Thursday, March 19, 2015

I'll See You in My Dreams

I didn't imagine I'd be writing any new stories about Butch; he's been gone for three years now. But this morning, when I finally slept hard and late after a night spent tossing and turning, he came to me in a dream.

It was past time for me to get up, and in the dream I did that. I put on my robe, stepped out into the hallway, and there, where I expected to see Levi and Gimpy, I saw Butch instead. He was doing his familiar, happy tap-dance on the tile floor, wagging his tail so vigorously that his whole back end moved. In the way of dreams, I believed I was awake, but the sight of a living, breathing Butch made the wide-awake dream-me think I must be dreaming. I reached out first to touch the door frame, then the green, high-back chair, reasoning that if I could make myself touch real things, then I must be awake.

Butch didn't seem to have any such concerns. He was all over me, wriggling against my legs, pushing his face against my hand, soaking up all the loving he'd missed while he'd been away. I dropped onto the sofa and picked him up, holding him like a squirmy baby, running my hands through his soft fur, sniffing his ears and his popcorn-scented paws, relishing the impossible moment.

My grandmother walked into the room, she who passed away in 1988, and my daughter Kim, too, who is very much alive today but was a young girl in the dream. Still not believing Butch could be here, I asked them both if they could see him. They could not.

I turned to look again and saw him standing by my knees, his tail still wagging, then I looked across the room and he was there, too. He was everywhere I looked. Sometimes I could see four or five of him in different places at once, all of them moving, sniffing corners, exploring every part of every room the same way I would do if I could visit the house where I grew up.

Eventually the long dream changed into a twisted scenario involving a long bus ride with the child-Kim in New York City, and it ended almost immediately after that when I woke up for real. I lay quietly in bed for a long while, soaking up the joy I'd felt at the dream reunion with Butch. He'd seemed younger than he'd been at the end of his life. A little thinner, too, and much more agile. Every bit as affectionate. I've tried to remember whether or not he was still blind in the dream, but I can't recall. It doesn't matter; we could see each other just fine.

Later this morning, after I'd been up for a while, I noticed today's date: March 19th. Butch was a found puppy who came to live with us on the last day of April, 1998. The veterinarian who checked him over that day estimated his age at six weeks, so we counted back into the middle of March to choose a date to celebrate as his birthday. We picked a date we knew we'd always remember because it was my second husband's birthday: March 19th.

To the best of my recollection, this is the first time I've ever dreamed about Butch. Happy birthday, sweet angel--and thanks so much for sharing it with me.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Smart Cookies

Back in November I wrote about Levi's attention to bells and timers. At one-thirty the other night he stood by my bed and poked me awake with his nose. I scratched his head and told him to go back to bed. Instead, he stood up on his hind legs, placed one paw on the mattress for balance and used the other one to slap me repeatedly on the shoulder. When he was satisfied that I was wide awake, he walked to the bedroom door and looked over his shoulder, waiting for me to follow him. I did -- all the way into the kitchen, where he stopped and looked up toward the spot where my cell phone lay on the counter. At precisely that moment, the phone lit up and the text tone sounded. It was a wrong number, but Levi didn't know that. I like to think he'd alert me to an urgent call, too.


The arrangement of chairs on our patio looks odd but has a purpose. Two of the chairs sit facing each other with about a foot of knee room between them. The chair that looks out onto the yard is for sitting; the other chair is for propping feet on and is also used as a tennis-ball return spot. After we get tired of throwing the ball for the dogs, they get a little more mileage out of us by placing the ball on the seat of the chair, where a human foot hardly has to move at all to knock the ball off the to one side or another. Kim noticed recently that Levi and Gimpy understand spatial relationships well enough that they wait on the left side of the chair if her foot is positioned to the right of the ball. If she moves her leg to the left side of the ball, both dogs scurry around to the right side of the chair. 

They do something similar when we play coffee-table ball in the house. Once they've placed the ball under the low-slung table, they watch while I stick the broom handle under there, then they quickly map out some kind of mental trajectory and race each other to the exact place where the ball will roll out as soon as I give it a good whack.


Levi is the only dog I've ever had that understands to look in the direction a finger points instead of focusing on the pointed finger. This skill comes in handy. He rarely goes outside without a ball in his mouth, and he knows it's his job to bring the ball back in the house when playtime is over. Usually he does it. Sometimes, if he hurries back inside, I have to send him out a second time to get his ball. That's an easy task for him--unless he can't remember where he left it. Being considerably taller than Levi is, I can often spot the yellow-green ball that he can't see behind leaves or grass at a distant spot. That's where the pointing comes in: I point, and he finds it after a short search. Now, if I can only get him to understand what I mean by "warmer" and "colder"... 


Such shaggy dogs! Haircuts are coming soon, just in time for warmer weather.



Saturday, February 21, 2015

"...And always remember, the dark clouds pass with time"

On days when I walked the six blocks home from Phelps Elementary School alone, I sometimes sang out loud to pass the time. My favorite songs were hits from the radio, and in fourth grade (1951), one ballad dominated my repertoire:

When I think of this song, what I hear in my head is Johnny Ray's voice, but what I see in the visual part of my mind is a tree-lined sidewalk on which a skinny, blond-haired, nine-year-old girl swings a plaid, plastic book bag, paces each saddle-oxford-clad footstep to the beat of her inner music, and belts out the lyrics as unselfconsciously as if no one could possibly hear her from behind fluttering curtains and open windows.

It may be a sad song, but those memories are happy, happy ones.


The song is "The Little White Cloud That Cried," performed by Johnny Ray and The Four Lads.
Click here to read the lyrics.
Thanks to MrSherco12 for posting the video on YouTube.

One Step at a Time

On Tuesday, while many Louisianans were collecting beads at Mardi Gras festivities, I was at the doctor's office, collecting information, advice, and medication samples. A day earlier my younger daughter had gently and lovingly asked me what was going on and why I seemed to have "shut down" lately. Her sister had asked similar questions two days earlier.

The thing is, it had crept up so stealthily that I hadn't noticed it. I was well aware of an overwhelming physical fatigue but hadn't paid much attention to my emotional state until my daughters pointed it out. It was/is depression.

I should have recognized it. It runs through the DNA on my father's side of the family, so I've seen it before. I've experienced it before, too, but up to now, for me, depression has always been a response to one unfortunate situation or another. This time there was no obvious reason for it.

Then came the message from the doctor: the blood test I'd taken a couple of weeks earlier indicated that my thyroid gland isn't producing at the level it should be. To me this was good news: fatigue and depression are symptoms of hypothyroidism, so maybe that's my excuse for long naps and skipped showers. We'll see. It reportedly takes a few weeks for the thyroid meds to kick in.

As it happens, I'm already feeling somewhat perkier mentally. The credit for that may go to giving up diet soda, which I did about a week ago. Because I enjoy it so much, I've always been skeptical about the many articles linking diet soda to depression, but this is the second time in four years that I've broken a 4-5 cans per day habit with fast, positive results. Some of us apparently don't learn a lesson the first time.

Anyway, between the mood lift and the encouragement of a few faithful readers, I've decided to keep plugging away at this blog for now. With a little luck and some thyroid hormone replacement therapy, Velvet Sacks and I may have a fighting chance.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Neglect and Indecision

For years I had a recurrent dream in which I walked out my backdoor onto a short sidewalk that ended up at the door of a large, greenhouse-looking building that I had forgotten was there. It turned out to be an aviary for tropical birds. The enclosure was filled with cages containing birds like the beauties pictured in this post (photographed at the Greater Baton Rouge Zoo), plus dozens of small, colorful parakeets. 

The difference between the birds in the pictures and the birds in my dream is that the dream birds were dying. A few of them were already dead. All the food and water dishes were empty, the cages covered in droppings, and those birds that were still alive, lying on their sides and gasping for breath, had ragged feathers and bald patches.

I was horrified in the dream to find the birds in such dreadful condition and horrified even more to know that I was the one who had allowed it to happen. I loved the birds, but, feeling overwhelmed by life in general, I'd allowed one day after another to pass without tending to them. Now I was looking at the consequences of my neglect.

Every time I had that dream, the guilt I felt lingered long into the day ahead. It's been years since the dream has recurred, but I remember the lesson of it well.

I thought about it the other day when I was considering this blog. I've been neglecting it, I know, and I'm pretty sure it's dying. I'm not feeding it on a regular basis. The number of readers has dwindled down to a small fraction of what it used to be. My fault. 

I have loved the blogging experience and the people I've met along the way, but when days or weeks pass without new posts, I feel as guilty as I did in the dream about the birds, and I do not like that feeling.

My choices are to stop -- to scratch this blog off my to-do list so I don't have to think about it anymore -- or to pick up its ragged body while it has one breath left and attempt to resuscitate it, to nurse it back to health. At this point I don't know what I want to do.

Indecision feels almost as unpleasant as guilt.

PS: I once told a co-worker about my dying-bird dream. She then told me she had an almost identical dream, also recurring, except that the victims of her neglect were fish in an enormous aquarium. According to articles on the Internet, these types of dreams are fairly common. Weird, huh?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

"And run if you will to the top of the hill..."

I was first introduced to Rod McKuen's music in 1967 by the man who would later become my second (and last and best) husband. On the drive home from our first date, Richard plugged an eight-track tape into his car stereo, and the car filled with the sound of waves splashing on the beach, the gentle, seductive voice of McKuen himself, and the swelling music of the Anita Kerr Orchestra. That tape was The Sea. It made me appreciate Rod McKuen. More than that, it made me appreciate Richard because he could appreciate Rod McKuen.

Poet and songwriter Rod McKuen died on Thursday at the age of 81. So many of his songs provided background music for my life. My favorite of all of them was this one:

The song is "Jean," written and performed by Rod McKuen.
Thanks to bernieb48 for posting the video and lyrics on YouTube.