THE DOG WHO CHOSE TO STAY Kate’s Journal


Her life changed in a terrifying moment of rising water, shouting and the screaming of frightened horses. It had rained for days, and the river had finally taken enough and took the easy path over its banks, through fields and flooding all nearby ranches and homes. The extended flatlands of the Sacramento river were awash in dirty roaring floodwaters.

A few miles south, we had our share of the wet stuff along with winds which rattled the windows and took down a few branches, but nothing we couldn’t live with. Penny, our independent small dachshund who hated wet weather, took the opportunity to snuggle up in front of the warm fire.

The ominous ringing of a phone in the middle of the night seems to signify trouble, and my grandson’s voice was a confirmation. I heard him yell something about a dog, but there was so much background noise I really couldn’t tell much.

We finally determined that a nearby large ranch was afloat and neighbors were coming to rescue a great number of horses. The owner had had a heart attack and had been taken away by paramedics. Two or three dogs had been placed in cages for safety, and we were being asked to take one of the dogs.

I shook my head and said “No way!” and we left it at that for the night.

As our pickup pulled into our grandson’s rented farmyard in Tracy, California, we were greeted by vocal histrionics from his two dogs, and as if by common consent, coming majestically down the back steps, was the “Nana” dog of Peter Pan fame. Without hesitation, neither acknowledging our presence nor the barking dogs, this large fuzzy creature leaped into the open door of the pickup and settled herself in for the duration.

pandaPanda, Old English Sheepdog

Hurt and lost dogs and people turn as if by instinct to a refuge. Do they sense warmth and food and a friendly voice?

Her name was Panda, though she looked like a Nellie, and I wanted to rename her, but being outvoted, Panda it stayed. Dr. A assured me that Grandma Nellie who had not liked dogs, would not enjoy having one using her name. I imagine as a small puppy she resembled a fluffy, soft grey and white panda bear.

She was nervous when she arrived home, and we forgave her bladder’s loss of control when she hung her head and looked sheepishly at us cleaning up the mess. Otherwise from the first she was a courteous and well-mannered guest who obviously sensed that the furniture did not have her name on it. She knew instinctively which rooms were off-limits.

The relationship between dog and household is a subtle thing. Her previous owner had in the meantime passed away, and there was no reason we could not include her in our household. Penny had merely glanced at her and decided she was OK, so with a minimum of fuss she became our second dog. Size-wise they resembled Mutt and Jeff.

After a run-in with an angry goose Penny had long ago determined that going for long walks was not her cup of tea, but Panda welcomed the exercise and Dr. A welcomed the company of this curious friendly companion. Daily they took off down the Alameda Creek Trail while Panda paid no attention to the large number of other romp and runners. When Dr. A stopped to pass the time of day Panda lay down and patiently waited it out, sometimes taking the opportunity to grab a nap.

Sam and Panda2

Alone one morning, I got a phone call from a young boy who said he had found Panda wandering by herself on the Trail, while using it himself on his way to school. Fearful that something untoward had happened, I asked if he could take her to the nearby Niles Cafe coffee shop to wait 15 minutes or so for me. When I arrived at the coffee shop, no dog or husband were there, but several friends jumped up to help me find the missing couple. I appreciated the concern of people like the Corrie’s who owned a local gift shop in town.

As we started down the street, Dr. A passed by in the car with a very happy and smiling Panda in the back seat. As he had started on his way home, he had not gone far when he he realized that he was missing a passenger. Strange to say, he had forgotten her!

During one of his long conversations, he had stopped to help a friend get her Lab out of one of the ponds along the way, and Panda, instead of waiting, had had enough and decided to come home alone.

Just as she had chosen the front seat of the pickup as her right, she chose her place in the house under a table in our family room. Disconcerting to some perhaps, unless they were a dog lover, to find this large furry animal lying so close to their feet under the table. She frequently offered her warm tongue as a friendly welcome. During the long years she graced us with her presence, she rarely barked, and exhibited all the kind attributes of the Peter Pan “Nana”.

We had learned that Panda was a year old when she came to us, and when she was eleven, she began showing signs of slowing down. Larger breed dogs, including Old English Sheepdogs, don’t usually live as long as their smaller cousins. It was apparent that the long walks which frequently ended in joyous rabbit chases down by the Bay had taken their toll. Though her hearing and eyesight were apparently as good as ever, we realized that like so many older humans, her mind was not as quick as it had been.

On her last day. as we slowly walked to the vet, she turned and looking at Dr. A, gave one woof. Was it a goodbye to her friend, or perhaps a thank you for the rescue so long ago, and all the good years since? It had been a good life.

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LIGHTS OUT Kate’s Journal


The final goodbye always comes as an unpleasant gut-wrenching surprise no matter how long its approach. I knew that at my father’s passing the mournful sound of “Taps” would echo over the hills of Southern Oregon. What better place to say goodbye to this son of the Rogue River, surrounded by his long-gone family, and sheltered by lichen-covered maple trees with leaves just tinged with the blotchy blood red of imminent goodbye.

Though expected, the intrusion of the bugler and two other Navy personnel, snapped me out of memories of this strong and proud man. He was an Oregon country boy, but he was Navy through and through. Therefore, we were also Navy, moving as we were sent and staying at their pleasure. It was his life, and the love of the sea never left him.

As the bugler raised his instrument to his lips, I wondered where this familiar twenty-four note melody came from. It signals soldiers to prepare for the day’s final roll call. In use since 1835 it was known as “Scott’s Tatoo” and named for army chief Winfield Scott.

The tune was a said to be a revision of a French bugle signal called tatoo, which notified soldiers to cease their evening drinking and return to their barracks. The word was an alteration of “tapto” which was derived from Dutch “tap-toe” or to shut the tap of a keg.

In the Civil War Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield thought the sound of the tatoo was too harsh, so he ordered his 23 year old bugler to polish it up and make it softer and more melodious. It is also known as Butterfield’s Lullaby.

The echo of the last note hung in the air, the sound of a volley of shots rang out over the valley, and roll call was over.

“Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me
Here he lies where he longed to be.
Home is the sailor home from the sea
And the hunter home from the hill.”

Requium poem by Robert Louis Stevenson

ROOM TO LET Kate’s Journal


When I was a child living at Grandma’s house, the largest bedroom in the house was often the first to be rented, because it brought in the most money. In Long Beach this room was in the rear, and was off limits to me. Grandma slept in the small room off the living room at the front of the house, where she somehow managed to surround herself with all the belongings of a lifetime.

At one point between renters, my mother and I shared the big bedroom. I must have been quite small, because I remember the furniture as being very large. I was so pleased with the transition that I stood on a chair before the mirror and cut my first bangs. It gives a child a great sense of accomplishment to have control over such an important part of their anatomy.

The change in my appearance, though pleasing to me, distressed the women in my immediate family. Auntie however, common sense Yankee that she was, took the newly shorn culprit to the local barber and ordered a “Dutch cut”, which went well with my ugly Buster Brown high top shoes. Grandma’s image of me with patent leather Mary Jane’s went counter to her sister, Aunt Georgia, who saw me as an ordinary rough and tumble kid. My own self-image landed somewhere in the middle.

I was born with both feet turned the wrong way, and while years of “step-shuffle-step” lessons did not make me a prima ballerina, they did make me a noisy tap dancer practicing on the linoleum kitchen floor.

One thing you learn early on when living in a house with paying guests, is how to be quiet, so for one reason or another, I was often sent to stay at Auntie’s house in the hills near Los Angeles.

In the early spring, those hills were covered with tall grass, which was the perfect conduit for cardboard box sleds. There were few neighbors around the hill, perhaps eight or nine at the most, and fewer children, but those who came to check me out taught me skills I could never have learned while living in the city.

Country kids know what’s going on in the outdoors. They know what bugs to pick up and which to leave alone, as well as which of the snake family is friendly and which should be avoided. We built large cages for the friendly snakes and fed them the bugs we didn’t like.

Days at Auntie’s were kept to a pattern: early to bed, early to rise. Puffed wheat or rice for breakfast, often accompanied by a slice of cake. Since cleanliness is next to Godliness, we cleaned house each morning. I still remember the smell of Old English furniture polish on the dust cloth hung in the cleaning closet.

Auntie had few clothes in her small bedroom closet; a couple of house-dresses and a dress-up one, and maybe two pair of shoes. We cleaned up early and went visiting perhaps once a week, and one or two people occasionally came for lunch. Her food and cooking were as simple as her clothing. Though she and Grandma grew up in the same well-to-do family in New Hampshire, they were quite different in their life approaches.

Each of my long visits with Auntie had to end, and I was returned to Grandmas’s house. I don’t remember that the big bedroom was ever empty again while she lived there, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to sleep there once.

A FAMILY AFFAIR


nc-wyeth Cover photo by N.C. Wyeth

“To Billy From Grandma” is written inside the old book. It brings back a memory of a musty old bookshop in San Francisco. I had stepped from the bright sunlight into the dimly lighted confines of what might become a pleasant hour of book-looking pleasure. When I picked up the old copy of Robinson Crusoe” and saw N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations within it, I was sure I had struck gold.

N.C. Wyeth was one of America’s greatest illustrators. His first work on Treasure Island” allowed him to pay for his studio in Chadds Ford, PA. He was a painter as well as an illustrator, and said that the two cannot be mixed. He left a legacy of over 3,000 paintings and 112 book illustrations, but perhaps he is best remembered now as the father of Andrew Wyeth and four other talented children.

The family grew up in Chadds Ford, and all five children were home schooled. As a child, Andrew showed promise as an artist, and his father was his only art teacher. He lived the rest of his life in Chadds Ford, and later remarked that “he painted his life”.

His painting of neighbor Christina Olson, “Christina’s World, is one of the most well known paintings of the 20th century and is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art New York.

christinasworld

Not as well known are the Helga paintings; 247 paintings in intimate detail of Helga Testorf, a caregiver/nurse for neighbor Karl Kuener, whose farm is seen at the top of the hill in Christina’s World.

andrew_wyeth_braids_1979

The drawings and paintings of Helga Testorf were made over a fifteen year period, and were kept secret from both Andrew’s wife Betsy, and Helga’s husband. They were stored at the home of Andrew’s student Frolic Weymouth. Helga has the distinction of being made famous by a painting, except perhaps the Mona Lisa.

helga_nude

Andrew Wyeth said that he felt he had been kept in a prison by his father; never leaving his home, he painted what he saw around him. To have painted this one subject of Helga without anyone knowing for fifteen years and then suddenly showing them to the world gave him a long imagined sense of independence.

When asked if Helga was going to be present at his 91st birthday, he said “Yeah, certainly, oh absolutely–she’s part of the family now. I know it shocks everyone. That’s what I like about it. It really shocks ’em.

In 1986 the collection went on tour to much criticism, saying it had a voyeuristic aura. After the tour the entire collection was sold to a Japanese buyer.

ON BEING BLUE


In the National Gallery in London is an unfinished painting showing Christ being carried to his tomb.

Michelangelo did not finish the painting which he called The Entombment”. This makes me feel so much better when I look at my painting of the herd of Alaskan moose who will be forever marching through the snow going who knows where. In my case, it’s a case of procrastination; Michelangelo, on the other hand, couldn’t afford the paint.

Though the rest of the work looks nearly finished, or at least drawn in, the large blank space in the right hand corner has not even been started. It was probably meant to be reserved for the Virgin Mary in her blue robe, but the twenty-five year old Michelangelo couldn’t afford the ultramarine blue it deserved. He must have cursed for awhile and wrung his hands while waiting for his patron to send the money or the paint. But in 1501 Michelangelo left both Rome and that canvas to carve his David in Florence, and he never returned with the blue paint to finish the Virgin’s robe.

Ultramarine, coming from mines in Afghanistan and other exotic places, is made from ground lapis lazuli, then mixed with oils, wax, or other carriers, so understandably, it is not a paint an ordinary dabbler like me would use a lot of. In 1824 a reward of a thousand francs was offered to someone who could come up with an alternative to the color. A Frenchman named Guimet won the prize for “French Ultramarine”, which to the untrained eye is a good substitute.

michelangelo

Vermeer was less parsimonious in his use of the color, and proceeded to put his family in debt.

johannes_vermeer_-_girl_with_a_pearl_earring_-_wga24666Girl With a Pearl Earring Vermeer

Ultramarine is a word that has always seemed to me to taste of the ocean. It has a smooth, salty sound, suggesting a bluer blue than even the Mediterranean can reflect on a sunny morning. Think of the Greek Islands in the sunshine.

We think of the sky as being blue, yet there are more tints and shades of blue than could be used in a lifetime. The sky can be azure, cobalt, cerulean, or a hundred other tints. The bluebells of Scotland once seen, remain to be captured in memory again and again.

RUN RABBIT


rabbit

A recipe, clipped from a magazine and yellowed with age, fell out of an overstuffed folder and into my memory, taking me back to the time when I was eighteen, married, and did not cook.

When I found the recipe for ‘Ragout of Rabbit’ I thought I had found the perfect recipe which would transport me into the realm of gourmet cook. I would also impress our very sophisticated cousin by inviting him to have dinner with us in our tiny third floor apartment. My first mistake came with pronouncing Ragout as it is spelled, but coming from a family of cooks who never used garlic, and wouldn’t think of using wine, what could you expect? The recipe called for both, and much more, including herbs I had never heard of.

After a long and complicated preparation, the recipe ended with the question “And did you notice that this recipe bears a startling resemblance to that one of Apicius?” I had never heard of the old Roman Apicius and his cookbook, and had no idea where to find it. I have since wondered if it took Apicius as long to prepare it as it did me.

We invited our cousin, and I struggled through the recipe, but he did not arrive on our doorstep. We ate the entire rabbit, which was rich with unfamiliar flavors, threw away the bones and I never made the rabbit recipe again.

Many years later, my mother raised some rabbits, along with geese and chickens, on their small property in Oregon. The geese became a problem as they considered that side of the ditch their own and attacked all intruders. This large ditch ran for miles from Medford, through their property and on into Grants Pass. It kept a moderate flow which made floating on inner tubes great fun. You could float along all the way into the town of Grants Pass if you had someone to pick you up and bring you home. My dad’s big collie dog went out of his mind barking if my mother tried to cool off by swimming and threatened to jump in when the children got in. It was strange how he knew all this water could be dangerous.

I have always liked the idea of rabbits, ever since Peter Rabbit captured my imagination. I had an unpleasant picture of Mrs. McGregor, and thought rabbits were much nicer than cabbages. When I was eight or nine, I received a sweet bunny rabbit at Easter, which promptly bit my finger. The crooked nail has been a constant reminder of how unpredictable the small creatures can be.

I have often wondered how rabbits came to be associated with the celebration of Easter, and who was the first to imagine that they could lay colored eggs. Who had the idea that a rabbit’s foot was lucky? It certainly wasn’t lucky for the rabbit.

AFTER THE BALL


The big 70th celebration was a success. Food, drink and convergence of family and friends affixed their stamp of approval and sent us once more into the brink. I am again in awe of the daughters who made it such a grand success.

Sitting this morning in the quiet garden with only the company of a few visiting hummers, I tried to recapture the happy assembly which gathered last weekend. Sometimes it is easier to retrieve conversations and memories after a day or two of recovery.

The guest beds needed to be changed and rooms set back in order. While engaged in this chore, I remembered a remark a grandson said which touched my heart. His youngest child, a boy, was unable to come to the party, and my grandson said he had been looking forward to sleeping in his own ‘little boy’ bed with his son. Another day, another time, but it told me that perhaps this bed held happy memories for him. The twin beds in this room had belonged to Dr. A when he was a boy, and after that, they were part of a daughter’s bedroom. They are nothing special, but how do we know what dreams were dreamed while asleep in them through the years?

I will admit that my decorating skills are pretty eclectic, and cover a multitude of things I like, whether they appeal to a proponent of Home and Gardens or not. There are a couple of bears from Harrod’s sitting on antique ‘potty’ chairs in the breakfast room which I rather like, but while sorting things out, I discovered one had gone missing. I sent out an amber alert to no avail and hoped he would be happy in his new home. But while changing the bedding on the ‘little boy bed’, I found he had chosen to join the other bears in the ‘children’s room’. I don’t blame him, it must be discouraging to spend your life on the pot.