What I Think about Dogs–Now

What I Think about Dogs–Now.

Only once has our family had a dog. For years I had to stay away from them because of allergies. Not that dogs were special: I was also allergic to cats, grass, dust, nuts, horses, buckwheat, work. Most of these I could do without, if necessary, but dogs?

One time when the children were young, their parents decided that it was unfair to let my allergic reactions deprive them of a pet. So we brought a little puppy home (Friday, by name), to the delight of us all. That jubilation was followed within days by a deep sadness. The dog had to go. Two of us (one father, one daughter) were reacting. Negatively and vociferously.

Since then ours has been a dogfree household, even after it became childfree.

But time changes things. It even changes allergies. At least, in my case, to dogs (but not to cats, let the record show!). And not all dogs, mind you,

but I seem to have developed a tolerance for some very special ones, like Ellie and Timber and Dexter and Agape and a growing list of others.

Ellie in repose Don’t let her fool you!
Ellie in repose:  Don’t let her fool you!

 

I talk a lot about Ellie,

 

 

 

 

an exceptionally bright, vivacious Schnoodle (half Schnauzer, half Poodle).

She’s my favorite example of my late-developing fondness for these creatures. Ellie lives with Jeff and Joan Terrill, Velcro family for years now. Like them, she’s no longer young, although she’s retained some of the coquettishness of her youth, flirting shamelessly with the men of the household (Jeff, the Lord and Master, and Roy, the elderly occasional visitor). Ellie’s a house dog, with curly white non-allergenic hair, small enough to curl up on your lap (facing away, rear end in the near position, not the best view of her) or snuggled beside you on the couch, cocking her head to be certain you’re still paying attention. She has a way of making an old man feel very special.

Ellie asking for attention_edited-1

 

Not that she’s perfect. Perfection would be dull, anyway. We all need some idiosyncrasy to make us interesting.  Hers, and it can be a scary one, is her nosiness. This intelligent, curious near-person is downright snoopy. That’s what has precipitated this tale. Joy and I were staying a couple of days with Jeff and Joan in the early days of our Next Phase. We do this so often when we’re in Oregon that we have squatter’s rights to the upstairs bedroom.  The Terrills thoughtfully put up a little gate at the foot of the staircase to encourage Ellie to stay downstairs. They’ve had experience. In addition to that precaution, they always ask us keep our door closed, just in case.

Well—you know where this story is going—we were all out one afternoon. We had left Ellie to guard the place in our absence. She’s nothing if not thorough. While we were away she cased the joint, including in her rounds our bedroom, where she found the door ajar and our suitcases on the floor. Open. These careless people could use a good lesson, she must have thought.

Imagine our surprise when we returned. Among other discoveries Ellie had found Joy’s pills (she had them in little plastic sacks, a good way for medications to travel, but not, unfortunately, dog-proof). So there they were, brightly colored capsules scattered all over the floor. We could tell she had bit into at least one of them; we didn’t know how many more. We immediately called downstairs to Jeff and Joan and began picking up the pills. Ellie look on from a safe distance. I thought she looked guilty. Joan vacuumed the floor. We examined Ellie. No great damage done, we thought. Eyes were clear, nothing strange about her demeanor or mobility. Satisfied (well, almost satisfied), Joy and I left for a scheduled visit to Portland’s Pearl District to check up on some galleries. Jeff and Joan were also scheduled to attend granddaughter Madi’s high school baccalaureate program.

We had looked forward to the evening, because we were experimenting with the Orange Max line, metropolitan Portland’s lite rail from the suburb of Milwaukee to downtown. We didn’t plan to drive in our Next Phase. We would rely instead on public transportation, about which we know almost nothing. This was our maiden voyage. The trial run was a total success. We enjoyed the train ride and not having to find a place to park in the crowded city. We talked about Ellie from time to time, trying to persuade ourselves there was nothing to worry about. But you never know.

When we returned we discovered Jeff had not gone to baccalaureate. Instead he had taken Ellie to a veterinarian’s emergency room. He watched her closely after we left. When he detected a change in her eyes, he called his friend the vet, who ordered them to the hospital for observation. She’s a small dog, he said. It wouldn’t take much medicine to do her in.

Joy and I felt terrible, of course. It was our fault. We left the door open. But then Jeff and Joan eased our bad consciences when they told us this is the third such crisis they’ve had with Ellie. As I said, she’s nosy. Once she got into a batch of chocolates and had to be rushed to the emergency room to have her stomach pumped. Chocolates and dogs don’t mix, I’m told. The other time was when she helped herself to a batch of slug bait. Not a such a good choice, either.

The next morning the vet reported she had never been in any real danger. Talk about relief! She could come home. Crisis averted.

Ellie: guilty as charged
Ellie: guilty as charged

 

Ellie didn’t assume any responsibility for the crisis, by the way.

 

 

The Terrills did. (“We should have put up the stairway gate”) and the Lawsons did (“We knew better than to leave our door open”). But Ellie exhibited no serious remorse. Well, as the picture shows, maybe a little.

Here’s the point of this story. For many years I’ve thought some of our friends were over the top in their affection for their pets. Some even talk baby talk to them. Some sleep with them. Some have been seen kissing them (and who knows where that snout has been?) I didn’t understand how they could feel, as they apparently did, such—well, there’s no other word for it—such love for their dogs.

But when we thought Ellie was in serious trouble, we got it. She’s not even our dog. But she is our grand-dog.

And we love her.

 

On the (persistent) making of memories

On the (persistent) making of memories

Here’s a question for old people like us: Why are we still going to such trouble to store up more memories?  After all, they can’t last long, can they?

I’m not referring to the forgetfulness of the aged. This isn’t a veiled allusion to the onset of dementia. No, I’m just facing chronology. The truth is, both Joy and I reached our biblical threescore and ten years long ago. The road stretches out long when we look behind us; looking ahead, we’re about to run out of pavement.

What, then, are we up to with this incessant moving about, this rush to cram more and more adventures into a lifetime already overflowing with them?

It’s about memories, isn’t it?

I want to go the end of the Aleutian Islandsd during the winter!!!_edited-1

We are what we remember. When they leave us (and the statistics aren’t friendly: if our bodies are around in our 80s, there’s a 50-50 chance our minds won’t still be with us) we not only won’t remember much, we won’t even know who we are.

So does it pay us to be greedily soaking up new sights and sounds and smells at our age? Why don’t we relax, for heaven’s sake, and savor the memories we already have?Let's Stay Home_edited-1

It’s a fair question, because this incessant accumulating of memories is what travel is all about, isn’t it? When our children were still at home, we traipsed them off to exotic places all over the world: Israel, Mexico, Germany, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, the United States. Our motive? To enlarge their world, to strengthen the ties that bind us together, and, simply, to store up memories. We had an advantage over many other middle-class parents, most of whom couldn’t afford the fares. Our travels, though, were for the most part work-related. Among other things, I led tours so I could earn their tickets. Attending conventions, part of my job description as a pastor, was a good opportunity to pack up the kids to visit unfamiliar places. So we hit the road—or the seas or the air—and explored strange and wondrous places. We still return to those places in our reminiscences.

The children have been out of the nest for decades now. Yet their mother and I are still traveling, still absorbing, still marveling over what we have never experienced before—still adding to our memory bank.

But here’s the kicker. As I said above, the memory bank is really a ticking time bomb. The fuse is steadily getting shorter and shorter. Before much longer (how much longer, at 78 and 75?) the spark will hit the powder. End of memories.

We know that. We are almost brutally realistic about time’s inexorable march toward that moment when for us “time shall be no more.” Ah, yes, we look beyond here to there, to that next dimension, but of that experience we have assurances but no empirical data. So we speculate. There, I suspect—I hope—we’ll have no recollection of this fleshly existence. Oh, there are some memories I’d love to hang on to, some people and places and events I never want to forget, ever, but I’m afraid if I’m granted those memories the price may be that others I’ve repressed or mentally fought to forget will also be admitted. If that happens, then heaven won’t be heaven after all. So when the time comes, I prefer sleep to dreams, or, in the best possible scenario, I prefer to select the memories I want to keep forever and delete the rest.

But back to the question. Here we are, this bride of 56 years and I, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, setting up housekeeping among a people whose language we can’t speak, stumbling over cobblestone streets lined with what must compete for the world’s most treacherous sidewalks, shopping by the pictures on the labels and laughing at ourselves when the yogurt turns out to be sour cream, ogling the magnificent creations to be found in this artistic colony—storing up more memories. I ask it again: Why don’t we quit? The storehouse is already crammed with good stuff from adventures past. Why not be satisfied?

Because we can’t be, that’s why. Because yesterday’s experiences can’t replace today’s adventures. Because once we decide enough’s enough, mental atrophy commences. Synapses start misfiring. A deepening fog sets in. The brain feeds on going where it has never gone before, doing what it has never tried. It renews itself by processing new data, forcing new connections. No input, no output.

It’s not just that we mentally slow down when we have less and less to think about. Nor is it only that we get bored. It’s that we ourselves become boring. We have less and less to say—and fewer and fewer people who care. Here’s the downside of memories: they dry up. And dried memories dry up relationships. People don’t willingly hang around people whose conversation is all about what happened on some yesterday. Nothing is less interesting than rehashed stories too frequently told. Visit a person afflicted with dementia. It’s a good test of your patience. How many repetitions do you grant the same story before you hunt for the nearest exit?

You see where I’m going with this. I’m trying to justify our traveling, Joy’s and mine. We aren’t even taking the same trips, though we’re going on them together. We travel with each other, all right. We’re both in San Miguel right now, but in different San Miguels. She stops while we’re walking together; I go on ahead, oblivious to her disappearance. She’s spotted a tiny flower pushing its way though a crack in the wall just above the erratic sidewalk or a rarely blooming cactus that just appeared last night and will be gone tomorrow.

Cactus flower extraordinarie!
Cactus flower extraordinarie!

I’m observing, also, but I often miss the flowers. I’m focused on the animated conversation between a couple of codgers on the park bench just ahead. They should be in pictures. It’s fun investigating different worlds together. She’s always painting, even when her hands aren’t moving.

Me, I’m forcing this old body forward,

Watch your step old man!
Watch your step old man!

trying not to stumble, inelegant in stride, stooped in posture, but recording the sights nonetheless. When we get back to our casa we compare notes. Each can’t believe what the other missed. Together, though, we can concoct a pretty good story.

Another story for the memory bank. More evidence that we’re not dead yet. Additional proof that we’re still climbing, that the crest of our journey lies ahead of us and not behind.

So why are we traveling at this age? Because there’s no better age.