Sunday, January 30, 2011

Journal of a Living Lady #390

Nancy White Kelly

Bobby, our adopted son, recently called to tell us the good news. His wife, Ginger, was home from Iraq. It was a joyous surprise. Bobby immediately jumped into his bright red truck and headed to the military base in South Georgia.

Ginger will tell you it is tough been separated from your spouse and children, living half-way around the world in a dangerous war-zone full of fanatics. Bobby will tell you it is hard being “Mr. Mom.”

As the new up-risings in the Middle East hit the headlines, I am especially grateful for our soldiers who protect the freedoms we enjoy and so often take for granted. I am proud to be related to a long line of men who served our country admirably: my grandfather in WWI, my father in WWII, my husband in Korea, and now a young nephew also headed for Korea.

Recently someone send me a story that reminded me of the sacrifices made on our behalf. I must share it. Settle back and take the time to let it soak in. And, yes, better grab some tissues.

“They told me the big black Lab's name was Reggie, as I looked at him lying in his pen. The shelter was clean, no-kill, and the people really friendly. I'd only been in the area for six months, but everywhere I went in the small college town, people were welcoming and open. Everyone waves when you pass them on the street.

But something was still missing as I attempted to settle in to my new life here, and I thought a dog couldn't hurt. Give me someone to talk to. And I had just seen Reggie's advertisement on the local news. The shelter said they had received numerous calls right after, but they said the people who had come down to see him just didn't look like "Lab people," whatever that meant. They must've thought I did.

But at first, I thought the shelter had misjudged me in giving me Reggie and his things, which consisted of a dog pad, bag of toys almost all of which were brand new tennis balls, his dishes, and a sealed letter from his previous owner.
Reggie and I didn't really hit it off when we got home. We struggled for two weeks (which is how long the shelter told me to give him to adjust to his new home). Maybe it was the fact that I was trying to adjust too. Maybe we were too much alike.

For some reason, his stuff (except for the tennis balls --- he wouldn't go anywhere without two stuffed in his mouth) got tossed in with all of my other unpacked boxes. I guess I didn't really think he'd need all his old stuff, that I'd get him new things once he settled in. But it became clear pretty soon that he wasn't going to.

I tried the normal commands the shelter told me he knew, ones like "sit" and "stay" and "come" and "heel," and he'd follow them - when he felt like it. He never really seemed to listen when I called his name --- sure, he'd look in my direction after the fourth or fifth time I said it, but then he'd just go back to doing whatever. When I'd ask again, you could almost see him sigh and then grudgingly obey.

This just wasn't going to work. He chewed a couple shoes and some unpacked boxes.
I was a little too stern with him and he resented it, I could tell. The friction got so bad that I couldn't wait for the two weeks to be up, and when it was, I was in full-on search mode for my cell phone amid all of my unpacked stuff. I remembered leaving it on the stack of boxes in the guestroom. I mumbled, rather cynically, that the "damn dog probably hid it on me.

Finally I found the phone, but before I could punch up the shelter's number, I also found his pad and other toys from the shelter. I tossed the pad in Reggie's direction and he snuffed it and wagged, some of the most enthusiasm I'd seen since bringing him home. But then I called, "Hey, Reggie, you like that? Come here and I'll give you a treat." Instead, he sort of glanced in my direction, maybe "glared" is more accurate, and then gave a discontented sigh and flopped down with his back to me.

I punched the shelter phone number, but hung up quickly when I saw the sealed envelope. I had completely forgotten about that.

"Okay, Reggie," I said out loud, "let's see if your previous owner has any advice."

--- To Whoever Gets My Dog:
Well, I can't say that I'm happy you're reading this, a letter I told the shelter could only be opened by Reggie's new owner. I'm not even happy writing it. If you're reading this, it means I just got back from my last car ride with my Lab after dropping him off at the shelter. He knew something was different. I have packed up his pad and toys before and set them by the back door before a trip, but this time. it’s like he knew something was wrong. And something is wrong which is why I have to try to make it right.

So let me tell you about my Lab in the hopes that it will help you bond with him and he with you. First, he loves tennis balls. The more the merrier. Sometimes I think he's part squirrel, the way he hordes them. He usually always has two in his mouth, and he tries to get a third in there. Hasn't done it yet. Doesn't matter where you throw them, he'll bound after it, so be careful - really don't do it by any roads. I made that mistake once, and it almost cost him dearly.

Next, commands. Maybe the shelter staff already told you, but I'll go over them again: Reggie knows the obvious ones ---"sit," "stay," "come," "heel." He knows hand signals:"back" to turn around and go back when you put your hand straight up; and "over" if you put your hand out right or left. "Shake" for shaking water off, and "paw" for a high-five. He does "down" when he feels like lying down --- I bet you could work on that with him some more. He knows "ball" and "food" and "bone" and "treat" like nobody's business. I trained Reggie with small food treats. Nothing opens his ears like little pieces of hot dog.

Feeding schedule: twice a day, once about seven in the morning, and again at six in
the evening. Regular store-bought stuff; the shelter has the brand.

He's up on his shots. Call the clinic on 9th Street and update his info with yours; they'll make sure to send you reminders for when he's due. Be forewarned: Reggie hates the vet. Good luck getting him in the car. I don't know how he knows when it's time to go to the vet, but he knows.

Finally, give him some time. I've never been married, so it's only been Reggie and me for his whole life. He's gone everywhere with me, so please include him on your daily car rides if you can. He sits well in the backseat, and he doesn't bark or complain. He just loves to be around people and me most especially.

Which means that this transition is going to be hard, his going to live with someone new. And that's why I need to share one more bit of info with you: his name's not Reggie.

I don't know what made me do it, but when I dropped him off at the shelter, I told them his name was Reggie. He's a smart dog, he'll get used to it and will respond to it, of that I have no doubt. But I just couldn't bear to give them his real name. For me to do that, it seemed so final, that handing him over to the shelter was as good as me admitting that I'd never see him again. And if I end up coming back, getting him, and tearing up this letter, it means everything's fine. But if someone else is reading it, well ... well it means that his new owner should know his real name. It'll help you bond with him. Who knows, maybe you'll even notice a change in his demeanor if he's been giving you problems.

His real name is "Tank" because that is what I drive.

Again, if you're reading this and you're from the area, maybe my name has been on the
news. I told the shelter that they couldn't make "Reggie" available for adoption until they received word from my company commander. See, my parents are gone, I have no siblings, no one I could've left Tank with ... and it was my only real request of the Army upon my deployment to Iraq , that they make one phone call to the shelter ... in the "event" ... to tell them that Tank could be put up for adoption. Luckily, my colonel is a dog guy, too, and he knew where my platoon was headed. He said he'd do it personally. And if you're reading this, then
he made good on his word.

Well, this letter is getting downright depressing, even though, frankly, I'm just
writing it for my dog. I couldn't imagine if I was writing it for a wife and kids and family ... but still, Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost as long as the Army has been my family.

And now I hope and pray that you make him part of your family and that he will adjust andcome to love you the same way he loved me. That unconditional love from a dogis what I take with me to Iraq as an inspiration to do something selfless, to protect innocent people from those who would do terrible things ... and to keep those terrible people from coming over here. If I have to give up Tank in order to do it, I am glad to have done so. He is my example of service and of love. I hope I honored him by my service to my country and comrades.

All right, that's enough. I deploy this evening and have to drop this letter off at
the shelter. I don't think I'll say another good-bye to Tank, though. I cried too much the first time. Maybe I'll peek in on him and see if he finally got that third tennis ball in his mouth.

Good luck with Tank. Give him a good home and give him an extra kiss goodnight - every night - from me.”

Thank you,
Paul M.

I folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope. Sure I had heard of Paul, everyone in town knew him, even new people like me. Local kid, killed in Iraq a few months ago and posthumously earning the Silver Star when he gave his life to save three buddies. Flags had been at half-mast all summer.

I leaned forward in my chair and rested my elbows on my knees, staring at the dog.

"Hey, Tank," I said quietly.

The dog's head whipped up, his ears cocked and his eyes bright.

"C'mere boy."

He was instantly on his feet, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor. He sat in front of me, his head tilted, searching for the name he hadn't heard in months.

"Tank," I whispered. His tail swished.

I kept whispering his name, over and over, and each time, his ears lowered, his eyes softened, and his posture relaxed as a wave of contentment just seemed to flood him. I stroked his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buried my face into his scruff and hugged him.

"It's me now, Tank, just you and me. Your old pal gave you to me."

Tank reached up and licked my cheek. "So whatdaya say we play some ball?"
His ears perked again.

"Yeah. Ball? You like that? Ball?" Tank tore from my hands and disappeared in the next room. And when he came back, he had three tennis balls in his mouth.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Journal of a Living Lady #388
Nancy White Kelly

My bucket list has one more item with a line drawn through: buying a small RV and traveling at leisure. We have just returned from our first trip in our RV. We didn’t camp exactly. Our goal was to attend a coin show in Tampa and try out the RV on the road. We ended up returning a couple of days earlier than planned due to the anticipated snow and arrived home just seven hours before it started. It was just as well. Nothing went as planned.

A couple of days before we left, Buddy told me to drive around locally and get a feel for the RV. No problem. After all I have a CDL license. I jumped into the camper and proceeded out the drive only to notice a long black line following me. Little did I know that the camper was still connected and powered to the electrical socket in the garage. I meekly backed-up, put the vehicle in park, jumped out and wadded up the electrical line and stuffed it into its compartment. Also unbeknown to me, Buddy had connected our cable TV line to the RV which now was missing the end plug.

Buddy still doesn’t know about the electrical cord. I dared not tell him. But, I had to let him in on the fiasco that happened the next hour.

We have become friends with an elderly widow in a near-by nursing home. I wanted to take her a treat before leaving and pulled into the drive-through of the pizza parlor to place an order. Then came the crunch. Oops!

An awning extended above the drive-through window which punctured the top of the RV. Thankfully, it was repairable with some fiberglass and paint and did no permanent harm. Obviously the awning had been hit before, but that brought little relief to my diminishing driving confidence. Buddy wasn’t happy to have yet another job to do before leaving, but he did manage to laugh.

After a long first day on the road we parked at an all-night service station off the freeway. We were so tired, all we wanted was to bed down. The next day we realized the consequences of not planning for a definite place to stay. The convention center was packed with visitors and there was no parking anywhere, even for cars. We spent a two hours roaming around the one-way streets of downtown Tampa and finally settled on the parking lot of a church. It was then we discovered that we had no electricity, therefore no lights, heat or television. It should not have been a problem since we had an on-board generator. Buddy had tested it at home, but this night it wouldn’t start. Probably had something to do with the high altitude setting or perhaps a bad spark plug.

The next night we stayed at another downtown church which had an electrical outlet. We would gladly leave a donation for the electricity used.

Early in the morning we were surprised by a homeless, middle-aged lady standing outside the door. Buddy invited her inside the RV for coffee. Surprisingly she was clean, sober, intelligent and even witty. While I attended to business at the coin show, Buddy took the lady to lunch and probably made her day with conversation. He has never met a stranger.

It wasn’t a difficult decision to head home early. The RV is parked in the drive surrounded by ice which is where it is likely to stay. We had our fling and the conclusion is that there is no place like home.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Journal of a Living Lady #387

Nancy White Kelly

As I write this column, Buddy and I are awaiting the dropping of the ball in Times Square in New York City. At midnight, the date will change to 1/1/11. It is the start of a new year full of people hoping the next twelve months will be better than the last.

As you read this column, Buddy and I will beginning a new adventure that started with the movie, “The Bucket List.” It is about two men, actors Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, who discover they have terminal cancer with little time left to live. That movie starting me thinking about things I’d like to do before I pass on and I began penning my own bucket list. It was appropriate in that in September I was warned that I may be entering my third battle with metastatic cancer. Though I have been stable the last couple of years, the CAT scan was suspicious of new growth. The pain in my joints was excruciating which led my doctors to believe the original breast cancer had spread to more bones and was beginning a drive to deprive me of quality living.

Thankfully the repeat test in December showed significant improvement and the pain was attributed to a new cancer drug which had an adverse effect of “severe joint pain.” At one point I was ready to find a chain saw to cut off my own shoulder. On a scale of 1-10, the pain was a 12. My routine morphine didn’t faze the unrelenting pain.

Now that we are past that scare, which I attribute to answered prayer, the Living Lady decided to follow through on one of the items on my bucket list. It certainly wasn’t at the top of the list, but something I had wanted for a long while…a small RV that would allow us to travel at our own pace. Justification of the cost was easy. With the coin shop, I needed to attend regional coin shows occasionally, so this purchase would be more than just a vacation vehicle.

Recently while returning from town, I passed just the type of recreational vehicle that desired. The 2002 RV was the right size and reasonably priced. We could easily re-sell it if needed. Bottom line: Buddy liked the RV too and we bought it that day.
My idea was to fill it up with gas and take off to our first destination, a coin show in Tampa. However, Buddy a retired airline mechanic, is trained to look for mechanical problems which he promptly did. He has spent many hours in the freezing weather checking every bolt. It seemed that each day brought a need for more money.
First, there was no spare tire. Buddy convinced me we couldn’t even think of taking a trip without a spare tire. The problem wasn’t so much the acquiring of a tire; it also had to have a rim. Little did I know that RV rims are of an unusual size and aren’t easy to find, especially a used one. That spare cost us $300. The oil filter and new oil was $65. RV insurance was another $200 plus and then there other costs like title change fees. Buddy’s needs list included a back-up camera, yet to be installed and a heavy-duty jack in case he had to actually use that spare time. Then there was a propane tank full of gas, a special water hose, and a host of other small items that added up to about $500. I held my tongue but my mind mentally complained, “We haven’t even pulled out of the drive-way yet.”

We should be on the road now after delivering Patch to Charlie for doggy-care, arranging for extra security for the coin shop, as well as recruiting a neighbor to feed our chickens and Sam, the cat.

Already I am remembering the TV movie starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, titled the “Long, Long Trailer.” At Lucy’s insistence, the newly-weds bought a 40-foot drivable trailer home that cost $5300 in the 50’s. The idea was to save money for an eventual house. The added benefit was that the couple could travel around the USA allowing Nicky, played by Desi, to manage civil engineering projects.
Desi and Lucy end up having to buy a more powerful car to tow the trailer. The money spent starts to mount up. Their honeymoon trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains quickly becomes a believable cascade of challenges and disasters.

For Buddy and me, this bucket list adventure is supposed to be fun. Thus far, it has been less than what I had hoped.

RVing may be a temporary fling for us and this may be a one and only trip. Stay tuned.