I'm a communications professional, writer, cynic, mother, wife and royal pain. The order depends on the day. I returned to my hometown in November 2004 after a couple of decades of heat and hurricanes. I can polish pristine copy, but not here. This is my morning exercise -- 20-minute takes without a net or spellcheck. It's easier than sit ups for me. No guarantee what it will be for you. Clicking on the subscribe link will send you an email notice when each new entry is posted.
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2003-11-26 7:57 AM
The Fear of Small Things
When I met Charlie eight years ago his household was leather couches, a big television and , most importantly, his daughter, Jennine.
Jen wanted her first dog and within weeks of meeting her I suckered Charlie into a "just looking" trip to a Lab breeder. Since my previous dogs had come from pounds, friends and greyhound adoption,I read up before we left and cautioned not to take the "alpha" pup who approaches first.
A set of the sweetest brown eyes ever, attached to a small black barrel, squat legs and huge paws came bounding directly to us and was in our car in slightly more time than it took to complete the paperwork.
Smokie shredded the leather furniture with her paws and proved adept at distinguishing silk from polyester and leather from lesser products when choosing to chew up my scarves and shoes. She has a special affinity for remote controls, the more complex, the more delicious. Only the best for our Smokie.
After being socially promoted following her second attempt through obedience school (they offered a refund, but we felt too guilty to take it)she went to a boarding school. With Atila the Trainer standing over our shoulders, we muttled through the exercises during our designated visiting time and commiserated all the way home about how lonely she looked. We brought her home at the end of the course with a basic grasp of sit, down and sometimes stay -- and the absolute knowlege that Smokie would be Smokie and that was fine with us. She's mellowed some with age, but dozens of remote controls have been sacrificed to the cause. If there are no bad dogs only bad owners, we must suck.
We love Smokie and there is no question how she feels about each of us. She has a soft, sweet life. Her greatest fear is suitcases. She knows they mean one or more of us is going someplace without her. That is not acceptable and brings a performance of depression and angst worthy of the silent screen.
Smokie liked the move to Georgia. Smokie would like to move to anyplace we are. When our house was finally finished here, we celebrated with a trip to the Humane Society for a cat.
Remembering the lesson of selecting Smokie, we watched one kitten come right to us while another, a dead ringer for the best childhood cat of all time, hung back. I picked up the shy Tortoise Shell while the girls played with the lively black kitten with a white tuxedo under her chin.
The attendant said the kittens were six-week-old sisters. The girls and I looked at Charlie and he folded like a lawn chair.
The introduction of Sadie and Bess to Smokie was not without some level of howling and flying claws. Both cats are small, lean and athletic, no more than seven pounds each to Smokie's 75. They were neutered and declawed years ago, but Smokie remembers the sting of their homecoming and treats them as if those claws might reappear at any moment. They are not Milo and Otis, but they've even done hurricane evacuation car rides without incident. They understand there are enough humans and square footage in this place to coexist.
One day we stopped at a local shop for pond supplies. An egret was enjoying the fish buffet we were providing and we needed more cover plants. As we discussed our needs with the owner, a black kitten with paws as large as his head bounced over to the girls with a snowshoe gait.
He purred and nuzzled as the girls examined his baseball mitt feet with all those extra toes.
His mother was a field cat who brought her babies into the store for protection, the owner said. They were all polydactyls , but this one had the most toes, so no one had taken him home. He's very friendly and adventurous, she added, and is wandering further into the field each day. "One of these days a hawk is going to get him," the about-to-be-former-owner-of-a-kitten shrewdly said. The girls looked at their father once and the Hemingway cat came home with the unwieldy moniker of Sasquatch.
He never much liked that name, but Little Bit stuck. The vet was so charmed, he didn't even charge us extra for Bit's declawing. Bit is physically identical to Bessie (except for the toes) but apparently he never went to cat school.
He's the explorer and adventurer. Early along, he figured out that Smokie made a good pal. Bit grooms Smokie and sleeps with her occassionally. The relationship was cemented when Bit figured out how to use his almost opposable thumbs to open Smokie's treat jar and drop Liv A Snaps to the floor for his buddy.
For three years there's been a balance in the mellow sister cats, aging Smokie and species ambiguous Bit. Bessie was the needy lap cat. Sadie aloof and elegant, Bit the bounder.
Then Sierra arrived yesterday for a three-day slumber party with Smokie while her family traveled for the holidays. Smokie had no problem sharing her treats and tennis balls with an I-live-to-please Yellow Lab.
But Sierra has apparently learned somewhere in her eight years that cats can be very bad. And sweet little Bessie-the-lap-cat can smell that fear like Nine Lives Super Supper.
I write this in hour 14 of the standoff. Sierra cowers and Bessie stalks. Sadie and Bit cover Bessie's flank with backs arched and bottle brush tails. Sierra is blind to the no-claws issue, as well as the fact that each of her paws is bigger than any one of their heads. She whimpers and shakes and Bessie likes it like that.
Smokie sleeps. Apparently she doesn't have a dog in this hunt.
Last evening Sierra took refuge in the cubby under my desk where a Schnauzer could easily fit. By edging my wheeled chair back from the keyboard (with me in it) she has enough room for the remaining three quarters of her body and I'm learning to type with long stiff arms.
When we went to bed, Sierra scoffed the comfort of the LL Bean bed brought from her home, for the partial protection of the desk cubby. Bessie assumed her regular bedtime position at my feet in our bed and I assumed detente.
Jen came home shortly before midnight and a delighted Sierra followed her up to her room where apparently silent Sadie had assumed sentry duty staring down the whimpering dog from the door of Jen's room. Sierra stopped whimpering for as long as Jen pet her, an effective alarm system to keep Jen awake all night. It was the first time I'd ever seen Jennine grateful to go to school in the morning.
For the duration of this missive , Sierra has been in her almost-under-the-desk position and Bess right behind my chair. Bess usually sits on my lap as I write and is clearly agitated to not be in her position. She's as afraid of Sierra as Sierra is of her, it's seven pounds of balls and bravado against 65 pounds of sweetness and simpering.
I can't help but think of the little area we saw on the MRI films yesterday. It could well be a Bessie, scary only in concept and potential. I'm going to try to handle it better than Sierra does.
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