Another Dog Who Loved Us

After our golden retriever, Lady, left us it was some time before another dog found us.

One summer afternoon, I played a terribly dirty trick on our little boys.  I retrieved a new tent I placed on layaway and put it together in the back yard.  I went inside where the boys were eating lunch and said I had a surprise for them.  I went back outside and yelled, “Here!  Come here!  Here boy!”  I whistled, then went back inside.  Of course, they were all excited, “Did you get a puppy?!”  I took them outside and when they saw the tent they started crying, “We thought you got a dog and it’s just a tent!”

Not long after my ill-advised stunt, my wife saw an ad in the newspaper for a rescue shelter.  There on the page was a very cute little terrier-beagle mix with adorable eyes saying, “Please, please take me home!”  We went to the rescue and the puppy adopted us.

Our boys were excited as they could be.  They played with the puppy in the back seat of the big car I was driving when all of a sudden, “Dad!  She’s pooping!”

Sure enough, the pup was hunched over in the familiar pose, leaving a warm pile of fresh steamer filling the car with an aroma never mistaken for anything else.  I quickly pulled over to the side of the road and cleaned up the mess.

Libby grew quickly but was never bigger than a small beagle.  She loved playing with the kids and was very attentive to them.  Her energy never ended.

We moved to another rental home to get close to the university where my wife was attending classes.  Now that our boys were in school, she was studying to complete her degree in elementary education.  Our neighbors had a boy who was about the same age as our triplet sons so they spent a great deal of time playing together.  One afternoon our Libby grabbed the neighbor boy, but luckily did not break the skin.  She was very protective of her turf and her boys.

We accepted the pastorate of a small church in a distant town which meant another move.  We quickly settled into our new home, our children into a new school district.  The church we pastored was in the beginning stages of building a new facility which was going to be on the same property as our home, which was also owned by the church.

Sunday morning was always a very tense and anxiety-filled time for me as I anticipated speaking to the people.  Five minutes before the morning worship service was to begin, with my anxiety peaking, a church leader walked into my office and with his familiar exaggerated gesturing, said, “Your dog bit the builder!!”

I pictured a limb torn and tattered, and expected the builder to be furious.  The truth was much less dramatic.  The man went into a metal shed in our yard to retrieve something he needed.  When he came out, the dog grabbed just his pants but no skin.  It was becoming apparent that a change was going to be necessary.  Our Libby was unpredictable and that was making us nervous.  As she got older, she was becoming more protective.

We had Libby for two years but determined it was time to find her a new home.  The wiry and energetic little dog would no longer be running around our yard.  We would not have to worry about her anymore.

Once again, we were without a dog.  A ten-gallon fish tank and several gold fish took her place.  Fish don’t fetch and they’re hard to cuddle, but they generally don’t jump on or bite anybody, either.

(The dog in the picture is not Libby, but looks just like her.)

Dogs Who Love Us

Our lives would not be the same without the many dogs who shared our home.  Each in his or her own special way brought happiness, love, laughter, and heartache.

Lady was a beautiful golden retriever who claimed us as her own when she was just a pup, a few weeks old.  (I realize the photo is terrible, but it’s actually Lady.)

Lady was a real princess, and all puppy.  She was the perfect addition to our family and she showered us with love and play.  Lady was happy to ride a rubber raft in the waves when we were able to spend time at the beach.  We still have furniture with Lady marks on it.  It’s not damage, it’s memories.

Lady was with us for a temporary move to Tennessee.  She liked riding on the back seat window ledge behind our daughter and three boys.  By this time, she was a full-grown playmate and loved romping with the kids.

After a year in Murfreesboro, we prepared to move back to Michigan.  We were down to one car, an Olds Cutlass that had seen much better days.  The fan only had one speed that was equal to a breath of air.  I found a small oscillating fan and attached it to hang in front of the vent.  I thought it was a perfect solution.  When we loaded the car for the long trip, the kids were in the back seat, and I tried to put Lady in the front.  She took one look at my motorized contraption and flew over the back seat onto bare legs.  We started the trip with screams and scratches.

We settled into a rented two-story house, Lady had her own little house in the back yard.  There were two old ladies living next to us who took a strange interest in Lady.  We started receiving anonymous letters in the mail condemning us for having our dog hooked to a leash in the back yard.

After returning from a trip out of state, during which we had friends feeding and taking care of Lady, we arrived home to discover our dog looking at us through the fence of the old ladies’ yard.  I was furious!  I couldn’t lift her over the fence, so I went to their front door and demanded they return our dog.  I should have called the police!

On a cold snowy winter morning, Lady gave birth to a litter of puppies. They were a mixed breed, half of the pups were black, the others looked like purebred retrievers. For the first several weeks, Mary snuggled each of the puppies every day. One of the males was taken by family friends who named him Charlie.  Charlie was a great dog with all the character and appearance of a beautiful golden.  For many years, even though we might not see our friends for quite a while, when we visited, Charlie came bounding through the house to climb on our laps as if we were his long-lost parents.  Our friends said he didn’t act like that with anyone else.

The next year, our hearts were torn apart when Lady began having seizures.  We called the veterinarian who said she would probably not recover.  As cold tears rained down from the sky, our Lady was put to rest. We placed her in a grave as we all cried.  One of our little boys asked if we could sing his favorite song, “Arise, Shine for Thy Light Has Come.”  We held hands and sang as the rain continued to fall.

You’re Lucky To Be Alive!

Some time ago, my wife and I were having dinner at a restaurant with my sister.  As often happens, we started talking about the old days.  Memories can be painful, selective, incorrect, and lots of other things, but the memories I prefer are funny.  The actual experiences might not have been funny at the time, but the craziness makes them funny to talk about now.

We sat down in a booth, which I prefer, as opposed to a table out in the middle of the room.  In booths you have your own little house with two doors which can be protected from intruders.  At tables people can move all around you, which can be unsettling.  I noticed an older couple (older than us) sitting in the next booth, but didn’t think anything of it.

What makes most of our stories even funnier is that the things we did, some of which could have burned the house down several times over, went totally unnoticed by our parents, especially our father.  He was a guy who couldn’t see things right under, or even on his nose, but had a sixth and seventh sense about what we were thinking.  So, the answer was not to think.

In 1961, my grandparents came for a visit from California.  At the time, they had a beautiful 1956 Ford Fairlane, a spotless two-tone green and white classic.  Probably not so much to protect it as to make it easy for my dad to go to work each day, the Ford was parked in our one-car garage.  My brother and I decided to be very helpful, and wash Grandpa’s car in the garage.  So, using Comet cleanser, we began scrubbing the hood of the car.  We didn’t understand why our white rags were turning green, but we must have thought we were doing a great job.  This one didn’t go unnoticed, and the lights must have really gone out, because I don’t remember anything that happened after that.

We talked about the time I made match-head rockets.  I wasn’t outside, in a field, or a parking lot.  I was in the basement.  The rocket worked perfectly, shooting across the string I had stretched between two chairs, the exhaust left a blue cloud that filled the basement.  Who can’t smell a single match lit anywhere in the house?  No one asked about the blue smoke in the basement.

For a while, I was fascinated with chemicals, test-tubes, and bunsen burners.  When I didn’t have a real alcohol burner, I tried to make one.  I had an empty shotgun shell, put a piece of cloth in it, then used a capillary tube to take alcohol from a bottle and drop on the cloth as it burned.  What I didn’t know is that alcohol flame is invisible.  I didn’t see the flicker on the end of the tube as I put it back in the bottle of alcohol.  “Phoooomp!!” Nope, the bottle didn’t explode and set my bedroom on fire, my hair didn’t burn, I still had my eyebrows.  I just didn’t do it again.

I talked my mother into taking me to a store where I could buy some chemistry equipment, including a real bunsen burner.  My sister and I set up a lab, IN MY CLOSET, behind the clothes on a shelf that ran the length of the closet.  We were mixing chemicals, cooking them, with fire, in my closet!  (The house is still standing.)

I loved firecrackers.  I heard someone at school talking about taking gunpowder out of shotgun shells, so I decided to try it.  Standing over the shell my dad never missed, which I had taken from his unlocked ammo cabinet, I used a screwdriver to dig into the crimp and open the shell.  (That almost takes my breath away.) I poured the tiny BBs into the toy box.  I took the open shell still containing gunpowder outside and held a burning match over it.  The powder burned in a flash instead of a bang I expected.  I decided real firecrackers were better, so one by one, I took firecrackers from my dad’s dresser drawer.  He never said a word, even after they were all gone.

We laughed about my memory of shooting a model car to pieces, with my BB gun…on my bedroom floor.  I carefully picked up all the pieces, discovering that each shot left a dimple in the hardwood of my bedroom floor.  Impossible to miss, yet everyone did.

Fire was a recurring fascination.  My brother found a heavy black rock we were sure fell from space.  Bugs made homes in the many small holes in the rock so we decided to burn them out.   In the grass beside the back porch, he lit a small flame on the rock.  I decided to pour gas on it to keep the fire going.  From a metal sand pail, I poured gasoline which immediately ignited, going up into the pail, which I dropped.  My brother was kneeling beside the rock yet he didn’t get spashed with gas, and the bucket landed upside down. We quickly put out the flames, but there was a circle of scorched grass about three feet across.  I was sure we would die as soon as dad got home.  No one ever said a word.

Our dad was a salesman and his work often included entertaining clients, which sometimes meant my parents were gone overnight.  It was great fun for my brother and I since our little sister spent the night with our grandparents.  We watched endless TV and cooked or baked whatever we wanted.  One time we each made our own cake, but since I was using the oven, my brother put his in a broiler, which only made a crust on the top.  He ate the crusty layer then returned it to the broiler again.  I called my grandparents in the middle of the night with a terrible stomach ache.

In the restaurant, we ate, drank coffee, told stories, and laughed a lot.  Probably laughed a little too loud (that was me), and what we didn’t know was that the elderly couple next to us was enjoying every minute of it.  When we stood to leave, with laughter the lady said to us, “We want you to know we really have been entertained by your stories!”  She looked at me and said, “And you’re lucky to be alive!”  We all laughed together again.

Speaking of coffee…

Holiday Fun

Christmas is so much fun! I have always loved it, and have wonderful memories of growing up, looking forward and counting the days to Christmas. I can remember not being able to sleep the night before, and we were never disappointed on Christmas morning.

My mother was an incredible cook and the house always smelled amazing as she prepared the feast. In the early days she baked the turkey all night, so in the morning the aroma coming from the oven just made everything better. I always made sure Christmas music was playing very early in the season. I remember listening to the Firestone Christmas albums while decorating the house for Halloween.

We carried the traditions of Christmas into our own family and it’s fun to see our children doing the same with theirs. We are now experiencing “sharing” our children’s families with the in-laws, so we get them every other Christmas. This year happens to be our turn, so we are excitedly anticipating the arrival of all of the kids and grandkids.

One of the earliest Christmases I remember, my older brother received an American Flyer train set. The train was rolling around the track when we ran into the living room on Christmas morning. My favorite toy that year was an operating miniature washing machine. I loved it! There were even little boxes of Tide and Oxydol! My mom cut little pieces of fabric I could wash.

Another Christmas that stands out was several years later. I campaigned for a new toy called a Vacu-Form. It was a contraption that softened small sheets of plastic with heat, then as the plastic was pulled over a mold, a handle was pushed several times creating a suction pulling the soft plastic down over the mold. What a blast I had with that! (I saw one in an antique store a few months ago!). The only hiccup that year was that I sent a letter to my grandmother’s sister and asked for the Vacu-Form. Of course my mother found out. “You don’t write to Aunt Maxye and ask for Christmas presents!” I didn’t know that, and it worked.

When our kids were young, on Christmas Eve I used to video-tape them while they were sleeping. As they grew older, knowing that I would be taping them became a challenge. One of our boys set a trap for me that sprung when I opened his bedroom door. Now those tapes are in a box, waiting for someone to have the motivation to transfer them to digital media. Probably won’t happen.

It’s funny how the menu has stayed pretty much the same through all these years. We still have the cranberry jello, with crushed pineapple and walnuts, that very few people eat. I sometimes make the cranberry relish my mom used to make, I’m the only one who eats it. I still make Aunt Maxye’s coffee cake. Yes, the same Aunt Maxye who bought me the Vacu-Form. The real stuffing crammed into the turkey’s bottom has been replaced with Stove-Top. The turkey is most often replaced with pork loin (delicious!) We always make chocolate and lemon-meringue pies, not everyone eats those.

This year, my theme is, “I plan to make everyone sugar miserable!” As you can see in the photos, I have made white chocolate covered Oreos, no-bake cookies, homemade cinnamon rolls, sugar cookies for decorating, and I’m not done yet. There will be seven-layer bars, coffee cake, and lots of other goodies.

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, and enjoy a Happy New Year!

Where’s the coffee?

Tell Your Children!

Someone said grandchildren are God’s gift for not killing your children.   We did our best with our children, and in spite of our efforts, they still turned out wonderfully.  We are so proud of all of them!  And now, with six grandchildren, the oldest, fifteen, the youngest, under a year, we are enjoying the amazing experience of watching our own children raise children.

This morning we saw an interview with Michelle Obama on one of the morning shows.  Something she said really hit me.  She said she grew up with constant encouragement and was influenced to believe she could become anything she chose.  Reinforcement was constant.  While I know very little about Mrs. Obama apart from being the former First Lady, anyone paying attention can tell the message she received when she was young had a tremendously positive impact on her life.

My own experience was much different.  I did not grow up with that kind of encouragement, or anything close to it.  What I learned was fear and insecurity, which led to a constant sense of anxiety that has lasted throughout my life, to this day.

What I endured back then would be called abuse today.  Psychological, emotional, and physical abuse.  Giving my father the benefit of any doubt, his purpose was to demand obedience.  What he actually did was protect himself from ever being shamed or embarrassed by his children’s behavior.  Never hearing “you can do this,” or, “you can be anything you want to be,” or,  “believe in yourself like I believe in you,” brought crippling results.  Instead of learning what was possible for us, we learned what would happen to us.

My dad lost his own father when he was a young teenager, just when he needed him most.  His father left home and never returned.  As a result, my father became skillful at keeping others from hurting him, especially those in his own family.

One of my earliest memories of my dad was being afraid to stay with him when my mother was leaving the house.  Years later in the 7th grade, I delayed giving my father a report card because I was afraid he would be angry.  When I finally brought it home he laughed and teased as he looked over the report.  I said, “I got this a month ago.  I didn’t bring it home because I was afraid you would be mad.”  He exploded in rage. Removing his belt he screamed, “If you didn’t have a reason to be afraid before, you sure do now!”  He began hitting me with his belt and kicked me in the shin with his “wing-tip” shoe, leaving a big knot on my shin.  “You’ve got a lot of confidence in your dad, don’t you!” he yelled.  I didn’t understand then, and I’m not sure I do now.

In December of 1989, my father died from cancer at age 62.  I never had the privilege of an honest, strong, confident, reciprocal relationship with him.  Were we loved?  Yes.  Did he provide for his family?  Yes.  None of that overcame the fear that reigned in our home.

Now, with adult children and grandchildren of our own, our kids will laugh about the look on my face and the things I said when it was time for discipline.  I love it.  It’s funny and embarrassing to hear them mimick the way I was as they were growing up.

Once when I was going to be away,  I had a serious conversation with my three boys.  I said, “Hey, guys, I want to ask you a question, and I want you to be completely honest.  I won’t be angry no matter what you say.”  Then I asked them, “Are you happy when I’m not here?”  I explained that I was excited when my dad was gone.  The pressure was lifted, it was vacation time while he was gone.  I wanted to know if my boys felt the same way.  I was relieved to hear them say, “No!  We don’t like it when you’re gone.  We miss you, it’s more fun when you’re home.”  I tried not to instill the same fear and doubt I had, in my own children.

Why have I shared all of this?  If you have children, please, please, encourage them!  Praise them!  Tell them they can do anything and become anything they want to be, even if there’s not a chance in the world they can actually do what they’re dreaming.  Who knows?  Can you see the future?

Kids will be kids.  They’re going to upset you, they’re going to make mistakes, maybe big ones.  But don’t ever lose sight of them being YOUR children.  You are shaping them, and they will shape others who will shape others.  That is a huge responsibility!  Speak affirming, not shaming words to them.  Don’t say, “You know what you should have done?”  Tell them they did a great job.  Tell them you believe in them.  Tell them they can, whatever it is.  Say continually, “I am so proud of you!”

The effect of you, their parent, whether you are a single parent, step-parent,  guardian, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, believing in them will last a lifetime!