Little Blue Dress

I remember silently opening the bottom drawer of my mother’s dresser when I was 7 years old. Inside were boxes of cheap paste jewelry, ornate hankies that smelled of sunshine and mom, baby keepsake books, and a dress.

The dress was the palest of blue, piped in white with pearly buttons, an impossibly tiny bodice accentuated a full calf length skirt. The style spoke of the demure 1950’s and it was beautifully handmade. It was my mother’s wedding dress.

On January 19, 1957 Joanne buttoned up a blue cotton dress with trembling fingers as her best friend Myra fussed over her hair. Dark, glossy ringletts fell from Joanne’s forehead matching dark chocolate color of her eyes. Sitting in front of a pitted mirror in the visitor’s quarters at Fort Chaffee, she touched up her bright cherry lipstick and was ready.

In front of the entire platoon, Joanne married the man of her dreams. 6ft tall and muscular, Duane filled out an army uniform in a way that turned heads and he knew it. Amid cheers and cat calls they sealed the deal with a kiss and prepared for a long life together.

Now, 60 years later, black and white photographs tell the story of their early years together, the two children that were born right away, and the years of struggling to make ends meet. It was not easy. Duane was a provider but he also liked his drinks and he loved his women. If he didn’t come home at night mom would load up the kids and drive to his favorite bars and ladies houses. Not to interrupt him, just to make sure he was safe and not dead in a ditch somewhere.

They stuck it out. Through hard times, infidelity, two heart surgeries that nearly killed my dad, all of the worst things that could happen in a marriage and now my Mom’s struggle with Alzheimer’s.

The woman who was once a fiesty 5ft tall, 100lb beauty is now an old woman sitting in a nursing home while the memories of her youth play tricks with her confused mind. She cries out for people who are long since deceased, she gets angry, she gets frustrated, she knows who I am and then she forgets. She holds my hand in a death grip then turns to caress my cheek with the kind of tenderness only a mother can show. She has become a contradiction. A once strong, smart, active woman reduced to wandering the halls of a place that is not her home, searching for that which is no longer there.

My father rages silently to himself about how things could have been different. How he wishes he would have changed the course of his life, moved to a different town when they had the chance to buy that restored ranch on two acres, and spent their money before the nursing home came and took it all.

Yet, amid all of his musings, he fails to find comfort in the fact that some people would give up all they own just to have a woman like my mother by their side if only for a day. He had 60 years of unconditional, unrelenting love from a woman who made everyone around her better from just basking in her light. My dad taught me about life, Mom taught me about love.

I will never have someone love me for 60 years, some of us do not even get the privilege of living 60 years, and the lesson in all of this is realizing what it is you have been blessed with before time runs out. Some of you have been together decades, some of you have lived alone for decades and are now just meeting the love of your lives, some of you are regretting never trying, while some of you may not have love but you are giving love to those in need. Of all the things that transpired in the past 60 years for my parents the one thing I learned is that unconditional love should never be taken for granted because few people have the strength and capacity to love the way my mom loved all of us and all of those around her. As my mom once said “With all your heart or not at all!”

Silver Spoons

Some people are born with silver spoons while some people have to carve theirs out of wood with a dull knife. The struggle teaches far more than the privilege yet we are conditioned under that archaic system of classes to believe that the value of a person is relative to the size of their coffers. 

I was born the daughter of a man who had an 8th grade education and a mom who graduated high school to go right into marriage and child rearing at the age of 18. We were never rich, the majority of my clothes came from garage sales and clearance racks. I remember the envy I would feel towards the “popular” girls with their designer clothes who always got picked first while I warmed the bench at basketball and volleyball games. It was frustrating, disheartening, and even when I landed myself a pair of coveted Nike Air tennis shoes the rest of me didn’t match the expense.

To this day, as an adult, my origins are as engraved into my appearance and psyche as a battle scar. I have the college degree, earned after 5 years of cloistering myself in a 10×8 dorm room and studying as though my life depended on it. Back then I thought it did. I thought that if I immersed myself in academia I would bleach out my past and be reborn a smart, chic, intelligent woman of the times with high heels clicking down the hallway to success.

The truth is, I never used that degree that I gave up 5 years of my life and a huge chunk of my parents savings for. Instead I work sometimes multiple jobs to make ends meet and while my main source of income comes from an office in which I click around in those proverbial high heels, I am not treading the hallway to success. I am inherently reminded of my place. Sometimes you just have to play by those rules, and then get a backbone and make your own because you know you are better, deserve better.

I’m still that awkward kid in second hand clothes deep down. Yes I dress the part and try to appear chic and put together as the girl in my last post called me. But, I look down at my hands and see dirt under the nails from cleaning barns so I scrub and paint my nails only to noticed how chapped and unsightly my hands are from the cleaning solutions I use. My clothes look cheap and shabby next to the women I see while running errands in their expensive wool coats and Italian leather boots. The silk purse and sows ear adage suits and I duck my head in shame.

I have allowed this false sense of insecurity, yes insecurity, ruin relationships. I feel every relationship is a competition and that the person I am with could do much better than me. I have dismorphia when it comes to my beauty and my value as a partner.  Or, I enter into relationships with men who feed me crumbs and I pretend they are feasts. I have so much to give but feel that what I have is akin to giving someone a bag full of non perishables and no one wants things that last anymore. I’m too old fashioned, too much, not enough. 

The girl I mentioned in my last post comes to mind and I get over myself very quickly. She was not ashamed of her eagerness to find a job, any job. Although she was shy, she made no attempt to belie her class in society and pretend to be something she wasn’t. She marched into our office alone, unashamed, grateful just to have an ear to listen to her story. And, everyday her wooden spoon was judged and scorned by the silver spoons but that didn’t stop her. 

So I tell myself, you are more than just a clothes rack. You are the daughter of people who had nothing but gave you everything you needed to survive on your own. You can hunt, fish, can fruits and vegetables, sew, take on jobs that no one wants, and you have eyes that see not faces but hearts and souls.

Class, money, spoons, they mean nothing in the end. I will take my wooden spoon over privilege any day of the week and I will light that sucker on fire so that others have a light to see just how valuable they are as well!

Freidrich

I am the kind of person who goes through life flying by the seat of her pants. I make flash decisions without doing all the research and yet live with no regrets. I have found that when I allow myself to ponder my ponderings turn to over thinking which turns to insecurity and thus, inaction. So I act quickly and worry about the consequences later.

I had been paying frequent visits to a friend’s dairy goat farm a year ago when one evening I entered the loafing barn and saw a tiny white and black newborn goat huddled in the straw while his mother munched on grain. He was an angel in my eyes. As white as new snow with just enough black markings to create a pleasant contrast. The sound of his bleating melted my heart and the feel of his velveteen muzzle nibbling on my fingers won me over completely.

He was to be sold as a meat goat I was told. My blood ran cold, I felt physically ill and knew I had to do something. I had some money at home from the sale of my ATV. I had a barn at my disposal, I was ready. I took home that sweet little boy and two more baby goats. A female Toggenburg which I named Marta, a female Nubian which I named Liesl, and of course my little boy whom I named Freidrich. 

What joy these babies brought to my life!! Early morning feedings with soda bottles fitted with nipples, sitting in the pen with them as they crawled all over me nibbling and pressing up against me for hugs and kisses. They filled a very large hole in my life, they brought me happiness that I never dreamed myself capable of. 

In May all of my happiness came to an end. Friedrich started yelling day after day as though he was in pain. I spoke with the farmer I got him from. He was silent on the phone and I feared the worst. At 8pm I rushed him to the emergency vet and at 9:30 he was taking his last breath. Friedrich had developed urinary tract stones and there was nothing they could do so I had to make the decision to wait until his bladder burst or allow him to pass peacefully without pain. Friedrich was 3 months old, he was my greatest comfort, my joy, my baby and he was lying lifeless in my arms. 

I was numb all the way home. Friedrich’s little body lay in the backseat wrapped in a towel, my heart was broken. Then I started crying, I cried for hours over the loss of life, over all the things I had been through in life that no one but that little goat could mend, I cried in loneliness, I cried in rage over how everyone I ever have loved either left me or died, I cried until I went still. I thought I would lose my mind, to be honest. 

Friedrich was buried under a pile of boulders in the new play area being constructed for my goats. Liesl and Marta called out for him day after day, I could not heal. Headaches were frequent, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t move on. People would tell me that he was just a goat, a farm animal, get over it. Those words hurt. I am not able to have children, my mom had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, things were not going well at work, and those goats were my only source of joy. 

After particularly bad days at work I would go out to the barn and Friedrich would be the first to come running. He would jump into my lap and snuggle his little head under my chin while I let my tears of frustration flow. He loved me, he was always so happy to see me, and he healed me in so many ways. How does one just simply “get over” that?

In June the farmer I got Friedrich from presented me with a tiny, floppy eared, Nubian buckling to help ease the pain of losing Friedrich. Then a couple weeks later he called with directions to a farm 2 hours south and when I got there the owner came out of the barn with a tiny, yet long legged, white and black Alpine buckling just like Friedrich. It was June 11th, my birthday.

Gunter and Gustav became my world. I kept them in the house and would wrap them in blankets so they could nap with me on the couch. They went with me all over and Marta and Liesl soon adopted them as their new brothers. My family was complete again. My heart was still broken but I had not lost the capacity to love.

Animals are great healers. Somehow they have the ability to enter our lives and make them better. They love unconditionally, do not judge, do not suddenly decide to stop loving you, and they give everything they have. I will never be fully over the loss of my Freidrich but his death taught me a very valuable lesson in how short life truly is, how things can change at the drop of a hat, and how you are never truly alive until you have loved someone so much that to lose them is like losing yourself.

Someday

Perhaps one of the most depressing words in the English language is the word “Someday.” When I hear it spoken it always comes out with a hint of longing or regret. A word of defeat, a word of hope without hope, a word that, in some cases, is synonymous with “never.”

The older I get, the more I dispise the word “Someday” because it reminds me of how, no matter how many years, decades even, have gone by, my somedays just keep getting farther and farther away. Then I fall into berating myself for how much time I have wasted, how many mistakes I have made personally, financially, and spiritually. I get frustrated, I give up, I get motivated then fail to get started, I cry, I rage, but nothing changes.

I know I am not the only one caught in this web of wanting to move forward to our somedays but being held back by routine, lack of funding, lack of guidance, lack of ambition brought on by the sting of too many failures, bad relationship choices,  lack of faith in ones own self, etc…

To re-write a saying I once read; It is sad when you have failed so many times that you start saying “I’m used to it.” But, are bumps along the road really failure? I think not!! Refusing to get started is what constitutes failure, refusing to work hard at what we want is failure, refusing to keep trying, that is failure and I have failed more often than not.

45 minutes from my place of employment is a farm. It is for sale. 9 acres of woods and pasture, a white farmhouse with a porch, a red barn, an outdoor brick oven for baking… I see it in my minds eye, that utopia I have searched for, given up on, then searched for again. It exists, however, it is real and tangible, it is for sale. It is $269,00. It might as well be $269,000,000 that negative voice in my head tells me and in the tip of my tongue is that horrid word “Someday.”

I don’t want to wait for an obscure date in the future that may never come. I am tired of excuses for why I am not living the life I deserve because frankly I got right where I am because I didn’t do anything to deserve more. I refused to acknowledge that I am an artist who could be making money off of my art, I scoffed at the fact that companies wanted to publish my writings, I degraded myself to the point where I felt I was not worth working on. “Someday” I would pursuse those things, I said, just not today.

As we speak my mom sits in a nursing home not knowing where she is or even what day it is. Years ago she looked forward to her retirement and how “Someday” she would finish all those quilts she wanted to make. Well, here we are and all those somedays don’t mean a damn thing because time ran out. Mom will never sew again, never see new places, never have dreams to keep her going, or hopes for the future. 

I wonder what she would have done had she known what would transpire in her later years. Would she have stayed single, joined the WACS like she always talked about, would she have lived for more than just 3 children and a difficult husband? Or is what happened to her a glimpse into my own life’s mirror? A chance to throw a stone at the reflection and see more in the shards than what was displayed before?

9 acres, a home, a place to keep my goats, all of my somedays in one physical location, happiness, dreams coming true, a business of my own, freedom, how? By changing all of those somedays into someways, and some hows. Someday has no guarantees and I am tired of banking my future on that kind of uncertainty. We always think we have more time but the harsh reality is that we have less and less each day.  I may not get those 9 acres overnight but it will not be from a lack of trying. 

Christmas Cookies

This time of the year the one thing I miss the most is baking Christmas cookies with my Mom. Every holiday season our baking was something akin to an Olympic event involving painstaking preparation and powerful tests of endurance. We would line up our ingredients, crank the Loretta Lynn Christmas album and get to work.

The first recipe on the docket was always the one for rolled sugar cookies because the dough had to chill in our “Polish Refrigerator” aka the un-insulated back porch, for a couple of hours to firm up to make the cut outs.

Everything was done from scratch from the fragrant smooth dough to the decadent icing tinted every color of the rainbow. Mom would pull open the stubborn bottom drawer of her kitchen cabinet, the one that always smelled of the brown sugar stored in the drawer above, and retrieve an ice cream pail full of cookie cutters as old as time.

In the yellow glow of the kitchen light the aluminim cutters reflected warmly on the worn Formica countertop. I would eagerly dig through the pile to find Santa with his gift bag, the snowflake, and my favorite leaping reindeer cutters, relieved that they survived another year.

With the table liberally dusted in flour, Mom would roll out sections of dough with a 50 year old rolling pin that creaked with each push. Silken dough, perfectly chilled, was rolled to 1/4 inch thickness before cutting into the cheerful shapes of the season. Hearts, diamonds, spades, Santa’s, reindeer, snowflakes, clubs, and stars covered well seasoned cookie sheets lined in parchment.

The cozy house soon filled with the scent of warm sugar, butter, and of home at Christmas. I would eagerly watch through the amber tinted glass of the oven door for the cookies to finish baking and then hours were spent in decoration. Mom would whip up a large batch of basic powdered sugar icing with just enough Watkins vanilla to turn simple into spectacular and set me to work with bowls for mixing colors.

Red for Santa was the most important and drop by drop from a tear shaped bottle of coloring would be added to achieve the correct hue. Containers of sprinkles emerged from the battered spice drawer perfumed with the exotic scents of cinnamon, allspice, and ginger. The icing was applied and quickly after the dusting of sprinkles, silver and gold baubles, and colored sugar that dyed fingers red and green.

Sheets of waxed paper spread across the dining room table like red carpets awaiting special guests. Soon, row upon colorful row of cookies littered the table painstakingly decorated by clumsy yet determined 7 year old hands. A Christmas mosaic of sugar laden artwork.

The memories of our special baking days sits neatly in the part of my heart reserved for that which I hold most dear. I cannot stir flour, butter, and sugar together without picturing Mom in her calico apron piped in peach fabric, her work worn hands gently guiding my soft childish ones in the making of so many recipes. Yes, one could say, the golden glow of a mother’s love never fades even when she is no longer capable of expressing it.

With this post from Christmas Past I wish to share with you our favorite rolled sugar cookie recipe so that you too can create memories to cherish like mine.

Corn Syrup Cookies

1 1/4 cup sugar

1 cup butter at room temp

2 eggs

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

Dash of salt

1 1/2 teaspoons of Watkins Pure Vanilla Extract

1/4 cup corn syrup

Beat sugar and eggs until lemon yellow. Add syrup and vanilla, stir in dry ingredients to make a smooth dough. Chill 2 hours. Roll out on floured surface and cut into shapes with cookie cutters.

And at 350° on parchment lined cookie sheets until the edges are slightly golden. When cool, ice with your favorite icing.

The Art of Giving Thanks

I am well enough aware that the internet and blogging community will be full of Thanksgiving posts speaking volumes on the origins and meaning of the Holiday. I will not try to veer from that theme but merely share my thoughts and memories about a the day we all gather to give thanks.

At 5am the motor fired up on Mom’s ancient meat grinder as she fed through it’s churning blades the various and unexpected ingredients for Grandma Lenzen’s German stuffing. I would pull the covers over my head in an attempt to drown out the incessant noise to no avail. Mom and Dad made preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the 6 of us sound like they were creating a feast for the 7 kingdoms. Dad would bark orders, Mom would scurry around the tiny kitchen dicing here, peeling there, stirring this, and mashing that. I watched, learned and then crept off to find the turkey coloring page in the newspaper while watching Macy’s parade on TV.

Then came the wait, and I’m not talking about waiting on the food. The wait for my sister and her husband to make the 30 minute drive to our house which seemed to take them 40 days and 40 nights. When they finally arrived, my sister would unpack her kidney shaped Tupperware container of 7 layer salad and I would go about the business of snatching off as many hard boiled egg slices as I could while no one was looking.

When it was finally time to eat, we all gathered around that old butternut table, said Grace, and dug in. Each flavor was one to savor, so familiar yet foreign in the fact that it had not been partaken of in an entire year. We ate until our eyes bulged then Mom wold bring out dented aluminum pans filled with desserts and we would eat again.

Dishes were washed and games played while Bing Crosby crooned in the background about a white Christmas. It was a cozy time, a time to soak in all the love and comfort that a small family shares. A time to make memories and to recall old ones to laugh over again. I miss those days.

Since being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, my mom can no longer commandeer the kitchen. Part, a huge part, of the Holiday cheer has vanished. The food doesn’t taste the same because her hands and her love are not preparing it. The memories are not as funny, home doesn’t quite feel like home anymore. Yet, time goes on.

Change is something we expect in life except when it comes to the holidays. We never want to see that picture postcard Thanksgiving or Christmas of our childhood to ever end. The holidays are the one thing we can still count on as adults to give us the wonder of being a child again. We look for Santa at the mall, we gaze fondly at brightly wrapped presents, we snatch colorfully iced cookies off of sugar laden trays, and we watch Christmas programs on TV just to capture the nostalgia of a time when innocence had not yet been lost to the demands of adulthood.

Like a time machine, boxes of decorations take us back as we unwrap memories with each ornament. We prepare food that has the flavor of times long past that allow us to cling to happy memories of moments that will never be again.

For me, the holidays may have lost a bit of their cheer but I give thanks for the memories I do have of a warm home, good food, and family. Although things will never be the same perhaps it is a sign that it is time to make changes of my own. To share the blessings, invite new members to my circle, volunteer more and give others the chance to expierece the holidays through my eyes. Giving thanks is not to be isolated to one day but something practiced the year over. The gifts of the season are not to be contained in boxes and stockings but to pour forth from full hearts and believing souls. So, on this approaching Thanksgiving I wish all of you the very best and challenge you to make one change in your routine that includes touching a life that might not otherwise have reason to celebrate. God bless.

Antlers for Supper

“You can’t eat antlers!” My dad used to say to me when I was a kid and complained that no big bucks ever came our way. I was not impressed by shooting does, I wanted that big 30 point buck to come my way so I could prove to the world that this 11 year old was a force to be reckoned with!

Looking back on my dad’s simple wisdom, I see how much times have changed. Back in the 1960’s Dad would load up his buddies in a renovated school bus with questionable breaks and head out to Buffalo, Wyoming for their annual mule deer hunts. They didn’t go out there to bring home trophies, they went to enjoy the camaraderie of deer camp and to bring home meat to fill the freezer, and memories to fill the year ahead.

Black and white photos from back then often depicted A-framed structures lined with deer harvested. There were no photos of a guy and his 40 point, non typical, mineral fed, selective bred, food plot deer. Just photos of rangy men standing by decrepit shacks in red wool and tattered hats.

What changed? How did the age old tradition of hunting become so glamorized, so Hollywood? Is it the TV shows featuring people in perfectly clean expensive camo always getting monster deer without breaking a sweat? The female hunter has morphed into women on the screen so perfecty coiffed that they look nothing like the women in my life who grew up hunting. Meanwhile, guy hunters show up to events in bedazzled jeans. It’s all about the big show, who is better, who gets more ratings.

These days, it seem like the whole atmosphere of the sport has changed from fun and camaraderie to a cut throat competition over who can shoot the biggest deer. Social media is littered with images of guys and gals posing strategically behind behemoths of the forest so as to make them look even larger than life. It is all about the size of the rack and even that is not real anymore. Not even deer could escape man’s constant quest to alter nature and now there are whole industries dedicated to producing products to “enhance” antler growth to the point of absurdity. Selective breeding on deer farms is also a norm and people pay thousands of dollars to get the opportunity to bag “trophies” inside fences. Why?

Because it is not good enough anymore to be common, to be that redneck hunter in dirty, blood stained orange who hunts on instinct and the will of God. It is not “glamorous” enough to come home with your tag limit of does and a small (by today’s standards) buck to fill the freezer. The network and code of honor among hunters too has died in the sense that social media is filled with trolls waiting to pounce on anyone, man, woman, or child for shooting anything under 14 points. Hunting has become a competition to see who can bag the biggest and the best.

Is that really what it’s all about? I think not, but that is my opinion. I’m old school and to me hunting is all about the unknown. It is about going out into the woods and waiting for days and not seeing one deer. It is about freezing and sweating and pushing yourself and your patience to the absolute limit then going out and doing it all over again the next day. It is about no guarantees, it’s hard work, intuition and skill not gleaned from watching TV but from years of training, years of disappointments followed by years of victory. Gadgets and equipment can’t make a hunter, they may make things easier but is anything really worth having ever easy?

I have probably hit a nerve with this post and pissed some people off but I’ve never been one to mince words or worry about offending others. All I am saying is that we can learn a lot from those old deer camp photos. Namely that sometimes size doesn’t matter. Isn’t it supposed to be about tradition, bringing home stories, lessons, and if you are lucky, some meat for the table?

5 Hour Wait

5 hours might as well be 5 days or even 5 years when you are waiting to partake of the savory stew that has been permeating every corner of the house with its mouth watering scent.

When I was a child, I remember my Mother making this stew on the coldest day of the year when all you wanted to do was wrap frigid hands around sturdy stoneware bowls containing the fragrant concoction.

Mom’s 5 hour stew was a masterpiece of simple ingredients, seasoned ever so slightly so as not to take away from individual flavors but rather make each one stand out even more flavorful.

Joanne’s 5 Hour Stew (Adapted for Crock Pot Preparation)

1 beef or venison roast cubed

1 can of good dark German beer

2 1/2 cups homemade beef stock

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

1 large onion diced

1 14oz can crushed tomatoes

6 carrots scraped and roughly chopped

4 medium potatoes roughly chopped

1/4 cup fresh parsley minced

4 stalks of celery with leaves chopped

1 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Salt and pepper to taste

3 Tablespoons granular or thickening Tapioca

Brown all sides of the cubed meat in a frying pan. Place meat in crock pot. Pour beer into frying pan stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen all of the meat bits. Allow beer to reduce down by 1/4. Pour into crock pot and add remaining ingredients. Cook on high for 5 hours. Switch to low and cook an additional hour if meat is not as tender as you prefer. Add 1 cup of fresh or frozen peas that have been thawed prior to serving, heat through.Serve immediately or wait until the next day when the flavors really start to come out.

If you choose to make it in your oven the cooking time is 5 hours at 350°

Lost or Found

Lamenting on the events of the past week and the topic of “loss” in this blog post.

We often say “Sorry for your loss” by way of condolences at funerals. Yes, the loss of a life is something to mourn but as I was standing in the receiving line at a funeral for someone very dear to me on Saturday I wanted to yell “Stop being sorry!”

Perhaps I am I bit eccentric in my way of thinking, but I was not feeling a loss. I was feeling inside of me what can only be described as gratefulness that I was blessed to have this,man in my life for however short a time it was.

To me, loss is when your glasses go missing or a tooth falls out and you keep worrying the area constantly conscious of something being missing. The absence hinders you but eventually you adapt.

I could say that last week was the absolute worst 7 days of my life because one minute I was feeding a man, who was like a father to me, an omlette in the hospital and the next  I was watching him take his last breath. The reality is, I was crushed, saddened, angered, hurt, lonely, panicked, and feeling like my world had collapsed. Once I got over the initial shock of it all my mind started playing slides of our times together. I could see his smile, hear his voice, and the memories wouldn’t stop. Maybe, the storage of memories is the mind’s way of protecting itself in moments like this when such profound saddness threatens to snap that single cord of sanity we all so desperately cling to. The flashbacks remind us of happier times and we are filled with the warm glow of events long passed relishing each memory like a child watching a favorite movie.

The memories also remind us of how blessed we are when certain people enter our lives who are worth mourning when they are gone. People who love us as we are, who teach us life lessons, who take our hands in time of need, and take our hearts when we vow never to love again. The passage of those lives through the pathways of our own adds color, clarity, vibrancy, new ideas, new ways of doing things, and new ways of viewing ourselves and the world.

We gain more than we could ever lose in these situations because we are left not with an empty heart but a full soul, a scrapbook overflowing with the simple blessings of just living and letting others in, if just for a moment to touch our lives.

Yes, there is immeasurable pain when someone we love dies but there is also immeasurable joy to be found in the simple act of calling upon memories created and lessons shared. As for loss, the way I see it is that the sense of loss is simply a fear that we will return back to the person we were before our lives were changed and enriched by the person who is no longer with us. We fear we cannot be strong on our own, that we have lost our reason to keep up the fight when indeed we have only become tougher and more able to face the challenges ahead.

With all of this being said, I hope those of you who take the time to read my ramblings will stop for a moment and realize that when something good goes away in your lives it is not a loss but rather the time to reflect on how much better your life became thanks to that one person or event. Be grateful and not mournful of your blessings however long or short their duration and look forward to what lies ahead. Death does not stop time for those left behind, it simply makes time that much more precious.

 

Once in a Lifetime

FB_IMG_1471138809076         So often we lament about how short life is and how we need to strive each day to add quality to the time we are given. We vow to take more time for family, adventures, and all those things that make us truly happy before it is too late. We also look back in regret at all the moments lost and things we failed to do in the past. If I have one single regret, it is that I did not meet my black lab Deshka sooner so that we would have had more time together.

Deshka was a gleaming barrel chested lab with a heart of pure gold and a penchant for popcorn. Her instinct to excel in the field was born of years of field trial breeding that ran through her veins. When I met her I had just entered a new relationship and she was part of the deal, the best part. At nine years old she had already bore two litters of pups and was struggling through a bout of Lyme’s Disease which had slowed her down considerably. Her joints were sore, her gait slow and painful, and her eyes betrayed the agony she attempted to hide from me. Her usual favorite sleeping spot under the coffee table began to collect dust as she was unable to contort her body to fit beneath it due to her illness. I lost a season of duck hunting with her that year but by the following fall she was chomping at the bit to get out to the marsh; all pain a distant memory.

It was the greatest fall of our lives. Ducks were in abundance and Deshka was a machine on the water. From her grassy point she would survey the sky like a soldier standing watch for the enemy to approach. Many a time she spotted sneaky teal before I even noticed them and would give out a sigh of exasperation every time I missed a shot. I could almost imagine her rolling her eyes and requesting a new hunting partner. Retrieve after retrieve she never showed a single sign of slowing down and almost majestically, she would come up out of the water, a duck clamped firmly in her mouth, as the early morning sun shone off her red tinted coat like a polished gem.

Her beauty and gentle soul was second to none. I recall being sick for days at a time and she would only leave my side to eat or go outside. I called her “Mamma Bear” for the simple reason that she was so big and comforting like a mamma black bear with her cub. Deshka was my best friend, my confidant, my protector, and my favorite hunting companion.

When I received a call from a friend who was watching Deshka one Friday in November, 2014, I was unprepared for the news that she had passed away at the age of 13 in her sleep on her bed. I was devastated. No, devastated is not the right word. Is there a word to truly explain the feeling of such profound loss that it is like losing a limb, like having your heart deflate in your chest because the very thing that filled it is gone?

I cried for days, I looked at old pictures, I fell apart over the very clumps of her wayward fur that used to frustrate me when they littered the floor, and I agonized over all the times I let her down when she wanted to play or go for a walk. Sometimes I would even imagine that I heard the sound of her claws tapping a staccato beat across the floor to her water dish. I could still feel her weight against my leg as I sat alone on the couch trying to figure out what I would do without her. I am not ashamed to say that I was a wreck.

As they do, time and fate intervened and two weeks after Deshka’s death the opportunity arose to purchase an 11 week old female Polar Bear English Lab. One photo from the breeder was all it took and no three hour drive in a snowstorm would stop me from getting her. My first glimpse of her was love at first sight. An almost white, pot-bellied pup with eyes so compelling that everyone who met her would say that they made her look like an old soul. I named her Freyja after the Norse goddess of love and now, at 3 years of age she is as faithful a companion as anyone could wish for. While she lacks the drive and concentration out in the marsh that Deshka displayed, and she has her “blonde” moments, she remains a blessing and much-needed balm after such an incredible loss.

Not many can understand the bond people like myself have with their pets. My pets are not mere animals, they are invaluable members of the family, irreplaceable and unconditionally loved. They add purpose and quality to each and every day. Most importantly, they have awakened my heart and soul to the concepts of love, loyalty, and companionship in their purest forms. There is a saying by Anatole France that sums it up “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” No truer words could be spoken. Deshka gave me the love and companionship of a best friend and I cannot look at a bag of popcorn without the memories rushing back along with a smile. She was a once in a lifetime kind of dog and she will always have my heart.