Campground Legend

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He was a campground favorite…”the dog who doesn’t bark very loud” due to previous owners debarking him as a puppy. Loved by adults and children alike, it wasn’t uncommon for families to say it wouldn’t be a complete camping trip if they didn’t stop by to say hello to him. He would announce the arrival of campers needing to register with soft squeaky barks, rarely stopping until they gave him a pat or two. This 16 yr old Sheltie captivated the hearts of all who met him.

From the moment he and I met 14 years ago, he stole mine!

Today he and I went on a final trip together. After weeks of agonizing, I knew it was time to let him go and find rest. Age was taking it’s toll… he could no longer manage to get in or out of the camper on his own, he was losing weight and not eating, and it was all he could do at times to manage any activity but in small short bursts. His eyes would say “Oh yes yes” but the body was not willing to follow.

So I sat at his head, holding his paws in mine, stroking his head and whispering to him how much I love him and how much he meant to me. His eyes never left mine until they closed and he slept for the final time.

I sat with him, my tears, and my grief for what seemed like hours.

This dog…of all the dogs who have ever shared my life…this one was the one who’d been through it all with me and loved me steadfastly and unwaveringly no matter what…

He was the one who was meant for me… going through 3 other owners in his first 2 years because they did not understand Shelties…until he came to the one (me) who did…

He was the one whose herding instincts came alive as he guided me through the house as I tried to reach the phone that was ringing, usually ending up in a pile and tripping over his prancing body…

He was the one who was stolen from me shortly after moving to a new state, only to find his way home on his own three weeks later…

He was the one who knew my every secret, my every heartache, and my every joy…

He was the one who would lay his head in my lap, looking up at me with his liquid brown eyes, when he knew that I was in need of comfort and love…

He was the gentlest of spirits, both with humans and other animals…

He was the one who thought bread the greatest treat in the world, often snatching a new loaf out of the grocery bag before I knew what was happening…

Ice cubes??? Never had a chance to melt before he chomped them down like a doggy popsicle…

He was the one who delighted in snow, taking his long snout and “shoveling” a path whenever he was outside…

He was the one who would lay on the floor with me quietly, pawing at my hand until I opened it so that he could slip his paw in mine, holding “hands” as it were…

He was the one who lay in the grass basking in the sunshine…his fur ruffling in the breeze… looking regal and serene as he surveyed everything around him…

He was the one who got so excited when I got out the treats that he’d go through the whole routine of commands without being told… sit, lay down, speak, shake hands, shake the other hand…repeating it over as I laughed…

He was the one whose favorite place to lay was right in the middle of the hallway, causing anyone passing him to do the hopscotch step around his body as he trustingly gazed up, never moving…

He was the one who would stand at the side of my bed and bark at the thunder in the night as if to protect me…

He was Harley’s big brother…the one who taught by example how to do things like tackle an unfamiliar treat or how to pee while you lift your leg…

He was the one who patiently endured Harley’s fits of playfulness and teasing… joining in for a moment before removing himself to a quieter place when he’d had enough…

He was the one I cradled every day as I lifted him in and out of the door…

He was the one I walked with last night for the last time…stopping at every tree to make sure that it was marked by him…and sitting together in the gathering dusk at a picnic table as I spoke to him of all he is to me.

Laddie may no longer be a part of my days, but he will forever be a part of my heart!

Rest well my old man… and wait for me at the Rainbow Bridge… I will see you there soon.

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Double Sixes

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Today I sit at the kitchen table, sipping coffee as I always do. Before me sits a box. Not an ordinary box, but one of the most unique and beautiful boxes I have ever seen. Light bark interlaces with the dark of the ironwood this box is made of. It’s not a large box, measuring 10 inches in length and standing 4 inches high and deep,

Inside it are great treasures.

Tucked into a small recess are 28 pieces of glossy smooth dark ironwood dominos. These aren’t just any dominos… these are the dominos that C and I used to play dominos together every week for hours on end. P has given them to me as a rememberance of the dearly loved man we laid to rest recently. Randomly picking one out of the box, my fingertips tell me it’s double sixes.

And I smile. For as beautiful as these dominos are, the real treasure lies in their significance to me. These were the dominos that were often set up and waiting before I even hit the door hollering “Good morning”… the ones that the “Domino King” never allowed me to win more than 2 games with… the ones we laughed over as we put them back in their box, racing to see who’d get done first… the ones I often heard “one more game?” over after we’d finished the usual 7 games.

As I sit and run my fingers over the smooth wood, I can feel the love and warmth eminating from them and I see his face as he sat studying the backs of the dominos as he picked his out. Oh how he studied them! I swear the man KNEW which one was double six even turned face down. Always allowing me to pick first, his brow would pucker slightly if my hand hovered close to it. If I failed to pick it, he always would… going for it with determination that told me he knew just where it was. He would lay it down with a satisfied “Hah!” and play the rest of his tiles with the same concentration and determination, shooting me a silly grin after an especially good move. In between moves, we would watch westerns and chat with P as she sat watching us, often stopping to look up and simply say “I love you” and smile. And when the match was over we would put them back in the box together in preparation for another day of play soon.

The dominos remain in the box exactly as we put them the last time we played except for the one double six in my hand.

Tangible reminders of the lessons a man taught me from his wheelchair… lessons about never giving up, finding a way to make yourself useful to others in this life no matter what your limitations, living life with a childlike wonder, and of loving fiercely as if there were no tomorrow. Lessons of joy and determination and Jesus and hope.

The dominoes may remain the same but my heart and soul do not. For this man touched my heart and soul with his love and his life and in the process, changed mine forever!

Treasures of the heart!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signs of Spring

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Spring is just around the corner! In years past when I lived in the city, I saw it’s comings in far different ways than I do now living in the country. In the city there were promises of spring with the appearance of robins, the budding of the trees in my yard, the tiny sprouts of green that poked through the dirt of the flower gardens I tended through the summer, and the appearance of cinderblock and boards in parking lots that said GARDEN CENTER.

This year it is different. I live in a state park in the country. There is no yard, though there will be a vegetable garden to work again this year. And the signs of approaching spring are far different here in this country life than I ever experienced in the city.

The lake has gone from an ice-covered steely gray to a watery blue…waves visibly rippling on the surface. The yearly controlled burn has started, lacing the air with smoke wafting over the ground. The groundhogs who have remained hidden all winter have suddenly appeared, fat and sassy, running from hole to culvert and back again. Turkey have joined the pheasant and deer roaming the park, gobbling in the early morning dawn. Farm equipment share the country roads at regular intervals on their way to work the fields in preparation for planting. Pelicans and bald eagles have made their way to the lake to spend a few weeks resting before re-starting their journey to wherever, as they do each year at this time. Great Blue Herons and egrets have started to emerge from the depths of the wetlands. The robins have come too, joining the woodpeckers and nuthatches who continue to pig out at whatever suet feeders the squirrels have allowed to remain hanging. Soon chipmunks will join the fray and the woods will become a beehive of activity.

The woods isn’t the only place, for the campground has started to come alive. People who have been fighting the “itch” are hooking up to their campers and pulling them here even if for overnight. The other returning campground hosts are setting the dates for their summer arrival and the emails between us are full of summer plans rather than questions as to how I have fared the winter here. The shower houses are now open and picnic tables are being picked up and returned to sites after needed repairs. The dirt in my garden area is begging to be worked so it can bear cherry tomatoes for Ma Carol to snitch everytime she comes over.

Though there still may be some winter left, spring is NOT far off!

This country dance towards spring fascinates me as the city dance never did. The sights and sounds and smells have engrained themselves deep in my heart as no other has.

Yet whether you live in the city or the country, different though the returning of spring may be, there is one similarity.

It is a season of renewal… of hope… of promise… of growth…of beginnings…of warmth…no matter where you experience it from.

Lovewatch

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This past Monday began as it usually does. I wake at the buttcrack of dawn, downing coffee as I get the dogs fed and “pottied”, getting myself dressed and heading out to spend the morning and early afternoon with P & C.

Whereas the typical Monday has usually been spent playing dominos, watching westerns, playing on the computer together, downing enormous amounts of coffee, and bouncing between conversation and companionable comfortable silences… this one is a bit different.

True to form, I’m met at the door by two dogs bouncing up and down and vying with each other for the first bit of attention. And as I let myself in the front door, I hear “Well there’s Susan! Hello darlin!”

But I am not greeted by the sight of a wheelchair being propelled with one leg to the door for a good morning smooch and a goofy grin when I produce a couple of doughnuts. I walk instead to the side of a hospital bed placed in the living area so that C can be a part of all the activity.

2 weeks ago, he was brought home from the hospital with Hospice’s help. The days have been up and down… one day being quite alert and the next few being the kind of days when nothing can rouse him. With each one that passes we know that the end is closer and that C will soon be Home with our Father.

This day was an “alert” day and as I bent over the side of the bed, I was greeted with a pair of lips puckerin’ up for a smooch! Though it’s difficult to understand what he’s saying at times, “I love you” came through loud and clear.

The last “alert” day we had together before this one, I was feeding him cream of wheat and chattering away about all manner of things when he reached up to stop my wrist and said “I’m dying”. In his way, he was preparing me for what I already knew was going to happen.

While P was gone for an hour to take care of other things that needed her attention too, I sat in a chair next to the bed watching this man that I have grown to love dearly, holding his hand as he slept. The house quiet, the lights dim, I was startled from my thoughts by a “HEY”…”Whatcha need C?”… “I love you”… “I love you too C”… then quiet as he drifted off to sleep once more.

This was no deathwatch… this was a lovewatch!

I thought back on all the shared suppers and the endless games of dominos and Wii Bowling and C’s very first SuperBowl party, of him sneaking sweet pickles and crackers before guests even had a shot at them at the Christmas party, of organ music serenades, of him dancing in his chair to music as it played and of him sitting before the stage at church and watching as I played with the band there, a crooked smile on his face. And I sat there praising God for this man and all he’d brought to  my life. For the smiles and the pranks and the childlike joy and the laughter and the love and the intensity with which he lived life within the physical boundaries he’d been dealt.

Oh such love!

I left the house that afternoon as P rested in the recliner at his bedside, holding his hand and being there with him as he slept. A picture that will not soon be erased from my mind…another lovewatch!

The call came this morning. The battle is over. C is with Our Father and finally at peace and whole again. There have been tears but there is also peace and gladness in the knowing that there is no more pain or suffering for this man… only joy!

And I know darn good and well he already has the dominos set up waiting for me!

A Lost Art

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I woke up early yesterday morning and sat with coffee as I gazed out at the grey cloudy skies. There is a promise of snow in the air just as the weatherpeople have been predicting. The only sign of color outside is an occasional red-headed woodpecker who ventures to the suet feeders outside the window. The day ahead looms grey and gloomy and heavy if one is to gauge it by the weather outside. And though I got plenty of sleep the night before, I feel tired and as heavy as the weather.

It is, as my mom calls it, a blah day.

Rousing myself from my early morning stupor, I get dressed and ready to head to town to do some errands. I need milk and bread and a few things from the store in case we DO get snow. And I need to go by the post office to mail some bills and check the box for anything else that might have come in.

The air is cold and damp as I walk into the post office. How I would love to see the sun! There is something spirit-lifting about the warm glow of the sun even for a short time on days like these. And it’s been far too long since we’ve seen it.

Opening the box, I grab the jumble of mail inside and start back to the truck as I thumb through the stack. Yup, the usual stuff …. bills… junk… a couple more bills… oh look, something from AARP AGAIN. Pushing the door open while still thumbing through the paper, I stop at the bottom of the steps and smile as I pull a brightly patterned foldover notecard from the stack.

And suddenly it’s as if the sun had just come out from behind the clouds.

The familiar handwriting tells me it’s a letter from Ma, one of the campground hosts who will be returning in a few months and who captured my heart (and I hers). Coming to a dead halt in the middle of the sidewalk, I open it and start to read greedily about news of her travels and her plans and how she misses our Dairy Queen runs when she’s here. My smile must have given it away, for an elderly woman passing me to go up the stairs said “There’s nothing quite like a letter, is there?”

No ma’am there isn’t!

As I sat later in the day re-reading her letter and savoring each word, it hit me how true letter writing has gone by the wayside. In this day and age of technology, we have given up the handwritten letter in favor of more instant emails. While it is definitely more convenient to sit down and fire off a quick email to friends and family. it has given handwritten letters the status of a “lost art”. To receive one is rare in this day and age.

In the busyness of life there is simply no time to sit and write a letter by hand. Perhaps more accurately, many of us don’t TAKE the time to sit and write a letter by hand.

Oh what we miss by not doing that from time to time!

The news may be days old by the time it’s received, but there is something so incredibly personal about the written pages, the familiar handwritings, the words that make you feel like you’re sitting across the table with them having a conversation in person. So personal that the love contained on those pages jumps off and soaks into your heart.

Some of my fondest childhood memories revolved around handwritten letters. There wasn’t a day that passed without my mother sitting down at the table to write a letter to her parents who lived in another city, just as my grandmother wrote back to her. And there wasn’t a day when my grandfather did not include a letter written specifically to my brother and I… letters full of stories and cartoon sketches of worms and squirrels with funny names. Magical letters that brought the sun out no matter how gloomy the day. We couldn’t wait until Mom got the envelope open, begging her to read them over and over. When we could read, we’d snatch the letters out of her hand before she barely had time to get it out of the envelope. Now tucked away in a box, they are treasures that transcend time… treasures of the heart.

There are letters of my own that I have tucked away… a letter from my Dad on my 16th birthday, letters from my mom on those occasions as well as one she wrote to me while I was about to give birth to Amy, letters from Amy when she was away from home, letters from my grandfather addressed specifically to “Miss Susan”… all treasures, each and every one!

So I sit, pen in hand and paper in front of me, savoring the feel of the ink gliding over the paper as I write about life’s events. I smile and laugh to myself as I write some of the words. My breathing is slow and relaxed. When I am done, I feel a sense of accomplishment as I fold the paper and tuck it into a stamped envelope.

I mailed my “little ray of sunshine” this morning in the cold drizzle that precedes our snowfall.

I know the reaction when it is taken from it’s destination mailbox, for it will be like mine. The catch of breath, the anticipation for what might be held in those pages, the absolute need to open and read it immediately even if it DOES mean standing stock still in the middle of a sidewalk downtown. Or in Ma’s case, it may be tucked into a pocket in anticipation of sitting down with a cup of coffee when returning home and savoring it at leisure. It will be read and re-read and then read again many times over. I can’t imagine that anyone who gets such a letter can react any differently.

I admit to depending on email for most of my written communication with family and friends as they do with me. It’s immediate and gets the news to them pronto. I use my blog to write about the other “little” things in my life so that they can be shared with them and others who might happen to read my posts. Phone calls are plentiful.

But there’s still something about a handwritten letter that hasn’t lost it’s punch over the years even though that form of communication has been mostly long forgotten.

The sad thing is that so many may not ever know… because it IS a lost art!