Thursday, April 29, 2021
Monday, April 26, 2021
Sunday, April 25, 2021
Saturday, April 24, 2021
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Monday, April 19, 2021
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." -Fred Rogers
I heard it before I saw it.
The deep, threatening growl of an unmuffled car traveling at high speed.
* * * * *
Gracie and I had just headed out into the soft sunshine of a spectacular spring day, and the sudden danger of this angry beast snapped me out of my sweet reverie.
The car was coming toward me, on the opposite side of the street. It's normal for drivers push the 25 mph speed limit along this stretch of quiet suburban neighborhoods, but this bullet was far beyond normal. As the car blasted around a curve and flashed into sight, I caught a quick glance: a mundane dark-colored sedan, slightly dusty but also traveling in a cloud of oil smoke, barreling straight toward us.
* * * * *
Adrenaline surged. Quickly, I assessed my leash-free pup, who was casually strolling along just a few feet in front of me with nary a care in the world, oblivious to this oncoming assault on our senses.
Apparently she's got the ideal temperament for a Formula One pit crew member.
In the split second before the torpedo came upon us, I urgently coaxed Gracie, "Come!" She happily trotted back to me, and I safely snapped her leash on just before the car flew by.
Now I don't spend a lot of time walking along the shoulder of the German Autobahn, nor do I sit in the front row at Nascar races, so it's difficult to assess exactly how fast this car was traveling.
At least 60 mph. Easily more.
Thank God, it was gone. Breathing a sigh of relief, I released my dog to her independent pace and listened as the raucous throttling monster receded into the distance.
But what's this? The snarling engine reasserted itself, complete with screeching tires and the unmistakable smell of burning rubber, and I turned to look back down the street. At a small three-way stop intersection, the car was spinning through the last few degrees of what must have been a 540. Most of the street was in deep afternoon shade, but sunlight struck the car and eerily illuminated the surrounding cloud of deep, swirling smoke. I stared for a horrible instant, and realized that with a menacing snarl, the car was streaking up the street, fishtailing and skidding with irrational speed, clearly faster than before.
And this time, it would pass within a foot or two of the sidewalk where I stood..
Thankfully, the adrenaline surged through my nervous system again, now with exponential force, and called me to act.
Gracie had drifted maybe ten or fifteen feet ahead of me. Much too far. Trying to disguise the panic I felt, I again called to my dog with the cheeriest tone I could muster, and prayed to sweet Jesus that she would obey.
Forget about hooking her up to the leash. As soon as Gracie was within reach, I grabbed her collar in one hand and threw us both up the small incline on the far side of the sidewalk. Pinned in from further retreat by the six foot cedar fences that run along my neighbors' backyards, I still felt vulnerable and very scared.
But then I remembered. We were among the trees.
Giant trees, Douglas firs, the kings of the Pacific Northwest forest, stand in a long row between the sidewalk and the fence, and in an instant, I tucked my dog up against the safety of one of the massive, craggy trunks, opposite the trajectory of the incoming arsenal, and folded myself into the same tiny pillar of protection.
In a blur of irrational hostility and blind rage, the car passed.
It was all over in an instant.
Gracie and I stepped out from behind the tree and onto the sidewalk.
A different car - a sleek and sparkling vintage Jeep Jeepster with an immaculate red and white two-tone paint job - had approached from the opposite direction and was now making a smooth Y-turn in the street. The man rolled down his window, clearly shaken and aware that I was too, and said, "I'm going after them."
"Good," I said. "Please do."
I watched as he drove off, his beautiful car shining in the sun, traveling at a crisp speed but clearly within posted limits. And I felt, somehow, safe.
Now as Gracie and I returned to our normal pace, I felt the trauma reaction set in. My body trembled from head to toe, I felt spent and weak. Hot tears burned behind my eyes. I wanted nothing more than to turn around and run back home. But Gracie, I knew, would be a better companion for the rest of the day if I allowed her to exercise. So on we walked.
I was scared that the car would come back, though my rational mind reassured my fight-or-flight center that I would certainly hear it ahead of time. But terrifyingly, I did hear off in the distance an assortment of brutal mechanical sounds that may (or may not) have been this same raging machine. At least three different times, I considered calling my husband to come pick us up in the car. But I decided to face my fears and push on.
I'm glad I did.
Because as we were almost home again - funny, we stopped in almost the exact same spot on the sidewalk as before - the man in the two-tone Jeepster came back, although this time he was driving an equally clean and sporty white vintage Jeep Wagoneer. He slowed as he approached me, rolled down his window and said, "The police are looking for them; they won't get far."
"Thank you," I returned. "That was terrifying."
"Yes, it was," he agreed. "They were going at least 120 mph. No doubt in my mind."
I managed some sort of socially appropriate closing, thanked him again, and staggered home.
As I walked under the lengthening shadows of the Douglas firs, still silently towering above me, protectors and friends, I realized that I'll never know for sure exactly how fast that car was traveling, or why they were so hell bound on a sunny afternoon, or even whether the police ever caught them, though I may do a bit of scrolling to see about that.
But what I do know is that Mister Rogers' mom was right. Whenever scary things happen, there are always helpers.
Sometimes they are people. People driving beautiful vintage Jeeps.
And sometimes, they are trees.
Friday, April 16, 2021
Pebbles Flintstone [Her first words ever]: Yabba. Dabba. Goo.
When I was in high school, I worked hard to cultivate my image.
Gotta look right, dress right, act right, talk right, right?
Since the beginning of history, when high school girls began tying dinosaur bones into their hair and fashioning off-the-shoulder shifts from mastodon hides, we've all shared the same need to fit in.
But my biggest concern was neither my intricately feathered haircut nor the cut of my hand-bleached Levi bell bottoms. Both were immaculate; I made sure of that.
What I most worried about was being too smart.
I snuck my mother's favorite locket out of her jewelry box to wear for the photo without asking permission. Did I think she wouldn't notice?
It's true. At least in my day, girls who put obvious effort into being good students had a certain reputation, if you know what I mean.
Uptight do-gooders who concerned themselves with playing by the rules and getting patted on the head. Serious girls who served on Student Council and stayed in the classroom after the bell rang to clarify their homework assignments and make small talk with the teachers. Over-achievers who would rather collect gold stars than have fun.
And I was bound and determined not to be one of them.
Now, I didn't necessarily mind being smart. I couldn't help it if I remembered the difference between the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas, reveled in the tools of the Paleolithic era, or read aloud with dazzling accuracy. Smart came naturally to me and I was moderately proud of that fact
What I could not tolerate was any hint that I was trying to be smart.
I'd say that my hair, clothing, and make up stand the test of time pretty well. But I'm not so sure about those skinny little 70s eyebrows.
Math and science were especially tricky because a) they came particularly easy for me and b) they were the two subjects at which girls were definitely not supposed to be smart.
So I came up with a plan to handle this touchy scenario.
I signed up for only the very basic classes in those boys-and-nerd-girls-only subjects.
The bare minimum college prep requirements.
No fancy Advanced Placement courses or high-powered electives, thank you very much. I filled in my schedule with gym and Spanish, which served better my quest to portray myself as a fit, active young lady with an eye for adventure and fun.
And you know, I have no regrets. My life played out just fine, thanks to an academic counselor at Michigan State University who sat me down near the end of my freshman year and said, "Look, with the top grades that you're earning in your math classes, you have a lot of options. Doors will always open for women who are good at math. Choose a major in business or engineering."
The boy in my life at the time was studying accounting and convinced me to give it a try.
And that's exactly what I did. I tried.
Without shame, I tried hard to do well in those intro to accounting classes. I eventually earned grades that blew that boy straight out of the water, and it turns out I was just fine with trying to be smart after all.
Another version of my patented crooked smile, which seems to come bursting out of me whenever a camera points my way. But you know, I've come to accept that about myself too.
Looking back, I do feel a bit sorry for the self-conscious high school version of myself, so afraid to follow her own path. If I could take her aside, I'd give her a hug and whisper in her ear, "Stop worrying about what other people think and simply be yourself; that's all that matters."
Until I find the time machine to whistle me back through the decades to the Stone Age of my youth, I have landed on another outlet for sharing my newfound passion for trying.
and hopefully, inspire
teenage girls who are studying math with me.
Yes, of course I teach boys too. But it's interesting to observe how they rarely need the same sort of support to embrace their inner mathematician.
Despite all the talk nowadays about women in STEM, our culture still sends teenage girls some ugly subliminal messages about math, and I make it my business to make sure my girl students know that
it's okay to be smart,
it's okay to try to be smart,
and it's especially okay to be smart at math.
Wait. Girls who study hard and do well at math are way more than okay
They're yabba dabba do!
* * * * *
Most evenings, after my high school day was done and dinner was coming together, my brothers and I would gather round our trendy portable color TV to watch an old episode of The Flintstones. It's hard for me to image my teen years without them: overbearing Fred, lovely and level-headed Wilma, Dino the darling dogasaurus, and sweet baby Pebbly-Poo.
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Saturday, April 10, 2021
Friday, April 9, 2021
"Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole." -Roger Caras
Gracie on a leashless walk. She could certainly find work as a crosswalk safety guard.
"Wait, did you get a new dog?"
Stepping back a respectful six feet from the woman I'd just passed, I called the leashless Gracie to my side in a heel, and stopped to chat with this stranger on the street.
Well. She was a stranger to me; I'd never seen her before in my life. But apparently, I was not so unfamiliar to her.
"Umm, four years ago?" I stammered, wondering what exactly she was getting at.
Glancing at Gracie, she smiled. "You used to have a different dog. He was so wonderful."
Oh. She was remembering Ranger.
Yes, he was wonderful. Like anyone whose lost a beloved pup, my grief for my dog in heaven normally lies quiet, molten lava under the surface of my heart, but quickly bubbles up at his mention.
"I loved to watch him walk with you, on that long, long leash. He would strut along such a handsome way; he always looked like he was having so much fun.
What a wonderful, familiar, treasured picture her words made in my head.
Sunday Grace, the lovely lady who currently keeps me on my toes, last week.
I thanked this kind soul for sharing her memories with me, turned and continued on my walk with Grace.
As I strolled along, one eye ever watchful on my well-behaved girl up ahead as she marching down the middle of the sidewalk and carefully stopped to wait for me at the crosswalk, catching the eye of every astonished human driving past as a model of proper deportment, my own memories of sweet Ranger burned bright in my heart.
He was a tender-hearted boy, but up for a bit of mischief now and then, such as waiting until everyone had gone to bed and the house was dark and quiet before he stole back downstairs to the kitchen where he was fully capable of opening the fridge and rummaging through the sturdy storage containers to find the non-dog-proof take-out boxes, and carrying them off to the privacy of the dining room where he might help himself to the delicious leftovers. Still, I could only smile at these very occasional and incredibly clever outbursts of naughtiness, and every night, as I laid down to sleep, he would hop up on the foot of the bed, circle once or twice, then curl himself in a tight little ball perfectly snuggled into the crook of my knees. He always managed to land just so - cuddled up to my side-sleeping legs so we made pleasant contact, but never crushing or overcrowding me. A sweet way to end each day, and I was endlessly grateful for his cozy companionship.
* * * * *
As I mused over my years with Ranger, my thoughts drifted back even further to the dog of my childhood, Kelly, and the first dog of my own family, Casey.
Kelly lived a charmed life on a country lake in Michigan, slipping and sliding through the snowy winters as my brothers and I ice skated and sledded our days away. Summers we spent swimming and sunning around the lake, and I logged many hours in our aluminum rowboat, usually powered with a ten horse outboard, and Kelly loved nothing more than to travel with me. As we skimmed along the waves, headed for maybe the sandbar in the middle of our Ore Lake where I might drop anchor, lie back on the seats and gaze at the clouds till we were ready to swim, or possibly down through Little Ore to the quiet spots missed by the main currents, where we slipped among the water lilies and scouted out turtles taking lazy sun naps on the flat, floating leaves, Kelly assumed command of our little ship. Paws up on the shiny triangular bow, standing tall on outstretched legs with his lush red coat flowing out behind him in the wind, he barked at the top of his lungs for the sheer joy of living. God love him, he was an adventurous soul.
* * * * *
More than any of my other dogs, Casey was bred for the hunt, and I spent a considerable amount of time and energy during our life together trying to help him scratch that instinctive itch. He was a notorious bolter, and since I couldn't dream of letting him off leash in the middle of suburbia to follow his nose - he had zero respect for streets and the superior might of human vehicles - I was constantly challenged to find him a safe place to scent quail and run free. At the downhill end of our neighborhood lay an untamed retention pond, a man-made wetland wild with grasses, cattails and a lovely bit of water, lots of room for an energetic red beast to romp, and best of all, securely fenced in on all four sides save for a single opening about ten feet wide. During the years of my daughters' babyhoods, I spent many an afternoon at that opening, entertaining the girls with little games and songs while also defending the goal-sized gap against my marauding pup who, while satisfied to romp about in this muddy paradise, would much rather slip past me like a caroming puck and run the streets of the neighborhood in gleeful, utter abandon. And oftentimes, that's exactly what he did.
* * * * *
Happily caught up in my memories, I suddenly remembered. Today, April 8, is the birthday of both Kelly and Casey, 1969 and 1986 respectively, a very special date in my dog-loving life
And in her kind recollection of my boy, Ranger, my newfound friend has helped me celebrate this sentimental day by reminding me of all my darling dogs.