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Thank You, Rudy

In dogs, Pet Death, pets on August 30, 2017 at 4:51 pm

Rudy1Our beautiful Golden Retriever, Rudy, died two weeks ago. I didn’t think I’d be able to write about it because of how devastated we were, and still are, but I want him to be remembered in writing.

Until you own a pet, you don’t realize how hopelessly intertwined their lives become with yours. Every happy, joyful, thrilling, depressing, sad, dispiriting, and even mundane moment of your family’s life is shared by your pet, who contributes to your responses with joy, compassion, or equal boredom. When that pet is no longer with you, there’s a void in your lives and a gaping hole in your family unit.

My parents had black Labrador Retrievers from my teen years on. I never really noticed them, other than as peripheral beings who would lie around or occasionally swim in our pond. I know that my father considered Sam to be his dog, and my mother considered Chaka to be her dog. I’m not sure who Licorice, our first dog, belonged to. I was a teenager when we got her, and too self-involved to notice what was going on around me.

Rudy5My husband, son, and I have had only had one dog, Rudy. He had a personality as big as the house. He was so joyful that you couldn’t help but laugh at his big, drooly grin. Right up to the day he died, my young-adult son would say, “I love his face! Look at his smile!”

We really should have named him Joy. But he had other sides, too, and some were uncannily human-like. For instance, when I talked to him, he would cock his head sideways, like he was really considering what I was saying. When he saw me drinking wine, he would bark and bark so that my husband would notice. When my husband would say, “She’s allowed to drink,” Rudy would snort in disgust and walk away.

He disapproved of many things, so there was a lot of huffing and puffing from him. He didn’t like when I told him he couldn’t have what I was eating. He especially didn’t like when I stayed up too late, according to his timetable. He would bark and bark, and then my husband would yell, “Shuuuuut Uuuuup!” Then Rudy would snort and throw himself down on the rug at my feet. He would also be sure to give me the side eye while I continued reading or watching TV.

Rudy16Rudy was also very conniving. If he was outside and barked to come in, I would open the back door. Then, he’d just stand there. If I didn’t offer him something he wanted to eat, he refused to come in. However, if I closed the door on him, he’d start barking again to come in. Sometimes, if I got too close to him with whatever food I was bribing him with, he’d grab the food and run off like a burglar. We had to admit that he was clever to make us bribe him to do something he wanted to do, like come in.

We had an inkling from the day we got him, when he was barely eight weeks old, that our lives were going to get interesting. Of course he was terrified. We had just taken him from his six siblings and parents. We understood that. So, we tried not to react when he walked into our house and emptied his bowels on our new dining room rug.

Rudy8

Rudy in his homemade “Thundershirt.”

Our patience was sorely tested over the next year, however. He chewed baseboards, ate whole flip flops, and dug up our new carpets like they were dirt. He was terrified of fireworks, thunderstorms, and even rain. We learned that the hard way. One day, we left him alone and when we came home during a thunderstorm, he was happily sitting among endless curls of our new Berber carpet that he had dug up. When he was afraid, he would dig, no matter where he was.

He was also an escape artist. If the front door was open even a sliver, he’d dash out and run all over the neighborhood, behind houses, across busy streets, and onto lawns. I spent many a midnight running behind our neighbors homes, praying that they wouldn’t wake up and call the police. If it had happened to snow, the game level increased. He’d roll and jump and let me get almost close enough to grab him, and then take off.

Rudy2I remember telling a friend that the first months were exhausting, with all of the chasing and crying. “Why was Rudy crying?” she asked. “He wasn’t,” I said. “I was.” Racing up and down streets in my robe in the middle of the night was harrowing.

Rudy put my son through the same paces on their daytime walks. He learned to slip his collar and take off. No matter what kind of collar we put on him, he’d learn to escape from it. There were so many times that my son came home from walks cursing and sweating and dragging Rudy up the front steps.

But, we were always able to laugh, after the urge to kill wore off. Rudy was just so full of life and joy that it was contagious. We were able to forgive him for anything, even the times he pulled the leash out of our hands and dove into the nearest mud puddle or muddy brook at the park. At least those horrifying incidents made for good pictures. And, he always resignedly accepted his fate of being hauled to the dog-washing place.

Rudy13Rudy got bathed or hosed down a lot in the summer because, like all Retrievers, he loved to swim. He’d swim until the end of time, if we let him. We would take him to the dock of a nearby river, or to a nearby dog park at a lake, and he’d fetch balls in the water with all of the other dogs. Playing fetch combined with swimming was his idea of the best life had to offer, not counting food, of course.

Rudy3Rudy had another side, too. He was compassionate to the bone. If any of us were sick, depressed, or upset, he’d be right by that person’s side for as long as it took. He was so loyal that it touched our hearts. When we were sad, he was sad right along with us. If one of us were depressed, he’d lick and lick and lick our faces, letting us know that he loved us.

The day before he died, he was as lively as ever. He had slowed down a little, but not much. He was nine and would be 10 on Halloween. He and I had gone out back and played fetch, and then he dug and ate grass while I weeded my garden. Then, we went back inside and my husband and I left for the movies at 6:30 p.m. Our son was at work. When we came home, around 10, our son was home. I asked him where Rudy was. He said he had just gotten home and he had called Rudy, with no response. That was odd. Rudy was always waiting for us by the front door. As soon as he heard our car pull up, he would bark his head off.

I looked all around the house, and then went to the basement. Rudy was huddled in the dark. He had been sick. We cleaned him and the floor and then tried to get him to come upstairs. He refused, so my son decided to sleep on the basement couch, next to him.

Rudy18The next morning, we discovered that Rudy had been sick several times. We tried to comfort him and tell him he’d be okay. At one point, he demanded to go out back. We let him out. He never came back in.

Our son had to leave for work in the early afternoon, but before he left, he and I tried to get Rudy to the car to see the emergency vet. It was Sunday, and our regular vet’s office was closed. Rudy was very large and weighed more than 100 lbs. We couldn’t lift him, so we dragged him to a sled and got him on it. We planned to drag the sled to the car. Rudy was very weak, but he mustered his strength, stood up, and went back to where he had been lying. We tried again, with the same results. We decided that he wanted to stay home to recover. Our son left for work.

Rudy glassesMy husband and I took turns sitting with him. We truly thought Rudy was just sick and would recover. We knew that he was really sick, though. He had such little strength that, when he lifted his head to drink from his bowl, he couldn’t get his head out of the bowl.

I will be forever grateful that we kept a vigil with him during his last hours. After I sat with him, and told him that he’d be fine, that he was the most wonderful dog in the world, and that we loved him, I went inside and my husband sat with him. When my son got home from work and rushed out back to see Rudy, Rudy looked at him, convulsed, and died. He was waiting to see us all before he left us.

Rudy in poolThe shock was indescribable. The grief was awful. But we had to focus. Flies were landing on him and we had to do something quickly. We wrapped him in his vinyl blow-up pool, and dug his grave. We read that the grave should be at least three feet deep to keep animals from digging him up.

It was late afternoon and the sun would be setting soon. We dug and dug and, about two feet down, hit solid rock. We could dig no further. The sun was now lower in the sky. We could either find another place to dig or use the grave we had dug. Our yard is not an easy place to dig. We had encountered thick tree roots, vines, and rocks, that had to be cut or dug up, after almost every shovelful of dirt was removed. We didn’t know if our digging would be any easier if we started over someplace else.

We decided to use the shallow grave we had dug. We gently lowered him into the hole and covered him with dirt and rose petals from our rose bush. Our son drove to the hardware store and got topsoil and heavy rectangles of sod. We cried and cried as we covered him with more dirt, and then the sod.

Rudy4When we were finished, I walked across the sod to pat it down and made a horrible discovery. I could feel Rudy’s body under the sod. Oh my God. I was walking on his head.

It was dark by then, though, so we decided to wait until morning to do anything else. We placed the sled on top of him, to deter animals (As if that would work. We obviously weren’t thinking clearly at the time).

The next day, I cautiously approached his burial site. Thank God no animals had moved the sled or tried to dig him up. I lifted the sled. I walked on his grave. I could still feel him. It was a really terrible situation.

Our son went back to the store and bought more dirt and more sod. We piled sod on top of sod, on top of sod. This is not the recommended method for sodding a lawn. We didn’t care. We reasoned that, eventually, the first one or two layers would settle around him and then the top layers would lie flat.

That’s what we’re hoping. Meanwhile, there’s an unexpected mound in the middle of the grass. At least he’s safe.

We love you, Rudy. Thank you for nine wonderful years.

Rudy20

 

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Three Rotting Bananas

In baking, Humor on August 12, 2017 at 12:13 am

I don’t like to cook. I do it, but I don’t enjoy it –– or attain a trance-like state while I chop, slice, and dice, like a friend of mine does.

“Chopping vegetables is so relaxing,” she told me a few years ago. To this day I don’t know if she was being serious, or lying to see my reaction. I just told her she was nuts.

Chopping onions burns my eyes. When I peel carrots, I always wind up peeling the skin off my index finger. Grating cheese always involves grating my fingernail along with the cheese, and then sifting through the pile of cheese to find the nail shavings. I now polish my nails bright colors so they’re easy to spot.

Most of all, I dread having to locate the necessary spices, because when I open the above-my-head spice cabinet, an avalanche of spice bottles roll out and fall into the sink, scaring both me and the dog.

By the time I manage to get whatever I’m making onto the stove or into the oven, the counters are littered with peelings, eggshells, onion skins, meat wrappers, and dirty pots, pans, bowls, and measuring cups. And the dog is underfoot, licking up whatever hit the floor.

As much as I dislike cooking, I thought I liked baking. Tonight’s attempt at making banana bread made me realize that I was thinking of someone else, maybe one of those cake experts on the Cooking Channel.

It all started with three bananas that were so ripe that they were going to liquefy if I didn’t do something with them fast. For as long as I’ve been alive, whenever someone complains that his or her bananas are brown, another person never fails to say in a perky voice, “Make banana bread!”

Up until today, I’ve always thrown out brown bananas (and steered clear of people who make upbeat pronouncements), because baking with putrid fruit never seemed honest. But, tonight, I decided to reconsider the ethical question of disguising rotten fruit as a loaf cake.

I looked up banana bread recipes and they all called for bananas that were well past the eating stage. Some of the recipes even gave instructions for transforming  perfectly nice bananas into sludge. All of the recipes demanded that the bananas be very brown, very soft, and very aromatic.

So, I made banana bread. The process was just as annoying as cooking, and easily as messy. Flour-drenched counters, a sugar-coated Golden Retriever, sticky bowls, and caramelized beaters awaited me once I slid the pan into the oven. It took me three hours to make one loaf pan of banana bread, not including the baking time. I blame the butter.

Who knew it took hours to bring butter down to room temperature? The recipe said to soften it naturally and not expedite the process with the microwave or hot water. Don’t you think that should have been mentioned right under the title, in all capital letters? But no, the author waited until I had mashed the bananas with sour cream and vanilla, mixed the dry ingredients, and tripped over the dog before mentioning that room-temperature butter had to be beaten with sugar.

Oh well. It’s done now. I have no idea if it’s any good. Nor will I ever know. I hate banana bread. I’ll probably freeze it, and one day when I can’t identify what it is, I’ll toss it in the trash.

Next time, I’m throwing out the brown bananas.

banana bread

 

 

 

Plant Sex

In Humor, Sex on August 5, 2017 at 5:43 pm

Sex confuses me. Not human sex. My husband and I have a son, so we figured out the basics on that.

Not animal sex, either … except for those species that reproduce without a mate, through parthenogenesis, also known as virgin birth. That’s just crazy.

Plant sex, however, is beyond my understanding, even though I took a botany course in college. What I mainly remember from that class is getting accused of smoking pot with other students during our break. We were smoking a plant, but it was the tobacco plant, not the marijuana plant. (This was in the 1980s when smoking was allowed in the hallways. Ashtrays were outside of every classroom.  Oh, the good old days, when everyone wasn’t so uptight.)

I also recall learning that there are female and male plants. There are also some plants that have both male and female flowers. Then there are plants with perfect, or bisexual, flowers (perfect = bisexual? There’s food for thought), containing both male and female organs. Bees, insects, birds, bats, or the wind take pollen from the male and deposit it in the female. Regardless of what kind of flowers a plant has, in order for a vegetable (called fruit) to grow from the flower, plant sex must occur.

I have a friend whose asparagus plants weren’t producing vegetables. She researched the subject and discovered that the male plants and female plants weren’t getting together. She then instructed her husband to take a Q-Tip and rub it inside all of the plants’ flowers. His hand-pollination worked. She got asparagus. The irony is that she couldn’t pick the vegetables that her husband helped create because you have to let those plants mature for a few years before harvesting them. The bottom line was that they bought their asparagus that year.

I once heard a priest tell us that his mother always wanted peony bushes along both sides of her front walkway. His father dutifully planted peonies. While the plants flourished, no flowers appeared. His mother figured out that the males and females weren’t mixing it up, so his father dug up every other plant on each side of the walk and moved them each to the opposite side. The next year, there were flowers. (I think the lack of flowers had to do with how they were planted, but I kept mum when I saw him.)

This year, I’m faced with a similar situation with my eggplant plant. It has lovely purple flowers, but no fruit (vegetable, actually). I looked up eggplants and found that they have perfect (bisexual) flowers, containing both male and female organs. Even though they have all they need to produce fruit, there’s still a chance that they could use a little help. (Really? You just know that the male part won’t put down the remote for even one second.) Therefore, humans need to use a fine brush, a Q-Tip, or his/her breath to get things stirring … but sex is most fruitful between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. Occasionally, afternoon nookie works, too.

So, if I want to grow eggplants, I’m going to have to get up early and assist in eggplant sex. Apparently, even bisexuals don’t have sex all the time.

eggplant 1

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