Remembering Mama

Mama 5 or 6 years oldToday – or yesterday – since the dates on each of your birth certificates (the handwritten one and the official one) are different, you would be 90 years old. That’s hard for me to even fathom, almost as hard as it is for me to fathom that in August you’ll be gone seven years. 

Thinking of you being 90 reminds me of how you and Daddy used to joke about life and death. Daddy’d always say that he wanted to live to be 100, and you always told him that he’d see that birthday without you because you didn’t want to live that long.

Then you’d tell him to find “some pretty thing” to marry after you were gone, and he’d grin and look at me, and I sternly say, “You better not marry somebody younger than me or we’re gonna have problems!” And then we’d all start laughing at the absurdity of the conversation. Because there was nobody but Daddy for you and nobody but you for Daddy.

I’ve been thinking about a lot of memories of you (and Daddy) for the last couple of weeks, so I’m just going to share a segment of them here.

I was thinking about all our pets and how much a part of our family they were.

You and Daddy started with Greta the dachshund (our breed, since that’s all we ever had) before we came along. I remember when I was 7, I got the mumps during winter break and I was miserable. It made me tired because I remember napping a lot, but one afternoon in particular stands out.

Greta, who was never allowed to sleep in anybody’s bed and usually went to sleep in her basket or on the kitchen floor. She came in my room and laid down on the floor beside my bed. I got out of bed, picked her up, and put her in bed with me and we both went to sleep. I never got in trouble for that, and all these years later I realize why.

You and Daddy knew she had inoperable cancer (I’d say Daddy took Greta to his old friend, Dr. Kernodle, for a checkup – or maybe she’d acted sick – and got the bad news), and you wanted Greta to have as peaceful and easy death as possible, even if that meant getting some comfort from one of the kids.

Of course, we didn’t know she had cancer, so a week later, the morning we got ready to go back to school, we came in the kitchen and you were sitting at the table crying. We all asked what was wrong and you told us that Greta had died during the night and Daddy had wrapped her up in blanket and buried her in the yard. 

I don’t remember seeing Daddy at all that morning, but I remember all of us kids crying with you and I’m sure we all went to school with bloodshot eyes because we cried so much.

Then there Tiger, our yellow tabby, and her kittens. Two of the babies died, but Tom grew big and eventually went to a friend of yours to keep her company. I don’t remember what happened to Tiger. She was with us in Graham, but so was Misty, the Siamese kitten you got from the Goolsbys, and she wasn’t with us in Raleigh.

Misty was your cat, through and through. She was not as temperamental with the rest of us like most Siamese cats can be, but you were her favorite. I remember you telling how after you and she got everybody out of the house for the day, you’d sit together on the couch, her sleeping while you drank a cup of tea and read the paper.

We had some major flooding while we were in Raleigh, in either late winter or early spring. The roads in our neighborhood flooded out and all the woods behind our house were flooded as well. In all of that flooding, Misty disappeared outside.

You called. We called. For several days. One night, you were calling, and we heard a faint meow coming from the direction of the woods. You were about ready to charge out there and get Misty when Daddy stopped you and said it wasn’t safe because it was so dark and the water was so high.

After the flood waters receded, we found Misty. She’d been shot, probably by the boy who lived on the right side of us (good family, but he was mean – Daddy went to talk with his parents after he threw a baseball as hard as he could at me and hit me in the back of the head – and he was always out shooting something in the woods).

More tears from you, Mama, and more from us kids.

Bruce, the next dachshund we had, may have been there in Raleigh at the same time as Misty. I know we didn’t get to keep him for long. The little boys on the left side of us would torture him through the fence, sticking their hands and feet in and screaming at him and get him all riled up.

I’ll never forget that Saturday morning when Daddy and I were standing at the screen door, getting ready to go outside for a walk, and those little kids came out in their yard, screaming and yelling at the top of their lungs. Bruce heard them and barreled toward the screen door. It was unlocked and he flew right through it toward the fence.

By this time one of the little boys was climbing the fence to come over into our yard. As soon as he saw Bruce, he let out a blood-curdling scream and tried to get back into his own yard. The scream brought his mother out, and she claimed that Bruce bit the kid (he didn’t – Daddy and I were right there holding him back) and said she was going have Animal Control pick the dog up.

When we went to church services later that day, Daddy talked to a young couple who lived on a farm in Benson about taking Bruce. They came and got him the next morning, and Bruce lived out the rest of his days, according to Ron and Gloria, roaming the fields during the day and sleeping at their feet during the night.

Then we hit a dry spell, animal-wise. For about four years, there were no pets. I think we all wanted another dachshund, but the house Daddy and you bought in Wallace, NC didn’t have a fenced-in yard and Daddy refused to get a dog without a fence.

But fence or no fence, along came Buddy, our last dachshund. You and we three kids were driving back from Barnacle Bill’s at Topsail Beach (it was March and chilly, but we decided to go and just hang out inside). Alongside the rural road we took to get home, you spotted a dachshund without a collar, roaming around in the grass.

You pulled over and told Deb, who was the sprinter among us, to go get him. She chased him down and got him, but when she got in the car, the smell (he and a skunk had an encounter) just about asphyxiated all of us. Despite the rain and the chill outside, we rolled every window in the car down and drove the last 30 or so miles home, trying not to breathe too deeply and freezing.

Then the conspiracy began. 🙂 First, we’d bathe him and then we’d put a place for him to sleep under the kitchen table. But we would not tell Daddy; he would have to discover Buddy on his own.

Once Buddy realized he was safe, warm, fed (probably some of our food, because we didn’t stop for dog food), and watered, he was calm and gentle. He had the sweetest temperament.

Buddy laid on a blanket under the kitchen during dinner (and dinner also lasted a while in our house because that’s everybody discussed things, either about their day or just things) and never made a sound.

Finally, you told Daddy to look under the table. As soon as Daddy laid eyes on that dog, he said, “No. No. No.” He gave all the right and logical reasons why we couldn’t have a dog and shouldn’t have a dog. 

I know you well enough to know you had a counterpoint for all of Daddy’s objections, but I don’t remember that part of the conversation. What I do remember is Daddy saying that it was clear that this was someone’s dog and he was well-trained, and that person needed to have the opportunity to get their dog back.

So, the next morning you took us and Buddy and went to the local paper and put a notice in about the dog. You came out of the newspaper office and we headed straight to Wilmington where we bought dog food, a proper dog bed, dog bowls, a leash, a collar, dog shampoo, flea and ticket medicine, and rawhide chewies. 

We knew we were keeping Buddy and we were elated. Nobody ever claimed him, so he became our last dog while we all still at home. Daddy wanted him too, and they became very close.

Buddy would sleep in yours and Daddy’s room in a basket by your bed, but he’d get up early in the morning with me, and after I let him out, fed him, and took my shower, he’d come back in my room with me and lie on the bed beside me while I read or studied for school.

And not long after Buddy came, he started going to work with Daddy. Since Daddy was driving a lot as he did his veterinary work in the livestock markets and farms in the 10 eastern-most counties of North Carolina, he liked having Buddy along as his riding companion. Daddy would stop for lunch somewhere (he always found the best food in little hole-in-the-wall places and he’d take us back for dinner when he found one that was super-good) and he’d take leftovers out to feed to Buddy.

That was their routine for about 10 months. I came home from school one chilly afternoon, almost a year after Buddy joined our family. Daddy was home, but when I walked to the back door, Buddy didn’t run up to greet me. I thought it was odd, but I figured he was inside with Daddy, keeping him company while he was doing paperwork.

As soon as I rounded the corner out of the laundry room into the kitchen, I heard, then saw Daddy crying. I can count on one hand the number of times I saw Daddy cry (and one of those was because of me being a teenage punk, which I regret and apologized for, but I don’t forget).

He looked up from the table at me, and I knew. I just went over and wrapped my arms around him and laid my head on his shoulder, and we both sobbed. Finally, Daddy was able to tell me that Buddy had been chasing a trailer on the dirt part of the road where we lived and the back of the trailer had swerved toward him and broke his neck. Daddy buried him in a blanket in the side yard of the house.

You came home from school later. By now, the four of us were at the table, holding hands, talking, and intermittently crying. You just looked at us and burst into tears. Daddy held you and told you what happened and let you cry.

I’ll never forget the sadness over that house (I took me a long time to recover from that one) for several days. We had a rare snow a few days after Buddy died and I remember standing at the back door window crying, looking out at where Daddy had buried him, and, illogically, hoping Buddy wasn’t cold.

Our last pet was Thomas A. Cat. Elaine had decided to get a kitten, but somehow we ended with it. Elaine had named the kitten Precious, but Daddy the Vet looked at the cat and said, “This is not a Precious.” Then he made the pronouncement that he had never gotten to name one of our pets, so he was naming the cat.

Thomas A. Cat was Daddy’s take on Tom-is-a-cat, and it was cute. We all called him Tommy and I remember taking him and Buddy with us on a family vacation to Williamsburg, VA and walking him on a leash just like Buddy.

But like Buddy, Tommy was hit five years later by the next door neighbor. We cried while Daddy buried him in a blanket next to Buddy, and a few days later we had another rare eastern North Carolina snow.

Mama November 2011You and Daddy never had any more pets of your own. But you loved all your children’s little furry things – the cats and dogs that paraded through our lives as adults over the years.

I smile when I think about it. But I miss you too. The day’s coming when I won’t miss you anymore, but that day is not today. I love you, Mama. Rest well until I see you again.

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