesterday evening and the temperature was dropping quickly as I left to go drop them off.

And what a warm welcome I received! I got another hug, dog lover to dog lover, and many thanks. The volunteer who met me and helped unload explained that their dryer runs all day every day, as they endeavor to make sure the dogs always have clean, dry bedding. Having all those extra blankets will help immensely.

Time spent on this project was less than an hour, total time for everything, including writing the post (60 seconds), picking up blankets (fifteen minutes), loading the truck (5 minutes), driving it to the rescue (10 minutes) and unloading (two minutes).

In a week that saw another mass shooting and another devastating wildfire here in SoCal, it helped to get my mind off all the tragedy for a few minutes. And I am so very blessed to live in a community that can be depended upon to step up whenever asked if there is a need. I mean, these are some seriously nice people. Then again, dog lovers usually are.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Clock Man

The antique "eight-day" clock pictured above was given to me by a very dear friend a few decades ago after I helped him negotiate a business transaction. When I picked it up, I brought it home, plunked it on a table, and set the pendulum to swinging. My kids thought the hour chime was loud and annoying, so I stopped it and just let it sit as a conversation piece (though I can't recall anyone ever remarking on it).

When I moved to Mt. Baldy, I started it up again, but it never quite kept good time, and it seemed to have some other issues as well, so finally, after I became a flatlander again, I had it looked at by a man my neighbor recommended. He was a nice guy, but admitted up front he was just learning the clock repair trade. He took it home, did a bunch of repair and replacement on it, charged me a hundred bucks, and set it to ticking again. When he did, he pointed out that the flag painted on the bottom glass pane had 32 stars. "I was trying to determine how old the clock is," he told me. "If the flag is any indication, this clock was made in the mid-1800's." Oh. Wow....

A month or so later, it stopped working again, which I believe was my fault. While winding it one day, Purrl distracted me, and I wound it too tight. (Wait--then I guess we can blame it on Purrl, can't we? I should have thought of that. It's always the cat's fault.) Anyway, from time to time I would start it ticking. It would go for a few hours or a day, then stop. When I moved here to Calimesa, I found a safe place for it, then just basically forgot about it until I saw someone ask on social media for the name of a local clock repair person. The same name appeared repeatedly, so I wrote down the name and number and finally got around to calling.

"Dan" came out on Sunday. There is something fascinating about watching someone who is really good at what they do. They kind of enter a zone and become fixated. This is what Dan did immediately upon seeing my clock. He also noted (since I had set the pendulum to swinging hours before he arrived and it was still going) that the "tock" was "off." At that point, he hadn't even touched it, just sat on the floor listening to it. "Well, I can tell you right off the bat, it's not ticking correctly," he said. "Hear it?"

Um... no.

But when he reached inside and quickly adjusted some thingamajig in the workings, I did hear the difference right away; it sounded more like a classic ticktock. He checked a few more parts and pieces, and as he did I asked him how he'd gotten started repairing clocks. Turns out that while he was in the Air Force, he was stationed in Germany, where he learned to appreciate the intricacy and beauty of fine clocks and watches. He brought several home with him and decided he should get some tools and learn how to repair them himself. He found someone who happened to be retiring from the trade and agreed to sell him some tools and teach him a few things, and he has continued to learn along the way. When he began repairing clocks in 1993, there were eleven such clock repairmen in a thirty-mile radius of where he lives in Redlands. Now there are three.

"No one wants to do it," he told me. "Younger people aren't interested in old clocks. I have three antique grandfather clocks that were given to me by people who were going to throw them away because they just didn't want them in their houses anymore."


I love my clock. There is something comforting about the constant sound of the old school ticktock. When you consider that this clock works entirely on a few brilliantly designed gears, two weights, and a pendulum, that's pretty impressive. And when I further consider that this instrument has been ticking away (minus a couple of years on hiatus) for 160 years or so, that's just downright amazing.

Dan was here for less than an hour. "It seems fine now," he said, as he made his way to the door, giving me directions along the way on how to correct the pendulum if it runs too fast or too slow over time. He also instructed me on how to velcro it to a wall in the event we have a big earthquake. And then he tried to get away without letting me pay him. "I didn't really do anything," he protested. In the end, because I kept shoving money at him, he did take a few bucks for the gas required to drive the 15 miles from Redlands. He left his card and told me to call right away if the clock stops again. But it's been ticktocking away for 72 hours now, bonging its bong on the hour without fail. And this song has been running through my head for days: "My Grandfather's Clock." (This version on YouTube is a charming one by Doc Watson, though there are many. I've known it nearly all my life as we learned it as a folk song in elementary school.) 

Monday, October 15, 2018


(Photo is from the archive of the Herald-Dispatch newspaper in Huntington, West Virginia)

The iconic retail giant, Sears, has filed for bankruptcy and will be closing 142 stores. This doesn't mean the end of the vast historic marketplace... yet... but this could be the beginning of the end... which I will mark with great sadness. After all, Sears did give us a pony.

Back in the early 1960's, our local Sears used to sponsor a contest in which children were invited to write, in "fifty words or less," (exactly the number of words in my first paragraph) why they wanted a pony. My sister entered the contest in 1963, but didn't win (despite my fervent prayers). That same year, our father died. So when she entered again the following year, she included this in her plea:

All my life my father promised me he would buy me a pony. He died before he could fulfill that promise.

And she won. Pictured below is my sister, Peggy, and the representative from Sears who presented her with a bridle, a saddle, and a pony—actually two, because the little mare we were given was in foal and would later give birth to a fine young colt.

Peg is in the saddle, and I'm the smiling geek in the blue shorts. That's Mom, of course, looking fashionable as always, and our next-door-neighbor (looking jealous). I apologize for the quality of this photo; we had it stuck on the wall in the tack room for years.

Our pony, a purebred Shetland, was named Silver Lady Sensation on her registration papers. We called her Silver. I say "we" because the colt she gave birth to was later traded for a full size horse for my sister, so the pony was passed down to me. Like a big dog, she was my boon companion from the time I was ten until I was twenty-six.

Me, a tiny ten-year-old, with one of the best friends a girl could have, in our back yard.

The truth is, having her changed all our lives.

We probably would have continued to live on Eberle Street in our little Lakewood housing tract if Peg hadn't won the contest. But clearly you can't keep a pony in your back yard, so she had to be boarded at the nearby stable... which was a financial burden to our mother, who had become the sole breadwinner even before my father's death from a rare disease. Mom decided to put our childhood home up for sale, and she found an affordable house a few miles away in a residential area that was zoned for agriculture, so we had a barn and corral in the back yard. Right next door lived the man who would later become my wicked step-father....

In the meantime, Peg and I grew up immersed in the horsey life, getting up early to feed before we went to school, coming home to ride the horses, brush them, feed them, clean stalls and all the other work required in caring for them. On the weekends, we participated in horseshows, winning our share of trophies and ribbons over the years. While other teenagers we knew were off getting into mischief after school, we were horseback riding or grooming or getting ready for the next show, which didn't leave much time to be naughty.

Later, when I married, I told my husband our first home would have to be one with horse property as I would be bringing Silver along with me. He consented—because he had no choice, keeping Silver being a deal breaker and all—and we bought a little three-bedroom home in Mira Loma (now Jurupa Valley) where Silver became companion to my children as they grew, or at least three of them; she died before my youngest was born.

Nowadays I doubt that Sears or any other big chain has an annual contest, and if they do, I'm sure they're not giving away ponies. But that era, in the late 1950's and early 1960's, was a different time altogether. You could buy just about anything at Sears, from clothing and housewares to tools and building supplies, including a house, if you were willing to assemble it after you ordered it. We loved getting the Sears catalog in the mail, that huge tome of slick paper with color pictures of all the toys and bikes and games a kid could ever dream of—including, of course, BB guns and, for the older kid, hunting rifles and other sporting goods.

I imagine in the days to come we'll be hearing a lot of stories about what Sears meant to folks of a certain age. Don't know if anyone else can top our pony story, though.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Getting Ink

2016 was a year that was chock-full of truly awful events, the worst of which was the death—by suicide—of my goofy, sweet, troubled friend John. On and off throughout his life, John had battled with depression, self-medicating along the way, getting clean and sober, doing battle again, and on and on. Later in his life, he began to deal with multiple health issues; he quit smoking to get healthy, only to gain enough weight to put increased stress on his heart and lungs. Over the years, he was in and out of relationships. When he took his life, he had been single for some time. “He was just so lonely,” his sister told me later. I had spent time with John in the months prior to his death… but I never saw it coming—and I am one who truly knows the signs.

Two years before John died, a new young friend, Michael, also took his life. I had met him through a writing event that he had put together for other young people, a contest for high school students to help them exhibit their writing and, in the long run, gain confidence in their writing skills. At one of the preparatory events, his father mentioned to me as an aside that writing had been the one stabilizing factor in Michael’s life. “He’s always had difficulty in school fitting in,” his father said. This resonated with me. As a depressed child, I could sit with a pencil and notebook and simply write whatever came to mind. It anchored me, gave me purpose and a sense that I could do something not everyone could do. Robert Frost referred to the act of writing verse as “a momentary stay against confusion.” When I read that for the first time, I was in college, and the idea resonated with me so strongly, it made my heart pound. My journals, kept over the decades since my children were young, contain many pages that were filled on days when I was too sad to function. The act of writing down my thoughts was often enough to calm me, to help organize the chaos and confusion in my head. Setting the emotions carefully down on paper helped me distance myself from them and find resolution to some of the factors contributing to that chaos.

I’ve been alone for a very long time now. I understand loneliness, especially as an older person. I also understand isolation, that feeling of not fitting in, of not finding a tribe to belong to, and of needing to pour onto paper the words that seemed locked away otherwise. And I fully understand the need to make the mental anguish and emotional pain stop. In my life, there have been times when I questioned why I was even continuing to go forward. What’s the point? I often wondered. Of course, intellectually, I understand what “the point” is; it’s my children. It’s my family. Now, it is putting words on a page that just may resonate with someone else, help them heal or laugh or cry or feel less alone. I understand my gift, and what I am to do with it. I doubt that I will feel suicidal again in my life.

But… just as a reminder… and to honor the lives of Michael and John (because I miss their light in this world), I have gotten my first tattoo. It’s a semi-colon. If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see it there on my right wrist, a reminder daily that yes, sometimes our life story needs a “pause.” But it will continue. Life sometimes hurts like a slap in the face from a trusted friend. It’s shocking and it stings and we wonder in the moment how we will recover. But we can. If we wait a bit, things do get better. The pain does ease enough to be tolerable. With time, it’s possible to see beauty in the world again.

When Chris (Christopher Lloyd Davis of Reflect Tattoo Studio in Redlands, California—a former band nerd and beautiful human being) was situating the tattoo on my arm, he said, “I can move it down further so you can cover it if you need to.”

“No,” I told him, “I’m never going to want to cover this up. I want to see it every day. And I want everyone else to see it as well.”

So now the daily reminder is there.

If you have been previously unaware that a semi-colon tattoo is generally done to honor someone who has taken his or her own life, I encourage you to use your search engine to look at images of semi-colon tattoos. Most are far more beautiful than mine, but mine is serving its purpose just fine.

TheNational Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. If you’ve ever had one of those days (or as I used to say, “one of those lives”), jot that down and stick it somewhere safe. Sometimes we just need another voice to reassure us that the pain will ease, things will get better. A pause is fine before going forward once again.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


Yesterday morning I spent two hours talking to a cousin—a cousin whom I've never met. He'd read my memoir, Tainted Legacy, saw the last name "Williams" mentioned as one of my ancestors, did some checking, and yeah, we're cousins; his great-grandfather was the brother of my great-great-grandmother (all of which we happily verified on Our conversation, over that two hours, led us from laughter to tears and back again as we shared family stories and secrets, heartaches and triumphs. And in the course of our dialogue, we discussed an individual who may or may not be a blood relative, someone with whom I had contact while researching Tainted Legacy. But I haven't spoken to her in years. And now I'm curious to know who her people were. So is new-cousin-Chris.

"Don't let her slip away, Kay," he implored.

No kidding.

So I went looking for her phone number. I began by searching my entire Bertha Gifford file (and let me tell you, it's extensive, including all my notes, newspaper clippings, photos, every email I've ever received about her or the book—printed--rejection slips from agents and publishers—ha ha ha ha ha ha ha—and the True Crime comic book in which her story is featured. (No, I won't mention which one or the issue date. Good lord, it's horrid.)

But I didn't find her phone number.

So today I finally (after quite a few years), went through my nightstand drawer, the place where I keep the cards my kids send me and other precious mementos.

Is it important to mention that I've had the same nightstand since I was born? Yep. For sixty-plus years it has sat sturdily next to my bed in every home I've lived in. The beds have come and gone (I sometimes miss the waterbed), but the nightstand remains stalwart. I promised my mom in 1972 when I moved out of the house and she sent it off with me that I'd sand it down and refinish it. Sorry, Mom!

I didn't find that phone number.

But I did find an abundance of other treasures, including a birthday card The Youngest Granddaughter made for me—yes, that granddaughter, the one who just started college. I have treasured it all these years for the way she depicted us together.

 And a Mother's Day card my son drew for me—in the 1980's—complete with an Ewok sticker to fancy it up.

 And a card my mother sent me... when she was 90.

 And the two-page letter my sweet cousin Danny Fiocchi sent me after he'd finished reading Tainted Legacy, which was not long after it came out because at its publication, I'd sent him a copy, since the book came into being only because that stubborn Irish/Italian man refused to let me give up on it. In the letter, he mentions that he is 51... that he started working at the age of 16... that in all the years he's been working, he's only been late for work "a handful of times, today being one of them." Because he couldn't put the book down. "Thank God I'm my boss," he said. See why I love him?

And all the precious bookmarks my bibliophile friends have sent me over the years, including one from County Cork, Ireland (wherein the Murphy ancestors lie buried), several made for me by my beloved cousin Jean Thompson, and one I procured from the Singing Wind bookstore in Benson, Arizona (Winifred Bundy, proprietor) in 1993.

I have been steeped in nostalgia all day. And you know what? It's a nice place to visit when you've been sad. It has reminded me of how much love has been surrounding me all my life.

Now if I can just find that phone number....

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Part II: June

(If you have not read the previous post, “What Happened to June,” you can find it by simply scrolling down past this one.)

At this writing (7:45p.m. on Monday, September 10, 2018 to be exact), June is still missing. And I am still hopeful that she will be found and returned to me… unless she didn’t survive her first night out alone, in which case there is nothing that anyone can do. But I try very hard not to think about that.

Harry Cauley told me today, “When you have a dog taken by a coyote,” (which, tragically, he did--two, in fact) “it tests what you really believe about nature.”

This post is not meant to be a philosophical musing about whether there can be good or evil intentions in Nature, or whether the Universe loves and watches over my June-bug with the same care afforded the coyotes in my neighborhood. But if I am honest, that question continues to loom in my mind, as much as I work to replace or suppress it.

Also occupying my thoughts is this:

Several days after June’s adoption, I was sifting through all her paperwork, sorting out what I would need to get her licensed, and I came across a handwritten note attached to her spay certificate that mentioned a problem had been identified with the kneecap on her left hind leg. She was still wary of being touched in those first days, so I had not had the opportunity yet to give her a bath or a belly rub, but I had noticed a strange stiffness to that back leg when she walked. I called her to me right then and ran my hand down her leg. Inside her thigh was an ominous lump. So the next day we were off to the vet.

As soon as he examined her leg—palpating and manipulating it hard enough to make her tremble all over, though she never cried or growled or tried to squirm away as the vet tech and I held her steady—his eyebrows drew together and his forehead wrinkled.

“I don’t like what I’m feeling,” he said, “and I don’t understand it.”

Moments later the vet tech led her away for x-rays, and I paced around the room, anxious, worried, texting a friend for comfort and support.

She came back to me wagging her tail.

“We gave her a few treats,” the vet tech said. “She was perfect.”

Of course she was.

What wasn’t perfect was her leg.

“Come on in this other room,” the vet said, “you’ve gotta see this.”

The x-ray of her leg was appalling. “Extremely distressing,” was the phrase the vet used.

Somehow, at some point, June had sustained “severe trauma” to her leg, so much so that the end of the femur was twisted horribly, the condyles (those rounded protrusions at the end of the femur) unable to fit correctly into the grooves in the tibia.

“That lump we were feeling is possibly a mass of bone fragments,” the vet said, “not her knee. Her knee is over here on this side, displaced by the twisted femur.” He frowned again deeply. "I don't know how this happened to her, but I find it extremely disturbing." As did I.

“So what do we do?” I asked, still staring at the screen, still trying to process what I was seeing, how she was possibly walking—no, running—what had happened to render this dog’s leg in this condition, how many months she went enduring the pain with no treatment and no comfort in her injury.



“There’s nothing we can do. We can’t untwist her bone.”

“So… What’s your prognosis?”

“Well, eventually,” he said, turning off the screen, tidying up the room, making like he was about to leave, and never meeting my eyes, “she will develop arthritis in that leg.”

“And I’ll know this…?”

“She’ll let you know. It will be very painful for her.”

“And then…?”

“And then I’ll prescribe painkillers. Because that’s all we can do.”

“So this will be years from now, right? I mean, she’s still a youngster. She’s not even two yet. And we still have lots of daily walks and playing in the dog park ahead of us.” I stroked June’s head. Scratched behind her ears.

The vet looked up sharply at this and finally looked me in the eye. “I want only moderate exercise for her,” he said sternly. “Nothing exuberant.”

“But how long until…?”

He looked away again. “A year. Maybe two.”

And with that, he was hurrying out of the room, muttering something about catching Dr. So-and-so to show him June’s x-ray as he’d never seen anything like it before.

June got a few more treats as I paid the bill. Her enthusiasm in eating them distracted me for the moment so that I didn’t cry until I was back in the truck with her. Then, of course, I cried all the way home, rubbing her back as she lay curled in a ball in the passenger seat, telling her what an amazing girl she was, that phrase, “nothing exuberant” running on a continuous loop in my head as I recalled the walks in the woods we’d already had, June filled with the joy of life until she was bubbling over with it. And I assure you, it was absolutely contagious.

It took a day or two for me to fully process what the vet had said. At first, I had to work through all that sorrow for what June had endured all alone. When I finally came out from under that cloud, I began to think more practically. Well. We would just get a second opinion. This was not a death sentence. We would stay positive and I would watch her daily for any signs of favoring the leg.

I had already started looking for an orthopedic specialist when June went missing.

As I mentioned in the first post about June, these ramblings were supposed to have been told with June lying just behind my chair, on her favorite dog bed, not from this quiet room without a dog in it. But I feel compelled to tell the tale of her bum leg now because it’s meaningful to the situation. My girl is a fighter. She’s a survivor. She has the sweetest temperament, but she is also tenacious. Whatever is happening to her now, while she’s away from me, I pray that she summons all her resources to stay safe.

I am still hopeful… and hoping everyone is joining me in the one powerful vision of June coming home where she belongs.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

What Happened to June

This post was supposed to be joyful and celebratory. It certainly is not… though I remain hopeful. Because what else can I do?

Three weeks ago today I adopted a silly but sweet, naughty but remorseful, quiet except when she is wildly exuberant, young German shepherd mix dog who weighed just under fifty pounds and matched the fur color of Sgt. Thomas Tibbs to a T.

I had looked for months for a dog who would fit in with our pack of one quirky dog and two particular cats. Then I lost Sugar Plum… and I put the search on hold until I could gather myself enough to move from grief to good memories. I’d actually gone to Upland Shelter to look at another dog I’d seen on their Facebook page, but didn’t think that dog would work for Thomas. One of the volunteers suggested I look at “Libby,” and I fell in love with her at first sight. (But in my head, even before she was mine, I changed her name to “June,” after my beloved aunt. That, in itself, is a story for another time.)

June was brought to meet Thomas, behaved herself like an excellent dog citizen, and I quickly signed all the paperwork to make her part of our pack. Of course, Thomas was indifferent to her, as he is with every new person, dog, cat, rabbit he meets. And Purrl hid under the bed.

But it only took a couple of days before I had the dogs walking together, one on either side of me, for our morning walks. At under two years old, June is still puppy-ish, and would invite Thomas to play in the yard. He always declined. So on walks, just to mess with him, she would suddenly cross over in front of me, nuzzle his ear, then resume her walk, wagging her tail in good humor at her teasing.

Although she barked at Purrl at first (sending her back under the bed), she learned very quickly to “leave the kitty,” and Purrl (as I knew she would) made it a project to try to win her love, in much the same way that June was trying to win over Thomas. The developing dynamics between the three of them were a source of daily entertainment.

With the exception of eating, June’s happiest moments were when we went hiking. Early on, I let her off the leash—because I knew she would always stick with me and Thomas (who remained on the leash). And she did. But her delight in the freedom to explore made her explode in ecstatic “zoomies,” and she would race ahead of us on the trail as fast as her long skinny legs would go, then turn and gallop back past us, sometimes charging Thomas or doing a drive-by ear nuzzle. Then she’d turn and do it all again. Like an exhausted kid after a swim party, as soon as we got in the truck to go home, she’d curl up on the front seat, exhausted, and fall asleep.

Unlike Thomas, who spends his days after our morning walk sleeping in my bedroom (sprawled like a king on his huge memory foam bed) June would follow me around the house. If I sat in the den to work at the computer, she’d curl up on the dog bed there and doze. If I went out to the back yard to garden, she’d follow me out, finding a patch of shade to lie in or trotting around the yard, sniffing all the remnants of the possum who visits nightly.

She went with me everywhere. I took her to Petco, to Home Depot, to visit a friend in his home, and to a meeting of my book club. Always she was an ideal citizen, walking nicely beside me in the big stores or lying quietly at my feet while I chatted.

I took her with me because June had separation anxiety. She’d been adopted and returned to the shelter because, the day after her adoption, her new people had left her alone in the house. I don’t know what kind of damage she did, but it was enough that they returned her two days after adopting her. So I bought a crate for her, and when she was comfortable sleeping in it, I began the slow process of helping her feel safe when I left the house, leaving for a half hour the first time, an hour the next, two hours after that and finally, three. She did great.

And then she left.

Last Tuesday, just as I stepped into the bathtub, she wandered out the back slider into the back yard, apparently discovered and stepped through the doggie door she’d never used, and trotted out through the open garage door. She never looked back. My neighbor spotted her and came down to ring my doorbell, getting me out of the tub, but by the time I’d thrown some clothes on and grabbed the keys to the truck, she was out of sight.

It wasn’t until hours later—until I and half the residents of my community, including the maintenance workers, had searched every square inch of this property calling her name—that someone spoke up and said, ‘Oh, you’re looking for a dog? I saw a brown one go out the front gate at about 9:00 this morning. I didn’t know anyone was looking.’

Friends had already driven around outside the park, but I went again anyway, searching all through the late afternoon, driving for hours, then going back out that night, trying to determine which direction she would take, and terrified at the thought of her being out all night. Sometime around midnight, I collapsed on my bed and slept. The next morning at dawn, I was out looking again.

How do parents of missing children survive the ordeal?

At this point, I have done everything that can be done to find her. She is listed on several lost pet Facebook pages. I am checking all the local shelters twice daily (via—bless them!). And thank heavens she is micro-chipped. If a kind person picks her up off the street and takes her to a vet or shelter, she will get back to me. I am hoping and praying that happens.

Where is she headed? Back to her loved ones, her puppies.

June was found on the street in Los Angeles—with eight puppies. Thankfully, Upland pulled her from the L.A. shelter and gave her a safe haven in which to get healthy and raise her puppies until they were ready to be adopted, which they were. One aspect of her personality that the shelter volunteers had noted was that June was fiercely loyal to and protective of her puppies, something that endeared her to me all the more. After she was separated from them, she never really had the opportunity to bond with a human. She was with me only two weeks and two days. Though I knew I would love her forever, the feeling had not yet become mutual. She was still somewhat confused about all this change of caregivers and locations, and when she saw her opportunity to take control of her own situation again, she took it.

As far as I know, she’s still trying to make her way back to Upland. It’s forty miles. Dogs have traveled much farther distances to return to those they love. She’s a tough little survivor. Maybe, just maybe, as she’s trotting down the road, someone will pull over, scoop her up, have her checked for a chip, and I will get that call I’m desperately longing for.

There is more to June’s story. There is The Very Bad Incident at the Vet’s that happened a week after I adopted her, which becomes a strange but critical aspect to this story. But this post is already far too long, and you have been very patient if you’ve continued reading, and I am now crying too much to keep writing. So stay tuned for Part II about what happened to June. And please join me in thinking good thoughts for my girl-on-the-run, that she’ll be protected, and that I’ll get a second chance to convince her that this is the best place in the world for her to stay forever.