My mother-in-law, Joan, was a beautiful woman, full of love and generosity. She passed away recently after her long illness with Alzheimer's disease. My husband and others will be eulogizing her at her memorial service in two weeks, no doubt bringing tears and laughter to all of us who mourn the loss of an amazingly selfless lady. That's not what I'm doing in this post.
Instead I'm remembering one tiny - but telling!- facet of her. She loved dogs.
When I first met her 37 years ago, the family dog was a little short-haired black mutt named Fred. Yep, Fred. No idea why they named him Fred. And every morning while Joan drank her beer (she'd just gotten home from the night shift at the hospital) she and Fred had long conversations. "You want to talk to me, Fred? Well, tell me. Go on. What is it, Fred?" And Fred would reply with little grunts and moans that did indeed sound like speech. She loved telling Fred what a good dog he was and he seemed to respond.
The year Ted and I married my new in-laws moved from a small ranch in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. to a two-story colonial on three acres of land in the countryside outside Kansas City. It was the kind of rural neighborhood where no one fenced their yards and dogs were allowed to run freely. Periodically over the years my in-laws would be sort of adopted by dogs belonging to neighbors. Usually alone but sometimes in pairs the dogs would plop down on the deck and wait for Joan to come out to keep them company. The expression of delight on her face as she fed her visitor a bit of hot dog is something I'll always remember. Just talking about these regular canine moochers made her smile. I think she felt like it was a cosmic pat on the back, or that the dogs were acknowledging her inner goodness by seeking her out.
We had a golden retriever mix named Nemo. When Joan visited after our daughter was born she gave most of her attention, naturally, to the baby, but she always had a smile and a pat on the head for Nemo. Nemo was good with the baby - otherwise there might have been trouble!
The years rolled on. Nemo died and we adopted a little terrier mix named Sunny while living in California. Being a Navy family, the day came when we had to move back East to Northern Virginia. We decided to take the kids out of school a few weeks early and make a trip of the journey, visiting national parks like the Grand Canyon and the grandparents along the way. We flew Sunny out to Kansas City to live with Ted's parents in the meantime. Joan didn't care much for Sunny's shaggy look or, to be honest, the shaggy dog hair she shed all over the house. So when we arrived weeks later Sunny was sporting a brand-new hairstyle. I have a feeling she saw the groomer every week during her Missouri vacation.
|Sunny, starting to look shaggy again...|
|Where Joan is...|
|…Kasey is sure to follow!|
As Alzheimer's disease made it impossible for Joan to live alone, she came to stay with us for awhile. She loved to walk with Kasey and we felt pretty comfortable letting her go around the block by herself. Then the day came when she didn't get back when expected and we had to go get her. She was only a few blocks away, but when we asked where she was going she said she was letting Kasey decide! She was confident that Kasey would bring her home when the time was right. We had to gently tell her that Kasey would happily walk to Timbuktu with her.
Before long, Joan had to be moved to assisted living. She loved seeing Kasey on visits and giving him treats. Sometimes she forgot who we were but she always knew who Kasey was.
So Joan, wherever you are, may there be a cosmic "well done" pat of the back, and good dogs right there enjoying a bit of hot dog and acknowledging your inner goodness and how much you loved them. We surely do miss you here.