Muggsy

For a writing class I was challenged to tell the backstory of how my father got his dog Muggsy. His father had brought the dog home one day in 1934 or 35 after finding it while waiting for the ferry. Muggsy fit in my grandfather’s pocket.

This piece is fiction — and I don’t write much fiction, but it was fun to give it a try.

Stewart, Donald, and Muggsy


She rocked on her heels under a tree while it rained. The little bit of shelter offered relief, plus someone had thrown a crust from a sandwich there. She broke the stale bread in half and offered one piece to her dog.

“Dunno why Mama don’t want me sharin’ with you,” she said to the dog, as he licked her hand.

Toward evening the blind man arrived to beg. He tap-tap-tapped his way to his usual spot.

“Hep me out,” he called as people approached, and he extended his empty open cigar box in front of him. “Can’t see. Can’t work. Hep me out,” he called, and then waited.

The little white dog lapped water from a dirty puddle while the girl watched men dig into their pockets and throw coins in the box.

A lanky man in an overcoat stopped in front of the beggar. He rummaged in his pocket. “Here you go, friend,” he said, placing a few coins in the box. He patted the blind man’s shoulder and left his hand resting there a moment longer.

“Thank-a,” said the blind man.

She scooped up her dog, muddy paws and all, and ran after the man.

“‘scuse me, sir,” she said, as loud as she could. He was heading straight for the Hoboken ferry. “‘scuse me, sir,” she repeated.

He stopped and looked at the thin little girl whose outgrown dress was smeared with mud. “Can I help you?” he asked.

“Do you live in Hoboken?” she asked.

“No,” he said. “but I live in New Jersey? Do you need to get there?”

“No, sir,” she said. “My dog does.”

A smile played at the corners of the man’s mouth.

She continued, “Mama says folks in Hoboken have houses and yards. She says there’s lotsa green grass there. My dog needs to live some place like that.”

She lifted the dog up toward the man. “Can you –“

“What happened here?” he interrupted, gently touching a long dark bruise on the inside of her upper arm. Four similar parallel bruises marked the outside of her arm.

She pulled the dog back and tried to cover the marks with her sleeve. He noticed a matching set of bruises on her other arm.

She said, “Papa don’t know how hard he holds me sometimes.” Then looking up at him, she said, “Can you take my dog home with you?”

He scratched the little dog behinds the ears.

“You got a house?” she asked.

“I do,” he replied, “and two little boys, but I can’t take your dog.”

Supposin’,” she said, “supposin’ you knew somethin’ bad would happen if this dog stayed here, like he might end up drowned or somethin’.”

“My wife doesn’t like dogs,” he said.

“Can you tell her that you found him runnin’ ‘round the docks, and you was worried that he might get stepped on or kicked or end up in the river?” Tears filled her eyes. “He’s a good dog. She’s a mama. She’d understand.”

Gently, he took the little dog from the girl and snuggled it into his overcoat pocket.

“His name’s Muggsy.” Her voice cracked as she spoke and her eyes overflowed.

He started to speak, but she had disappeared into the crowd.

Flowers and Weeds

Monday was not a great day.

I had taken my father to meet with his brother.

It was great to see my uncle and my cousin. While my father was so happy to see his brother, I was struck by my father’s struggle to engage in conversation.

A few months ago, at a doctor’s visit, his doctor asked him social questions about the family and his daily activities. When he didn’t answer immediately, I jumped in to help supply the answers. She looked at me and said, “I’m interested in the family and all, but this is also part of my assessment.”

She actually said it much nicer than that, but that was the gist of it. Stop answering for him. I need to get a handle on what he’s able to comprehend.

Since then, I’ve very consciously placed myself on the outskirts of his conversations.

At lunch with his brother, the conversation floundered.

Uncle Stewart: So, Don, what books are you reading these days?

Dad: Oh, I don’t know, a little of this, and — I guess I don’t read many books.

I stayed out if it. Nearly every day my father pulls new books off the shelf and starts reading them. Out loud. I put away eight books yesterday.  Everything from Outlander to the Book of Occasional Services to Murder at Fenway Park to Scotland Forever Home.

My uncle also tried talking to my father about the Red Sox.

Uncle Stewart: Who’s your favorite player on the Red Sox, Don?

Dad: Favorite player? Uh…

My father couldn’t come up with any names, so I jumped in. “How about Mookie Betts?”

He smiled broadly. “Yes, I like Mookie Betts.”

I felt sad afterwards — grieving a loss that was in progress, like watching a thief steal valued possessions and not being able to do anything about it.

Maybe that led me to my action later that day. You see, I broke one of three rules I have for dealing with a person who leaves unkind comments on my blog.

My rules are simple:

  1. Don’t engage. This includes responding in any way or acknowledging anything.
  2. Document everything. This is based on legal advice.
  3. Don’t change. This is also based on a discussion with my lawyer. I asked him, “Should I stop blogging?” “Absolutely not,” he said. “Don’t change your life to comply with a bully.”

I wrote a since-deleted password-protected post that bordered on engaging (Rule #1). Mostly the post bemoaned the lack of civility in our engagement with others. Still, I deleted it.

Yesterday, as I tended the flower garden, I found myself marveling at the way the more I cut the flowers back, the more blossoms they produce.

Daisies!

Look at all the daisies yet to come!

I moved to another garden where I’m in my third year of trying to eradicate Japanese Knotweed. I use a combination of Round-Up and hand-weeding. Surely, it will eventually die out. It’s so persistent, though.

As I prayed while weeding, one of Sunday’s scriptures came flooding through my mind.

“…a thorn was given me in the flesh, … to harass me … Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me, but He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” … For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (from 2 Corinthians 12)

It’s all a gift. The weeds, the thorns, the pruning, the losses.

The first dahlia of summer opened last night and I’m content.

 

Two Pictures of Me

I’m not a big fan of pictures of myself — but I like this one because it brings back so many memories of a very happy trip.

Eiffel Tower, May 2017

And this one, taken last month. We taken my father for his weekly dinner at the Doubleday Cafe on Main Street in Cooperstown. After dinner, the kids were going to walk down to the lake to take some pictures. Laurel grabbed me and said, “Hey, Mary! Take a picture of me and Mom.” So she did.

Laurel and me

Yes, Laurel is taller than I am.


The Refrigerator

Our refrigerator is slowly dying.

I picked out a new one, and ordered it.

Before the delivery guys came, I cleaned the old fridge, throwing away old and unidentifiable items. I disposed of leftovers that had gotten pushed to the back and overlooked until they turned pretty colors. I tossed out salad dressings whose “Best by” date was two years ago.

I was ready.

The new refrigerator arrived on a hot, hot day in late May. The temperature hovered around 85, the humidity around 80.

They backed the delivery truck to the house and I went out to meet them. “Can we see the place this is going?” one asked, and I showed them in.

They nodded approvingly at the large sliders they would bring the refrigerator through. One pulled out a tape measure and measured the other two doorways it would have to pass. They looked at the dying refrigerator and asked if they were hauling that one away.

Yes, yes, yes. Everything was a go.

They wiggled the old fridge out and put it on a hand truck. The whole process gave them a trial run (in reverse) of getting the new fridge in. It all went smoothly.

While they lugged the old one out to the truck, I quickly cleaned the floor underneath since I knew it wouldn’t see the light of day for a while.

They brought in the new fridge, shiny white and wrapped in plastic, and a box that they set on the table.

“This is your ice maker,” one of them said to me.

“Wait — what?” I asked. “Isn’t it already installed?”

“No, you have to call a plumber for that,” he said, and nicely explained all the reasons that was so.

“But when I called and ordered, no one said anything about that,” I told them.

They apologized as they unwrapped the new refrigerator, but I knew they couldn’t do anything about it.

As they tried to wiggle the new fridge in the old spot, they stopped to realign many times. Too many times. I knew there was a problem.

“Ma’am,” the spokesman said, “we have a problem. See how this is bowing out here?” he asked, pointing to the side panel from the cupboards. “This unit is about a 1/4″ too wide. And up here,” he pointed at the cupboard above, “you’re a good inch too low.”

I looked. He was right. We stood there silently studying the refrigerator that didn’t fit.

He finally broke the silence. “What do you want us to do?” he asked.

“Are there choices?” I asked.

“There are always choices,” he said, smiling and dripping with sweat.

The other guy was sweating even more. He said, “I think your husband can fix this.” I don’t think he wanted me to consider the other choice.

“We can leave it here and your husband can make some modifications so it will fit,” the first guy said, and I looked at him doubtfully, not doubting my husband’s skill of course, but doubting this old house. “Or we can bring the old one back in.”

The other delivery guy was pleading with me with his eyes.

I sighed.

“I am so sorry,” I said. “Can I fix you some ice water or something?”

They both looked at me, waiting for me to say the dreaded words.

“I think I want the old one back,” I said.

I walked behind them, carrying the ice-maker-in-a-box so they wouldn’t forget it as they hauled the new refrigerator out. Then they brought the old one in again.


Here’s a peek inside my refrigerator this morning. Nobody can tell that it was recently cleaned out.


Our Trip to France

For years I had heard my father talk about wanting to go to Normandy.

I don’t think my mother was particularly interested. She had humored him on his stops at Civil War battlefields on their way to Myrtle Beach. I had been with them on one of those visits and, I’m sorry to say, my eyes glazed over a little as he pointed to this place and that on the field in front of us. I’m not a student of the Civil War.

I’m not a student of war. While I have read any number of books about WWII, they have not been battle descriptions but concentration camp stories, or smuggling-the-Jews-to-safety stories. But that’s beside the point.

My father wanted to go to Normandy.

The year after my mother died was a rough year. She died in November. In the months immediately following, my father was diagnosed with Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH, for short). The next summer, he had surgery that involved putting a shunt in his brain that emptied into his abdominal cavity.

After his recovery from the surgery, I decided that we needed to get him to France because if we didn’t do it soon, we would lose the opportunity.

I talked to my husband and my siblings. My husband wanted to go. My sister and her husband were on board with the trip. One of my brothers cleared a week in his schedule so he could go, too.

I planned and I planned. I booked places, cancelled them, and booked others as I learned that I needed to make sure the hotel we stayed in had an elevator – aka lift. (Apparently, not all places have them, plus the first floor in France is what we call the 2nd floor.) I found a private guide. My sister helped book transportation from Paris to Bayeux and back again. She found a wonderful hotel in Paris (that had a lift).

When the time came, we flew to Paris, traveled to Normandy, and had an amazing time.

I even appreciated seeing the battlefield sites, the dimpled earth, the bunker at Pointe du Hoc, the cliffs.

Plus I spent a whole week with people I love.

Normandy

at LaDuree in Paris

Up in the Eiffel Tower


The Spelling Award

me — in 3rd grade (maybe it was 4th)

In 3rd grade (maybe it was 4th)
I won the spelling award.
I thought Jack Harvey would win it
When they called my name, I was floored.

Shocked. Delighted. Astounded
That I had scored higher than Jack
But the biggest bombshell of all
Was seeing my dad in the back.

When the principal called out my name,
I was startled and caught by surprise
But I walked to the front of the gym
To collect my certificate prize.

Then I turned to walk back to my seat —
And I was caught by surprise once more.
Could that really be my father
Framed in that far back door?

He had left the hospital early –
The nurses, patients, and staff –
To squeeze in the crowd at the elementary gym
Because his daughter could spell giraffe.

Now beating Jack Harvey was one thing
And ’tis a good thing to know how to spell
But knowing your father is proud of you
Well, that’s just pretty darn swell.


The Perfect Job

“Do you ever think about what it would be like if things were different?” my husband asked yesterday.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Like, what if the job in Hershey had worked out,” he said.

Ah, yes, the job in Hershey. In 2005, Bud had taken a job in Hershey, PA, that turned out to be not exactly what it looked like on the surface. In fact, we found out later that he had been one of a string of people who had walked through that revolving door and walked out again within a few months. The toxic work environment hadn’t been evident at interview time — but he saw canaries dying everywhere in that departmental coal mine after he started.

Five hours away, I was home with the children. Our oldest had started college, but our youngest was not yet two. I started having back spasms from the stress of trying to homeschool while keeping our house clean enough to show to prospective buyers.

Then I did what any person in that situation would do — I got a puppy.

“I try not to think about Hershey,” I told Bud. “That was a stressful time.”

“But if we were there, you wouldn’t be here,” he said wistfully. He and I both want to be together again.

After Hershey, my husband took a job in Binghamton, about an hour and a half from Cooperstown. Our Cooperstown house sold and we bought a house in Greene, an hour and fifteen minutes away from Cooperstown

The process of moving to Cooperstown to help my father happened in small steps. First, I started coming once a week with the girls to help him with my mother. Then twice a week. Then spending one overnight. Then for the summer because the kids had jobs in Cooperstown.

It was like boiling a frog, raising the temperature one degree at a time.

Caring for my parents became a larger and larger job, but I didn’t see a good alternative. I still don’t.

Before the fall when I actually moved here to stay with my father, my husband and I discussed the options.

“I think I’ll be able to work remotely when we get this new computer system in,” he said.

Sometimes I AM wishful about that — because it still hasn’t panned out.

During the first fall I lived here with the girls, my father had a fall in which he hit his head. It caused a subdural bleed. A month later my mother died. The doctor told my father he couldn’t drive anymore. My father had brain surgery. I was so glad I was here for all of it.

But the journey of aging only goes in one direction.

I love what I do, though. I love being able to help people I love. I know this is a privilege; not everyone has the support or the means to do it.

Every day, I am grateful that I can.

One small change would make it the perfect job — to have my husband here with me.