The Shadow Years

IMG_0814It’s hard on the heart, watching a pet grow old, but it’s not like I haven’t been here before.

When I was a kid growing up across the span of the late 50’s-70’s, we lived in a rural area where the general consensus was to let one’s pets roam free. I understand now how irresponsible that is, but back then it was everyone did. I don’t remember any of our pets coming home with injuries from fights, but someone shot my first dog, Yogi, a reality I didn’t discover until a misplaced remark from my sister decades later.

Mostly our animals died under car tires. We didn’t live in a densely vehicular area, so it’s always been a bit of a wonder to me that so many perished that way. On one occasion, my best friend at the time (the same David I wrote about the other day) confided to me that my cat had been sitting on the side of the road and he’d seen the driver purposely swerve to hit it. If that’s true (and I have no reason to disbelieve David), I hope that person had a truly shitty life. (Let’s face it; anyone who would do that was probably already having a shitty life.)

In later years, I learned to keep my pets indoors, even the cats. That’s worked well to extend their longevity, but it’s meant we get to watch the slow creep of years steal bits of them away, like watching one’s parents age.

It’s not fun.

Our dog Holly is an 11 1/2 year old Australian shepherd, truly one of the world’s best dogs. (Yeah, I know. We all say that, and it’s true every time.) Shortly before her ninth birthday, she began having seizures and was diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy. Those first few seizures took more out of Ed and I–emotionally speaking–than they did her, I think. They’re not fun to watch, not even after we understood that she had no idea it was happening. We’ve learned the routine of those spells–the pedaling gyration of her limbs, the gaping mouth and barred teeth, the arched back. Jesus, it looks painful, although I’ve been assured by several vets that it’s not. We’ve learned to dispense rectal Valium if the episode exceeds two minutes. We sit by her until she lurches out of it, on her feet, pacingpacingpacing, falling down, running into walls. We do what we can to keep her from hurting herself. Get her outside to defecate (she’ll pee while in seizure, but so far has never voided). Because she’s ravenous afterward, we give her something to eat to replace all those calories burned by the seizure. (Note: Never feed by hand. She can’t differentiate between food and flesh, and those snapping, frenzied gulps hurt.) It takes about an hour before she settles down and sleeps.

Each episode steals away bits of her. She forgets commands. Her sense of hearing goes wonky, and she’ll look away from us when we call, seeking us in the opposite direction even though we’re usually within eyesight.

Her vision is poor to begin with. She lost the use of her left eye when she was eight months old (an ill-considered golf shot by her previous owner coupled with a ball fixated puppy. Don’t curse him; he still feels guilty). Her right eye has cataracts. Her hearing wavers, sometimes good, other times not. Her sleep is often scarily deep (something a vet tech mentioned after an overnight stay for pancreatitis, another gift age has bestowed on her). She snores; the only cute part in any of this.

And now she’s taken to wandering in the night, a disturbing echo of my mother’s dementia-induced meanderings when she lived with us. Not every night, but often enough, I wake repeatedly to the click-click of toenails on the wood floor. Sometimes, she just needs to go out. (Another gift of age: the tiny bladder needing to be relieved in the middle of the night.)

She drinks a lot, and is always hungry. This could be side-effects of the many medications she’s on (phenobarbital and potassium bromide for epilepsy; gabapentin and metacam for arthritis pain; ursodiol and an over-the-counter antacid for pancreatitis; another one, whose name I can’t recall, to keep her from leaking urine), but could also be indicative of a larger issue. She’s losing more hair than usual (no bald spots, but I groom her nearly every day and come away with a pile of hair). She’s tired, not surprising in an 11 year old dog. She pants a lot. Could it be liver or kidney disease, maybe Cushing’s? A trip to the vet is likely in order.

And in the end, of course, it’ll make little difference. We’ll do what we can for her–that’s the bargain we struck when she came to live with us, that we would take the best care of her that we’re able–but in the end time will take her. Then we’ll shoulder the larger responsibility of sharing our lives with her, and let her go, what our friend Jenny (who I still think of as our vet although distance (and Holly’s issues) have made it necessary to find another) calls letting her rest.

And, oh, won’t that be hard?

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Holly in the good old days, with her boyfriend Randy, who taught her how to play

Where is Grandma’s smile?

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My maternal grandmother, Geneva Lucy Shorey Crandall Sherman Burton

I can’t remember ever seeing my grandmother smile.  This studio portrait, taken God knows when, is the closest she comes to it.

As a child, I didn’t understand her lack of smiles and (I confess) took it personally. (I was an emotional, empathetic, introvert; of course I took it personally.) I now believe Life knocked the smiles out of her.

She was born November 1894 in Oakfield, Maine, way up in The County (Aroostook to the unenlightened). Grover Cleveland was President. Coca Cola was sold in bottles for the first time. Twelve thousand NYC tailors struck against sweatshop conditions. Norman Rockwell, Jack Benny, Bessie Smith, and Dashiell Hammett were also born that year.

Geneva was the youngest of five children (all “useless” daughters, God forbid) born to William and Minnie Shorey. Described by my mother as “the meanest woman that ever lived,” Minnie often locked her in a dark closet. William had a prodigious temper (the source, I believe, if what’s come to be known as the “Crandall Temper”). One one occasion, a neighbor returned a borrowed wagon broken. When William discovered it, he hacked at the wagon with an ax until he brought on a heart attack and fell over stone-dead.

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Minnie and William flank Napoleon Bonaparte Crandall (I’m not joking).

Look at these faces. Even given the era, and the need to hold very still for this portrait, they’re exceedingly grim. Can you imagine growing up in that household? Can you imagine what their childhoods must have been like?

(My mother’s family had a propensity for historically-derived names. “Uncle Bony,” as he was called, had a brother named George Washington Crandall. I’ve also discovered William Wallace Crandall, James Madison Crandall, and others. My husband believes if we search long enough, we’ll discover a Jesus Christ Crandall. Oh, and let’s not forget the unfortunately named “Weighty Marie.”)

It’s impossible for me to imagine Geneva as a child … as a young school teacher … or as a bride. She married Abel Crandall in either 1912, 1913, or 1915. (There’s documentation listing each of those dates.) Their children arrived in 1916, 1917, 1919, 1922, and my mother in 1923. (Roundabout five months after the birth of their first child, Abel was named in a paternity suit filed by a neighbor’s wife. The child, a daughter, was raised by the family into which she was born, and he never bore any responsibility for her, but this must have been a real treat for Geneva. Incidentally, this tidbit of news only came to light in 2019.)

In October 1923, Abel’s appendix ruptured. He died three weeks before my mother was born. So here’s Geneva: four children ranging in age from seven years to 15 months, 8 1/2 months pregnant, her husband dead, the Great Depression looming. And her mother refuses to help her.

For nine years, my grandmother did what she could to survive, taking in laundry, mending clothes, and selling eggs. Her fresh-churned butter was said to be the best in the area. She baked bread and became proficient at “Poverty Stew,” a watery mix of salt pork, onions or carrots when she could get them, a single potato diced fine.

In April 1932, Geneva married Abel’s best friend, Paul Sherman, for whom she worked as a housekeeper. (In the 1930 census, she’s listed as “servant.”) Their son Paul, Jr. arrived five months later. Make of that what you will. Two years later, Paul Sherman died of tuberculosis. In the 1940 census, she’s listed as “head of household” with four of her six children living with her. My mother, as the only girl at home, shouldered much of the domestic burden and her mother’s rancor, and married badly at 18 to escape. (Geneva was lenient with her boy, not so much with her girls, an unfortunate trend that continued throughout her life. Mom died at the age of 92 without ever hearing her mother say “I love you.”)

So it went. In 1957, Geneva married a third time, to Walter Burton (the man I knew as my grandfather), for whom she’d also kept house. And buried him in 1977.  So is it any wonder there were precious few smiles to go around?

And yet, Geneva had her pleasures, chief among them her involvement in her church, visits with old and dear friends, and most particularly, her youngest son’s three boys who lived next door and on whom she doted. Her preferential treatment put a crick in the nose of the rest of us grandkids, but we got over it.

Maybe.

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Geneva and her kids (l to r): Paul, Darrell, William, Virginia (my mom), Goldie, and Jean.

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And some of the grandkids: Paul, Patric, and Eric in back; Darrell, me, and Sterling in front.

Serendipity

little-meYesterday I wrote about the house I grew up in and I mentioned a childhood friend, David Micklas. While working on that piece, I went online to do a bit of research to see if I could find out something about the old house.

I didn’t find what I was looking for, but in the course of my search I discovered an obituary for David’s mother, Theresa. It saddened me because she was a nice woman who (unlike her husband) tolerated her son having a girl for a best friend. In some ways, she was a second mother to me, and I always felt welcome in her home.

Finding this obituary right on the heels of having mentioned David for the first time in, well, forever, felt like a tap on the shoulder from Theresa because contained within the heartfelt tribute was mention of her three sons (Tom, Bob, Dave), their families, and where they live.

A further bit of searching brought me David’s street address. Last night I sat down and penned a letter to my old friend, reaching out through better than…well, I’m guessing here, but I think it’s been close to 50 years since we last spoke. I acknowledged that this would be a surprise (hopefully not an unpleasant one), and offered my condolences on his mother’s death. I briefly caught him up on my life, but mostly I wrote to let him know that he was on my mind and remembered most fondly, that I cherished our time together as friends.

I’m curious to see if I’ll get a response, and if so what sort. Stay tuned.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

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Circa early 50s

So begins the gothic novel Rebecca, written in 1938 by Dame Daphne du Maurier. My own version might begin, “Last night I dreamt of the house in Clifton Park.”

The old farmhouse on Plant Road wasn’t much to look at when my parents purchased it, the barn and garage across the road, and the surrounding acreage in the early 1950s for what was then the princely sum of ten thousand dollars. The house was old even then; how old, I don’t know although certainly in excess of one hundred years. A covered porch ran across the front in the years before I was born, ultimately torn down and a raised cement slab erected in its place. (I think Mom had some ideas of a patio, but that’s as far as it ever got and I don’t remember us using it for much of anything.) Dad and a friend, George Carley, built the chimney and fireplace that adorned the west end of the living room and became a central hub in winter, the place where we huddled on the coldest of nights.

An immense sycamore grew just outside the kitchen window, a tree so large that it took at least three adults, arms extended, to circle its trunk. It grew much too close to the house and its root system eventually invaded the foundation, slowing tearing the structure apart and precipitating my parents’ move to Saratoga. Dad hung first a tire and then a wooden-seated swing on a limb and I spent hours spinning myself to fall-down dizziness. (Mom hated the tree, with its propensity for shedding bark everywhere, but I loved it, and used the bark like parchment, scrawling messages.)

Each season in that house brings its memories: wet springs when the meadow would flood and the frogs appear; baking summers playing outdoors while Mom listened to her beloved Yankees on the radio; autumns of leaf piles made only for jumping; winters sailing down the hill out back in a metal saucer, the bottom of which Mom had polished with Pledge. (I think she harbored a secret desire to kill me; she once used Pledge on my metal slide, too. I shot down it so fast–and off the end, clearing several feet–that it scared me to tears.) I remember nights playing outdoors beyond sunset, rolling down the hill in the long grass and catching fireflies in a jar.

IMG_3122I best remember the house at Christmas, when I draped my pajamas over the hearth screen to warm before putting them on and Mom hung the cards we received against the brickwork. The fireplace had a raised marble hearthstone custom made for sitting, where I placed Santa’s plate of cookies and mug of hot chocolate on Christmas Eve. (Much later, Dad installed a matching mantelpiece that Mom festooned with garland.) The walls were an ugly pale gray/brown wallboard that Dad eventually replaced with the warm, golden glow of knotty pine. Mom was forever rearranging the furniture, so the Christmas tree might end up anywhere, so long as it wasn’t too near the fire. The windows were hung with red cellophane wreaths with electric candles, and a two-candle art deco piece I still own (which my husband is  rewiring so I can use it).

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That horrible wallboard

This was the house of my growing up; the house I was brought to after being born at Albany Medical Center in 1957; the house I learned to crawl in, then walk, then run. The house where I learned to ride a bike and enjoyed the pride of having my training wheels removed. The house where dogs and cats sprawled (and my mother once–under protest–housed a few gerbils overnight.) From there I set forth in late October to trick-or-treat with my then best friend, David Micklas, returning with plastic sacks bursting with swag. From there we set out together on bike adventures, or to roam the woods, play baseball or play pretend. On one memorable occasion we beat his older brothers, Tom and Bob, at war, ambushing poor Bob from inside a culvert that ran beneath the road, then ruthlessly hunting Tom with our plastic guns. This was home from kindergarten through high school graduation, and beyond. I married my first husband in that living room, and played with my first and second generation of nieces and nephews.

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Dad’s knotty pine

The house is gone now, torn down to make way for a Stewart’s. (For those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, it’s a chain of convenience stores.) The sycamore is still there, grand in its old age and, I hope, protected. (If the house was old, the tree is far older.) There’s a poignancy to visiting the old place in dreams, walking through those rooms. I see them so clearly, though its been well over 40 years. Each has its echo, a sound I will always hear.

 

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Circa 1970s

When It’s Best to Say No

img_0567I consider myself a pretty friendly person. I’m the sort who, when meeting someone new, prefers to view them as a potential friend than a possible enemy. I welcome strangers to my table and find nothing awkward in telling people to “scootch up” and make room for another chair. Being an introvert I can’t say I enjoy crowds, but put me one-on-one with someone and I’ll at least try to hold up my end of the conversation.

Several months back, maybe as much as a year, I met this woman I’ll call “Jill” while walking with Holly on the Airline Trail. I’d seen her before; we’d make eye contact, nod, maybe say hello. Occasionally, she’d stop to admire Holly and give her a pat. Little by little, we came to know each other a bit, exchanged names, that sort of thing. Eventually, we shared phone numbers with an idea toward meeting to walk or bike, both of us eager for company. Jill was recently retired (she was a college phys ed teacher), outdoorsy like me, and loved animals as I do. We both had “issues” with our birth families and step-children which we shared and laughed over. I really felt that I was making a friend.

Then it happened.

See, Jill has some fairly significant health issues, particularly with her spine. One day, as we walked, she mentioned some difficulty she was experiencing and I suggested she look into equine therapy. I worked at a therapeutic riding facility for several years and I’ve remained enamored of the field and the good–sometimes the miracles–that occur between horses and riders. It’s pretty astonishing stuff.

To my horror, Jill hunched over like a crone and began to do a sideways crab-walk, her fingers curled into claws. “I don’t want to ride with a bunch of retards,” she said.

I blurted, “JILL!” She laughed, like it was the biggest joke in the world. And me? I was speechless. I couldn’t find the words to convey my disappointment in her…and in me for not speaking up. Something inside told me she wouldn’t care, anyway, that she’d make some excuse or brush it off as a joke (sort of like that TSA employee who recently flicked the braids of a Native woman and said, “Giddy-up!”), and I let that “something side” keep me mum.

But it’s never left my mind, and I haven’t seen Jill since. Granted, she has some weird sort of schedule and it seemed to always be me making the overtures to meet-up, but I’ve maintained radio silence. Recently, she sent me a text indicating she’d like to get together. I didn’t respond because I was headed out of town for several days. Now that I’m back, I’m not sure I’ll respond in any case.

That “friendliness gene” in me says to give her a second chance, to get together and explain that if we’re to be friends, she needs to understand how badly her words upset me. Maybe I’ll learn that it was a foolish moment, words uttered and regretted instantly (although she gave no indication of that; rather the contrary). We’ve all said things we regret, all made first impressions we wish we could erase, all dreamed of do-overs. On the other hand, if that cruel remark is a clear indication of who Jill truly is (and based on some of her other comments, I have no reason to think otherwise), she’s not the sort of person I can consider a friend.

This is not a question of ideology; of me thinking I’m better than someone else or wanting only friends who mirror my beliefs. I love intelligent discourse when both parties believe differently, and I can “agree to disagree” when need be. (Case in point, I have a cousin who refutes evolution. I don’t agree with him, but I still love him.) Maybe this thing with Jill hit me so hard because I’ve worked with those riders and gotten to know them as they struggle with their disabilities. I met some who others might classify as “vegetables” and come to understand their beautiful and subtle way of communication. And I have family members, people I respect and love, who battle similar challenges every day. Would Jill decline to ride with them?

I suspect so, and it makes me wonder what sort of teacher she was given her inability to accept and embrace those with challenges. Were her own athletes so physically perfect? Should people look down at her because of the issues with her spine? Perhaps her own unhappiness with her back is the source of her bitter remark, a realization that occurs to me only now. Perhaps a text is in order, and invitation to coffee and conversation.

We shall see.

Book Launch Announcement

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For some reason, this shows up as green. The actual cover is in shades of blue.

I’m beyond delighted to post information on the first of what I hope will be many bookstore visits as ELEPHANT SPEAK: A Devoted Keeper’s Life Among the Herd takes its first steps into the world.

March 4 – BOOK LAUNCH at Powell’s Books in Portland, OR, 7:30 pm.

March 5 – An as yet TBD event, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the zoo.

March 6 – Roundabout Books in Bend, OR, 6 pm.

March 7 – Sunriver Books in Sunriver, OR, 5 pm.

I’m looking forward to meeting all those people out there who love elephants! See you soon!

 

Shared from the Authors Guild

The Authors Guild is thrilled to report that the House of Representatives passed the CASE Act (H.R. 2426) by an overwhelming vote of 410-6!

We thank our many members who supported the CASE Act and wrote letters and made phone calls to their representatives urging passage, as well as the many other creator associations and allies who worked so hard with us on this legislation.

This is the first legislation in many decades that benefits middle-class creators—a huge part of the American economy that is so often overlooked. In a massive, collective call to action, dozens of creator groups joined together to demand the establishment of a copyright small claims tribunal. Currently, without a lower-cost way to enforce their rights—rights on which their profession and ability to earn a living are based—creators have no practical way to ensure that they are paid when their works are used, despite the fact that their rights are enshrined in the Constitution. The Copyright Act provides only for federal copyright litigation, which these days costs on average almost $400,000 in legal fees and costs, even for a relatively simple claim. Today, full-time authors earn a median annual income of $20,300 and so federal litigation is simply not an option. Tens of thousands of disenfranchised individual and small creators joined together to say “no more!” Their demands for equal access to justice were met with resounding, bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.

As the nation’s oldest and largest professional author association, the Authors Guild has advocated for the establishment of such a copyright small claims tribunal for years; as early as 2006, the Guild testified on the matter before the U.S. Copyright Office. And since the Copyright Office conducted a multi-year study of the issue and released a report in 2013 recommending legislation to create a small claims tribunal, the Authors Guild has been actively involved in crafting and lobbying for the legislation.

According to Executive Director Mary Rasenberger, “A right without a remedy is no right at all. On an individual level, the inability to enforce one’s rights undermines the economic incentive to create new works. On a collective level, it corrodes respect for the rule of law and deprives society of the benefits of creativity.”

“At its core, this is a question of the independent and small content creator’s access to justice. Copyright law should protect all creators, but the unfortunate fact is that it only protects those who can afford the high costs of federal court and legal representation. The CASE Act will change this by providing creators with a voluntary, inexpensive, and streamlined alternative that they can use to protect their rights, their creativity, and their livelihoods.”

The Authors Guild would like to thank the many members of Congress and of the creative community who persevered through this journey and garnered such overwhelming support in the House. At the top of the list are Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)—who initiated the legislation (and who we honored at our May 2019 Gala)—and Doug Collins (R-GA) for their leadership in introducing the CASE Act in the House. We also thank the original co-sponsors of H.R. 2426, Representatives Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Martha Roby (R-AL), Judy Chu (D-CA), Ben Cline (R-VA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), as well as Judy Chu (D-CA), who introduced an earlier version of the bill and has been a fierce supporter. Our appreciation extends to the 142 additional co-sponsors in the House who came on board to support this critical legislation.

As thrilled as we are, we are not at the finish line yet. The Senate must pass the bill, and two Senators have placed hold on the bill: Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY). We still have much work to do to ensure the bill passes in the Senate. When it does, it will be a historic moment for creators, who, despite being the heart and soul of the copyright law, are so often overlooked in its implementation.

We look forward to working with the Senate and other stakeholders as the CASE Act moves to the Senate floor and eventually to the Oval Office.