Where’s my dog?

(Originally posted on Blipfillypicklepoo.blogspot.com on 1/9/2011 – when there was actually snow in winter.  As I edited the post for publication today, a small amount of ice/snow covers the neighborhood).

A little help

Last evening I was sitting in the living room enjoying the warmth of a new furnace and the good company of a friend when there was a knock at the door. Two rosy-cheeked, enterprising young boys – maybe 12 or 13 years old – snowsuits on, shovels in hands – offered to shovel my walk for $10 – $5 for each shoveler.  Snow had been coming down all day and, while I had earlier swept the first few inches off the stoop and front walk, another several were now on the ground and no end to the white stuff in sight.  My neighbor almost always includes me on his snow-blowing route and, as I was trying to come up with an answer for the boys, I saw him making his way down the sidewalk behind his souped-up snow removal machine.

The boys looked crestfallen as they told me they were trying to earn money so they could go tubing tomorrow at one of the county parks.  In spite of money not growing on trees (yet!), I realized that it would be helpful to have the walk to my garage and the alley-access driveway cleared off.  Their smiles alone were probably worth the 10 bucks.  They made quick work of it and even shoveled off my front steps which the neighbor’s snow blower doesn’t reach.  One of the boys expressed concern about the ice on the porch and front steps, asked if I had any ice melt and then quickly treated the treacherous area. I paid them, thanked them and…

… woke up the next morning to the loudness of utter silence. Almost three feet of new snow thickly blanketed my porch, the walk and everything else in sight muting even the most commonplace sounds of chirping birds and the city bus.  Nothing was moving outside. My phone rang and I picked up to hear my sister ask how I felt about my $10 investment – knowledge she gained when she called me while the boys were shoveling last night . Thinking of their smiling faces and the possibility of a legendary tubing experience for those boy, I told her I felt pretty darn good.

With that feeling, I peeled myself out of bed to let my dog out for her morning constitutional.  I opened the door to the backyard, saw that the snow was level with my back porch; the back yard is two deep steps down from the porch.  Then my dog disappeared – one second she was leaning out the back door to see what all the white was about, the next second – POOF – no dog.  I saw her nose poke out from the snow about 6 feet from the back steps and heard a hearty “ARROOOO!?” – her version of “What the heck is going on?” Her nose appeared in different spots in the yard, each time with an accompanying howl. It was probably funnier for me than it was for her. I ran to put on some jeans, a thick sweater and get my boots on so that I could dig her out before I lost her ’til spring.

I had to do a fair bit of digging to clear a space for her and to make some paths to safely get out of the  house if I needed to.  My dog wandered up and down the walk between the house and the garage trying to see over the walls of snow on either side.  Her normal routine is to exit the house, run to the very back of the lot and then patrol the yard and comment loudly to any other dogs in the neighborhood.  She looked caged in, haunted even, and was clearly not having any fun.  She made one courageous dive into a massive drift only to pop out again a moment later covered in flakes and shaking her head in consternation. Shoveling the yard to accommodate my dog left me wondering a little at the wisdom of having a dog (or living in a region famed for its “lake-effect snow machine”), but she seemed to appreciate it.

We got back in the house, soggy and cold from our efforts.  No dummy, she immediately walked to the heat vent in the living room, curled up in front of it and went to sleep. Snowbound, I spent the weekend being unforgivably lazy (with the exception of shoveling), watching movies, making unwise food choices and being very grateful for a home, good neighbors,  and a silly dog that makes me laugh – A LOT.

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The Hands that Hold Us

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The hands that held us are gone.

Hands that gently washed, dressed and fed lots of sweet babies.

Hands that held us, provided occasional righteous stings to little bottoms, applauded our triumphs and gave us a needed push.

Hands that cooled fevered brows and held back hair from the faces of children needing to give back their meals.

Hands that held “The Hobbit” in one hand, a white mug full of coffee with cream in the other, while keeping a passel of offspring— scattered across the living room floor cuddled in blankets— in Tolkien’s thrall.

Hands that kneaded dough for countless loaves – delivering warm slices of hearty bread soaked in butter to hungry mouths.

Hands that worked away from home – gone for days at a time – to financially support us.

Hands using chalk on a big blackboard to explain math or religious teaching – each equally mysterious.

Hands that knit afghans, washed a million diapers, ironed sheets and sometimes even boxer shorts.

Hands that quietly traced a cross on our foreheads at bedtime.

Hands used to shepherd children through the world’s challenges – crossing streets, maneuvering through crowds, learning to drive a manual transmission.

Hands that could tap out the rhythm to a recognizable tune on the table top.

Hands that signed permission slips and co-signed promissory notes – with trust and trepidation.

Hands that let go when we were ready to take steps – big and small – on our own.

Hands that waved to us … on our first day of school, from the audience during a dancing competition, as we left home to find our fortunes.

Hands that pulled us in close for a reassuring hug …when we were young… and, perhaps more importantly, when we were older.

Hands that grasped our own – squeezing when words were no longer possible – to say “Thank you!”, “I love you.” and “Goodbye”.

Four hands are gone, turned to ashes too soon.

Four hands that produced 16 more

…hands to hold us when they were gone.

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I love you, Mrs. Green

Sitting in the yellow molded-plastic chair in the new classroom at the start of a new school year in a new school, the skinny girl with a pale complexion leaned forward in expectation and apprehension. Delicate shoulders squared, hands clasped together on top of the desk, her serious brown eyes surveyed the room. None of the other kids had talked to her yet.

The bell announcing the start of Frankie’s third grade year pealed through the school.

There were about twenty children in the class and some were obviously well-acquainted with each other.  Frankie heard some of the girls giggling and sharing stories about summer camps and family vacations.  Some of the boys were goofing off and doing gross things that boys do – belching, picking at body parts (their own) and saying words they thought were “dirty” but which really weren’t.  The big round clock on the wall with the audibly moving hands clicked to 8:04 a.m.  The kids all started looking around the room, craning their necks to see the door.  Where was the teacher?  The room became unnaturally quiet for a space full of 8- and 9-year-olds.

Then, with a whoosh and a squeaking of rubber-soled shoes on the floor, in walked a lovely young woman with long hair the color of straw, a light blue skirt and a blouse with so many flowers in the design Frankie looked at the floor expecting to see petals scattered there.  The woman’s arms were full of boxes; her slender frame in danger of breaking under the load.  She made her way carefully down a row of seats and set her burden heavily on the floor next to the teacher’s desk.  “Good morning!  I’m Mrs. Green and I’m the new third grade teacher.” she said with a smile that would have lit up the entire room were a sudden and total solar eclipse to have occurred.

The students stared at her with a mix of enchantment, skepticism and… hope!  The previous third grade teacher, by all accounts, had been a real sourpuss and all the kids, when they managed to think about school at all over the summer, had had varying degrees of anxiety about what third grade was going to be like. This smiling, pretty woman in front of the class left Frankie with the feeling you get when you think the M&M bag is empty and then realize there is still candy left inside.

Third grade was a swirl of joy, anxiety and revelation for Frankie.  Mrs. Green was a voracious reader and introduced the class to new worlds compliments of E.B. White, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Madeline L’Engle, etc… When she wasn’t reading to them, she was encouraging her students to explore the characters brought to life by these ingenious creators or, better yet, to generate their own.  Mrs. Green acted as though each child in her class was someone special and capable, and the whole class seemed to meet her expectation – with a couple of notable exceptions.  She was funny, sweet, challenging, thoughtful and a fierce proponent of her kids avoiding dullard status.

Frankie would sit in class and marvel at the energy and enthusiasm her teacher exhibited.  Even in the midst of flurries of silliness sprinkled with idiocy among her charges, she would forge ahead with her lesson plan, a disarming grin on her face, and get the class moving in the right direction.  Field trips, library visits, spelling bees and reading competitions punctuated third grade and inspired the class to strive for and accomplish more than was expected.

At the end of the school year, Frankie’s head was overfull of imaginings and possibilities.  She woke up one summer morning before her fourth-grade year started and looked out at the lemony yellow sun beginning it’s daily climb. She made her way silently down the stairs and out the back door, hopped on her bike and rode through the cool, quiet neighborhood before most of the neighbors or even her family were awake. There was a glorious sense of anticipation in her chest – why, anything could happen! She felt, for all the world, like Douglas Spaulding, in the opening chapter of “Dandelion Wine”, commanding the world to wake up and come alive.

(For many years I’ve wanted to express my gratitude to Mrs. Green for making such a positive difference in my life.  This post is hardly adequate, but it’s a start.   I love you, Mrs. Green! Wherever you are, thank you!)

~ This post was originally published on 1/15/2011 on Blipfillypicklepoo.blogspot.com and was edited for this publication.