My Mom is 74 years old. It does not seem likely that she will see her 75th birthday in mid August. She is diabetic, with severe congestive heart disease, which she has had for many years Her health has been slowly and steadily deteriorating for the last several years, with that process accelerating after the death of my father in 2002.|
On Tuesday, the fifth of this month, she began experiencing an intestinal upset, which necessitated that she stopped taking her diuretic medication, which she needs to prevent buildup of fluids in her system that exacerbate the congestive heart disease. By that weekend, she was weakening and experiencing severe shortness of breath. Monday the 11th she was admitted to the hospital.
I talked with her via the telephone on a daily basis throughout that week. She continued getting weaker, the tests showed that her kidneys were functioning at less than 15%, and that kidney function was decreasing. It was apparent that she needed dialysis, however, her blood pressure was so low, and her heart beat so irregular, that her kidney specialist was unable to get sufficient blood flow to support dialysis from veins in her arms or legs.
The night of Sunday the 17th she had two cerebral hemorrhages. She was still able to talk, although her speech was somewhat slurred, and she had insufficient motor control on the left side of her body to use her hand or to sit up in the bed. Over the next two days it became apparent that her kidneys and liver had ceased functioning completely.
On Wednesday, she was transferred to a different hospital for insertion of an in-dwelling catheter in her right jugular vein to facilitate dialysis. The doctor quite frankly described this as a “last ditch effort”. After three rounds of dialysis the toxins which had built up in her bloodstream were reduced sufficiently that she was very coherent and very communicative.
Laboratory tests showed that neither her kidneys, nor her liver were functioning, at even minimal levels. Mom discussed with my siblings and myself what her options were, and decided to decline further dialysis or intervening treatment. On Friday the 22nd she was transferred to a nursing home in our hometown, and placed on what is called the hospice program. That program provides palliative care only, primarily concerned with pain management.
Throughout this period, I have spoken with her on a daily (or near daily) basis. I have told her many times that I love her (which was easy to do), and in our conversation prior to her deciding to decline further treatment I was able to tell her that I knew she was very tired, and that if she felt that it was time to stop fighting, it was okay to let go.
That was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to say to anyone; at the same time I knew (and know now) that it needed to be said. Over the last several days she has been less and less communicative. Simply giving one or two word responses had become more effort when she could muster.
My daughter took emergency leave from college in Chicago, and has been with her grandmother since the afternoon of the 22nd. She calls me daily, usually several times a day, keeping me apprised of Mom’s condition, and helping to care for her grandmother.
Yesterday morning Mom lapsed into a coma. Both her attending physician and my sister-in-law (an RN-Nurse Practicioner) do not expect her to awaken from that. As I write this I await the ringing of the telephone, with Maggie calling to tell me that Mom has gone.
I pulled out of Mom's place about 7am on the first, and went thru Estacada and Sandy to US 26 thru Gov't Camp and Warm Springs to Madras. I took the Prineville road from Madras thru the Prineville Valley (a place I have always loved, especially at the eastern end past the reservoir where you start up into the Ochocos) to Mitchell, where I stopped for lunch.|
Got to talking to a little old lady in the diner who knew the Kammerers when they lived there, which was quite surprising.
From Mitchell I continued east thru the John Day canyon to Dayville, where I pulled over and took about a 90 minute nap in the shade of some huge cottonwood trees. Leaving Dayville I proceeded to my Aunt Jeanne's home in Prairie City,.
I took the opportunity to go back to John Day that evening to visit with my cousin Dave for a couple hours - he has been knocking on death's door with pancreatic failure and severe diabetes for more than 2 years now. It is unlikely I'll ever see him again.
Thursday the 2nd I left Prairie City and drove east thru the mountains to Ontario, where I got on I-84 thru Boise toward Salt Lake. About noon I had to pull off the freeway into a little town and take another mid-day nap, then drove to Snow Village for a late lunch.
From there I went to South Ogden to Cruise Director's home, where I spent the night If he ever leaves Home Depot he can make a good living as an interior decorator. I have stayed in two of his homes now, he lives alone, and both were beautifully decorated.
Friday morning I went south on I-15 to Spanish Fork, then took a two lane south east thru Helper to Greenville, where I went east a few miles on I-40 to the highway south toward Moab. Just north of Moab is Arches National Park, which I spent about 2 hrs touring thru, taking pics.
From Moab I went on southeast to Monticello, UT, then turned east to Cortez, Colorado, for the night. That is a beautiful area of high sage and grassland interspersed with pinon pine forests.
Saturday morning I hit the road east thru the southwest corner of Colorado thru Durango to Pagosa Springs. There I went south to Tierra Amarilla, on the Jicarillo Apache reservation, and turned east on US 64 over the Piedras Mtns - a truly spectacular drive on an amazingly crooked, narrow, steep two lane road that climbs very precipitously, then drops equally steeply over three damned high mountain ridges until you come out on an arid plain in north central NM. US 64 takes you directly into Taos, at the base of the mountains in the northeast corner of the plain. I stopped there for lunch, had an interesting conversation with two young guys looking for investment property in the area.
Leaving Taos I went up the Taos River canyon over what has to be one of the most insanely crooked two lane roads in North America to the prettiest large alpine valley I have ever seen, called Angel Fire. There is a fair sized lake at the north end of the valley, and the highway loops around the north end thru the town of Eagle Nest, then again climbing quickly and very crookedly over a mountain ridge and dropping into a narrow valley to the town of Ute Park. From there the highway runs along the base of the mountains to Cimarron, where I turned onto NM 56 to I-25. South on I-25 to Springer, then east and a bit north to Clayton, NM on US 412.
From Clayton I went southeast on US 87 thru Texline into Dalhart. It was dark by that time, and coming into Dalhart US 87 turns a bit south. It is a 4 lane highway there, and at that turn the Ford 4x4 beside me in the outside lane didn't turn with the highway, forcing me up and over the center concrete divider. Destroyed my left front tire and wheel.
I made a U-turn on the flat tire, and proceeded south on US 87 approximately one half block to an EconoLodge Motel. After checking in I called AAA, and they sent a wrecker to assist me in changing the tire. West Texas towns roll up the sidewalks and shut the door’s at 5 p.m., and the only businesses open on Sundays are churches, gas stations and convenience stores, almost exclusively.
It was about 7 p.m. on Saturday evening once I got the tire changed, and there was no slightest hope of finding an open tire shop or wrecking yard in that town. The wrecker operator (who turned out to be a fifth cousin of mine) told me that he would look around in his wrecking yard in the morning and see if he could find a wheel which would fit my car.
Sunday morning he called me at the motel, told me he had found a wheel which he believed would fit, and that he would meet me at the motel in about 15 minutes, which he did. I followed him to his shop, where he mounted a used tire of the appropriate size and attempted to balance the wheel. Unfortunately, the center of the wheel was badly bent, although that was not apparent to the eye, and on the balancer it was quite apparent that the wheel would wobble much more badly than was acceptable.
I drove to Dumas, Texas, on the doughnut spare, only to find that Dumas, like Dalhart, had virtually nothing open on Sundays. The only parts store in town which was open was an AutoZone store, where I was informed that there might be an open tire shop in Amarillo. The store manager suggested that I try at a discount tire store on Interstate 40 in West Amarillo.
So, I limped Into Amarillo, only to find that there was no open tire shop in the entire city on Sundays. So, I checked into a cheap motel, and spent Sunday afternoon and night dozing in front a babbling boob tube. Finally, at 8 a.m. on Monday morning, I was able to purchase a new wheel and tire at Discount tires, and head east again.
I stopped about 35 miles south east of Wichita Falls for gasoline and something to eat for lunch. From there, I proceeded south and east to Grapevine, Texas, then across the north side of Dallas to Interstate 20.
Proceeding east on Interstate 20 and reached Shreveport, and our apartment, at approximately 6 p.m. on Monday.
Monday was the longest single day of the trip in terms of mileage, covering a little over 600 miles in about 9 1/2 hours of driving.
On this whole trip the cheapest gasoline that I saw was $1.78 per gallon in Quanah, Texas, and $1.92 a gallon on the Umatilla Indian Reservation just east of Pendleton, Oregon. In both cases the tribes involved do not collect state taxes on the gasoline. Oregon is one of two states which still require gasoline station service attendants, and the only places in that state which you can buy gasoline without an attendant are stations owned and operated by the tribes.
Most all of these stories will be about dogs I’ve known, but there have been other animals that were notable characters in my life, and Big Red was one of them.
Shortly after we moved to the farm south of Molalla, we began acquiring animals. Dad was raised on a farm, he believed in raising his own meat and eggs, and also was firmly of the opinion that making children responsible for chores around the place was good for teaching discipline and responsibility. Looking back over those years, he was right.
Anyway, he got about 25 White Leghorn/Plymouth Barred Cross hens from a neighboring farmer, and a young Rhode Island Red rooster we soon called Big Red. My older brothers were made responsible for milking the cows, and slopping the hogs, so it became my job to feed and water the chickens, as well as collect the eggs.
At first, this was no real hardship. I’d put on my rubber boots, and go stomping off to the chicken house at the north end of the shop building every afternoon. Watering was easy, as Dad put a 20 foot section of roof gutter on the posts just inside the chicken wire, with caps on the ends. I’d get the hose, turn on the faucet, and fill it.
Feeding the chickens involved my wagon, as I’d fill 4 three pound coffee cans with chicken feed from the feed barrel, put them in the wagon, and trundle over to the chicken house door. The way the chicken house was set up (it was about 10 feet deep and 30 feet long, with the fenced chicken run covering 25 feet of the north side of it and extending about 50 feet to the machine shed) the man door was in the north wall next to the run. I‘d go in, shoo all the chickens out into the run and close their access door, then clean out the feeders and dump one can in each of them. After I’d collected the eggs and put the basket in the wagon, I’d open the chicken access door, leave the chicken house by the man door, and go wash the eggs. Easy enough.
Or, it was easy enough. By the time Big Red was a year old he could stand flat footed and look me in the eyes. That was one BIG damned rooster. The older he got, the bigger he got, the meaner he became, the more territorial he acted. He developed a virulent hatred for humans, especially me, the egg thief. Every afternoon it got more and more difficult to get him out of the henhouse to fill the feeders, and collect the eggs. He attacked me several times, flying up in my face, buffeting me with his wings, and spurring at me with the very wicked spurs he’d grown on his legs.
I told my Dad what was going on, and his response was to laugh at me and demand, “Are you scared of a damn chicken, boy?” Well, yes, frankly, that vicious bird scared the piss out of me, but that wasn’t something I was gonna admit to my Dad. No way in hell. When I asked for suggestions he just laughed some more and told me, “I hope to hell you are smarter than that damned rooster!”
There was nothing for it but to figure out some way to deal with Big Red myself. I took to carrying a broomstick when I’d go in the henhouse, to whack the miserable s.o.b. and drive him into the run with. That worked for a while, but Big Red was no dummy. He soon learned that stick hurt, and he’d dart around in the henhouse, trying to get past it to attack me. It was turning into all out war, and the bird was winning.
A chore that originally took maybe 20 minutes was becoming an hour long ordeal, and I had the spur and pecking scars to prove it. He nailed me on the end of the nose one afternoon, and left a hell of a puncture. I still have that scar. It got so bad that I was appealing to my older brother for help, which was a quick road to derision and scorn. The stories he told at school of me being afraid of a chicken caused me to be the butt of a lot of teasing and taunting by my classmates.
Alongside the chicken run there was an area about 80 feet by 50 feet that Dad just let grow up in tall grass – his reasoning was it was a haven for bugs that would find their way into the chicken run and get eaten, which he maintained was good for the chickens. One afternoon, after filling the water trough, I got a crazy idea. I hunkered down in the tall grass at the end of the run beside the machine shed wall, and starting crowing like a rooster.
As I said, Big Red was intensely territorial. He heard another rooster out there, and came tearing out to take up the challenge. Once I got him good and worked up, I dashed in the henhouse, rousted out the hens, and slammed the chicken door. Success! I’d outsmarted that nasty bastard at his own game.
For quite a while, that worked pretty well. Unfortunately, Big Red really wasn’t completely stupid, and he figured out that that other rooster was decoying him from his egg protection duties, and when I’d dash for the henhouse door he would as well. It became a race to see if I could get the henhouse access door closed from inside before he could get through it.
Pretty quickly, he was winning the race more often than not. It had been bad enough fighting him off in a henhouse with just the two of us in it, but add in 8 – 10 hens trapped inside and it became a feather filled maelstrom of frantic, squawking birds. The damned bird was winning again.
It was spring by then, and I really, really, REALLY hated that big red bastard. The hens started going all broody, and it became a real fight to collect the eggs. Finally, Dad said to leave off collecting eggs, as he wanted the hens to set clutches of eggs and raise chicks for fryers in the fall. Through the rest of the spring and most of the summer dealing with the chickens got easier, as Big Red appeared to loathe chicks, and was usually to be found perched on the end of the water trough as far from the henhouse as he could get.
By mid summer the chicks were mostly through their first molts, and the young cockerells were getting pretty bold and stroppy. Every time one of them would stretch his neck and try to crow, Big Red would hit him like a ton of bricks and tear him up. After he killed two of the young cocks, Dad caught him and penned him up in a temporary run at the bottom of the orchard lot, as far from the other chickens as he could get him. For two months I had it easy. Fall arrived, and Dad separated out the young chickens into a covered pen to be fed up for butchering, and put Big Red back in with the hens. War started again on the first day.
Big Red’s temper hadn’t improved with two months of solitary confinement, and he was determined to get me. Less and less often was he falling for my rooster imitation trick, and I was constantly getting pecked and spurred by that miserable bird.
One day in school we were making Halloween decorations for the classroom out of sheets of felt, and I got a flash of brilliance. I snagged some scraps of red felt, and yellow felt, and took them home.
I collected gimme caps in those days from the various farm supply and hardware stores Dad did business with. I had John Deere, Allison, Cat , John Browne, Purina, McCulloch, and various other caps hanging on the wall above my bed.
My Mom had taken one of Dad’s old red flannel work shirts, sewed up the button placket in front, taken the sleeves off and made it into a poncho for me to use in rainy weather. It hung below my knees, and I could tuck my hands inside and just about disappear under it when I wanted to.
Well, I took a Cat cap I had, and using Mom’s sewing shears I reshaped the bill into a curving point, then put a John Browne cap over it which was a rusty red. I used the red felt and some pipe cleaners to shape a nice big comb and two wattles, and got Mom to help attach them to the top of the cap.
With that on my head, hunkered down with my elbows sticking out from my sides inside the poncho, I could do a fair imitation of a really big, red rooster flapping his wings and crowing. That afternoon, after fashioning my costume, I went down to the chicken house. I filled the water trough as usual, then fetched the wagon with the feed cans and the egg basket. After everything was ready and in place by the door, I walked out into the tall dry grass by the far end of the run, and hunkered down. I sat there long enough that Big Red appeared to forget I was there, and then I began my act.
I crouched right by the chicken wire fence and began crowing, stretching up a little, and shaking my head to make the wattles and comb wobble around. Big Red wents nuts. Crowing, squawking, jumping up against the fence and trying to spur me through it. I egged him on, kicking at him through the fence and sending him into a maddened paroxysm of rage. At its height, I shed the caps and the poncho, dashed in the henhouse, and had the hens out and the hatch closed before Big Red realized I wasn’t there anymore.
Cleaning and filling the feeders, collecting the eggs, raking out the soiled straw and spreading clean was easy as pie. The whole time Big Red was raging up and down outside the henhouse, unable to get at me.
Smart as that rooster was, I was a lot smarter. He never did get to the place where he could ignore that huge rooster outside the pen, and my antics never failed to distract him long enough to get my job done in safety thereafter. We had that miserable bird for three more years, until I killed him one day with a garden hoe. But that is another story.
copyright March 2006
It has been a hell of a month.|
My cousin and her husband, both 50, both in chronic, debilitating pain, committed suicide 4 weeks ago together, by overdose. The adult daughter of a life long family friend, and her husband, were murdered in cold blood in their home 3 days later, by four teenage boys who took a rifle, $142 in cash, and their car. Fortunately, they did not find the 6 year old girl sleeping in the back part of the house. Unfortunately, the 6 year old was the one who found her parents, and called her grandmother.
My mother's best friend, also 73 yrs old, was putting pans in her oven after washing them, when she lost her balance, fell, landed on the oven door and tipped the stove over onto herself. On top was a 3 gallon pot of boiling chicken broth and chicken. She was burned, 2nd and 3rd degree, over about 20% of her torso and most of her left arm. She is recovering, slowly.
Whilst in Sedona, my Mom talked to my cousin Linda in Ft. Worth. Her father, my Uncle Clint (my father's sole surviving brother), had just been told he had a large mass in his right lung. We cut our planned itinerary short, and proceeded straight to Ft Worth from Sedona, We arrived two days later, just in time to spend sunday with him. Monday, he went in the hospital for a biopsy and mri. We left Ft Worth on wednesday that week, to come here to Shreveport.
The next day, we heard from Linda. Clint had been confirmed to have non-small cell carcinoma of the lung - a discrete tumor in the upper lobe of the right lung the size of a grapefruit. His health had been deteriorating for several months - at 80 years old, 6' 2" in height, he weighed 128 lbs. They drained the pocket of fluid built up around the tumor, and put him on antibiotics to bring his white blood cell count low enough to permit surgery. He went home to wait for the antibiotics to work.
That weekend, my Uncle Alford (husband of my father's sister Rita, age 84), who lives in Humble, Texas with his son Walter, ran a stop sign on his way home from church in his pickup. He got T-boned, at 70 mph, by another pickup with 4 people in it.
3 crushed vertebrae in his neck, shattered left shoulder, left clavicle in 8 pieces, left upper arm in 4 pieces, lower arm both bones broken twice, 3 of the four fingers on his left hand smashed flat (he had his window open, arm on the window ledge). Every rib he has is broken, several multiple times. 3 more smashed vertebrae in his lower back, ruptured liver, spleen, pancreas and left kidney, shattered pelvis and left hip joint, left leg broken in 3 places. Oh yeah, depressed fracture of the skull, as well.
He never lost consciousness in the more than an hour it took the fire rescue guys to tear his pickup apart enough to extricate him, or the 20 minute life-flight to the hospital. So far he has had 4 surgeries, and has 5 more scheduled over the next 3 weeks. He's damned tuff - I'd bet on him making it.
Ten days ago, my 1st cousin David was told to go home by his Dr, who gave him a 100 count bottle of Darvocet. He is in total pancreatic failure, he lives 126 miles from the nearest hospital, and he won't go in the hospital anymore. He lapsed into a coma yesterday, and my aunt is caring for him as he dies.
A week ago yesterday, Uncle Clint went in for surgery. They removed 2/3 of his right lung, and 2 ribs. Today, at 1:30 pm, Uncle Clint died, having never recovered enough from the surgery to go home.
Truly, Madly, Deeply|
This is not a review. I know very little about music, as it has never played much of a part in my life. For 12 years I did not own a radio, a casette player, a television or a stereo, and did not miss them. I have driven many thousands of miles in a variety of vehicles without sound systems of any kind, and never noticed a lack.
That being said, I first heard this song in the soundtrack of a movie, the title of which I cannot recall, and it is the only thing in the entire movie I remember.
I was with my Julie. We had not been together long, and I was just beginning to realize what she had grown to mean to me. The song is trite:
Truly Madly Deeply
I'll be your dream,
I'll be your wish I'll be your fantasy.
I'll be your hope,
I'll be your love be everything that you need.
I love you more with every breath truly madly deeply do..
I will be strong I will be faithful
'cause I'm counting on
A new beginning.
A reason for living.
A deeper meaning.
I want to stand with you on a mountain.
I want to bathe with you in the sea.
I want to lay like this forever.
til the sky falls down on me...
And when the stars are shining brightly in the velvet sky,
I'll make a wish send it to heaven then make you want to cry..
The tears of joy for all the pleasure and the certainty.
That we're surrounded by the comfort and protection of..
The highest power. In lonely hours. The tears devour you..
I want to stand with you on a mountain,
I want to bathe with you in the sea.
I want to lay like this forever,
Until the sky falls down on me...
Oh can't you see it baby?
You don't have to close your eyes
'cause it's standing right before you.
All that you need will surely come...
I'll be your dream
I'll be your wish I'll be your fantasy.
I'll be your hope
I'll be your love be everything that you need.
I'll love you more with every breath truly madly deeply do...
I want to stand with you on a mountain,
I want to bathe with you in the sea.
I want to lay like this forever,
Until the sky falls down on me...
But they reached inside of me and touched something, unlocked a door I had not realized could ever be opened, and made me see what I had. It became "our" song, for it said, better than I ever could, what I felt for her.
The sky has fallen down on me.
My Julie is gone, and where she has gone there is no returning from.
I sit here, in this lonely house, hurting more in my heart than my body ever has, and the pain will not diminish, it will not let go. I cannot even tell myself that one day I will see her again, for I know there is no truth in that selfish mythology.
I do not know how to say what I feel, in any way that can make it real to others, so I will just close
I want to stand with you on a mountain,
I want to bathe with you in the sea.
I want to lay like this forever,
Until the sky falls down on me...
Goodbye, my darling, I'll look for you in my dreams.
I wrote this 3 years and one month ago. Like my earlier blog entry, Grief, it was an attempt to deal with letting go of Julie. As this year has progressed I have found myself getting more interested in life, more willing to look for peace and contentment, if not happiness, in my life.
I kissed her goodbye for the last time on Jan 2, 2001. I thought it was just for a few hours, that we'd be together again soon.
Do not part from your love in anger, do not part on bitter words. You may never get to retract the bitterness, you may never get to say "I love you" that final time. I am thankful that I did.
I had a friend. A funny, funny man, with a tremendous talent for the use of language in support of humor. "Gordo" Havers never met a stranger, never met a human being he could not make laugh within moments of starting a conversation.|
Gordo and I never met IRL, but we became close friends through the net. He lived far away from me, and was totally unable to travel. Inside that humor, inside that self-description as a laughing, jolly giant dwelt a tiny, twisted body. Born with spina bifida, he never walked. He could not articulate language well enough through his distorted jaw and palate to be intelligible to anyone who had not been around him a great deal.
None of it mattered: Gordo found more joy in life than any Adonis I've ever known. I would have been proud to call him my own son - his handicaps were in the minds of others far more than ever they were in his own.
Gordo died in his sleep 14 months ago. He was 17 years old. He never walked, he never rode a bicycle, he never held a girls hand, he never was kissed by anyone but his mother, he never walked along the seashore, or stood upon a mountain.
For all of that, Gordo was a giant among men, who saw more clearly than any other I have ever known. I miss him.
I raise my glass in his memory; "Salut! To absent friends!"
I think that almost all of us know that. 1 want to tell you, my friends, just a little bit about my experience that tells me life can be difficult.|
I was born clubfooted in both feet. Severely for the left foot, moderately for the right. At age 11 months I had my first operation to correct those problems. I was in and out of the Shriners Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, CA many times over the next 2 ½ years. I wore braces (a la Forrest Gump) until I was seven.
As a consequence of the various surgeries, the braces, and the months spent in casts from the waist down, my legs never grew the way they should have. I’m nearly six feet tall, and have a 27 inch in-seam. According to the doctors, had my legs grown as they should, my height-now would be more nearly 6’6” to 6’8”. In some ways I am very glad that I am not that tall, but I would not choose the methodology that achieved that end for any other child.
I was clumsy, and very accident prone, as a child. Many cuts requiring stitches, some broken bones, and one gunshot wound, before I ever reached puberty. I spent an inordinate amount of my childhood recovering from injuries.
At age 12, my left hand was twisted off in a washing machine (in spin cycle). I had to learn how to write all over again, having been left-handed my entire life. I was in the seventh grade in February of 1968, when I lost my hand. I spent 27 days in the hospital and another nine days at home. Finally, having missed a month of school, I returned to the grade school I attended. All of the seventh and eighth grade classes were concentrated in one hallway of the school. Eight classrooms and eight teachers. We moved from classroom to classroom through the course of the day depending upon the subject we were scheduled into at that time. The purpose of this was to prepare us for high school.
On the day that I returned to the seventh grade, as I was standing in the hallway before first period, talking with a group of my friends, my girlfriend, with whom I was “going steady” walked up to me with a brown paper bag in her hand. She handed the bag to me, turned, and walked away without saying a word. I opened the bag. In it was everything I had ever given to her, along with a note which simply said “I can no longer be your girlfriend”. No explanation, no reason, just a bald statement
Everyone in my life; family, friends and relatives, doctors in the hospital, nurses in the hospital, all of them had continually commented on how well I was dealing with the loss of my hand. How strong I was. I did not let anyone, not even my mother, see how much I hurt inside. I had already learned that pain doesn’t decrease by letting others see it. I knew from much experience that allowing others to see the pain would be taken as weakness. Weakness was never something I felt I could afford
You see, as a consequence of all of the problems I had in early life, at age 12 I was four foot nine and weighed less than 80 pounds. Just a few months before I lost my hand, at the beginning of the school year, they assembled all of the students in the school, nearly 1,000 children. We assembled on the playground outside the school building in ranks by height. I was in the first row even though I was in the seventh grade. The only child in the school shorter than myself was a first grade girl.
I was an angry, mean little shit, with a very bad attitude - at least according to the teachers and many of my fellow students. For myself, the attitude which I displayed was a necessity. A necessity, in order to cope with the fact that my peers were all much larger than I, and like children everywhere, picked on anyone different from the group. I was very different from the group.
Having lost my hand, my girlfriend, and most of my motivation, I entered into a period of depression which lasted for nearly three years. Prior to the loss of my hand, I had never received anything but an A on any academic subject on any report card ever sent home with me. I passed the second half of seventh grade as a courtesy of my teachers, not because of any effort of my own. I entered the eighth grade, did the absolute bare bones minimum, which would get me a C or D and pass the courses. It did not require any effort, as the eighth-grade really does not introduce anything truly knew, in the grade school curriculum. Possibly some maths, but that is basically the extent of it. Without doing a single bit of homework, without opening a textbook, without reading any of the required books, without doing anything other than simply sitting at my desk listening to the teacher, it was quite possible to get C’s and D’s. That’s all I did.
Freshman year in high school was much the same, so was sophomore year. Late in sophomore year I began to come out of the depression I had been suffering for so long, and look around me. I asked myself a simple question. Did I want to go to college? I decided that I did. I reviewed the requirements to obtain entry to the various colleges I had developed an interest in. It didn’t take long to realize that there was no way possible given the grades which I had obtained to that time to obtain entry even into community college.
I spent the summer between sophomore & junior years thinking intensely about what it would take to be able to get into a decent college given my academic record. At pre-registration for junior year I managed to persuade my guidance counselor that I could take 10 courses in an 8 period day, and pass them all. We struck a deal. If I could maintain a 4.0 average (perfect grades) for the first nine weeks then he would allow me to continue the second nine weeks with the same schedule. And so on. I ended my junior year with a 4.0 for the year. I am not bragging here, simply stating the facts, knowing full well that anyone sufficiently motivated could have done as well.
Having completed the necessary credits for graduation, I elected to attend community college for my senior year instead of high school. Many of the people who knew me in school thought I had dropped out. The only class I attended was an “early bird” class which met before regularly scheduled class hours. French IV. I only attended that class because the school district and the school board refused to allow me to graduate early and would only give me the necessary consent forms to attend community college if I showed up to have my little head counted for tax revenue purposes for at least one class each day.
So every morning I arrived at the school house at 730, attended French IV with the other six enrollees in that class. Ran to my car, drove like a madman to the community college 20 miles away to get to my first-class, which was at 9 AM. As a part of the agreement with the school board that allowed me to do this I had to maintain a 4.0 average that year as well. I did so.
I have said all of the foregoing for a very simple reason. I truly believe that if one can find within oneself the desire to achieve anything, that in it is within one’s grasp. It matters not how impossible it may seem. It matters not what others may say about the attempt. The only thing which matters is one’s own belief that the goal is worth the effort.
Regardless of the level of difficulty one encounters in life the primary impediment to achievement for almost all of humanity is their own failure to believe in themselves.
Do you believe in yourself?
This is from a thread I started at The Hypertribe, 12-26-2001. It still brings tears to my eyes to read it, but posting it publicly was an important step in dealing with it.|
Grief is like the tide.
Sometimes it comes flooding in, rising inexorably, driven by the storm to inundate my life and leave me desperately floundering, struggling to find a point of solidity to which to cling, crying out for help to keep from drowning.
Other times it ebbs, sucking out and out, leaving me on a barren, sandy shore to dessicate in it's brilliant sunlight, shriveling, dying like a starfish caught upon it's shore.
I know it's shape, it's textures, it's raging power and it's sneaking depression of my soul.
I know it's process, it's stages, it's daily isolation and pain.
I know it will pass away, as all things eventually do, as I someday will. I wonder, though; will it pass before I do?
It blindsides me with sucker punches to the heart, to the soul, that stagger me and drive me too my knees. I get up, but every time it's harder, every time more of a struggle that leaves me diminished.
It leaches away my being, my soul, and leaves blackness and void upon the face of my deep.
I do not know how to quit the struggle, it is not in me to surrender. The cost of sucrease bought that way is too high. But, oh, the cost of the fight is becoming more than I can bear.
Daily, the pain in my heart grows stronger, the struggle to contain it more difficult, the rage it engenders more expensive to control. I must, but I do not know if I can.
One week ftom today will be the first anniversary of my wife's murder, my heart's compression into the jar that holds it walled from the world. Please help me to find a way to open that jar and let out the pain, the rage, the heartache without destroying all else I hold dear.
Here I sit, in my lonely house, my only companions my cats and the dog. They are a great comfort to me, especially Lady Velcro (so named because she sticks to everything she touches) who lies curled in my lap, softly buzzing.
It's not enough, but it's what I have right now. My son is at work, and the house echoes with a resounding emptiness.
The grief for my wife grips me fast in an iron fist, squeezing my heart and compressing my soul. I struggle with it daily, when I am talking with others all over this country who have experienced similar losses, and allowed it to destroy their lives.
I will not permit that to happen too myself, I cannot. I allowed a major loss to grrip me and control me once before in my life, and the result was ten years of isolation, pain, and rage which nearly destroyed me.
My darling Julie saw something in me I could not see myself, and refused to accept my rejection of her approaches. She was the best single thing to ever happen to me, and I know that if I permit her loss too control me and isolate me again she will haunt my nights, and lurk around every corner of my days to ambush me and pull me out of myself.
Slowly, I know the pain will diminish - I have to believe that to go on. But it is so slow, and ever more painful as I struggle to adjust to the loneliness and emptiness I inhabit.
I miss the littlest things, the daily intertwining of our lives, the daily sharing of our joys, our frustrations, our acheivements and our failures. I miss the comfort of knowing that I can reach out and touch someone who welcomes my touch, whose touch in return softened my heart.
I find myself crying, tears dripping down my cheeks, wetting my shirt and bleeding me of my strength, at the oddest moments. While talking to an elderly lady who lost her husband of 47 years; while commiserating with a young man whose love died in an auto accident I cry, and embarrass my colleagues and myself. I don't fight the tears, that only makes the pain grow stronger.
The worst of all of this is that I cannot deal with the man who murdered my heart as I wish - for if I do I will destroy so many other good things in my life, and cause immeasurable pain to those who love me still.
My values, my beliefs, my very self-image cries out for me to hunt him down like the miserable, rabid dog he has proven himself to be. Yet I cannot, for if I do it will cost more than I can bear to inflict on others in my life.
The conflict is slowly tearing me apart. I must find a way to reconcile this dichotomy before it rips me asunder.
It’s been a year now.
“It’s time to quit grieving, it’s time to let go.” They tell me, “Get on with your life, find someone new.”
Time to quit grieving – four words shaping a concept I cannot grasp. I do not know how to quit the grief, it must quit me. So far, it shows no sign of withdrawing it’s claws from my heart.
Time to let go – another four words. I can grasp this concept, but it is so slippery it squirts from my grip every time I try.
Get on with your life – I do that every day, just by choosing to continue my life. It is a decision I make afresh every day. It is just that the emptiness I inhabit has invaded me, and now there is void where my heart was.
Find someone new –
Find someone new –
Find someone new –
How do I do that?
You see, I did not find her, she found me and drew me out of ten years of darkness, misery, solitude & isolation, and showed me that Love CAN find a way to make a door in an adamantine wall. Having made that door, her love came in and filled the frozen place I called my heart with warmth, with caring, with a need to reach out and love her back.
Now it is emptiness again, but I have learned; I will not close the door to my heart again, I will not rebuild that wall, I will NOT.
The icy wind blowing through that open door right now is freezing my soul, shriveling me and leaving me twisted into a knot of shivering pain that I cannot unravel, for I am twisted up within it.
I do not pray for succor, I do not beg for relief, for I know that prayers are empty words spoken to the unhearing wind, and relief can only come with time. I do not want the relief of numbness, I will not take the relief of intoxication, for that relief means not caring, not allowing myself to explore the pain to its foundations, so that I can rebuild what is broken.
Tomorrow is two years.
Just typing those words is like sticking a knife into the wound and cutting it open again. It hurts, beyond words it is an agony I cannot express, but it has to be done.
Why?, you may ask?
Because if I do not let out the anger, the rage, the corruption of my heart in words, it WILL find other ways to express itself.
This would not be good, to put it mildly,and might well be a bloody disaster for others who do not deserve to hurt simply because I am in pain. So I try to say what I feel here. It is a poor attempt, but I must try, if for no other reason than my own self-image.
Julie, I love you, I miss you, and the biggest regret in my life is not going with you that day. Perhaps nothing would be different, or perhaps there would be even more people with an aching void in their hearts for loved ones gone. Regrets, might have beens, are useless weapons with which we reproach ourselves.
Darling, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the love and joy you gave too me. I have not the words to say how much your spirit touched and changed my heart, but from knowing you and recieving your love I have emerged a much better man than I would ever have become on my own.
Our time together was only five short, tumultuous years, full of joy, and constant change for both of us. The greatest gift I ever recieved was you; the most important words that dwell in my memory are you telling me, Christmas morning two years ago, that you were happier than you had ever been, and thanking me for the gift of sharing my life with you. Your gift to me of yourself was so much greater than mine.
Thank you, dearest sweetheart, for your love.
This is a work of fiction, very loosely based upon my life.
Chapter One: Dusty
I grew up in the country, and in the course of my life I’ve known many dogs. Most were great fun, a few were sneaky, conniving scoundrels, and a very few were outright thugs. Much like people, in that regard.
The first “bad” dog I ever knew was a cow dog on the ranch we lived on in Southern California at the time of my birth. Dusty paid no attention to anyone except my Dad and my Uncle John, and even with them he was surly. The only reason Dad didn’t shoot him out of hand was his usefulness – you could point out a particular animal in a herd and tell him to “cut ‘er out”, and in moments that animal would be standing before you, shaking and bawling in fear.
Everyone else on the ranch, from the lowest hand to the owner, was afraid of that snarling yellow mutt. With good cause, too – he’d sooner take your hand off than let you pet him, and god help the animal that crossed him. Even the 2,000 lb prize bull was meek around him.
I was born with serious club-footedness in both feet, and I spent many months in the Shriner’s hospital in LA, and many, many more unable to motivate around very well. My older brothers and sister were all wild, whooping Indians charging around that 22,000 acre ranch on foot, a-horseback, and on bicycles or scooters long before I was able to do much more than make it to the chain link fence around the yard.
Dusty hated them. Most especially he hated my brother Mark, who at age four could drop the loop of a lasso around one hoof of a running steer. Nothing and nobody was safe from Mark with his rope. The first time Mark roped old Dusty, that dog like to wore himself plumb out fighting that lasso. The next time, he didn’t fight the lasso, he just came up that rope in a low yellow streak and slammed into Mark full tilt, knocking him down and standing in the middle of him.
First my Dad knew of it was when Rosie burst into the machine shed screaming that Dusty was killing Mark. Dad came out, saw that old dog standing in the middle of Mark, snarling and damned near foaming at the mouth, and charged him. Well, Dusty saw that coming and backed off, dragging Mark’s lasso. Once Dad figured out what had happened, he got the rope off Dusty, tanned Mark’s hide with it, and made him put it up for a week.
Dusty, ever after that, had a great hatred for Mark. He’d lay in wait for him around the corner of barns and outbuilding, and just generally terrorized him fiercely. He was a damned smart dog, and I guess he figured out that anybody who was a target of Mark’s mischief was just naturally his ally. I was such a target, constantly. By the time I was 2 and a half, I could get around pretty good in my braces, although I was never what you would call fast. Dusty saw Mark terrorizing me by zooming at me on his bicycle, or tripping me up, or what have you, and that mean old dog became my shadow. Never once let me pet him, wouldn’t take food from my hands, or get within closer than about 3 feet of me, but he was always there unless he was off with Dad working the cattle.
Anytime he wasn’t working, if I was outside that yellow cur was slinking along behind or beside me. Come up to the corner of a building, he’d scout ahead, and many a time he flushed Mark out, yelling. He was my protector, but never my friend. I used to watch him studying the other animals on the ranch, and watching my brothers and sisters, and I could see that old dog thinking.
I used to sit at the end of the old bunkhouse, where the slope of the ground caused there to be about a 4 foot high crawl space that was until very late afternoon cool and shady. All the ranch dogs would be under there, and usually a half dozen cats, avoiding that brutal San Joaquin valley heat. When I’d walk under there, the dogs would companionably move aside and make me a space on the cool dirt, at least till Dusty showed up. Then I’d be at one end of an oval space about 10 feet by 8, with Dusty smack in the middle. None of the other animals would encroach on his space.
Well, I was back under there one day when Mark came looking for me, calling my name. Dusty bristled up at the sound of his voice, and rose to his feet. The other dogs sidled even farther from him, the cats disappeared up under the floorboards of the other end of the bunkhouse. As Mark came around the end of the bunkhouse into sight, Dusty started snarling; you know what I mean, that low rumbling snarl with real menace dripping from it, that snarl that says, “this time I’m gonna kill you.”
Well, Mark wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. He’d bout had it with that old dog, and quicker than you’d believe he dropped a loop around Dusty’s neck. He had learned something from the last time, though, cause he snubbed that rope around a post and backed off, keeping a good tension on it. Dusty charged him, and like to broke his neck when he hit the end of that rope. It flipped him over backwards and he hit the ground damned hard. He staggered to his feet, and for about 30 seconds he fought that rope like a wild cat. I’d backed up under the bunkhouse with the other dogs, and was watching wide-eyed.
Dusty suddenly quit fighting, and just stood there, panting in the heat of the afternoon sun. Mark was out at the end of the rope, taunting him. I watched Dusty turn and look around, then look down the rope to the post he was snubbed on, and I could see that crafty dog thinking. Suddenly he shot toward that post, and I screamed at Mark to drop the rope and run for the house. For once, he did the smart thing. He dropped the rope and ran. Dusty went around that post, but the loose rope snagged on it as he did and tumbled him again.
It is probably the only thing that saved Mark’s life. Dusty, snarling and wild, struggled loose from the loop and took off after Mark in a streak. Mark hit the gate on the chain link fenced yard and just barely got it slammed on the catch when Dusty hit it like a freight train. For about ten minutes old Dusty snarled up and down that fence, trying to get at Mark, who was hunkered, trembling and pale, on the front stoop.
Finally, Dusty calmed down a bit, and came walking back toward the bunkhouse. The other dogs boiled out from under there like their lives depended on being somewhere, anywhere else. Likely they did.
Dusty grabbed that lasso and drug it under the bunkhouse, laid down, and commenced to chewing. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever handled a real roping lasso, but that is about the toughest, hardest rope you’ll ever see. In the next 2 hours, Dusty chewed that rope up into 2 – 3 foot long chunks. By the time Dad came in from the foothills where he’d been up blowing a reservoir, that rope was so thoroughly destroyed you couldn’t have used a single piece to tie a gate shut – none were long enough.
Mark told his story bout the mad dog, I told my story about the whole thing. Dad cogitated a while, then he went out to the bunkhouse and saw Dusty lying there in the middle of a rat’s nest of chewed lasso, rope burn on his neck.
Well, he came back in laughing at Mark, telling him he was damned lucky that old dog hadn’t caught and savaged him something fierce. Mark was so mad about his lasso that he was crying; Dad just told him to count it a good damned lesson.
The next day Dad took Dusty with him up to the old line cabin in the hills where the Basque hermit lived, and introduced them. He told Dusty to stay, and the only times I ever saw that old mutt again were when we’d drive up there bout once a month with simple supplies for that old man.
Copyright Patrick Early
Oct 27, 2003
Chapter Two: Big Buster
Dogs come in lots of sizes, as we all know. Everything from 10 oz teacup poodles to 240 lb mastiffs. I’ve known many little dogs, which, like many little men, had huge attitude problems. Most big dogs I’ve known were pretty easy going.
Buster was an exception. Appearance wise, he was a classic American Boxer – light tan coat, dark brown ears and muzzle, darker line down his back, white blaze on his chest and white stockings on all four feet. Truly, he was a handsome animal.
We called him Big Buster because it fit – he was easily twice the size of any other boxer dog I’ve ever known. As a 4 year old boy, he looked like an elephant to me – he towered over me and weighed at least 8 times as much as I did. He was terrifying; not just too me, I’ve seen big men blanch grey when he rose up, hackles standing, and rumbled that deep growl of his.
He did that often. Big Buster belonged to Old Robert; an old, old man who made his living panning gold in the little streams coming down out of the Strawberry Mountains of eastern Oregon, where my family had moved when we left the ranch. When we met him we were living in a huge old 2 story house on the bank of Canyon Creek, a few miles from John Day.
Old Robert had a truly rattle-trap early 30’s vintage Chevy pickup, held together mostly with baling wire, and hope. He’d pick a likely spot, park that wreck, tell Big Buster to guard, and clamber down into the stream bed to work a likely looking gravel bar. If he found any “color”, he’d climb back up to the truck, drag out his gear, and set up camp.
He had a homemade camp kitchen that slid out of the bed and set up on two legs, with the back side resting on the bed. His bedroll fit on the bed behind the cab, under a canvas canopy that was supported on 3 hoops made from oak saplings that went in the stake holes of the truck. The awning extended about 8 ft behind the camp kitchen, which is where he’d set up an old wooden folding chaise lounge he’d acquired somewhere. He’d sit there by his little fire, under the canopy, wrapped in a blanket if it was cold enough, sipping booze laced coffee all evening, telling stories.
The house we were living in had started life in the 1890’s as a saloon in Canyon City. By the time we moved there in the late 50’s it was in pretty poor shape, but it was huge, it had 14 bedrooms upstairs, and each one had a cast iron stove. In the main room downstairs there was the biggest single wood stove I’ve ever seen – it would take 8 sixty inch long, 2 foot in diameter aspen logs to fill the firebox. That huge old monster would hold that fire all night, and could heat that old uninsulated house hot enough to run you out of the main room on a sub-zero night.
In the kitchen there was a modern 5 burner propane stove, and a propane frig, along with a restaurant sized wood burning cookstove., and stairs down into the old cold room under the back porch. Part of Canyon creek was diverted by an old split log flume to run through a rock channel in the cold room – since the creek was a purely snow melt stream, it stayed damned cold year around. There were electric lights (bulbs on cords from the ceiling) in the main room, the kitchen, and the bathroom. The rest of the house we lighted with Aladdin kerosene lamps.
In late September of that year, Old Robert set up camp about a quarter mile upstream of the house. He wasn’t working the creek at that place – he was sifting the ground where the old assay office, the whorehouse, and another saloon had stood in Canyon City’s heyday. Most of the town had burned one disastrous winter in the early days of the century, and the soil where those buildings had stood had a pretty good lacing of powder gold that had sifted down into cracks in the floor, or through it.
Old Robert had gotten an old town plat map from the county courthouse, and gone and surveyed off the sites of several businesses he figgered had handled a lot of placer gold back in the day. He planned to spend the winter working the top 18 inches or so of soil from those building sites – said he’d done it before in other old mining towns and made pretty good money doing it.
After he’d been camped there a few days my Dad walked up to introduce himself on a Saturday morning. He’d forbidden us kids from going up to the old man’s camp till he got a chance to meet him, and it is just as well. As he approached Old Robert’s camp, Big Buster stood up from under the camp kitchen, stepped out and growled.
Dad said later it startled him something fierce; he couldn’t see the dog clearly in the shade of the awning, and he said he’d never seen a big Shetland pony that aggressive, or one that growled. He always carried his stock whip with him in those days, a 16 foot rawhide 8 ply black snake he could pop a quarter across the ground with, and he said he shook it out behind him when Big Buster stepped out into the light.
Dad stopped dead about 50 feet from the back of the truck, and faced off with Big Buster. He said that dog was one of only two dogs he’d ever met that scared him, and the other was a rabid pit bull he encountered as a boy in Oklahoma. As he backed away from the truck Big Buster kept advancing, keeping the gap about constant. Dad got fed up with that real quick, so he stopped and popped a rock with the whip just to let Buster know what it was.
That whip made a hell of a crack when he’d pop it, and right quick Old Robert came hot-footing into camp. He saw the confrontation, asked Dad if he’d hit his dog with that whip. Dad told him no, just let the dog know it was there.
Old Robert told him he was right tickled too hear that, ‘cause he’d sure hate to have to shoot a neighbor before being introduced. He told Buster to get under the truck, and the two of them sat down to campfire coffee, and got acquainted.
Throughout that fall, the old man could be seen humping wheelbarrows of soil down to his flume at the creek, washing the placer gold out of all those old foundation areas. Most afternoons, after my big brothers and sister got home from school we’d all troop up to wherever he was working, and “help”. He was remarkable patient for an old semi-hermit who couldn’t set foot indoors without getting all flustered, who might go weeks between human encounters, and whose only regular companion was a dog the size of a small horse that hunted for his own meat.
Big Buster stayed in camp most days, on guard, and Old Robert made it real clear that dog would eat us for a snack soon as look at us. Big Buster reinforced that judgment with his growls, and flashing fangs behind a curled lip if we got within about 50 feet of the truck.
We’d stay there pestering that old man, generally underfoot, till dinner time. Dad really liked him, and he’d go up there most evenings after dark for an hour or so. He told us lots of Old Robert’s stories, and they were always fascinating. That old man had been prospecting since he was a teenager, more than 60 years before, and he’d been just about everywhere in the Great Basin country it was possible to get to.
After he’d been there about a month we got a rare stretch of Indian summer weather, and Dad got a bull elk on his way down the mountain from the Seneca lumber company mill where he was working one evening. He came in about 45 minutes late, with that elk field dressed in the bed of the pickup, and we had an exciting few minutes getting it hung in the big cottonwood behind the house.
Dad went up to Old Roberts camp to tell him about the elk, and invite him to a big barbeque at our house that coming Saturday. Old Robert said he’d come, and that he’d warn Big Buster too stay clear of that elk.
We had a grand time that Saturday, with friends coming from all over the area with their kids. There are few finer foods than well-aged elk steak bbq’d over an open fire, with corn roasted in its jacket, and all the fixings of an old fashioned country get-together.
When the party was winding down in early evening, a bunch of us were down on the creek bank chunkin’ stones at the boulders and admiring the few big rainbow trout we could see in the pool just below the house, when Old Robert wandered over. He was just standing there, companionable like, looking out across the creek, when his face lit up like a Christmas tree.
He jumped down the bank like a fool kid, bouncing from stone to stone, then waded out into the creek. He got out about ten feet into the water, waist deep, and pulled his pocket knife out and worried a chunk off a great big flat rock just sticking above the water. He came wading back into the bank, didn’t say a word to nobody, and went trotting off up to his camp.
Everybody just figgered the old man had drunk a bit too much corn refreshment through the day, and let him be.
Next morning he came to the house bright and early – the first time he’d ever done that, carting a quart mason jar in his hand. Sloshing around in the bottom of that jar was about an inch of mercury. It had lots of dirt and rock flour coating the top, but all over the surface you could see a thin layer of powder gold.
He told Dad, sitting on the back porch with us kids crowded round, that that big flat “rock” out in the creek wasn’t a rock at all – it was a congealed lump of mercury amalgam mixed with rock flour he figured must have escaped from the old ball rolling mill in the fire, and settled in that pool behind the house. He was pretty excited.
He asked Dad if he minded if he moved his camp to the downstream side of the pool, below the house, so he could work on getting that lump up out of the creek bed. He wanted permission, ‘cause that field was part of the place we were renting. Of course, Dad said yes.
Well, Old Robert moved camp that day. This poised somewhat of a problem, because his truck was now only about 100 yards from the back door of the house, and Big Buster was considerable wrought up over us kids busting out that door and dashing down to the creek to watch Old Robert. That whole first day after the move, Big Buster laid under that rattle-trap old wreck of a truck, growling and snarling every time one of us kids came in sight.
Finally, even Old Robert grew concerned. That evening, he talked things over with Dad, and they settled on a plan. With Dad present, Old Robert introduced us kids to Big Buster one at a time, formal as you please. That big old dog understood we weren’t to be molested, but at the same time he was some put out by the whole affair.
At that time, in that country, there was a considerable problem with packs of feral dogs running the country. City folk would go camping in the mountains, and when Spot or Rover didn’t show up to get in the car for the trip home, they’d just leave the poor city bred mutts behind. I imagine the majority of those dogs perished within a few days of abandonment, prey to some bobcat or mountain lion, bear or wolf, or just dieing of stupidity.
Some few of them would go wild, and those would pack up and run the country. They were hell on sheep, even yearling calves, and the sheepherders and ranchers paid a bounty on them through the county extension agent. As the winter approached, like any other sensible wild predator they’d move down out of the high grazing country into the valleys to try to survive the bitterly cold weather.
The area around Canyon City had seen its share of problems with these sorry creatures, especially given that it laid square astride the best path down out of the high country. The year before we moved in, there’d been some pretty serious depredations to the winter penned sheep of one the big ranchers at the mouth of the canyon where it opened out into the John Day valley, and everybody in the country warned us to watch out for “them damned wild dogs!”
The presence of all of us kids moving through what he considered his space perturbed Big Buster mightily, and he moved his guard spot out from under the old truck to a spot on the edge of the aspen grove on the far side of the meadow, about 200 yards off. He’d sit there, the picture of duty, staring at that truck and Old Robert’s camp all day long. He’d only come back into camp when the old man himself came in for the day.
Old Robert was out in that bitterly cold stream most mornings, wearing some old rubber hip waders he’d acquired, cutting chunks off that huge lump of amalgam. He’d get about 100 lbs cut off, and then he’d wade in to shore, lift the chunks into his wheelbarrow, and trundle them into his camp. He had an old 20 gallon cast iron cauldron he’d found that he set up on a tripod over his fire, and he’d melt that mercury down and pour it into quart jars he scavenged from all over.
In mid November we got our first real snowfall, and Mom forbade us kids from going down to the creek in the afternoons, afraid we’d fall in and catch our deaths of pneumonia. Likely she was correct in her assessment – I couldn’t get near water without ending up soaked and muddy, and my brothers and sisters weren’t much better.
About that same time Dad told us he’d seen one pack of wild dogs about 15 miles up canyon, and we were to stay close to the house. He also told Mom that from that point on, if we got serious snow during the day while he was at work on the mountain, that he would be bunking in the bunkhouse at the mill instead of trying to get down the mountain on that steep, crooked road.
My sister Rosie was in first grade that year, and one morning one of her classmates brought in some candles her grandmother had made, for show and tell. They were made from candleberry wax – a type of low shrub that grew all over that country had white, waxy berries that could be cooked down and a fine, hard wax extracted from them. Candles made from that wax burned clean, lasted well, and smelled delicious. In pioneer days they had been a real blessing to folks.
Rosie took it into her mind that nothing would do but that she should go pick a mess of those berries and make some candles. She knew that Mom wouldn’t let her go downstream to the nearest sizable patch of the bushes, about ¾ of a mile, so she didn’t ask. She just grabbed a flour sack, and went.
She’d been gone about an hour when Dad got home, and then about an hour later Mom started calling for her too come help put dinner together. When she didn’t answer up, Mom went out on the porch and called for her. Still no answer.
Dad came out, found out she was missing, and called all of us kids in to ask if we knew where she’d gone. Nobody knew a thing. Rosie was an independent spirit, and this wasn’t the first time she’d disappeared, so the folks weren’t terribly worried. They figured she would come in soon.
Meanwhile, Rosie was downstream, picking away. She had that flour sack about 1/3 full of candleberries when she realized it was getting late, and started for home. She was about halfway home when a pack of about a dozen dogs appeared on the other side of the creek. She heard them growling and yipping, looked over and saw them, and panicked.
She did about the worst thing she could have done – she started running for home. Anybody who has ever seen wild dogs or wolves work prey knows that running from them is the surest way to draw an attack, but she was a little girl alone, and scared.
Those dogs came splashing across Canyon creek, and hit the bank behind her running, determined to catch her. Rosie was screaming by then, and she had lungs on her that would rival a train whistle. She burst out of the aspen grove below Old Robert’s camp just barely ahead of those dogs, and Big Buster was already up and alerted by the noise.
To hear Old Robert tell it, that Big Buster never hesitated – he was off like a brown streak toward that pack of dogs, and he hurtled into the midst of them just as they caught up to Rosie. The lead dog slashed her left thigh just as Big Buster arrived, and Rosie was down on the ground in the middle of a boiling, screaming, snarling pack of dogs all fighting to get at her and/or Big Buster. Old Robert said he grabbed his rifle, but couldn’t fire for fear of hitting Rosie, who he’d catch a glimpse of every few moments.
By the time my Dad came dashing up, it was pretty much all over but the whimpering. Rosie was still down, clutching her leg and crying, while Big Buster was standing over her a-bristle, with five dead or dieing dogs around him. Dad couldn’t get to Rosie to pick her up till Old Robert spent a couple of minutes talking that huge brute of his down from his battle-high, and getting him to step away from her.
Mom and Dad took Rosie into John Day to the doctor’s house. He cleaned the wound on her leg, a deep slash into the muscle on the back of her thigh, and stitched her up. They brought her home in about two hours.
While Mom was busy trying to restore some order amongst us kids, and get Rosie set up on a pallet in her and Dad’s bedroom, Dad went to talk to Old Robert. When he got to his camp, the old man was working on Big Buster, cleaning up several minor slashes he’d suffered, and trying to decide what to do – one of the wild dogs had managed to slash the major tendon just above the ankle on his right hind leg, and he couldn’t put that foot down without the leg folding under him.
Old Robert said he figured about all he could do was put Big Buster down – no way would that tendon ever heal properly, and he didn’t want him to die by inches. Dad told him that wasn’t gonna happen, that no dog he owed that much too was going to be either crippled or put down. Old Robert said there wasn’t any choice; he didn’t have the money to get Big Buster fixed by the vet.
Dad refused to hear that – he walked back to the house, got his pickup, and drove to Old Robert’s camp. They loaded Big Buster in the bed of the truck, and headed back into John Day to the vet’s place.
When they got there the vet pretty much said the same thing – no way to adequately repair the damage; Big Buster was likely to go through life a three legged dog if he survived. Dad told him to do his level best, and explained why. The vet agreed to try, but told Old Robert that for that tendon to have any chance of healing he would have to cast and immobilize the leg for several weeks.
The story of what Big Buster had done got around the valley pretty damned quick. The next day there were several men out talking to Dad about organizing a big hunt to clean the dogs out of the canyon completely, and everyone made a point of visiting Old Robert and Big Buster.
They held that drive and hunt that following weekend – over 100 men on horseback from all over the country started up canyon about 15 miles and worked all the way down to the mouth, flushing the dogs out ahead of them. All told they cleared out three packs of dogs totaling nearly thirty in all.
Every few days somebody would drop by to leave off a haunch of mutton, or a huge hunk of beef, or half a deer for Big Buster to gnaw on. That old dog just lay under Old Robert’s truck, and ate and ate. By the time the vet figured it was safe to take off the cast and let him start using his leg, he must have gained 30 lbs.
That’s the story of Big Buster, the biggest, meanest dog with a heart of gold I ever knew. He never did get tolerant of anybody but Old Robert. When the old man died in camp three winters later, they had to shoot Big Buster to get his body for burial. It’s probably just as well – that dog was a one man critter.
Oh yeah – Rosie never did drop that flour sack of candleberries – that weekend she and Mom cooked them down, extracted the wax, and made a few candles.
Copyright Patrick Early
Nov 3, 2003
Re: Bad Dogs
Chapter Three: Rex the Malevolent
The summer of the year I turned five, we moved from the John Day area of eastern Oregon to a farm in the Willamette Valley, about 5 miles south of the tiny agricultural/lumber town of Molalla.
The farm was about 90 acres of mostly bottomland along one bank of a small creek, with the barns, houses and out-buildings on a bench of the hillside above the creek about halfway to the crest of the hill. Two houses faced one another across a blacktop driveway.
One was a smallish, modern (early 50’s) story and a half with two attic bedrooms under the gables in which the owner of the farm lived with his wife and two teenage kids. The other house was a huge old classic farmhouse, deep covered porch on the south and west sides, two full stories with 3 bedrooms, a bath, and a screened summer sleeping porch upstairs, with the living room, dining room, and kitchen as well as the master suite downstairs. On the north side half the depth of that huge old box was covered by a shed addition which contained the utility/laundry room, as well as a single car garage which we used as a woodshed. Behind the laundry room was the 3 sided summer kitchen, with a huge old 6 burner, two oven, water jacketed cast iron wood stove, a scalding cauldron on a swing arm brace that could be lifted and swung out over the brick firebox for it just off the edge of the porch, and a box smoker for small meat like chickens or fish
The owner of the farm worked in town for the largest local lumber mill, as their payroll manager, and just leased the land out to a local farmer each year for cropping. We had the use of the barns, the orchard pasture, the woodlots, and the “home” garden plot – about 6 acres in total. It was a great place to live – we had chickens, pigs, rabbits, cows, a goat, guinea hens, and dogs.
Which brings me to the “star” of this story – Rex the Malevolent.
Where the house lay was off a small county side road connecting two larger roads – one a county farm road leading south to Marquam and north to Yoder from the junction; the other the major state highway running north/south up the east side of the valley. From the end of the driveway it was about a mile and a half either way to one of the larger roads. There was very little traffic on that road at any time, there being only four farms between the junctions, and we treated the hill between the end of the driveway and the bridges over the creeks in the bottom as our personal play ground for riding scooters, or skates, or bicycles, or what have you. The creeks, the woods around them, the pond alongside below their confluence, the agate bed below that – all of it was our territory.
We’d lived there a year when I started school, and soon made two good friends – Gary, who lived about a mile and a quarter from our house across the fields and through the woods, and Grant, who lived about two and a half miles away in the other direction, on the Marquam road. In those days I was confined to walking or my stand up scooter, as my leg braces wouldn’t let me ride a bike. I couldn’t cut across the fields to Grant’s house, as it would require crossing two fast running creeks and cutting across old man Johnson’s place – he’d made it clear he’d deal harshly with any kids he found on his land. South of his place was the Hobart farm, which was for 9-10 months of the year an uncrossable bog which produced a huge yearly crop of marsh hay, and little else. Mostly, Grant rode his bike to our house.
When I was seven I finally got free of those cursed leg braces, and hit the ground running. It wasn’t three days after I got out of them that I learned to ride a bike, and very quickly I was riding it to Grant’s house every chance I got. The Marquam road was pretty much level from it’s junction with our road south to the junction with the state highway at the Marquam four corners. Grants house was just north of the section jog, (for those who don’t know, when you map rectangular property sections onto a spherical surface, occasionally you have to offset the north/south property lines from the sections adjacent, to make them fit. County roads frequently follow these section lines, so have a square S jog occasionally) about a half mile north of the Marquam store.
Shortly after I started riding to Grant’s, we took up the habit of riding on down to the store for a bottle of pop (my poison was Grape Nehi in those days). Before we would leave his house his mom always called old Ora Oz, the widow woman who lived just south of the section jog, to pen up her dog for an hour of so. She had a giant Alsation with a truly vile temperament and the bad habit of attacking anyone on a bike who rode past.
At seven years old I was tiny – just over three feet tall and weighing 39 pounds at the start of the school year. Rex was about three foot at the shoulder and probably weighed 140 lbs – to me he was a monster. My bike was a homemade one – my Dad couldn’t find one small enough for me to ride – single speed, and heavy for its size. I only got moving fast on it on a good hill. Rex could catch me easily if he were free.
One Saturday I rode to Grant’s house, only to discover he’d gone to town with his Mom to get some new shoes. His Dad raised free range turkeys for the specialty poultry trade – essentially wild birds that had their wings clipped, and ran loose on the 160 acres of fenced ground behind the house, and he told me they wouldn’t be home for several hours. His attitude made it pretty clear I should clear off, so I did.
Unfortunately, I made a serious mistake coming out of their driveway – instead of turning left toward home I turned right toward Marquam. I never thought about Rex, I just wanted a bottle of pop from the store. As I made the second square corner of the section jog and started down the straight stretch toward the store Rex erupted from the eight foot cedar hedge in front of Mrs. Oz’s house like a guided missile – a child-devouring missile with jaws big enough and strong enough to crush my skull.
I saw him from the corner of my eye when he was about ten feet from me – nowhere near soon enough to do anything at all to avoid him. He slammed full-tilt into me, knocking me, bike and all, into the ditch. That impact probably saved my life. I ended up under my bike in the bottom of the ditch, with the front wheel between my head and neck and the air above us.
Rex jumped on top of me and the bike, and tried several times to bite my face and throat, but all he got was a mouth full of spokes for his troubles. Finally, he grabbed me by the right leg and dragged me onto the road, kicking and screaming. It seemed like forever I fought that monster, getting bitten on the legs and feet several times as I kicked at him to fend him off, before Mrs. Oz ran out and grabbed him and dragged him off of me. She took him in her yard and chained him up, then came back to me.
She ended up having to carry me into her house, as I was too torn up and shaken to navigate. Once inside she called my Mom, then started trying to clean me up. It wasn’t long before my Mom came in with my oldest brother, took one good look at the bites, and hauled me out to the car for a high speed run into town to the clinic. I was lucky – there were thirteen punctures, but only one slash that required stitches.
While the Dr worked on me, my brother ran across town (all 8 blocks) to the lumber mill to fetch my Dad. By the time they returned to the clinic the Dr was finishing up stitching my slash and bandaging the various punctures after cleaning them out. Mom and the Dr managed to talk Dad out of going straight to Mrs. Oz’s house to kill Rex, and likely her too if she got in the way. They persuaded him to make a complaint to the county sheriff’s animal control officer, and get Rex put down by the law. He did go recover my bike.
Well, that was my first lesson in the value of trusting the law – turned out Mrs. Oz’s son was the patrol sergeant for the county sheriff for the south end of the county, and he’d given Rex to his mother for her “protection”. Nothing was done about the incident except to advise my folks to tell us kids to stay away from her house.
My Dad was enraged, totally. He was intent on killing that “damned dog”, and it took a lot of fast talk by my Mom and our landlord to prevent him from doing so. In the end I got forbidden to ride past Grant’s house unless we knew positively that Rex was chained up. I was also forbidden to go to the Marquam store by taking the state highway – it was twice as far that way and the highway carried a high traffic volume, much of which was huge log trucks that would quite literally blow me off the road.
Mrs. Oz had been very upset by some of the things my Dad and Mom had said to her in the aftermath of my mauling, so she usually refused to chain up Rex if Grant’s Mom called to ask her to. Consequently, my trips to the store were few and far between for a goodly while.
Finally, after about the fifth or sixth time she refused, I got fed up. My Dad had always said if I was scared of something I should face up to it, and he’d often said that “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”
So I made up my mind to do both.
Saturday morning, I told Mom I was going to ride to Grant’s house. She reminded me not to go south of there, and I went upstairs for my coat. My folks bedroom door was right at the bottom of the stairs, and I knew she wouldn’t hear me as she was washing dishes and listening to the radio. I went into their bedroom, opened up the drawer of my Dad’s bedside table, took his .38 revolver, and put it in my coat pocket.
On the ride toward Grant’s house the weight of that pistol in my pocket seemed to keep pulling me sideways. Just past his house, before the first 90 degree turn of the section corner, I stopped, pulled the pistol out of my coat, then rode on with it in my left hand.
As I came around the second corner, I rolled to a stop. I was just bringing the pistol up in a two-handed grip when Rex erupted from the hedge across the road. I shot that evil monster four times in the chest and side as he slid almost to my feet, then put the fifth shot through the top of his head.
It was quite strange. I unhurriedly put the pistol back in my pocket, pushed off and started pedaling toward the store. I felt as though it were someone else navigating that bicycle – there was a sensation as of looking at the world through a thick window – everything was at a distance from me.
At the store I parked my bike, and climbed the stairs to the porch in front of the entry. Old Mr. Marquam looked up from his stool behind the register where he was reading his paper, saw who I was, and rang up 8 cents as I pulled my dime from my pocket for the bottle of Nehi. He knew I would drink it in the back by the cooler, so didn’t charge for the bottle deposit.
I was nearly done with my grape soda when I heard a car grind to a halt in the gravel in front of the store. Right quick a county deputy came in the door and asked, “Somebody shot Miz Oz’s dog, you seen anybody come through the intersection in the last little while?”
Mr. Marquam told him nobody but the little boy, and pointed toward me. The deputy came back toward me and from about five feet away he asked, “You know anything bout this, boy?”
I was raised to answer when spoken too, and answer honestly if I said anything at all, so answer him I did. I put down my bottle of pop, reached in my coat pocket, and nearly killed that deputy by a heart attack I pulled out the .38, and said, “I shot that dog.”
The deputy froze, white as a sheet, then said in a choked voice, “Put down that gun boy, do it now!”, as he reached for his pistol. So I set the pistol on top of the cooler, grabbed my bottle of pop, and stepped away from it.
He stepped between me and the cooler, and demanded my name, which I gave. Then he asked me why I killed the dog.
I told him I killed Rex because no one else would take care of him, and the problems he caused. The deputy wanted to know what problems, so I pulled up my pants leg and showed him the scars, and told him how Rex had chewed me up, and nobody did anything.
He looked at me for a moment, then picked up the .38 and said to come with him. We went to the front of the store, where he used the phone to talk to someone, I guess the dispatcher. Then we went out to his cruiser, he put me in the back, and we drove in to Oregon City to the juvenile holding facility. Once there, he turned me over to this huge woman with the physique of a troll, a face that would frighten an orc, and the manners of the grandmother in Flowers in the Attic.
She called my Mom, who had gotten very worried by that time – it had been a couple of hours, and the shit storm started. About 4:30 that afternoon I finally got to see my Mom and Dad – in the courtroom where preliminary hearings were heard. I didn’t get to talk with them much, just hello, then the judge called me up to talk to him. He asked me a bunch of questions (to establish competency, I assume), then began asking me about shooting Rex.
I answered his questions, I showed him the scars on my legs, I told him why I killed that hateful beast. He gave me quite a lecture about not taking the law into my own hands, about letting adults deal with such issues, about not misusing weapons, etcetera ad nauseum, and finished by asking if I’d learned anything from all of this.
I thought for a minute, and told him I sure had.
He asked what lesson I had learned, so I told him.
“Yes sir,” I said, “Next time, if there is a next time, I’ll use a rifle. That damn dog got too close before he went down.”
Wrong answer, as far as the judge was concerned. I got escorted out of the room, and sat in the hall with the troll for about 45 minutes while my folks, the lawyers, and the judge discussed what to do with me.
I went home that evening with my folks. Tuesday of the next week was spent in juvenile court, then the whole damned family had to go to interviews with juvenile investigators and I had to go to the court psychologist for “evaluation of risk”. The whole process took about a month, then we went back to court.
I’d learned my lesson all right – I told the judge I was sorry for being so foolish, acted contrite, and said I’d never do any such thing again. Basically, I told him what he wanted too hear. Apparently it sufficed; nothing official ever came up from it again,
I never even got the beating from my father I had expected. About 3 months after the last court date, he stayed home one Saturday and took my brothers down to the woods for some target practice. For the first time ever, I got invited along, Once we were at the target range in the woodlot, Dad produced a single shot .22, and taught me to use it well.
At the end of that day, as we walked home, he told me, “That is your rifle, boy, if you need a weapon in future use your own.”
Copyright Patrick Early
I wrote this a couple of years ago. It still is an important part of my life story, I still want to share it.|
I’ve known a lot of girls and women in my life. I was never one of those little boys that go, “Oooh, gurlz, gross!” or some similar sentiment. My first girlfriend, Susie, was my inseparable companion from the moment she got on the school bus in the morning, until she got off it in the afternoon. We shared a double desk in 1st and 2nd grades, our desks were separated by a narrow aisle in 3rd and 4th, our daily time together ended when my family moved away at the end of the first quarter of 5th grade.
I have many strong, good memories of Susie, and it broke my heart when we moved. Even now, 37 years later, I smile as I think of her.
But Anabel, my Anabel, was far more special to me. We met the summer between 7th and 8th grade years at the state park near my home, at the best swimming hole for miles around. I have only to close my eyes to once again be in that magic moment when we met – it as clear today as if I were there again.
We met purely by chance – I was just learning a whole new way of managing my body, of swimming in the powerful current of the river as I always had, due to the loss of my left hand 5 months before. I had waded out through the shallows to the edge of the drop into the main channel, intent upon crossing over to the soapstone ledge on the other bank, to climb to the diving shelf as I had always so freely done.
Stepping out through the chest deep water into the 25 foot deep channel in the bedrock, the current caught me, and began sweeping me along. It was difficult to cross that current by sidestroke, and when I had I was far downstream of the diving shelf, at the foot of the main pool where the soapstone ledge merged into the shallows of the river. I clambered up on the ledge, and began slogging through the knee-deep water upstream. Moving closer to the high bank that the ledge projected from, into water only ankle deep.
As I sloshed up the ledge, I heard a soft voice call out, “What happened to you?”.
I turned toward the sunny niche in the bank I was passing, and there she was. I was stunned speechless for a moment (a most unusual thing, I assure you), and finally mumbled, “I had an accident.”
As I stood, glancing up at her through my lowered eyelids, she asked me to come talk to her. I looked up, and said I would be glad to. I moved up into the niche, and sat on the clay bank about 4 feet from her. I was shaking inside, and didn’t understand why, she was just another girl. Beautiful, to be sure, but just a girl, like so many others I knew.
How could I be so wrong?
Anabel introduced herself, I told her my name, and we sat quietly for what seemed the longest time. Finally, she started to speak, telling me that she was from another town near my home town, that she was entering the 8th grade in September, and all of the other trivia that identifies us for others. As we spoke, I gave her similar information regarding myself. Then we fell silent again.
Finally, I said, “I’m glad I met you, Anabel, but I’m gonna go up to the shelf and dive off now.” As I stood to go, she spoke.
“Why?”, she asked, “why dive? Won’t you hurt your arm?”
I told her, “I didn’t know if it will hurt, but I have to be able to dive, even if only from the lowest shelf, because I always have.”
“What if it hurts?”, she inquired, “Will it be worth it?’
I could not adequately explain myself to myself, let alone another, a relative stranger. Yet, for some reason, it was important to me to try. “If it hurts”, I said, “then it hurts. Just knowing I can still do it is something I gotta do. I have been swimming here a long time, and I’ve dove off every level hundreds of times.”
She looked at me for a moment, then said, “I understand. Come back when you are done, okay?”
Sure, I’ll be glad to.”, I replied. I turned away and walked up the ledge. As I went, I reviewed in my mind her appearance, and her voice. Slight, slender, petite, in a very conservative tank suit of white and gold, with faint green stripes. Deep auburn eyebrows, beautiful face with high cheekbones and green eyes. I thought she was a redhead from her complexion and eyebrows, but didn’t know because of the bathing cap she was wearing.
As I trudged through the shallow water coursing so coolly about my feet, I wondered at her approach, and her invitation to return. Since losing my hand, I’d been uncharacteristically shy around the girls I knew. That was probably due to the massive rejection by my “steady” girlfriend in the first hour of my return to school after 6 weeks absence in hospital and at home. The fact that I was having to re-learn every manual skill didn’t help – I was clumsy, awkward, and self-conscious.
I dove from the shelf about 5 feet above the water, and it felt good, if awkward. So I went to the next higher shelf, about 12 feet above the water, and dove. As I did, my balance was off and I hit the water at an odd angle. The impact of my stump with the waters surface was not broken by my right hand cleaving it first, and it hurt, quite badly.
I struggled back to the ledge, crawled up on it, and sat in the water, cradling my arm. Finally, I gathered my courage and looked at it. As I feared, I’d broken the new scar line over the ends of the bones in my forearm, and was bleeding.
My brother came up, saw that, and was insistent that I go to where my Mom and Dad sat on the shore across the river, making ice cream. I told him I wasn’t going to swim across with it bleeding, and I wasn’t going to tell them either. My Mom had been hesitant to allow me too swim at all, and I knew she’d put a stop to it if she saw my arm. He finally agreed not to tell, and I said I’d head down river to the shallows and walk across in a little while.
As my arm dried, the bleeding slowed and stopped over about a fifteen minute period. I finally stood and began the walk down the ledge to the shallows. As I walked along, my anticipation of seeing Anabel grew, and my pace picked up. Very quickly I was where I could see into the niche in the bank, and to my delight, she was still there.
We talked about more inconsequentialities, making get-acquainted conversation as people do, till I gestured too strongly, pulling the fresh scab on my arm loose until it bled. Anabel saw me wince, and cradle my arm against my chest in my right hand.
Her eyes grew big as she saw the blood leaking through my fingers, and she exclaimed, “You hurt yourself! Did that happen diving?”
“Yes.”, I answered, “I hit the water wrong and split the scar.”
She was dismayed, but accepted my statement that I’d manage it fine, and we returned to conversation for what seemed like both the longest, and the shortest, time of my life. Finally someone across the river called to her to come to the picnic table for supper, and we had to end our conversation.
We slogged through the shallows together, still talking, and as we climbed the bank to the park grounds she told me that her folks would be coming back the next afternoon, and asked if I’d be there. I told her I would, that we came to the park every summer evening unless it was raining.
“Good”, she replied, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
With that she walked away to her family’s table. I stood and watched her go, stunned by what was happening, unable to believe that anyone so pretty and interesting could want to be with me. I floated back up river, barely aware of my surroundings and ignoring everyone around me.
As I walked up on my family’s table from behind I remembered my arm, and hastily snatched a towel to wrap around myself before my parents could see the blood. Throughout the rest of the evening I was uncharacteristically quiet, going over and over in my mind every word Anabel had said, the expressions of her face, the gestures she used.
On the ride home in the pickup my sister asked, “Who is that girl?”
I looked up in surprise, and she clarified by saying she had seen me across the river talking with a girl for the longest time. I told her that her name was Anabel, and I just met her.
It must have been said with a goofy, dreamy smile on my face, because my sister laughingly said, “Love at first sight, huh?”
I just looked at her, and made no reply.
Over the next several weeks I saw Anabel at the park 2-3 times a week, whenever her parents would allow themselves to be persuaded to come. She came to my family’s picnic table several times for ice cream, as did about 50 kids a night. We made 2.5 gallons of fresh ice cream every evening, sharing out the smallest size Dixie cups full to all comers.
My family of course noticed that I disappeared as soon as we got stopped every afternoon, and I took a good bit of ribbing about my “girlfriend”. Once they saw my face when they did, and heard my voice, they mostly left me alone.
Both my Mom and my Dad were highly approving of Anabel when they met her, and made that clear. I met Anabel’s parents as well, and I guess they thought I was tolerable, because they kept bringing her to the park, knowing we would spend the evening together.
Throughout that long, hot summer we grew closer, we looked forward more and more to seeing one another, we talked more and more about what we could do to see each other still after school started in Sept. Her home was 18 miles from mine, and too a 12 year old whose only means of transportation is either a bicycle or a horse, that is a nearly insurmountable barrier.
I did surmount it, finally, in August. I put my bike in the pickup at 5:45 am, and rode into town with my Dad as he went to work. Once there, I pedaled to city hall, and talked the bus driver into letting me carry it onto the bus with me since there were very few riders. 30 minutes later I was in Oregon City, about 13 blocks from Anabel’s house.
It was much too early to call, let alone show up at her door, so I hung out till 8am, then called her. When I told her where I was, and if she liked I could be there in about 20 minutes, she got fairly excited. I held the payphone and waited as she asked her mother if I could come over. I was sweating, not from heat, but from trepidation as I awaited the verdict.
It seemed to take forever, but finally she came back on the line and told me her Mom said that it was okay. I confirmed that the route I had to her home was correct, and jumped on my bike. Oregon City is very hilly, and from where I was to her home was almost totally down one of the steepest streets in town. I was there in a flash.
We spent that whole day together. Her Mom seemed kinda bemused and tentative about the whole thing, but she gave me a ride back up to the bus stop to catch the 4pm intercity bus.
I got back into Molalla in time to get to the mill and meet my Dad for a ride home. When he asked what I’d done all day I just said I bummed around and had fun with a friend.
When I got home, the shit hit the fan. My Mom was waiting with blood in her eye, demanding to know what the hell I was thinking, going off like that without a word. Anabel’s mother had called mine after dropping me at the bus stop. She ranted and raved for a while, my Dad did too once he realized what she was so upset about. Finally, she wound down, still demanding to know why I did such a stupid thing.
I asked, “Would you have let me if I asked?”
She practically screamed out her answer, “No!”
Then I asked, “Would you have taken me to Oregon City if I asked?”
She looked at me silently for a moment, and I answered myself, “No, of course you wouldn’t.” I walked to the stairs, to go to my room and change to do my chores. As I opened the door to the stairway, Mom snarled, “We aren’t done with this yet, young man!”
I just looked at her, then walked down the stairs. I knew the shit was just starting, but I didn’t regret what I had done one bit, and would do it again at the first opportunity. As I went about my chores before dinner I thought about the likely things to be said when the confrontation came, and how to respond to them.
Dinner was tense, very tense. Once the table was cleared my folks told the other kids to clear out, and me to stay at the table. I just sat there, waiting. Finally, my Dad asked if I had anything to say.
I told him I sure did, that I wanted to spend the day with Anabel, and I did. I was no more out of touch than if I’d spent the day in Molalla, and since both of them assumed without asking that I’d be at Doug’s (my best friends) house, I was not responsible for their assumptions.
Mom looked at me for a minute, and asked, “If I say never do that again, what will you say?”
I had thought that one through, and was prepared. I looked at her and said, “Don’t give me that order Mom, I won’t obey it.”
No explosion of rage. Mom and Dad just looked at me across the table, looked at each other, and told me to go to my room. I did, quite gladly.
The next day I got up after dad had left for work. When I went upstairs to the kitchen for some breakfast, Mom was at the table with a cup of coffee. She asked me what I planned to do that day.
I told her I was going to ride into town on my bicycle to Doug’s house, we were going to gather up the crew, and do the Thriftway parking lot and city park cleanup jobs. Before she asked, I volunteered that I’d be home by 5:00, sooner if we got done soon enough for me to catch Dad.
She looked me in the eyes, and asked, “Is that all?
I told her yes, and that I’d be home in time to get my chores done before we went to the park for picnic dinner. She told me that was fine, and left me to my own devices regarding breakfast.
Things were strange between me and my folks for quite a while after that. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Finally, nearly 3 weeks later, it did, just 8 days before school started.
When I got up that morning, I was surprised to find my Dad in the kitchen. As we all ate breakfast together (a most unusual event), they explained that they were taking us school shopping, and Dad was going along because he had an appointment in Oregon City.
We all piled in the family station wagon, and went into Oregon City. We stopped at the Hilltop Diner, where I assumed Dad was to meet whomever his appointment was with. To my surprise, Mom got out, gave the keys to my oldest brother, told him to take the rest of the kids to JC Penney’s, then come back to the diner in an hour and a half. Then she told me to get out of the car.
As they drove away, we went into the diner. Anabel, and her parents, were sitting at a large table at the back. We walked back to their table, and after greeting we all sat down. Both Anabel and I sat mute.
Finally, Anabel’s mother looked at me, and inquired, “Do you know why we are here, Patrick?”
I replied that I did, it was because of my trip to their home 3 weeks before. She agreed, and told me that both she and her husband had discussed it with my parents, and wanted to know what I thought they should do about it.
I was caught completely off guard, as my thoughts had been racing down justifications, pleas, and how I could deal with it if they said we could no longer be friends. I stammered out something, I have never been sure just what, and after I fell silent the adults looked at one another, and told us how it would work.
Dad told me I’d be staying through the weekend at our family friends home in Oregon City, that Anabel and I could spend as much of the next 5 days together as we could stand, at her home. After that, they would discuss things again.
I was utterly dumbfounded. Anabel shrieked, “Really!?!” to her parents. When they confirmed it, she was beside herself with excitement. My Dad asked me if I had anything to say now – all I could do was shake my head.
The next five days are kaleidoscopic in my memory – both a blurring jumble and pictures of such crystalline clarity and stark beauty as to be nearly shattering in their impact. We were inseparable; I arrived at Anabel’s home about 8:00 am each morning, and went home to our friends’ house about 8:00 pm every evening.
We rode bikes, we went for walks, we sat in companionable silence in front of the TV, we shared jokes, we discussed books and authors we loved, we got to know one another better than I had ever known anyone outside my immediate family, in many ways better than that. We grew to truly love one another, far more than summers first love might suggest.
I got to know her parents, especially her father, better than I had known any other adults in my life. I learned to know them as people, as caring, responsible parents, as friends with their daughter in a way my parents had never had the time to be friends of any one of us in my crowded home.
That Sunday afternoon, my parents came for me at Anabel’s home. We shared Sunday dinner with her family and my parents, we talked as civilly and politely as could be imagined……After dinner, it turned serious.
Our parents questioned both of us about our feelings for one another, about what we wanted, about what we expected from them. Both sets of parents were a bit taken aback by the backfiring of their expectations – we had not grown annoyed with each other, we had not grown tired of the others company, we were not ready to end our friendship but wanted it to grow and blossom.
We went back and forth about what we wanted to do, what we thought we could do, what we wanted our parents to do for us. Finally, after more than 2 hours, we reached an agreement. Every two weeks we could spend Sunday together, alternating between her parents bringing her to our home, and mine taking me to hers. We could each call the other on the phone (long distance back then) twice a week, after 8pm, for no more than 15 minutes; and we could exchange letters as much as we wanted. Any special school functions would be addressed as they came up.
It was hard to believe that my parents, and Anabel’s, had agreed to our spending time together, after the way things had usually gone in my life. But agree they had.
Since school was just starting, and we had just had 5 days together, the first Sunday we would share would be at my family home. Over the next 2 weeks we talked on the phone 8 times, and I must have written her 10 letters. I know I got a letter a day from her from Tuesday on.
Our final conversation on Friday before she was to come out was excited planning for what we would do together on Sunday – the fifteen minutes were gone all too soon.
Anabel arrived at our house about 9am on Sunday with her mother, who stayed to talk with my Mom for a while. Anabel and I went down to the barn, as it was a beautiful clear day, and we had planned to ride horses if it were. My Dad and brothers were working on my oldest brothers Nash; Dad called out that I should let Anabel ride Dixie (our old mare), and I should ride Smokey, our 3 year old gelding (he was a bit wild at first, always). I told him that was the plan, and we proceeded to the barn for the halters to catch the horses in the small pasture.
Catching Dixie was never a problem, as she was a fat old mare of calm disposition, so I caught and haltered her first. After haltering her, I clipped a lead rope to the halter, and introduced Anabel to the first horse she’d ever been close enough to to touch. She was enchanted, and apprehensive, and eager to learn. We talked for a minute about how to hold and guide Dixie, then I suggested she take her to the barn for saddling while I caught Smokey.
Surprisingly, he gave me little trouble, and I soon had him at the barn. I snubbed him to the hitching ring by the door of the barn, and went to get the saddle blankets and bridles.
Over the next few minutes I explained to Anabel how a bridle fitted and how it worked, as I put it on Dixie. Then I blanketed and saddled her, showing Anabel how with an older horse you frequently have to knee them in the belly hard to get them to let out the air they have sucked in, so you can cinch the saddle up tightly (Dixie was bad about that).
Then I boosted Anabel into the western saddle. Once she was there it was difficult to get her attention focused enough to listen as I explained the pommel, the horn, and how they functioned in riding and controlling the horse, together with the reins. She was so excited. As we talked I adjusted the stirrups to fit her.
I clipped a lead rope to the bit ring on Dixie, and told Anabel we would walk around the barnyard for a little while, that I wanted her too learn how to use the reins. I explained how they worked in a neck-rein trained horse, and we began. At first, Anabel was apprehensive and a little uncertain, but quite quickly she got the hang of handling Dixie. It wasn’t long before I unclipped the lead and had her ride around, cutting right or left as I called out to her.
Satisfied she was managing (I had been utterly confident she would, Anabel could do anything), I proceeded to put the tack on Smokey. We only had 2 saddles at that time, and the other saddle was much too large for him. He ran about 15 hands high, and was a rangy built animal. The other saddle we had was custom built for an 18 hand high stud horse my Dad had owned before I was born, and was simply enormous. So I threw on a saddle blanket, and the saddle pad we kept (a quilted 3 ply canvas and blanket affair with a simple gripping loop instead of a pommel and horn, and no real seat), and put the stirrup loop over it and cinched and chest strapped it in place.
After bridling Smokey with the chain curb bridle (he had an iron mouth and wouldn’t pay much attention without the chain curb), I swung up on him. As I had known he would, he crow-hopped and spun a little, but he knew he couldn’t unseat any of us, and didn’t try all that hard before settling down.
I rode over beside Anabel, and told her we were going out in the larger pasture and doing a little bit of riding around it, and pointed out the gate to head for. I stayed slightly behind her on the left, so if she had problems I could assist as quickly as possible. All our horses were gate trained, and my Dad always built gates with a high latch, so we could flip the latch and swing the gate open from horseback. I opened the gate, told her to take Dixie through, and followed.
We spent the next two hours riding around the pasture, first at a walk, next at a trot, then moved up into a canter, and finally, once Anabel was confident enough, a full gallop. I stayed with her through the first 2 rounds of the field at a gallop, then I pulled away into the center of the field to get a clearer view. The sight of her, face lit with joy, lithe body clad in levi’s and butter yellow blouse, tearing around that field with auburn hair flying, is with me still.
I have only to close my eyes, and that vision appears before them, Anabel’s face aglow, auburn hair flying; take a deep breath, and the smells of dust, and horse sweat, leather, crushed grass, wood smoke from the house, and the overripe plums from the thicket fill my head. If I try, I can even hear the sounds; the thud of Dixie’s hooves on the ground, the jingle of harness tackle, the gasps and whoops of excitement coming from Anabel’s lips as she cut a corner at speed.
If ever I forget the feeling that swelled my heart at that moment, then truly, it will be time to die. I have had other moments of joy in my life, and each in its own way is equally as important. That moment, frozen in time as the sun glowed upon my Anabel, brought home to me in a way I had never grasped the sweetness and the meaning of life.
Dixie dropped down into a slow trot, and refused to gallop any more. She had run harder in that few minutes than she had run in a very long time. I swung Smokey alongside her, and looked over at gasping, laughter filled Anabel. Finally, her eyes glittering with tears of laughter, joy, and the wind in her face, she gasped out, “I love this, it is the best gift anyone ever gave me!”
I didn’t say a word, just wrapped the reins around my hook, and reached over to her with my hand. We rode side by side, legs rubbing, holding hands as we slowed to a walk and made a few rounds of the field to let Dixie cool down. That quiet companionship, that joyful sharing, gives me goose-bumps even today as I remember.
The rest of that day was full; with eating lunch with the family, with playing with the dogs, with going for a long walk across the fields and through the woods on the neighbors place, with simple pleasures and little things.
The ride into Oregon City that evening to take her home was melancholy, but satisfied. We rode in the quiet evening twilight, cuddled together in the back seat of the station wagon, whispering softly to one another. It was hard to walk her to her door and say goodbye.
Two weeks later seemed like forever, but it passed. Finally, it was my turn to go to her home for Sunday. It was a nasty, blustery day, and we spent most of it indoors, in their living room, talking about everything that came to mind, assembling a jigsaw puzzle together at a card table in the watery sunlight flowing through the gauze curtains. It was in that gauzy gray gloom that we shared our first kiss.
I finally found the courage to ask her the one question that had been in the back of my mind since we met, unasked because I feared the answer: “Why did you ask me about my arm, at the river that day? You have never asked any more questions about it, since.”
“I watched the current sweep you past me,” she replied, “and you were so determined to make it across. Then as you came up the ledge toward me I saw your face, I saw the redness of the scars, and I knew you were unhappy. I just wanted to make you smile.”
I smiled at her, and knew it was true.
As the next three months flew by, we saw each other at every opportunity, we talked on the phone as often as possible, we exchanged letters nearly daily.
We went to the movies together in Oregon City, we walked all over that hilly little city, we rode the horses every time Anabel came out, until the fall rains put a stop to that.
Rain never stopped us from walking hand in hand, though. Rain never dampened the pleasure of Anabel’s company, or the joy of her smile. It never cooled the exquisite ardor of holding her in my embrace, of gently kissing her pale eyelashes. It hampered not at all the incredible joy of knowing that she was with me for no reason but that she wanted to be.
Halloween was special. Friends of mine attended a local Mennonite church, and the youth group had organized a hayride and barn dance for that evening. Anabel persuaded her mother to let her come to it, and we all met at the farmers home about 7 pm for a 2 hour ride in huge old wagon with stakes sides, loaded with about 6 feet of loose hay. Of course, there were parents along as chaperones, but as long as one was not to obviously deep into petting, necking and other “inappropriate” behavior, they pretty much stayed at the front of the wagon as we clopped along. Much giggling, whispering, furtive kisses and snuggling together in the hay ensued.
The dance was a merry fiasco, with jack o’lanterns carved from huge pumpkins lining the portion of the barn floor set aside for actual dancing. This ensured that the hay bales set up as seats and tables were in a dusky gloom, fading to black toward the barn walls. Anabel and I danced in a couple of line dances, and tried square dancing together as well. Square dancing with kids 12-16, most of whom have no knowledge of the form, rapidly turns into a comedic slam-dance. Bobbing for apples; 3 legged sack races down the dance floor; cider, pumpkin pie, caramel apples, and Anabel have combined in my memory to the fondest recollection of Halloween I have. The night ended much to soon.
Thanksgiving was a trial. For Anabel and her family it was a major holiday, an important time of gathering together at her grandparents home, her aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends – everyone gathered there at Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, for my family it was a big event that year as well, and the two family gatherings would take place over one hundred miles apart. We discussed it, we agonized over it, we talked to our parents about it. Neither her parents nor mine would budge. Finally, together, we decided to quit fighting it, and just try to look forward to being together the following weekend.
Anabel was good for my character. I was a stubborn, abrasive, obnoxious little shit with a chip on my shoulder bigger than my head, and I dared anyone to knock it off. With Anabel, the chip disappeared, and I could relax just a bit. For the first time in my life, I began to find a measure of peace, acceptance, even comfort.
The second Sunday in Dec was at Anabel’s home, then the fourth Sunday, the 22nd, was at mine. That Sunday, the 22nd, we exchanged Christmas gifts. Even then, I had a hard time with getting a gift that expressed my feelings, and still had some practical value.
Anabel had taken up the acoustic guitar about 6 months before I met her, and was practicing determinedly. I had taken up macramé, in order to improve my manual dexterity and learn to use my prosthesis for fine work. So I killed one bird with two stones. I made her a macramé guitar strap, with tooled leather ends.
She gave me something I treasured – a matching woolen watch cap and scarf that she knitted herself. She and her mother were into knitting, sewing, cooking and other things, and for a young girl, she could knit up a storm.
They were beautiful. Knitted from multicolored yarn, the cap was large enough that I could roll it twice and it fitted on my head smoothly, or I could pull it down and cover all of my ears and my neck when the weather was very cold. The body of the muffler was of the same yarn, with 3 bands in solid colors at each end.
We were on Christmas vacation, so our parents agreed that we could spend the 27th and the 28th together. On the 29th, her family was going to her uncle’s house on the coast for a long New Year’s get-together.
We got together at my house on Jan 19th for the day. Every time I got to spend the day with Anabel, it became more difficult to let her go, knowing it would be 2 weeks before I got to see her again. We spoke 4 times a week, we wrote each other constantly – looking back, it amazes me that we could find enough of interest in our daily lives to generate that many words.
Yet, it does not amaze me, even so. We wanted to spend those days together, and since we could not, the closest thing to substitute was our words. I kept every letter, every picture, every gift she gave to me in a lockable box beneath my bed. Except, of course, the cap and muffler – I wore those daily. I sometimes wish I still had them.
Everyone (at least I hope, everyone) has been in love. Words cannot explain it, it must be experienced to be understood. Even then, each experience is unique, each experience is different; colored, shaded, shaped by the loves one has experienced before. This was the first, for each of us, and I know it shaped us mightily.
We sped through January, meeting at every chance, talking on the phone, sending letters and small gifts to each other. Anabel liked the macramé guitar strap so well, I decided to make her something different. Using silk embroidery floss, I hand tied a watch band with a monkey’s fist and loop closure; 32 strands across a one inch width, in 6 colors; it took the longest time to make. While I was making it I didn’t notice the time passing, I was so focused upon my effort to make it perfectly.
That was my birthday gift to her, at the end of January. We got permission for me to go into Oregon City on the bus on that Saturday morning for her birthday. Anabel’s mother picked me up, and had promised my Mom that she would put me on the 3:00 pm bus back to Molalla (the last bus on Saturday). We had a great day; her mom took us to the Pittock mansion in the West Hills above Portland, then to the OMSI center at the zoo higher in the hills. We had lunch at the House of the Seven Gables in Milwaukee, then had to rush to Oregon City to catch my bus. It was a great day together.
In February, something changed. Anabel was sick, with a stomach virus, for a few days and we had to skip our Sunday together in mid-Feb. She missed several days of school, and when I talked to her on the phone she sounded really sick.
Finally, on the first Sunday of March, we were able to be together again. We talked about her illness – I was shocked when I saw her by how very pale she had become. She told me the Dr. had diagnosed a stomach virus and anemia, and they had her taking a truly awful concoction by the tablespoon twice a day. Mostly, she was tired, and quiet. We spent the day together indoors, just enjoying each others company, listening to records and talking.
It felt so good to be with her, close enough to reach out and stroke her hair, to hold her hand, to snuggle together on the couch and watch TV together. The day ended much too soon.
I went into the kitchen at one point in the early afternoon to get some soft drinks, and spoke briefly with her mother. I asked her how Anabel was really doing, and she told me that she had been very sick, but the medicine was helping and Anabel was regaining her energy. I left it at that.
The next two weeks went by slowly – every time I talked with Anabel I sensed something not being said, something concealed. She was cheerful, full of plans for our Sunday at my home on the 16th, but somehow she seemed at the same time to be trying too hard, as if the effort of cheerfulness was difficult to sustain.
When she came to my house she was, if anything, paler than she had been two weeks before. We had planned to ride the horses if the day was fair, which it was, but she told me she didn’t feel up to it. When she said no to my question of, “Are you ready to go riding?”, I knew something was seriously wrong.
To be concluded.
Anabel and I spent that morning together, at the picnic table under the willow tree in the back yard, in my room, or just walking slowly around. I asked her what was wrong, why she was so pale, why she had no energy.
Her reply was a simple, “I don’t know.”
She told me that her mother had taken her to the Dr. three times, they had drawn blood each time, and that apparently her anemia wasn’t improving with the medication she was taking. The Dr. had recommended a diet high in protein and iron, suggesting to her mother that Anabel should be eating liver as much as possible (she hated liver), and had prescribed two more medicines for her.
She was mostly quiet that day, tired easily, and had lost a lot of her sparkle. She was still my Anabel; still, for me, the flame around which I fluttered like a light intoxicated moth, but she did not burn as bright.
In early afternoon the power went off to the whole neighborhood, just as my Mom was getting the ingredients together for Sunday dinner. This happened with a depressing irregularity back then, as we were near the end of a fairly long power line subject to accidents and mishaps, so we were somewhat prepared for it.
When such happened, one of my jobs was building a fire in the old wood-fired cast iron range in the corner of the kitchen, and supplying the necessary split dry wood to keep it going. Kitchen ranges eat dry wood at a horrendous rate, and they heat the kitchen to sweltering temperatures even on cold winter days. On a bright, sunny, early spring day they can turn it into a hellhole quite quickly.
We had a wood hoist from the basement into the wood box next to the range, which we always kept full of split wood for the heating stove in the living room, and for just such emergency cooking needs as had arisen. After getting the fire going in the range, I went to the woodshed to split more dry fir into the smaller pieces the firebox of the range required, and Anabel accompanied me. Splitting wood with a hatchet into small balks is a two handed operation, normally, and while I could do it with my hand and prosthetic to hold the section upright, it was a real chore.
We were out in the shed for a goodly while, and Anabel watched with interest as I struggled with the chunks of stove wood. Uncharacteristically, she made no offer to help, simply sat quietly on a chunk of log out of the way. It was this small act, more than any other single thing, that drove home to me that she really was ill, that she really did not have the energy to be herself. That realization frightened me badly.
Baking powder biscuits, fried chicken, mashed potatoes with chicken gravy, green beans, home canned creamed corn, all the smaller items that went into Sunday dinner in those days were the height of cuisine to me. Made all the better by the labor of keeping the stove fed with wood, by the tinge of wood smoke that flavored everything, I ate with gusto. Beside me, Anabel picked at her food (not at all her normal style), eating only one or two bites of each item on her plate. Everyone noticed, but only my doltish older brother was crass enough to comment.
As we cleared the table after the apple pie dessert, my Mom asked me quietly what was wrong with Anabel. I told her I didn’t know, but I wanted to talk to her mother and father as soon as I could.
Our family custom on Sundays, after dinner dishes were washed and evening chores were done, was to retire to the living room to watch “The Wonderful World of Disney” together, and then whatever came on next. The living room couches and floor would be covered by sprawled out bodies, all focused on the flickering box. Anabel and I would lie on the floor next to each other in the corner between the two couches, in front of the front door to the house, and giggle together at the antics of the Disney characters. That evening, shortly after lying down, she fell asleep against my side.
Immediately after the Disney show, my Mom had me wake Anabel to drive her home to Oregon City. Usually, on that evening drive, we sat in the back seat behind my Mom, cuddled and chatting quietly. That evening, Mom told us to get in the front seat beside her. We didn’t talk much on the drive in, Anabel was too tired.
Upon arrival at her home, Mom usually just stayed in the car while I walked her to her door. This time was different – she shut off the car and got out with us, telling us she wanted to talk to Anabel’s mother for a minute. We walked into their home, and Mom immediately went into the kitchen with Anabel’s mother. Anabel usually bounded up the stairs to her room to change immediately; that evening she walked over and sat next to her father on the couch, where he was reading.
I sat beside her, virtually silent after saying “Hi” to her father. It was very quiet for a while, with just an occasional murmur of our mothers’ voices coming through the swinging door into the kitchen. Finally, her father asked about the day – Anabel quietly told him what we had done, about the power going out, and ended by saying she was really tired.
His concern for her was evident, and he asked, “Do you want to go lie down?”
She softly answered, “Yes, I do.”
She turned to me, hugged me and told me she was sorry she hadn’t been much fun. Her father lifted her in his arms, and carried her upstairs to her room. I sat there for a moment, confused, scared, worried for Anabel, and then I went out to the kitchen. Mom and her mother were sitting at the kitchen table; as I entered they looked up and stopped talking for a moment.
Finally, Mom asked if I was ready to go, to which I replied yes. We made our goodbyes, and then walked to the car. On the drive home it was dark, and cold, and silent for the most part.
As we made the turn from the state highway onto the county road about five miles from home, I blurted out, “I’m scared, Mom, something is really wrong with Anabel!”
Mom looked over at me for a moment, “I know you are. I talked to her mother – she says the Dr told them last week if things didn’t improve by Monday that he wants to admit Anabel to the hospital and run some tests. They are going to the Dr. tomorrow, and probably they will put her in the hospital.”
I hate hospitals – by that early point in my life I had already spent far too much time in them, and even then I knew you had too be really sick to go there. We talked a little more, but there wasn’t a whole lot to say.
The next evening, when I called Anabel’s home, her father answered the phone. He told me Anabel was in the hospital, her mother was with her, and he was about to leave to go back down there. I got the address and room number from him, then asked if there was any way to talk to her.
He told me no, the only phone was at the nurse’s station, and Anabel was in a private room. He told me he would tell her I had called, and if she was home the next day that he would let her call for as long as she felt like talking.
I sat down on the stool below the phone (our phone was a wall phone, next to the doorway from the kitchen into the dining room, and placed high enough that to dial I needed the stool), feeling numb.
I wanted to talk to Anabel; I wanted desperately to be with her. I was frightened, and like all of my family, fear made me lash out in anger at my inability to do anything about it.
My Mom asked me what had happened, and I snapped at her, telling her where Anabel was, demanding to go see her. Mom talked quietly to me, calmly explaining why she could not take me in to the hospital, and telling me if Anabel could call the next day I could talk as long as I wished.
The next evening, there was no phone call from Anabel. About 10:00 pm I told my Mom I was going to bed, and trudged downstairs to my bedroom in the basement. About a half hour later, I heard the phone ring, followed by Mom’s footsteps. After a few moments, I decided it must be someone for her, and went back to trying to read my book. I have always been able to lose myself in a good story, and I was trying to do so. It wasn’t working, at all. I must have read and re-read the same page 6 times, before I heard Mom coming down the stairs.
As she reached the basement floor I called out, “I’m awake.” She came in my room, and sat facing me on the end of my bed. She told me the phone call had been from Anabel’s mother, calling to say that Anabel had been transferred to the university teaching hospital in Portland, for more tests.
I just lay there, silent, till finally she told me, “I know you are worried, and scared, and you want to see her. You have an appointment at vocational rehabilitation on Friday – if Anabel is still in the hospital we will go see her if we can. Her mother told me that the Drs don’t know yet what is wrong with her, but they hope to have an answer by the end of the week.”
I did not know what to say; finally I asked if there was any way to call her before Friday. Mom told me no, the hospital ward she was in didn’t have a phone for the patients.
I thanked her for letting me know, and she kissed me goodnight. As she left the room, I turned out the light, knowing that to continue my attempt to read was futile. I never did finish that book, till many months later; while I own a copy of it now, I still cannot read it without pain.
That was the longest week of my life. I couldn’t call Anabel, she couldn’t call me. Even writing her was difficult – I was so unsure what to say. I did receive two letters from her, but they were quite short and completely different from the letters I was accustomed too.
School was a trial – I was in 8th grade, and hated it. Without Anabel to talk too, without the constant exchange of letters, without the joy I had found in knowing and thinking of her, the days dragged by.
Mom told me Thursday evening that she had spoken with Anabel’s mother in late afternoon, and it was okay for us to visit her the next morning before my appointment. I was overjoyed at the chance to see her, and at the same time very apprehensive that I would not know what to say.
The next morning as everyone got ready for school, Mom and I prepared to go visit Anabel. The drive was a little more than an hour, and visiting hours in the morning were from 10:00 am till noon. We planned to be at the ward at 10:00.
The drive into Portland, up onto hospital hill, seemed to take forever. It did not help that we were caught in the tail-end of rush hour, nor did it help that we were going to one of the most heavily used parking areas in the city. We ended up having to park about a half mile up the ridge from the hospital, and walk down to it. Once there, it took at least 15 minutes more to find the right building, and get directions to the Pediatrics ward she was in.
Finally, about 5 minutes till 10:00 am we arrived at her ward. Her mother was in the waiting area; when she saw us come off the elevator she escorted us to Anabel’s room. When we entered the room, I was shocked by what I saw. Anabel was very fair, with a redhead’s classic pale complexion to begin with, but in that harsh hospital lighting, against that white cotton pillow cover, she was ghostly pale.
I said, “Hi, Anabel, how are you feeling?”
Her face lit up, “Oh, I’m so glad you could come see me! I have been wishing I could talk to you.”
I walked over and sat in the chair beside her bed, reaching out for her hand. It was virtually translucent, with slightly blue nails, and had no strength of grip. I just looked at her hand for a moment, then looked up at her and smiled. “I’m here. How is this place treating you?” I asked.
“It’s okay, I guess. Really boring, and I’m really sick of them coming in here and sticking me with needles”, she replied.
Her mother told us she and Mom were going out to the waiting room to talk, and they left the room. It was really hard to know what to say to Anabel; I was scared for her, and virtually tongue-tied. We sat in silence for a little while, then she began talking about maybe going back to her school on Monday, and getting to see her friends, and being at home.
I didn’t say anything to contradict her, just went along with her enthusiasm, but I really didn’t think that was likely, she was so pale and thin looking. I told her about the antics of my sister’s dog; he had begun playing a game with the gelding – chasing him down the length of the pasture, then racing back up it to the back fence with the horse on his heels, stamping and snapping at him.
Pooh-bear (the dog) was a really short legged mongrel of very mixed breed, and he couldn’t keep up with the horse at all unless Smokey allowed him too; on their return runs Smokey could have caught and trampled his chunky body at any time, so it obviously was a game for both of them.
Anabel laughed, and we talked for a while about the various critters on our farm – she loved Orange George (my big orange tabby tomcat), who was a clumsy bumbling idiot. She had been horrified when Orange George docked his own tail on the sump pump belt in January, and had spent lots of time with his fluffy form draped across her lap, buzzing away contentedly.
We talked, and found things to laugh at, and just generally enjoyed each others company. Finally, my Mom came in and said the nurses were telling her visiting hours were over for the morning, and we had to go get some lunch before going to my appointment at 1:30 pm.
I really didn’t want to go, but knew that arguing would be fruitless. I stood, still holding Anabel’s hand, and then she sat up and wrapped her arms around me in a big hug. I kissed her goodbye, and we left.
On the way to the car my Mom asked what we had talked about, and I told her the gist of our conversation. I asked Mom if she had spoken with Anabel’s mother; she said she had, that her father was leaving work early that afternoon to meet her mother and go speak with the Dr. in charge of Anabel’s treatment.
I asked what they had been told so far, and Mom said it was really too early to be sure what was going on, but the Dr.’s were concerned about Anabel’s anemia and general lack of strength. How to treat that was part of what they would be discussing with her parents that afternoon.
Lunch was at my great-aunt’s apartment; a mean old battle-axe I tolerated because my Mom wanted me too. Her apartment was always dark because she kept the blinds pulled down all the time, it was always kind of funky smelling, and there was always lots of groaning and complaining to Mom every time we visited. I hated it, and usually stayed on the couch in her small living room with my book.
After lunch we drove up on the hill again to the rehabilitation center. I was at that time going in monthly for checks on the fit of my prosthetic arm, and for dexterity training exercises, and counseling. Of the three, the only one I thought useful at the time was the checks on my prosthetic, as I had a lot of trouble with sores and skin problems under the harness necessary to its operation.
The dexterity exercises were mostly futile – I had taught myself through macramé`, chores, and determination how to do more with my hook than the so-called rehabilitation specialist knew how to teach me herself. Mostly, that part of it was me showing her any new things I’d figured out.
The counseling sessions were always the last half hour of the appointments, and mostly I hated it. A woman I didn’t really know, didn’t like, and damned sure didn’t trust, asking me nosy-parker questions about my “interactions” with my school mates. She had the gall to describe me as “non-cooperative and unresponsive” in one written evaluation she submitted, which my Mom let me see.
Damned straight I was non-cooperative and unresponsive. I was 13 years old, I hated school because it was so stiflingly boring, I was having to teach myself a lifetimes worth of manual skills all over again, and this nosy broad was asking me personal questions in a sickeningly sweet sympathetic voice. I didn’t want or need her sympathy, I just wanted her too butt the hell out.
After the appointment, Mom said we were going to go to Aunt Jeanne’s house on the other side of the city for a little while. This was damned unusual, as Mom and her sister were not on the best of terms in those years, so I asked her why. She just said she wanted to see her and talk to her. It was okay by me, as I had a running war ongoing with her teacup poodle, and enjoyed any opportunity to mess with the little monster.
As usual, at my aunt’s home, Mom and Jeanne sat down over coffee in their rec room, and I went out into their postage stamp sized back yard to mess with the dog. It got boring pretty fast, so I put him in the basement and settled down to read in a chaise lounge. We had been there about an hour when the phone rang. I ignored that, as it certainly wasn’t for me.
A short while later, Mom came out and said it was time to head home. On the drive home we didn’t talk much – mostly I read my book while Mom concentrated on her driving in the heavy afternoon traffic.
That evening, after chores, dinner, and the evening news, Mom and Dad told me to come out to the kitchen. I frantically wracked my brain for whatever I had done or said to get me into trouble this time, cause that was about the only time such conferences ever happened. I came up blank.
Once in the kitchen, we all sat at one end of the table, and Mom told me that the reason she had taken me to Aunt Jeanne’s was because she had arranged with Anabel’s mother to call her there after she and her husband’s conference with the Dr.
I could tell by the tone of her voice, the expression on her face, and my Dad’s total silent observation of me, that something was badly wrong. I was too frightened to ask what Anabel’s mother had said; I just looked at Mom in silent appeal.
Finally, she told me that they were transferring Anabel to the children’s oncology center at the base of hospital hill. I knew what that word meant; while I was in hospital following the amputation of my hand one of my friends from the pediatrics ward was transferred there.
Mom sat looking at me; I couldn’t look back through eyes full of tears, and couldn’t talk with the lump in my throat.
All these many years later I still recall vividly the devastation of that moment, and the pain I was in. It comes back anew as I type.
Finally I asked what was wrong with Anabel; Mom told me, with a catch in her own voice, that she had been diagnosed with cancer of the liver, and that on Monday she would be staring chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
I asked if I could go see her again, and Mom said we would go in to the oncology center the next afternoon, but once she started treatment she would not be allowed visitors other than her mother and father, as she would be too ill and susceptible to infection.
I shared that next afternoon with Anabel; she was so frightened, so unsure, so unable to express her feelings; as was I. It was not a good day. We talked, we tried too find things to laugh about, we sat side by side in the big visitors chair with our arms around one another and cried. Mostly, we were just together in our misery.
The next 10 weeks were a nightmare. I wrote Anabel constantly; mostly, she was too weak to reply more than a few words. Her mother kept me advised of what was going on, and Mom kept up with the gruesome details. Anabel told me in letters that all her hair had fallen out from the radiation and the chemotherapy, and how hard it sometimes was just too sit up in her bed.
I really don’t remember what I said in my letters very well, mostly telling her about school, about graduation, about the animals and how much I looked forward to being able to ride with her again once she was well.
That day never came. Anabel died on June 3rd, 1969.
It took decades to really learn the lesson that Anabel taught; I am still learning even now what she seemed to know from the heart as a child. For many years I could not think of her without tears, without an acid attack of the “what ifs’ and “why her” running through my heart and mind.
I kept her letters, and every gift she ever gave me. They were lost in a house fire my senior year of college, along with every other physical treasure I had stored up.
The lesson is simple: Love IS worth the cost.
Copyright Patrick Early
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