Thursday, August 6, 2015


It was 1982 when I learned the information on my birth certificate was incorrect and the wonderful, romantic story my mother and grandmother told me as I grew up was complete fiction. By this time, of course, I was old enough to understand the why behind the lies…you didn’t go home to the hills of Tennessee in 1945 with a bun in the oven and no ring on your finger. Some of the story was true, i.e., my mother had gone to work in Baltimore on the war effort and grandma did go there to bring her home. Everything else was erroneous. 

Once my request for birth and death certificates for the man named on my birth certificate was fulfilled, I went to my mother and told her I knew the man she’d claimed was my father did not exist. I begged her to tell me the truth even if it meant she’d been raped or I was the result of a one night stand. She confessed the man she was involved with was married and provided me with another name. And, silly me, I didn’t ask any additional questions.  Questions like, “How did you meet?”, “How long were you together?”, “Did he know you were pregnant?”, “Do I remind you of him?”, etc.

At this time I was 37 and research into one’s ancestry was difficult, but once again, I searched for a man with the new name mom provided.  I did turn up men with the same name; but after questioning each one, it was clear none of them could have possibly been my biological father. So, I gave up, wondering if my mother had once again given me incorrect information. I was positive I would end my life without an answer to my biggest question, “Who was my biological father?”

A couple of years ago I read an article about 23 & Me and I requested a DNA kit from 23 & Me and returned my vial of saliva, sure this would provide me with the answer to my question. Then, when the results came back, and I began investigating through that organization, I discovered the only way to find my biological father was to have him or a male relative submit DNA. Another dead end, or so I thought.

Enter two cousins I didn’t know I had. Gretta lives in Colorado and Sharon lives in Oregon. Sharon has been working on genealogy since 1995 and has traced family back to the signing of the Magna Carta. Her research also indicated the three of us were closely related, but who knew how. Gretta had just begun her research and in corresponding with me, she mentioned there were Churchwells in her and Sharon’s background. We all met up earlier this year in Oregon, exchanged stories and information; and Sharon (bless her heart), provided each of us with a huge file of information.  That information included genealogical research on the Churchwell family. One of those individuals was named Richard, but apparently he went by his middle name which was Earl…the name my mother had given me.

According to the information Gretta and Sharon provided, Earl was in Baltimore when my mother was there and he was married at the time. If, indeed, he was my biological father, I also had four half-siblings, two of whom were still alive. Unfortunately, Earl himself had died in 1973 and my mom in 1998, so I couldn’t go to her with the questions I now wished I had asked.

It was with great trepidation as well as excitement I wrote a letter to the youngest son when I returned home from Oregon. I explained how and why I thought we might be related, added information about myself so he wouldn’t think I was a nutcase, and asked if he’d submit DNA for testing so I could know once and for all if his father was my father too.

My letter was mailed on a Wednesday and received on Saturday. My potential half-brother had to “ponder” on it. He did so as well as sharing the letter and discussing it with certain family and friends. Everyone encouraged him to reach out to me. The following Wednesday morning, he did so, and we ended up talking twice that day. Even better, he agreed to submit DNA. He even texted me a picture of Earl and his sister Beverly. As soon as I enlarged the photo of Earl and his daughter and saw the space between his front teeth, I pretty much knew I was looking at the man whose genes I carry. It turns out all the kids ended up with this space and there’s even a scientific name for it…diastema. 
I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, so I pushed this potential connection to the back of my mind and waited for the DNA results. When they came back, they indicated that, without a doubt, this man was indeed my half-brother. Richard Earl Churchwell was my biological father. Finally I had an answer, but it also opened the possibility of an entirely new experience. I never gave a lot of thought to what might happen when I did find my biological father and his family. It never even occurred to me to wonder if he/they would like or dislike me. I hadn’t looked beyond the answer to see what it might mean. 
My brother’s name is Rick and he lives in Tennessee as does my older half-brother . Rick and I have talked several times now and he has shared information about me with his family and information about them with me. Our father had eight brothers and sisters and only one of them has passed on. One lives in Houston, another in Boston and another in Redding California. The remaining four live either in Tennessee or fairly close by. This also means I have nieces, nephews, first cousins, second cousins and who knows how many other relatives.
Rick says they are all extremely excited to meet me and want to know when I’m coming to visit. I know it is a visit I can’t put off for too terribly long because the youngest of my uncles and aunts is 75, not to mention I’ll be 70 later this year. We’d all best get acquainted while we’re still able.  
Now that I know all this, I find it kind of amazing my parents found each other in Baltimore. My mother’s family was from the northeast corner of Tennessee and my father’s family from the southwest corner. Perhaps living and working at the aircraft factory, they recognized each other’s accents and missing home and family became close. Perhaps that tie is what brought them together and made my life possible. Rick asked me if I thought our father knew about me because the father he knew wouldn't have ignored his child. I’ve reassured him that I believe my mother never told Earl about me, that when she realized she was pregnant, she reached out to her mom. Then, between the two of them, they concocted that romantic tale which put a ring on her finger and made me legitimate on my birth certificate.
It seems like having this question answered after all this time, I would be satisfied…and I am…but it would be so very wonderful if both my mom and father were alive. Of course, it’s much too late for that, but I like to think he would have been proud of how mom and the man whom I called daddy raised me. In talking to Rick, it sounds as though that would have been the case or else surely there wouldn’t be such a warm welcome waiting for me from a large family I’ve yet to get to know.
And, the surprises keep coming. My father’s brother, the one he was closest to (Uncle John), sent me an email just this week which provided more information about how he joined the USAAF, received training in Florida where he contracted rheumatic fever which made it impossible for him to serve in the armed forces. He ended up in Baltimore where he worked at the Glen L. Martin Aircraft Company which is also where my mom worked. Uncle John has offered to answer any questions I may have if he knows the answer.
As I write this, my feelings are all over the place…excitement, trepidation, happiness, relief, wonder, sorrow, anticipation, gratitude, because in less than two months I’ll travel back to southwest Tennessee. Once there, I'll meet as many members of my new family as possible during my visit and I am so looking forward to enriching my life with their warmth, stories, and memories. The list above didn't include love, but I can feel it waiting...waiting for the opportunity to burst forth as we all get to know each other. Seriously, what were the chances???

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


I was raised Southern Baptist and learned the Golden Rule very early. I also was taught that if I was good and obeyed God’s law, I would be rewarded and that those that did not obey would not. As a child, this seemed like a very simple way to address and live life. Early on, I naively thought that other people wouldn’t choose to not be good.

As I grew up, I began to question these beliefs as I watched other individuals, both young and old, who didn’t follow the rules and yet were handsomely rewarded no matter what. I also found that people could and would choose what seemed like the wrong choice because it was based on lies and exaggeration. I also found people who told the truth, but twisted it in such a way that it met their goals…goals that weren’t necessarily based on truth or fact. 

I learned fairly young that, “Life isn’t fair.” Still, all these years later, I become incensed and highly annoyed when something happens that is based on the lies, exaggerations and annoying habits of a few people who pretend to speak for the majority. Eventually, those that should and/or do know better are swayed by all the arguments, posturing, communications, etc., and a decision is made based on that.

Such is the case with the elephants at Woodland Park Zoo. For almost a decade a small group of people have consistently lied and exaggerated on a regular basis with regard to the comfort and care of these animals. Having retired from the zoo, I heard everything they had to say because they attended each and every board of directors meeting to participate in public comment…and their comments were always negative and about how the elephants would be better off at the Tennessee Sanctuary.

Over the course of this decade, this group of people sent Freedom of Information Act requests for any and all information about the zoo’s elephants. Every quarter, a new request would be submitted for the previous quarter. In addition, more than one lawsuit was instigated which necessitated the zoo’s participation.  All of this was expensive and utilized money that could have been devoted to conservation or education. 

Even now, with the decision made to close the zoo’s elephant exhibit and send the two remaining elephants to Oklahoma, this group has filed a lawsuit in an effort to send the elephants to a sanctuary rather than another zoo. Once again, in my opinion, this group is ignoring facts which would have a definite impact on these animals if they were sent to a sanctuary in either California or Tennessee.

·       The California sanctuary elephants have tuberculosis (TB), so the zoo’s healthy animals could not be housed with them. This sanctuary doesn’t have a separate building in which WPZ’s elephants could be housed so they would need to stay in Seattle until funds to build new housing could be raised and the building completed.
·       The Tennessee sanctuary has multiple problems, i.e.,
o   There is absolutely no oversight for this facility.
o   This facility also has TB among its elephants; and if the zoo’s elephants went there, they would have to be housed separately. How would this satisfy the need for additional companionship as postulated by the activists.
o   At this facility, the elephants live “naturally” as they would in the “wild.” That’s all well and good, but does that mean an elephant that goes down and cannot get up should be allowed to lay there in the hot sun without water for the three days it took the animal to die? This actually happened several years ago. Wouldn’t it have been more humane to euthanize this poor animal? The sanctuary’s take on this was, that’s the way it is in the wild and the other elephants had a chance to go by and make their farewells.
o   The weather in Tennessee is better than Seattle…that’s not true. Tennessee has colder temperatures and more snow and ice than in the Northwest.

Back in the early 1980s, there was a “Save the Elephants” campaign which resulted in the passage of the Zoo Bond Issue and a ten-year redevelopment of Woodland Park Zoo. At that time, everyone was for this campaign, i.e., the Mayor, Seattle City Council, King County Executive, King County Council, the media and the majority of the population since the bond passed. The first exhibit to open was the Asian Elephant Exhibit in 1989.  

I note this here because it’s 25 years since that exhibit opened to the public, a public that has enjoyed, loved and come to understand how important conservation of these wonderful creatures is for future generations. In a mere 25 years, all the support responsible for that new exhibit and the elephants has been buried by this small group of people. 

If these people could sway opinion to the point where the decision has been made to close the elephant exhibit, imagine what they could do if they took up a real cause worthy of their time, energy and undying support. Heck, anything listed below is extremely worthy, probably wouldn’t require an incorrect interpretation of the facts and would benefit many.

·       How about children who go to bed every night hungry, or
·       children who don’t even have a home in which to live, or
·       doing something to improve the city’s or state’s education program so more kids graduate from high school and go to college, or
·       attend every single meeting of the legislature in Olympia to make sure all those elected know they’d better start doing a better job, or
·       getting involved in community programs either here or elsewhere in the world that would benefit a majority rather than a minority. 

Anyway, I am once again saddened and baffled at how people with a mission, supported by untruths and misrepresented facts, have managed to insure the zoo’s elephant exhibit will close. Another example of how life isn’t fair. 

[Please note that everything written here is based on my own knowledge and represents my own opinions. This blog posting has been done without the support or participation of Woodland Park Zoo.]

Monday, February 16, 2015


For some reason, cats didn’t necessarily resonate with the Karlberg family as well or as much as our dogs have. That’s not to say we don’t remember them, that they didn’t have their own Christmas stocking for Santa to fill (okay, I did finally take to just changing the name), or get treats and special care just like our dogs. But, they didn’t follow us around, act cute or capture the attention of other family and friends.  

John had Tiger when we first met. Tiger went with us to our first apartment and then to our home. He was a clever cat and always wondered why John’s mother yelled at him when she got home. Of course he hadn’t been sleeping on the antique rocking chair. It must have been a breeze that made it rock, not Tiger jumping off. Tiger always slept with us because he had always slept with John…who was I to kick him off the bed. 

Dingy was a spur-of-the-moment purchase. We were walking by a pet store on Aurora and this gray striped kitten was making all the other kittens miserable by flying around the cage and pouncing and jumping. We paid an entire $1.98 plus tax for the kitten that became Dingy…because he was Dingy. He settled down after a while and was probably the only cat we’ve had that really liked to sit on our laps. 

Choo Choo was a rescue cat. He was black and white and his fur was long. We had wonderful times holding him down and cutting off the big matted fur blobs every spring. Brushing didn’t help with that at all. My favorite story about Choo Choo was his first and only bird catch. John watched through the window. The cat was old and slow and big. There was a flock of little birds pecking in the flowerbed. Choo Choo got down in the grass (as though they couldn’t see him) and carefully and slowly stalked those birds. Finally, he was close enough and made this huge jump high into the air. All the little birds flew away while Choo Choo was in the air except for one which flew straight up into his paws. John said Choo Choo seemed amazed to have actually caught a bird. He did it justice, leaving only the feet and the beak. 

Fred or Fuad as John referred to him was brought over from the farm in Idaho. I don’t remember him as a particularly friendly cat. John remembers driving over Fuad in the driveway. The cat was sleeping under his front tire and John didn’t see him. Apparently all it did was smoosh him a bit because he was fine and lived another few years. 

Alley was a gold kitten and resembled Tiger a lot. Some friends gave him to us and he was fine until I took him in to be neutered. This apparently pissed him off no end because the nice kitty I took in came home as the cat from hell.  No way would he let you pet him and if you even tried, you needed bandages. Alley just sort of hung around and let us feed him, came inside when he wanted and stayed away when he wanted. Alley was my least favorite cat. 

Someone I worked with brought a few kittens in to work. I liked the little white one and said I’d take her home for Thor. Somehow, between the time she made the office visit and came back to go home with me, her personality changed and she wasn’t as friendly. Thor loved her and named her Kit-Kat. One day she didn’t come home and Thor, unfortunately, found what happened to her. When he took his usual route through the greenbelt behind the fence, he found her…most likely a coyote victim. 

So there we were 17.5 years ago, a home without a cat. John’s birthday arrived and so did his present from AJ and Angie…a feral kitten which he named Sven. This cat took forever to settle in, but never became the lap sitter, human lover we wanted him to be. In fact, all I had to do was enter the room and he ran off as though I’ve got a big broom with which to chase him. Sven also didn’t like strangers either and when company arrived, he disappeared under one of the beds and stayed there until the house was silent again.  

It’s only been in the last six months or so that Sven has turned into a pretty nice cat. That may be because he finally gave up looking for Mia. You see, he got all his pets and rubs from her. Back and forth under her chin. Holding still and purring as Mia nibbled the top of his head. Anyway, Sven began climbing up and sitting on John’s lap in the evening, but continued to ignore me and dashing from the room if I entered.  

That all changed shortly after Christmas when I offered him some catnip in his bed. Now Sven is a catnip addict and I am his connection. I get up in the morning and he greets me with big meows and some of them even sound as though he’s saying, “now.” He wants his fix and won’t leave me alone until I open the bottle and sprinkle a pinch in his bed. 

It’s the same thing in the afternoon, but I refuse to give it to him then. I make him wait until after dinner. And, Sven’s also taken Mia’s place at table. Whatever we’re having for dinner, Sven wants some. If it’s meat or fish, he’s a happy guy, even if he just finished his cat food. If it’s something like pizza or casserole, imagine his disgust as he turns up his nose and struts away. 

Sven’s become quite thin except for his tummy. John speculates this may be his last winter, but who knows. Catnip seems to have rejuvenated him, so perhaps I’ll give in and let him have it three times a day. 

That brings us to Zooee, a small black kitten that was destined to become a black spot on Phinney Avenue North. She was rescued by a zoo co-worker who wanted to find her a home. I took her and held her and she immediately began to purr…so, I brought her home to be my kitty and named her Zooee because of where she was found. 

I wanted her to be an indoor cat, but while I was at work, John began to let her outside. He also began to feed her dinner before I could get home…well, she was so hungry (like she was going to die of hunger in 30 more minutes). So, you guessed it, Zooee is John’s cat. 

Zooee was around for Mia’s last few years and John thinks she believes she is a dog. Every morning when John goes to feed the chickens, Zooee goes out with him and then comes back in just as Mia did. If John goes down the driveway to get the mail or paper, Zooee accompanies him just like Mia used to do. Zooee also sleeps on John’s bed and keeps the back of his knees warm. She only comes to my bed to jump on it and wake me up to let her out if she can’t get John to respond.  

I can pet her as much as I want provided she is on the bed or the couch and it has to be on her terms. She won’t sit on my lap or close to me, but she purrs very loudly as I rub her back and tummy. I can also pick her up provided I have my hand in such a way that her front legs are beneath my hand and my arm is pressing her  body to my side. Even then and even though she’s purring away, she manages to growl and let me know when enough is enough. 

Eventually Sven and then much much later Zooee will join our other family members under the apple tree. And while we may not get any additional pets to join everyone there, John has expressed his wish to have his ashes sprinkled under the apple tree when his time comes. I think that sounds like a fine idea and wouldn’t mind being there as well. If we aren’t still living here then, perhaps one of the boys could sneak over the fence late one night and spread us around. The idea of joining the dogs and cats of our lives for one never-ending hugs playdate sounds perfect.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Midnite was to have been our last dog but it wasn’t a week later when John came home and said he couldn’t stand it. We had to get another dog. He had to have someone to greet him at the door when he got home. Our marriage contract didn’t call for me to greet him on all fours wagging my behind so, I got busy right away looking for the perfect dog on the internet. It had to be black lab or black lab and something else.
A litter of huge proportions was available for view and choosing in Bellingham. We made the trip and the first dog that came over and sat on John’s shoe was the one he chose. Again, bureaucracy didn’t allow us to take her home that day and someone actually made a trip to view our house and yard, plus she had to be spayed and chipped.
A couple weeks later, we retraced our steps to Bellingham and picked up the little black dog…supposedly half Rottweiler and half black lab. The way she looked when she grew up supported this theory. All the way home, she sat on my lap beneath a towel because the sun was hot and beating directly down into the car.
John named her Mia after the soccer player and I added the P.I.A., mainly because she refused to learn to stay out of my garden beds for the longest time. At the place Mia and her family were fostered, the entire back of the yard was bushes, so she thought she had to have brush tickle her bottom in order to go. It took some time to convince her she didn’t need to get into my flowerbeds in order to go potty. Of course, whenever she thought she could get away with it, she still liked those bushes on her bottom.
Mia turned out to be the smartest dog we ever had. When new people moved in behind us, they had a dog named Lucy. They would call to ask if Mia could have a play date. After a few times, when the phone rang at a particular time in the afternoon, Mia would race to the kitchen and sit looking expectantly at the phone. When the answering machine picked up, if it was Lucy’s owner on the phone, Mia was out the door and at the back gate before the message was finished. If it was a hang-up or someone else, you could see her dejection as her ears flopped, her head drooped and she more or less slunk back to wherever she’d been before the phone rang.
John couldn’t resist buying Mia toys whether it was at a garage sale or the pet store. Over the years, she ended up with a HUGE basket of toys. But, she knew the names of her toys. To quote from an email AJ sent the day after Mia’s demise, “Another one [what he would miss] was asking her to retrieve one of her toys. Be it Buffy the Bison or Cow’ee the Cow or whatever you or Dad named them. The names always seemed too end with a Y or an E. Off she would go & findy whatever’ee you said’ee & bring it to you.  Mia was pretty smart.”
When people came to the door, Mia sounded like the most vicious dog in the world. If it was a stranger, I’d stand with my legs together and the door open only a bit while she barked and growled. Little did those strangers know that if I opened the door all the way, she’d have been wagging her tail and licking their hands by the time she made it on to the porch. The UPS driver took to having a cookie for her if she was out front and if not, the cookie was left on the package. The mailman also took to having a cookie for her. It made him laugh to give her the mail and have her run up the driveway with it (she got another cookie once it was in the house). There wasn’t anyone who went through the neighborhood that Mia didn’t make into a friend.
Mia was really John’s dog even though I had high hopes on the ride home that she’d like me best. She went everywhere with him and eventually I refused to ride in his car because the blue seats were actually black and the windshield and door window were covered with Mia nose prints. What a forlorn doggie she was when John left and didn’t take her along. I took her on walks, though and she really liked those as well although I swear she couldn’t possibly have needed to poop for days after a walk.
When it came to Christmas or birthdays (John chose July 4th for Mia’s), she was another dog that loved to open those packages. Family and friends began to bring her wrapped gifts because they enjoyed her enthusiasm so much. To quote AJ again, “Having her open a gift was fun to watch.  She was delicate at first with the initial tear but half way through she was ripping & tearing that dang box open.  Be it her gift or one of ours.”
She also thought that breakfast, dinner or snack time was also her time to eat, and it didn’t mean eating dog food in a bowl.  No matter what John ate, Mia always got at least one bite…he even took to bringing Mia her own McDonald’s cheeseburgers and ice cream. Of course, she might have lived longer on a decent diet, but John’s still going strong, so who knows.
It took a couple of years for Mia’s health to decline. The vet worked with us and we ordered special medications to help with her arthritis and bladder problem. When she became incontinent, we found there are doggie diapers you can buy. So, we began to diaper her, mostly at night (if we paid attention during the day, she always let us know when she needed out), and she didn’t seem to mind. It was difficult to keep the diaper on her because she was a large dog, so I manufactured a link from the diaper to her collar that helped her keep it up. And, instead of buying spendy doggie liners, we found women’s menstrual pads worked just as well, if not better.
Neither John nor I wanted to face the fact Mia’s time was growing short, but eventually the vet said he and the surgeon he’d had look at the x-ray believed one of her vertebrae was compromised with cancer. We made the sad choice a couple of weeks later when getting up became painful for Mia to put her under the apple tree.
Our vet said he would come to our house to put her down after his Saturday clinic. All morning, Mia laid on a thick towel , drank as much water as she wanted and ate all the treats offered her by her big brothers AJ and Thor (who came to dig her resting place); and of course by John and I.  Mia was loved and petted and hugged all morning by one of her family. When the vet arrived Mia greeted him like an old friend; and surrounded by love, familiar hands on her body, a full tummy and bladder, Mia left us.
AJ’s email still makes me tear up 15 months later:  Mia was in good spirits on Saturday I believe. She made it out to the dining room & just hung out. You could tell by her bright eyes, tail wagging, head bobbing & a lick of your hand or face that she was interested in what we were all doing. She still wanted to please everyone as was her job, which she took very seriously. I was grateful to see that as was everyone else I hope.
“ As with all Karlberg pets Mia had her own character & quirks that provided all of us with joy, happiness & laughter.  Her rightful place under the apple tree with the others is a great ending for a great doggy doodle as Dad would say.”

Monday, February 2, 2015


Midnite was half black lab and half collie according to the people at PAWS. She was Thor’s reward for having a good school year; and, besides, every kid needs to have a dog of their own at some point. The fact John and I missed having a dog had nothing to do with the decision.
Thor and I went to PAWS and he stood around and then began to play with some of the puppies up for adoption. After he settled on one, we had our first experience with the bureaucracy that accompanies getting a dog or cat. We could not take the dog home right then. She had to be spayd first and we had to be checked out.
How long would she be alone each day? Who would be her main caregiver? Would we be crate training (recommended) her? We filled out all the forms, answered all the questions and left empty handed but with the knowledge we’d return in a day or so and bring her home.
When we returned, she was ready to go. Thor decided he’d ride in the backseat with his dog and think about names. On the way, due to excitement, fear or whatever, the puppy took a dump. I was not especially enamored at this point, but she was Thor’s and by the time we got home, he had decided on a name, Midnite…so original.
That car poop wouldn’t be the last and was just a preview of what was to come. Whenever Midnite was nervous (or wanted to get even maybe), she pooped. One of her favorite things was to stand right behind you and poop so if you weren’t careful, and stepped back, you had to clean your shoe(s). John took her to PetCo to have her photo taken…she dropped turds all the way down the aisle to the photographer.
Midnite was an affectionate, smart and wonderful dog. She was the perfect companion for Thor and followed him around the neighborhood and beyond. Even though she never went to class, Midnite was great on a leash and accompanied me from home to the grocery store where she patiently waited for me to get my shopping done. John would then come and pick us and the groceries up (she never pooped in the car on these trips).
Something else Midnite was known for was opening presents. She thought every single birthday or Christmas present was wrapped just for her. One year, we even had a doggie birthday party for her and invited two of the neighbor’s dogs. They were placed on chairs at the table. A dog food cake, iced with dry cat food was placed on the table with a candle. The birthday song was sung, the candle blown out and the cake served on plates. Of the three dogs at table, Midnite was the only one who ate her cake at the table…the other dogs had to have their plates placed on the floor. Then, her favorite part…opening her presents.
In 1998 or 1999, Midnite became the family heroine, and for her bravery in saving Thor’s life, she was allowed to sneak onto the furniture to sleep without a cross word and provided with many treats.  John had left the day before for Florida, so it was just me, Thor, Midnite and the cats at home. In the middle of the night, something woke me up, but I couldn’t figure out what. I decided to get up and go to the bathroom. I opened the bedroom door to the hall, smelled smoke, and reached for the light switch just as Thor threw open his door and he and Midnite rushed into the hall.
          “Do you smell smoke?” I asked.
          “Yes, my bedroom’s on fire.” He responded
What he actually meant was that his bedroom had been on fire. What woke me up was Midnite jumping on Thor’s bedroom door and when no one came to open it, she threw her 90 pound self on top of sleeping Thor and woke him up.
What he saw when he opened his eyes was his desk on fire. Though he had never done this before, that night he took a candle to his room, placed it on top of his desk sans candleholder, lit it and began to play video games, positive he’d not fall asleep. Boy was he wrong.
We have no idea how long the fire smoldered…it melted several CD holders, the desktop, his phone and had finally broken into flames when Midnite woke him. Meanwhile, the smoke from the smoldering was black and thick and when it hit the ceiling, it rained back down so everything, including Thor and Midnite, was covered with soot. Thor used his pillows to douse the flames, pulled down the blinds and threw open his window. The next day, you could see where smoke leaving his room made marks on the white paint of the house.
When Thor moved out on his own, he couldn’t take Midnite. This was fine with John and I because that meant we still had someone who was delighted to see us every time we came home. Someone who went from sleeping in Thor’s room to sleeping in our room. Someone who gave love and kisses and attention. Someone who depended on us to be there for her.
When the time came for Midnite to make her last trip to the vet, Thor came home and dug a hole under the apple tree even though he said he was going to leave her at the vet’s to be cremated. Dinner was almost ready when he and his dad came back from the vet with Midnite…Thor had changed his mind about cremation.
So, she joined her predecessors under the apple tree. Unfortunately, we never were able to harvest Midnite apples from the tree. Apple maggots had invaded so any apples that grew to maturity were bad, plus the tree’s ability to grow fruit had diminished to almost nothing. Still, she rests there in peace.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


How can you possibly hold out when your son and the neighbors and your friends are all telling you that your dog, Fang, is getting old, that this is probably the only chance to ever have one of his children, that you simply cannot pass up the opportunity to add this small black dog to your family. So, we did.
She was AJ’s dog and he got to name her. He (maybe we) wanted something that would tie into Fang and came up with Tusk. She was a cute and very friendly little puppy, and she never met anyone she didn’t like or want to give kisses. It was our hope she would take after her father rather than her mother, the ugliest dog in the world (okay, neighborhood). And, by ugliest dog, I mean the mother was mottled black and white and always looked greasy and as though she had mange.
Tusk grew to adulthood and, unfortunately, took after her mother. Not only was she greasy, lacking fur in various places at various times, but she smelled bad. We took her to the vet numerous times, tried all kinds of flea treatments and spent who knows how much money in trying to relieve Tusk of whatever problem she had but to no avail.
Since Tusk was AJ’s dog, I asked him for memories he’d like to share and the following has been adapted from his email:
I remember first seeing and holding her where she was born. Her owner and I noted all the markings on her coat were just like Fang’s so he had to be her dad. I still remember the dinner where Ma and Pa informed me that, yes, it would be okay for me to go get her after dinner as long as I fulfilled my duties in caring for a puppy. I couldn’t eat fast enough so I could bring her home and the best part was that she was a kisser.
Tusk went everywhere with me even before I drove. If I rode my bike to 7-11 or the playground to shoot hoops, I would stick the basketball between the bike frame, pick her up and off we’d go. Of course riding a bike with one hand and holding a dog in the other while barreling down 35th or 37th seems batshit crazy now, but like all dogs, Tusk loved the wind in her face. On the way home, we’d walk and she would scout ahead doing what dogs do.
When we’d go camping, huckleberry or blackberry picking, Tusk always went along. Usually, she would rush off to scout the area for 20 or 30 minutes and then return to find me wherever I was. Most of the time, I had to pick seeds and brush she always accumulated on these excursions out of her coat.
My favorite memory of Tusk relates to her spot on my bed. It was hers and it was right next to me. Whenever a girlfriend came over and wanted to sit down, lay down or hang out in my room, Tusk would give a low growl…her way of letting the girl know she didn’t consider her good enough for me. The only girl she never gave the growl to was Angie and looking back now as I write this, it was Tusk’s way of showing she approved of Angie.
When I began to drive, I wasn’t home a lot, but whenever I could, I would take her with me. One of my favorite times was on my paper route. She loved going with me and would hang out the window or, if we were delivering to a cul-d-sac, I’d let her out at the entrance and then wait for her to catch up when I returned.
And when it snowed, I think she enjoyed it more than I did. Sledding down the big hill sometimes she’d hop aboard and flirt with danger as we bombed down the slope or she’d chase and slide all on her own.
As Mom wrote earlier, Tusk always had a hygiene problem. The various vet remedies and bathing and combing her once a week helped, but she was still greasy and smelly. Once I went to work, I heard about a vet up north who specialized and so I took Tusk to him. It was one of two things; one was really serious and one not so much. It turned out she had a bad thyroid for which she could take medication.
Once Tusk had been on the medication for a while, her fur grew in all over and it was silky and soft and curly…she became a beautiful girl and smelled good. She also began to act more like a puppy than the older dog she was. Tusk was with me from age nine through age 24; and, smelly and mangy looking or soft and beautiful I loved my girl.
When AJ moved out, Tusk went with him and we, our neighbors and friends missed this friendly little bundle of fur that was always happy to see you no matter what. No wonder then that when the time came for Tusk to join Fang under the apple tree, that she had quite a sendoff.
AJ came and dug a hole under the apple tree. The day of the sad event was a snow day and when word got out that Tusk was taking her final trip to the vet, all the neighborhood kids came to the door wanting to say farewell and get a final kiss. Even some of their parents came knocking and stayed for a while to pet her and tell their favorite Tusk stories. Uncle Al (She was always his favorite and he'd send her post cards from around the world.) drove through the snow all the way from Green Lake to hold her and get some final pets and kisses.
To this day, I don’t know how or who came up with “Tusk the Terrible.” She was never terrible at all, especially once her hygiene problem was solved. The following fall, we had Tusk apples and with each bite of pie that winter, we remembered both Tusk and her dad, Fang. Actually, since we're still here as is the apple tree, we've never forgotten either Tusk the Terrible or Fang the Wonder Dog.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


We hadn’t been married for six months when we answered an ad in the newspaper for a free dog…supposedly a cocker spaniel. Back in those days, you didn’t have to fill out any paperwork, or have your home inspected before you could bring your new puppy home. We brought him home the same day and he was so little he could fit in one of my hands, and my hands are not huge.
He was all black and we decided to call him Fang, Fang the Wonder Dog. He had a terrible first night away from his family, so I brought him into bed with us. Of course, he peed at some point and I had to change the entire bed. Bad dog!!!
Back then, you also weren’t asked how long your puppy would be home alone during the day, so when we returned to work after the weekend, Fang was left alone in the laundry room, the floor covered with papers. It was spring, so it wasn’t long before we allowed him to stay outside on a leash during the day. Two things I remember from this time in Fang’s life. First, I used to hang all my sheets out on the clothesline. Without measuring Fang’s leash, I hung them out and came home to find Fang had amused himself for the entire day by removing and dragging my clean sheets all over the yard. The second thing I remember was that the laundry room imprinted as his bathroom. If the door was open and Fang had to go, he would run back inside the laundry room to do his business.
Fang was our first child. He went everywhere with us. If we visited friends, went for a drive, camping, whatever the excursion, Fang rode along. He was welcomed in all our friend’s homes, even when the first time he saw a Christmas tree he walked over and lifted his leg. Fortunately, he’d just gone outside so there wasn’t much. He didn’t do that again.
When AJ came along, Fang appointed himself AJ’s keeper. Years later neighbors told me they always knew to slow way down because if they saw Fang that meant AJ wasn’t far away. Fang quit sleeping in our room and took up sleeping with AJ once he graduated from a crib to a real.
The vet told us at one point that only one of Fang’s testicles had descended, but that didn’t dampen his desire for a female in heat. His first conquest was an escaped purebred dog from  up the street. When her owner came looking for her, John had to tell the owner he’d bring her home as soon as the dogs were finished. Apparently Fang got stuck and couldn’t disengage. When returned, his first love was immediately taken to the vet and spade. Alas, no cute black and white puppies.
Much later on, when Fang was really old enough to know better, the ugliest dog in the world went into heat. It was freezing cold and about 2:00 am and Fang hadn’t come back home after being let out. John was sure he was at the neighbors hoping to get lucky and refused to walk down the icy street to get him. So, I did and there was Fang, shivering like he’d never get warm, sitting on their back porch waiting and hoping that he’d get an opportunity. I had to pick him up to lug him home because he wasn’t leaving on his own.
Apparently Fang did get lucky at least once because the last puppy born was black. Immediately AJ and the owners began a campaign to get us to adopt Fang’s progeny, but that’s the next story.
Like us all, Fang grew older and older. First he became deaf and then blind. On our last trip to our friend’s farm he went along as always. Fang was the only dog ever allowed in their house because the resident dogs were farm dogs. He took the privilege seriously and never had a single accident.
Anyway, as always, there was a big get together of our friend’s huge family. At one point all the kids went down the road to the horse pasture. Later on when it was time for us to leave, we couldn’t find Fang anywhere. You would have thought we had misplaced our two-year-old. Absolutely everyone turned out looking for Fang. He was eventually found down the road in the middle of the horse pasture having followed the kids when they went. He was just standing there waiting and knowing that someone would come and rescue him.
Fang lived with us for 17.5 years and in the end, he was blind, deaf and we had to pick him up and carry him outside so he could do his business. The day before the last trip to the vet John dug a hole under the apple tree. He went to work sad and depressed and AJ went to school sad and depressed.  It was up to me to take him to the vet…how hard could that be? I mean, really, Fang was just a dog. It was then I understood that pets are really family members.
I called my neighbor to ask if she’d watch Thor while I did this errand. As soon as she answered the phone and before I could even speak, I began to cry. I had to repeat myself because she couldn’t understand me. I cried all the way to the vet. When the vet came to get Fang, I wouldn’t let him go, but had to accompany him.  I watched while the vet shaved his paw and stuck the needle in, all the while rubbing, reassuring and talking to Fang. I managed to ask how long after the needle came out and the vet told me it was done. I cried harder.
The vet helped me put Fang into a special bag John had readied and I took him back home, but I couldn’t stand the thought of him laying in the garage getting cold and stiff until everyone came back home again. Instead, and perhaps this was selfish of me, I put him in the hole with the Christmas stocking I’d made for him his first year with us wrapped around his head and covered him up.
We went out for pizza that night and it was a pretty somber dinner except for Thor. Once he understood why we were all sad, he wanted to go home and dig Fang up. The following fall, we harvested Fang apples from our tree and remembered him fondly with stories like the above. Then, too, we had his daughter with us, so he continued to live on and not just in apple pies.