My father remembered that night well. In the darkness of our tent, one by one he heard sniffles from the surrounding sleeping bags. Marion Voxland was the parish worker for Hope Lutheran, my father’s church. She took care of our pets while we were in Iowa. We had a Pekinese dog, Lady, and a cat, Princess, who recently had kittens. Abner was my kitten.
These were our first pets because my parents, having grown up on Iowa farms, viewed cats and dogs as animals that belonged outside. Veterinary expenses for a pet were an unnecessary expense. Spaying and neutering wasn’t a thing yet, so canines and felines (like Princess) were constantly over-populating. My parents weren’t cruel to cats or dogs. They just didn’t consider them people.
My sisters and I felt differently, and still do. Our pets are part of the family. Science might say different, but I attribute human thoughts and feelings to them. Jealousy, joy, disdain, outrage. I see these emotions and more in my pets.
Over the years, my mother became a co-conspirator with my sisters and my efforts to welcome more animals into the house. Occasionally, she’d even drive us to the pound so we could visit them. My father couldn’t help getting attached to our pets, once he got to know them – which meant we all cried when one of them crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
Moving back in with my parents at age 23 was not part of my master plan, but there I was – stuck in my old bedroom in San Diego. I’d blown my first shot at the dream – being a professional screenwriter. I didn’t have a plan B.
I needed a new launching pad. Academia had been kind to me. I applied to USC’s grad school. In those days, UCLA ran roughly $250 a quarter. I don’t have figures for USC, but it’s safe to surmise you can add a couple zeros to that even in ’74 dollars. The only way I could swing it was if I moved in with my parents and saved my pennies.
San Diego is a beautiful city. Everyone says so. Unfortunately, my parents relocated there during my first year at UCLA. My life-long friends lived in Santa Clara. What’s an introvert like me to do? Make new friends? I don’t think so.
I clung to an old friend, the one who never (willingly) left my side – Inga, the dog I brought home from the LA pound. Even when I didn’t deserve it, she gave me limitless love and devotion. If you need a friend who won’t let you down, someone steadfast and loyal who quivers with bliss at the gentle touch of your hand………..
Please do check out your local animal shelter, as I did and continue to do. I’ve never been sorry. Let me know your story.
In the summer of ’76 I was pregnant, so we had to move out of our first apartment, within walking distance of USC (no babies allowed). To call our second apartment “gorgeous” is a gross exaggeration. It looked like every other apartment in the 70s. Outdoor stairs led to five or six apartments, ours included, on the second floor. Even though it was long ago and we lived there for only two years, I remember it in vivid detail.
I pity Los Angeles millennials – well, anybody who wants to rent in LA. One hundred and seventy-five dollars seemed like a fortune to us (our previous rent was $125) but it was do-able, even though John earned about $200 a week as a part-time law clerk (he was a full-time law student at USC). Imagine a couple renting a 2-bedroom LA apartment today on one partner’s part-time salary.
What we didn’t know was that we were within walking distance of Angelo Bueno’s auto upholstery shop – you know, the one where the Hillside Stranglers tortured and killed all those women with long brunette hair. One of the victims was abducted from the small hospital at the end of our block. The murders hadn’t started when we moved in, but it wasn’t long – October 1977 to be specific – and they lasted until February 78 (we moved out in the summer of 78). As the bodies piled up in Glendale and La Crescenta hillsides, it made for some jumpy times.
As for Inga, she lived a long and happy life with my parents in San Diego. I think she liked having a house and a yard to play in (as opposed to our apartment) plus my sister Joyce’s dog, Kuala, as a companion. My parents never particularly wanted dogs, but they fell in love with our dogs once they got to know them, and we all cried when Inga (and later Kuala) crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
I’m sure some of you are sick of seeing me share Carson Animal Shelter dogs in desperate need of homes. I try to limit myself to one a day but sometimes a second or third will tug at my heartstrings. Once I’ve shared a dog or cat, I like to cycle them through again until they get adopted, rescued or (noooo!) PTS (put to sleep). I’d love to adopt them all myself but my family is near mutiny (we’re at a mere three former shelter dogs, two cats and a turtle). And, like they say, you can’t hug every cat. Or dog.
Gunnar, the puppy in the entry above, led a long and happy life but not with us – Joyce and John Salter re-adopted him and did a far more successful job of training him than we could. (We think he may’ve been part dingo. That would explain a lot.) We went back to the Glendale animal shelter a few days later and brought home a golden retriever we named Nick Mellow – one of my favorite dogs of all time. They’re all my favorites, in their own way.
In June of last year, one of the Carson posts – about a blind deaf dog abandoned at that high-kill shelter by his owner because he was “too old” – really got to me. So much so that despite opposition from my family, Joyce and I drove down to Carson and adopted him. They wouldn’t let us introduce him to Zelda – to see how they’d get along – before we adopted him. Most likely, I would’ve brought him home even if Zelda despised him which, unfortunately, she does. Eight months later, she’ll still savagely attack Mr. Magoo if I turn my back. Mr. Magoo doesn’t even try to defend himself – he just whimpers.
Magoo’s done a good job mapping the house and yard but occasionally he makes a mistake and slips into the swimming pool. He’s never outside unattended so he’s quickly rescued. Still, between Zelda the Evil Princess and Magoo’s unexpected flops in a frigid pool, our house is not ideal (but a vast improvement over death row at Carson). Both Sam and John urge me to find a safer place for him. The thing is, although he requires more care than a younger less challenged dog – I love the little guy. I love him enough to let him go should a perfect environment arise but too much to actively seek to re-home him.
So, if you’re sick of my dog shares, I’m sorry. Scroll through them fast, like I whizz through topics that don’t interest me. I’ll try not to abuse everyone’s patience. For now, though, I plan to keep sharing and re-sharing at least one a day so these poor animals won’t be forgotten and destroyed. They look so confused and terrified, as if they’re trying figure out what they did wrong. It breaks my heart. If you’re enough of a dog or cat person that you don’t mind looking – and there’s room in your home and your heart – consider letting one of them in. Yes, it requires some work on your part. But it’s worth it. We extended Magoo’s life by at least two additional years before he passed over the rainbow bridge. Yes, it was worth it.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago although – mercifully –it’s been eons since I swabbed another human’s barf. (Dogs and cats on the other hand – yesterday or the day before. One of our seniors has a delicate stomach.)
We still celebrate our children’s birthdays, but rarely on the actual day. They usually make plans with their friends. I don’t begrudge them, after college I did the same thing – partied with my peers instead of my parents. As wonderful as my parents were, party animals they weren’t.
Celebrating on the correct day – and emphasizing the birthday person’s precise age – seems less important every year, at least to me. Besides, if we want the extended family to celebrate together – aunts, uncles and cousins – the logistics become more manageable if we select an adjacent weekend instead of a Tuesday or Wednesday night.
As challenging as this particular birthday was – and it was far from the only time the birthday child hurled over a birthday cake – my memories are warm, now that the vomit isn’t.
In the early years of our marriage, John and I alternated holidays between my family and his – Thanksgiving in Fresno, Christmas in San Diego, reversed in the following year. Gradually we spent more holidays with my family because my parents and sisters all moved within five miles of my home.
I don’t recall when both of our mothers stopped volunteering to host Thanksgiving but they powered through longer than I could’ve. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve hosted Thanksgiving at our house, largely because when the question arises – “where are we doing Thanksgiving this year?” – I’m hiding in the bathroom.
Fortunately, my failings as a cook and hostess are compensated by my sister Janet and her husband Jim McCann, who do Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas ninety percent of the time. They are an indefatigable team, toiling from dawn till dusk to present the perfect meal without complaint (not entirely without complaint – but within civilized limits.) My contribution? Diet Coke and sparkling water.
Their house is well-suited to entertaining, with its vast rolling dog-friendly lawn. Singles and stragglers are always welcome. A good time is had by all.
Although I have a thousand photos of Thanksgiving at Jani’s, this blog is ostensibly about Thanksgiving in 1993, the first and last time I hosted the Rowell clan at our house. I’m posting those photos today to prove it.
After our beloved Daisy (a golden retriever mix) crossed the rainbow bridge, we adopted a terrier mix from a local rescue organization. Before long we discovered Nicky’s head was full of bad wiring (as opposed to any trace of a brain). He’s pathologically devoted to me, so much so that even after two years, he’ll attack John if my husband dares to get too close to me. Then there’s his piercing, ear-shattering bark.
It was clear why Nick’s two previous owners dumped him; if I followed suit, his next owner would do the same thing. My dog was a lemon but he loved me so much! How could I save my psychotic little terrier? My novel and brilliant solution? Adopt another small dog and hope Nick follows the new dog’s example. I am nothing if not a clear thinker when it comes to adopting more pets.
Enter http://lhasahappyhomes.org and a lhasa mix named Xyla (now Zelda). Her previous owners surrendered her because she needed eye surgery, which the rescue organization provided. They were honest about her flaws (she was a chewer but that’s over now). On the plus side, she was smart – dolphin smart, as opposed to Nick, no brighter than the average mollusk.
Zelda watches television like she’s following the plot but she’s actually watching for the appearance of a dog (or cat, pig, horse – any four-legged creature). Then she goes bonkers, barking and launching herself at the TV, frantic to vanquish the intruder in our home. If Nick tries to assist, she lunges and growls at him.
Zelda’s more into food than Nick, as you might surmise from her chunky physique. If Nick doesn’t finish his food, she drags a piece of paper on top of it with her nose (she’d be unstoppable if she had opposable thumbs) and then nudges it from Nick’s side of the room to hers. She’s adept at distracting him, stealing his treats and hiding them to enjoy later – usually in the corner cushions of my sofa. I once found a square of cheese waiting there.
They were both about a year and a half old when I adopted them which makes them roughly three now. They still act like silly puppies which is fine by me; the rest of my family is less enthusiastic. Sure, pets are work but I can’t imagine a life without animals around me. Our current crop is Fitzgerald-themed – Carroway, Gatsby, Wilson (the cats) and Nick and Zelda (the dogs). I talk to them like they’re people because to me – given their wildly different personalities – they are.
From today’s vantage point, life looks simple in ‘64 but it didn’t feel that way then. I obsessed over what other people thought of me (which they didn’t, much). Subtle shifts in friendship sent me reeling. I stewed about my performance in school. I wanted to be number one in everything but I was afraid to be best at anything.
My need to be number one began in ‘53, when my parents shattered my fragile 2-year-old psyche by bringing my sister Janet home. I got their message loud and clear. If I’d been a better baby – cuter, smarter, more entertaining – they wouldn’t have needed another baby. I ran outside and bawled my eyes out.
They flat-out refused to return her. Over time, I discovered she – and later Joyce – had some good points. Little sisters were easy to trick. Gradually both of them became fun to talk to. In fact, it was easier to talk to them than anyone else in the world.
Because we knew which buttons to push, emotions ran high. They could cut me to the bone, infuriate and inspire me, rouse my jealousy and my compassion. On balance, we shared more laughter than tears.
I trust them with my deepest secrets, my darkest self. When I fail and feel all is lost, my sisters raise me from the dead. They’ve got my back when I need them most. They love me when I don’t deserve it, believe in me when I give up. They’re the wind beneath my wings, my bridge over troubled waters. They light up my life. You get the gist.
Maybe all things considered, what my sisters give me is bigger than the narcissistic wound Janet inflicted. Maybe gains always come with pain. Maybe I should stop whining about what happened 63 years ago.
Yolanda moved in with us in 1984. She loved Chris, Sam and Alex with everything she had – especially Sam, although she never admitted favoritism. The tip-off? She always referred to Sam as “the princess.” Alex was Ahni and Chris was Goose because that’s how the princess pronounced their names. Yolanda balked at calling us John and Kathleen; we were forever Mr. John and Mrs. Kathleen.
She confided her cancer to the princess, who stepped up. She drove Yolanda to all of her doctor’s appointments, sat by Yolanda through every chemo, visited every day when Yolanda was hospitalized. The rest of us pitched in but the princess earned Yolanda’s second nickname for her – my angel.
On Friday February 10, Yolanda’s doctor estimated she’d live thirty days. She had thirty hours. When she drew her last breath at 1:30 AM, we all understood it was for the best. Her pain was excruciating, cancer terminal, death inevitable. No surprises. We knew where this road led.
Except we didn’t, not really. We’re in shock. All day I shushed our dogs so they wouldn’t awaken Yolanda – as if anything could. Three fat cats looked increasingly concerned – where’s our Fancy Feast? ‘Where’s the human who opens cans?
The light is on in Yolanda’s room. For a second, I think she’s there. I haven’t been in her room alone in years. Everywhere, pictures of our children – framed on her bureau, taped to the wall, stacked in photo albums. She carried their photos in her wallet. She loved it when strangers thought they were hers. Was I jealous, did I worry she’d spirit them off to El Salvador? No. If anything, it endeared her to me. If I couldn’t be there, who better than someone who loved them like they were her own?
On a sheet of paper tacked above her bed she drew a cross and scrawled, “Please god please god no cancer. Please god no cancer.” A purple spiral notebook was scribbled with recipes. She saved expired coupons for things she didn’t buy. A few of her clothes trailed price tags, waiting to be worn. Whoever clears my room when I’m dead will find comparable artifacts.
The photos we leave behind show what we did. Fragments of incomplete projects remind us of all left undone, bits and pieces of Yolanda. I should have known her better, more deeply, sooner. I don’t know her sister’s name or phone number in El Salvador and I don’t speak Spanish even if I did.
So what did I know about Yolanda? She made the LA Times her own personal illustrated blog. She drew devil’s horns on basketball players she hated, basically everyone but LeBron and the Clippers. She trapped a rattler outside our door by slamming a concrete slab down on its head. (I would’ve been dead from heart attack.) She didn’t drink, smoke or party. Her modesty did not permit her to wear shorts, swimwear or sleeveless blouses – ever.
She loved our forays to Costco – “the big store” – but recently I was too busy to take her until she was too weak to go. There are so many things I meant to say – should have said – but didn’t. I hope she knew – I think she knew – how much her kindness meant, how her patience and loyalty changed our lives, how many others – my sisters, parents and friends – grew to love her like we did and always will. How much we’ll miss her smile, her red coat, her curly hair, her commentary on current events (you thought she’d stop at sports?) in the LA Times, all part and parcel of the boundless heart and infinite capacity for love we knew as Yolanda Hernandez.
We’ll meet again, Yolanda.
(I’m not trying to make a political point about immigration. However, since Yolanda was an illegal immigrant when I hired her, here are the facts. She always worked, either caring for the elderly or children. She neither asked for nor received welfare. She became a US citizen in the early 90s. For the next twenty years plus, she paid taxes like everyone else. In other words, she writes checks to our government without cashing checks from them. Our country gave her something more valuable than food stamps – a chance at a better life. The way I see it, she was lucky to get into our great nation – but not as lucky as we were to get her into our family.)
I used to have this theory that everyone has one Great Love in their lifetime. A Great Love is not necessarily who you end up with (in fact, more likely not IMHO) but it’s someone who changes you profoundly. Author Andrew Sean Greer (“The Confessions of Max Tivoli”) takes it a step further. “We are each the love of someone’s life,” he writes. I love the quote, but I question the math. What if one gorgeous man or woman is the great love of five people’s lives? Doesn’t that leave four people without an available great love?
I believe that in addition to a Great Human love, people with animals also have a Great Dog or Cat Love. Sure, I know you love all of your pets, but wasn’t one just a little more special? Didn’t one of them speak to you, make you feel like you and he/she forged an almost mystical connection?
Deeter was my Great Love in the feline world, high praise indeed as I’ve had a lot of great cats. Deeter was different, though. We could communicate. He shared my loathing of all things rodents and like the ruthless assassin he was, he racked up an impressive number of kills. His homicidal instincts were not restricted to rats. A friend of Sam’s brought a kitten into our house when she came to visit. Deeter went ballistic, stalking and terrifying the little intruder so much it chose death-defying leaps from one outside balcony to another rather than face Deeter’s wrath. Eventually, Deeter’s patience was rewarded and he trapped the little girl downstairs when no one was watching. He slashed her stomach so badly she required surgery (which I felt required to pay for. Not such a cool move, Deeter.) Don’t worry, the kitten survived and – equally important – Deeter made his point. No new cats would be moving in, not even on a temporary visa, not under his iron rule.
Deeter was a character, a personality with a strong life-force (read death force for rodents, birds and lizards.) According to my next-door neighbor – not one of Deeter’s fans for reasons which will soon become apparent – Deeter heroically held a rattlesnake at bay while my neighbor sought help.
For a merciless killing machine, Deeter had a surprisingly babyish side. He loved to toss rubber bands in the air and then pounce on them. He loved to lie beside me and knead my flesh. He loved to jam his head deep into J’s smelly tennis shoes and inhale deeply. He loved howling cat fights with our next-door neighbor’s Russian cat Micki, a psycho KBG agent (I can’t prove it, but strongly suspect.)
For weeks after Deeter died, Micki wandered by our windows like she did every day to tempt Deeter into a frenzy. Now, though, she was searching for Deeter – and she looked sad. Well, as sad as a psycho cat can look. Beneath their violent vicious hatred, I believe they were deeply in love. I guess we’ll never know.
I have another terrific tuxedo cat now – Gatsby (below). I’ll always have a tuxedo cat in my life, in memory of Deeter but there can never be another feline Great Love for me. I’ll miss Deeter till the day I die.
If you had a Great Love – Dog or Cat – please post a picture and their name. Surely I’m not the only one.