Once you have a told a story a hundred times or more, the telling becomes the most important thing, and the experience is effectively lost. I can still remember the feeling of following my brother down the alley to catch horned toads, putting them into a shoebox, hiding them under my bed because if Mother found them, she would march me right out into the back yard and make me upend the box and let the lizard go. I can still feel the look of disappointment on her face: “You should never cage one of God’s creations,” she said. I never understood why it was okay to tie Tiger, our Boxer, to a leash secured to a stake in the ground, but it wasn’t okay to keep a toad in a box. The other things, the little thing in my life: sitting by the fireplace playing monopoly with my childhood friend; shelling creamed peas while the bushel basket became empty and the Mason jars were filled, first with the peas and then with hot water; watching The Price is Right hosted by a young Bob Barker, and later in the day cutting pictures out of magazines, creating our own showcase; those moments I treasured but didn’t often recount. The stories I did tell, the “awful mute appeal” of little Dora recounted by David Copperfield in the book of the same name by Charles Dickens, and the way it paralleled by own grief of having to leave my grandparent’s home to move back in with Mother and Daddy, that was a story!! And that was a story that had become a part of my personality; no longer a memory, but a piece of history. Carol Shields in her book, Unless, states “anyone’s childhood can be an act of disablement if rehearsed and replayed and squinted at in a certain light.” I resonate with that quote because I know how truly disabling my childhood was, and not the least of it, by my own interpretations of the facts, so I was intrigued by the idea of disabling the memories to liberate myself. Although the first seven years of my life were bright; the following five were by my own definition: gloomy. In my memory, the light begins to fade when I first hid under the bed to escape the hands of my father. While I have remembered that as my first distinct memory, the retelling of it has no doubt distorted the actual facts. Like David Copperfield, I was born. (I’ve wanted to use that line for nearly forty years, at first not knowing that it would be plagiarism, then knowing it would be and not daring to use the phrase at all, finally learning that if I cite the source, I can use anything I please!) I only know this by history; I am fairly well assured by my belly button that mine was not an alien hatching; and my mother told me that I was born in an Army hospital, although that was all she told me, because in the 1950’s you didn’t talk to children about the really important things. (I well remember my mother and grandmother whispering in the kitchen about my mother’s latest pregnancy, which no one was supposed to notice, and definitely not comment upon.) At any rate, like everything else about me, the story of my early years strikes me as unusual. At least it seemed so to me when I discovered certain facts at sixteen. Most kids didn’t live with their grandparents when their parents were perfectly capable of caring for them. I was delighted to live with my grandparents, but the truth of the matter is my Mam-maw was my strongest attachment, and my mother someone that came to visit every other weekend. There is no story of abuse or neglect, no court involvement, the matter of the fact was that in 1948 there was no childcare for infants. My mother had to work and there was no one else to care for me. My five year old sister, MH and my four year old brother, Buddy, also stayed with Mam-maw during the day for the first few months, as did I, but then the story goes that Mam-maw and Granddaddy had to move to San Antonio for a reason unknown to me and not knowing what else to do, Mother sent the baby (Me) with them. And so it was that I spent the first six years of my life in relative luxury, treated like a little princess. with permed hair as early as three years old wearing a fur coat with a muff instead of mittens. It was the happiest time of my life. Even now…
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.” —Henry David Thoreau
September 19, 2010…
I felt down all day yesterday, my son reminded me that it is the anniversary of the death of our beloved Tinkerbell. I have never in my life felt so bereft, so forlorn. I guess this is the closest I will ever come to knowing how it feels to lose a child. And of course, I can’t know what that feels like, and for that I am grateful. But I am also mourning the loss of my companion, my end of the day welcome home Greeter. He was my baby, my pet, my sugar. He never betrayed me; he never needed to forgive me, he always loved me unconditionally. Who else in my life can I say that about?.
He has been gone for one year. I no longer cry when I walk through the door expecting to see him; I no longer look behind me to see if he is coming when I let the other dogs out. I do, however, occasionally glance in the laundry room, expecting him to be watching me from the corner. Sometimes when I wake in the night, I look to see if he wants down from the bed to get a drink of water, and too many times, I see his picture jump up on my screensaver, and I feel the moisture in my eyes, he was my baby, my little one.
I do cry now, when I think of all the joy he brought me. I will never forget him. He was my first full blooded chihuahua and he was everything I thought he would be. I will always miss him. There is no replacement.
I love you, Tinkerbell, and you will always be in my heart. I don’t think of him as dead, I think of him as watching from the Rainbow Bridge, playing now with Biscuit, Bandit, Roscoe and Pepper, Taffy, Pinky, Ling-Toi, Tiger, Droopy, Maggie, and A.J. All the dogs I have loved and lost, some lived with me, some lived with my children, but all were special and I believe they all are waiting for the day that we decide to join them.
I can only imagine.
It was a blustery Sunday in early January 2001 when the phone rang and my daughter said “Mom, I found you a toy chihuahua.” I didn’t have to ask where, knowing that she was the adoptions supervisor for the Humane Society. I had asked her to keep her eyes open for a chihuahua, a toy or teacup; I had wanted one all my life. So it surprised her when I said, “Oh, honey, now is not a good time. I start my new job tomorrow and I am in the middle of laundry and generally getting things ready.” “Mom, you have to come get this dog. He’s so cute, only 3 lbs.” Again, the spiel about why I can’t interrupted this time by her blurting out, “MOM! They are going to put him down if you don’t adopt him. He’s already been adopted and brought back three times. He won’t eat; he growls all the time, and he bites people.” Now, for most people that would have been the ultimate turn-off, but all I heard was that they were going to put him down. “Rebecca,” I asked, “what makes you think that he will do any better for me?” As she answered me, I grabbed my keys and headed to the car. On the drive there, I thought about all the little dogs I had loved and lost; I just hoped this little guy would take to me, if not, I couldn’t take him home, I really didn’t have time to be a treatment foster care mom!!
My daughter was at her desk when I arrived at the shelter; she was busy helping someone else, so she waved me back into the office. I started to look in the other rooms to see if I could see this 3 lb. terrorist, but all I saw were pit bulls and golden retrievers. I’ve never understood how people could abuse animals, or let them go. I had a friend once who decided she couldn’t take care of her cat and she had it put to sleep. I was angry. At least she could have put him up for adoption. I know that she thought she was being responsible, but I can’t tolerate abuse.
Rebecca finished with her customers and joined me at the doorway to the shelter; she said “Now, Mom, don’t be too disappointed if he doesn’t like you right away. He has been mean to everyone who has adopted him. His original owners brought him in because he was terrorizing their children. And everyone who has adopted him has had to bring him back for similar reasons. I thought he might be okay with you since you don’t have small children. He hasn’t been eating and he looks pretty bad.” Not the best sales job in the world, but she knows what a sap I am when it comes to dogs.
She motioned me toward a chair, told me to wait while she went to get the dog; she brought him out in a little tiny cage; and slowly opened the door, and then she backed away. It was funny to see my daughter scared of a three pound pup, she’s the one who handles pit bulls all day long. The cage door opened, and this little black nose edged its way out; then came the rest of the little body; finally the tail, which was decidedly NOT wagging; never a good sign. He looked around; measured his odds of a run for it and jumped up onto my lap. (Where incidentally, he has pretty much been ever since.
I started to pet him and he snuggled down on my lap like he belonged there; we never had a moment’s problem. I signed papers, paid money and went home. Rebecca had told me that no one could get him to eat so that was a huge concern. When I got to the house, I placed a bowl of dog food on the kitchen floor, and he immediately went to chowing down. Where was the little monster Rebecca had described? Had she accidentally switched to dogs? This guy was a delight.
Until…he met the other two dogs who live in the house. Bandit is a docile, pomeranian-chihuahua mix and Chopper is a laid back poodle chihuahua mix. They have lived with me for 7 and 6 years respectively. The little black dog, who had a nmae i didn’t like, began to bark at them and chase them; they would bark back, but he didn’t back down. He jumped up on the couch, first in my lap, and then to my shoulder and began cursing at them in dog language (I can speak dog language, you understand.) He was so funny, this little dog who was 1/2 the size of the other two, acting as if it were his house and they were the interlopers. I realized that he reminded me of Tinkerbell, hovering around Peter Pan and giving Wendy what for; so his name was to become Tinkerbell. Sometimes he was called Tink; or Tinker, and sometimes even Stinkerbell; but he was always called my baby, and I loved him with all my heart.
He still didn’t like children, or anyone besides me for that matter; when someone came to the house, he would try to nip their ankles; I soon learned I would have to cage him when I had company if I wanted to have any friends.
September 9, 2001