He went to the Bridge last month and we all miss him.
For this day, we are to create an artistic selfie and post as that is something Stuart would have really liked, since he always shared hi StuART with us. Our StuART for Stuart - a dark haired beauty with a shy smile.
There are some of you that visit here, that know why this blog started. There are others, dog lovers like us, some brand new visitors this week after the Shirley event, that probably wonder how "The Book of Barkley" came to be.
My Big Brother, an ex submariner, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Esophageal cancer in 2013. He and I were adopted together as small children, though I only found out very recently that unlike him, I didn't come out of foster care, and we weren't biological siblings. But we were closer than lot of siblings, though our careers often kept us thousands of miles apart, when he was under the water, and I was piloting an airplane miles above the earth.
He finished with chemo and radiation, dropping 120 pounds on his six foot two frame. He moved in with our widowed Dad, so they could support one another, and to get out of his house, as he couldn't hold on to it, having lost his job as a Navy Contractor. I lived 1500 miles away and had a job that had me living out of the suitcase too often, but I visited them as often as I could, during all of my vacation, and on every long weekend.
He held his own, even if towards the end, everything he ate got smashed in a blender. Pretty much all he could get down was some protein shakes. (I thought he was joking when he said he'd put my leftover cheese omelet I brought back from a restaurant with some leftovers, in there with the juice, fruit and ice cream but he said it was tasty except "I don't think the hash browns were such a good idea".
But we had some time, to do some grieving, for the loss of of some older family members, including our Step Mom who stepped to the plate after our Mom died fairly young from cancer. We also had some time to do some laughing, especially as now he could share all the embarrassing childhood stories with my new husband who met him for the first time. But we also had a lot of time alone, up late, talking about our Dad, about growing up (or our inherent refusal to), He told me more than once "you're a good writer, you need to put this down in a book" and I'd just laugh and say, "maybe after I retire". He said " we don't always get to retire, do it now".
At that point I realized that the one thing I am glad I did not hear from him in his end days was , "I wish I'd. . ."
I've heard so many people say "I'll do that when I'm older, when I lose 20 pounds, when I'm retired". We got through life saying "I would, but it probably wouldn't work out" or " I'd like to but. . ." We too often base our actions on an artificial future, painting a life picture based on an expectancy that time is more than sweat, tears, heat and mirage.
You can't count on anything. For out of the blue, fate can come calling. Barkley was in fine spirits at my wedding, weeks later limping; a few weeks after that--gone to the Bridge. In a flash, life robbed even of the power to grieve for what is ending. I think back to when my brother and I were kids, going down a turbulent little river with little more than an inner tube and youth, risking rocks and rapids and earth, just to see what was around the bend of that forest we'd already mapped out like Lewis and Clark. The water was black and silver, fading swirls of deep current rising to the surface like a slap, fleeting and gravely significant, as if something stirred beneath, unhappy to be disturbed from its slumber, making it's presence known. A fish, perhaps or simply fate.
I was in the paint section of a hardware store the other weekend, looking for a brick colored paint to paint a backdrop in the kitchen. I noticed the yellows, a color I painted my room as a teen. I noticed the greens, so many of them, some resembling the green of my parents house in the sixties and seventies, yet not being exactly the same color. The original was one that you'd not see in a landscape, only in a kitchen with avocado appliances, while my Mom sang as she made cookies. I remember Big Bro and I racing through the house, one of us soldier, one of us spy, friends forever, stopping only long enough for some of those cookies, still warm. Holding that funky green paint sample I can see it as if it were yesterday. Memories only hinted at, held there in small squares of color.
What is it about things from the past that evoke such responses? A favorite photo, for some, a piece of clothing worn to a special event, a particular meal, things that carry with them the sheer impossible quality of perfection that has not been achieved since. Things that somehow trigger in us a response, of wanting to go back to that time and place when you were safe and all was well. But even as you try and recapture it, it eludes you, caught in a point in your mind between immobility and motion, the taste of empty air, the color of wind
Today is a memory that months from now, could be one of those times. You may look back and see this day, the person you were with, the smile on your face, the simple household tasks you were doing together. Things, so basic in their form, as to, at this time, be simply another chore, cleaning, painting, another ordinary day, while the kids played outside and the dog barked merrily along with them. It might be a day in which you didn't even capture it on film, no small squares of color left to retain what you felt there as you worked and laughed together, in those small strokes of color, those small brushes of longing.
Twenty years from now, you may look at yourself in the mirror, at the wrinkles formed from dust, time and tears around your eyes, at the grey in your hair and you will think back to this day, the trivial things that contain the sublime. On that day, so far beyond here, you may look around you, that person with you in your memory no longer present, and you want it all back. Want it as bad as the yearning for a color that is not found in nature, in the taste of something for which you search and ache, acting on the delusion that you can recreate it, those things that haunt the borders of almost knowing.
You touch the mirror, touch your face and wish you'd laughed more, cared less of what others thought, dove into those feelings that lapped at the safe little edges of your life, leaped into the astonishing uncertainty.
My brother spent years running silent and deep under the ocean, visiting places I can only guess at as he will not speak of it, a code about certain things I share with him. But I knew the name. Operation Ivy Bells. He understands testing the boundaries of might and the deep, cold deep depths to which we travel in search of ourselves.
I too, have had more than one day where I stood outside on a pale crescent of beaten earth and breathed deep of the cold. I am here, my wings long ago hung up, tools in hand because someone has died, and with great violence. On those days I felt every ache in my muscles, I felt my skin, hot under the sun, the savage, fecund smell of loss in the air, laying heavy in the loud silence. Somewhere in the distance would come a soft clap of thunder, overhead clouds strayed deliberately across the earth, disconnected from mechanical time. I'd rather be elsewhere; the smell simply that of kitchen and comfort, the sounds; only that of laughter. But I knew how lucky I was to simply be, in that moment and alive. I also knew, how blessed I was that after such days, I came home to my furry, four-legged best friend Barkley, who was my Black Knight in somewhat shedding armor, the soft coated Kleenex when I needed to cry.
You can't control fate, but you can make choices. You can continue your day and do nothing, standing in brooding and irretrievable calculation as if casting in a game already lost. Or you can seize the moment, the days, wringing every last drop from them. Tell the ones you love that you love them. Hug your family, forgive an enemy (but remember the bastards name), salute your flag, and always, give the dog an extra biscuit. Then step outside into the sharp and unbending import of Spring, a dying Winter flaring up like fading flame, one last taste, one last memory, never knowing how long it will remain.
I said goodbye to my brother that last time, neither of us were certain as to what the future would hold. Had I known that just weeks later, my beloved Barkley would be gone to an aggressive bone cancer, followed just weeks later by my only brother, I might have held him longer, but I wouldn't have played the days out any differently. For one thing we both agreed on, today is that memory, go out and make everything you can of it.
The Book of Barkley is that memory--for Barkley, for my brother, for all the laughter we wrapped around each other in the end days, to be carried on forward like held breath, in the airless days ahead.
It's going to be a cold weekend. Cold, grey, the perfect time to get caught up on chores around the house. But what do you do if you might get a couple of little storm troopers stopping by for a visit. Well, I have my usual kid tested recipes, toll house, oatmeal (of which I just made a batch as well). But this recipe is one that frankly, adults love. Especially the men folk.
Malted Milk Ball Cookies.
You start with a bag of Mountain Man Fruit and Nut Company Malted Milk Balls, not only are they delicious, like all of their products, they are twice the size of most. The chocolate coating is real chocolate (and you can get them in dark chocolate as well) and it's THICK, so it gets all nice and melty as it cooks. (And I probably shouldn't tell you about their dark chocolate covered "Teddy Graham" style cinnamon bears)
The batter is your basic "toll-house" style dough. Rich with sugar, egg and vanilla.
Malted Milk Ball Cookies
1 stick butter
1 stick margarine (I used Blue Bonnet) If you use all butter, they're spread too thin, if you use all margarine they won't taste as good
1/2 capful of pure vanilla (yes, that's CAP, not CUP) about 1/4 teaspoon
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup regular sugar
Cream ingredients together with a hand or stand mixer until blended.
Add 3 SMALL eggs. (or two large).
Mix in 2 and 1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking SODA
1/2 teaspoon salt.
Throw in 2 and 1/4 cup chopped up malted milk balls. Place in rounded Tablespoon sized globs on a baking pan spray with non stick spray. This will make about 4 dozen cookies. Bake at 350 F. for 8-11 minutes. It's a soft, tender cookie, slightly crispy around the edges from the butter. The malted milk balls? Well the center takes on a almost honeycomb like texture (sort of like sea foam candy if any of you have had that) and the chocolate melts really well and stays soft after cooling. Yum.
The Storm Troopers won't leave a crumb.
Dog Vader is giving me the Death Stare. I'd better get out a non- chocolate treat.
Abby Lab here.
The picture above is my Grandpa, who turned 90 a few months after this photo was taken with Barkley. Before you think that Barkley was Giganto dog, my grandpa, a former golden glove boxer is fairly small of build.. He's 95 now, still living on his own with a full time nurse during the day that Mom gets for him to help him with things between her visits. When he had hair it was red, so like my Mom, he can be a bit stubborn and doesn't want to leave the house he's lived 70 years in and the West to live with my Mom in Chicago after her Mom and Stepmom and Brother passed away.
Born in Helena MT, my Grandpa went off to serve in WWII as a Captain out of the U of Montana. He came back to Montana, married his high school sweetheart and settled in. He adopted Mom and the one that became her redheaded brother when his friends were having grandchildren. He drove and played golf weekly until he turned 93.Even though he and his wife moved to Oregon, and later Washington after the war, he still considers himself a native Montanan, even after all the folks from Hollywood moved up there and built houses the size of Vermont. When Mom's Mom passed away, he married a widow from Montana and they'd still visit from their home in Washington.
When my Mom mentioned being really busy this month with her new job he offered to write a post, and she got this carefully typed on a typewriter older than she is.
Moving to Montana
September 14, 2010 - Moved to our new home up north in Montana. It is so beautiful here. The mountains are so serene and picturesque. Can hardly wait to see them with a covering of snow. God’s country. I love it here.
October 14 - Montana is the most beautiful place on earth. The leaves are turning all different colors. I love the shares of red and orange. Went for a ride through some beautiful mountains and spotted some deer. They are so graceful. Certainly they are the most peaceful animals on earth. This must be paradise. I love it here.
November 11 - Deer season will start soon. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to kill such elegant creatures. The very symbols of peace and tranquility. Hope it will snow soon. I love it here.
December 1 - It snowed last night. Woke up to find everything blanketed with white. It looks like a postcard. We went outside and cleaned the snow off the steps and shoveled the driveway. We had a snowball fight (I won) and when the snow plow came by we had to shovel the driveway again. What a beautiful place. Mother nature in perfect harmony. I love Montana.
December 12 - More snow last night. I love it. The snow plow did his trick again (the little rascal) A winter wonderland. I love it here.
December 19 - More snow last night. Couldn’t get out of the driveway to get to work this time. I’m exhausted from shoveling. I need a snow plow.
December 22 - “White Christmas” my busted butt. More of that friggin snow. If I ever get my hands on that son of a *(#&@ who drives the snow plow, I swear I’ll castrate the moron. Don’t know why they don’t use more salt to melt the (#)@& ice,
December 28 - More white crap last night. Been inside since Christmas Day except for shoveling out of the driveway after “Osama Bin Snowplow” comes by every time. Can’t go anywhere; car’s buried in a mountain of white. The weather man says to expect another 10 inches of this *(#* tonight. Do you know how many shovelfuls of snow that is?
January 1 - Happy (#)@ New Year, The weatherman was wrong (again). We got 31 inches of the white crap this time. At this rate it won’t melt until July 4th. The snow plow got stuck up the road and the dumbass driver had the balls to come to the door to borrow my shovel. I told him I’d broken six shovels already from shoveling the crap he’s pushed into my driveway. I broke the last one over his head.
January 4 - Finally got out of the house today. I went to the store to get food and on the way back, a damn deer ran out in front of the car and I hit the little bastard. Did $4000 damage to the car. Those ()#*@ beasts are a menace.
March 8 - Took the car to the garage in town. Would you believe the thing is rotting out from the *(#*@ ice they keep dumping g all over the road? Car looks like a piece of *(#(.
June 1 - Packed up and moved to Arizona. I can’t imagine anyone in their friggin right mind would ever want to live in that God-forsaken state of Montana
We have so much fun talking and laughing in Blogville and at home. I think almost all of you know those friends, but here are some you may not have met and will be SO happy you did.
First - there are cousins that each have a blog (no don't start singing that "identical cousin" them song from the Patty Duke show that Mom remembers when she was little or EVERYONE will know how old she is).
They have the most colorful, entertaining blogs and even though each of them has lost a dear four legged member of their families very recently they still take the time to share and care for others. And lastly - our newly discovered friend
Bertie lives clear across the big pond and is a math and science whiz who makes my Mom laugh SO hard. We LOVES Bertie's science post collection. My Pee H. Dee Science Mom is weird, she has a collection of antique slide rules on the shelf with her bones (and don't get me started on why Mom won't let me play with her bone collection). So stop in and say hi to old friends and make some new ones. Thanks again to the Mayor Doodz for this great event. Abby T. Lab
I've never really owned a cat - always being a dog lover (and my Dad was highly allergic). I've cared for some for friends, sometimes for months while they were overseas, and I've had strays I've found, cared for, and then found good homes for, as at the time, I had a lifestyle that didn't allow for any pets. Abby isn't afraid of cats - but she's happier as the center of our attention, given her background of neglect.
But I have a soft spot for all animals.
Today, while my husband and I were playing backgammon, thankful Chicago has seen only some single digits this month and not had a lot of snow, I heard a plaintive meow from outside. My best friend has 7 cats (all dumped out in the country where she has land) and I know that sound. That's a "I'm scared, lonely, or hungry" sound. I went out and saw a medium grey cat. My husband came out and said he'd seen him around before, sometimes hiding under a thick shrub that offers some cover when it's raining or snowing. I'd also seen cat prints out by a brush pile by the shop where I know there are mice and chipmunks.
He didn't look malnourished at all, his coat clean and in good condition, but he sounded hungry and he'd not been fixed, nor was he wearing a collar.
He retreated back under the shrub when I came out and I got a can of albacore tuna, opening it with the opener that doesn't leave sharp edges, and put it out near where he was hiding.
A half hour later, he came out to feast.
I quietly walked out, talking to him as he ate. He came over and leaned up against me, obviously used to humans. I didn't pet him as I didn't know how he'd react and didn't want to risk a bite out of simply fear from an animal whose vaccination status was unknown. But I talked softly to him, and he want back to eating, coming back a second time to lean in against me, licking his chops, probably not having good albacore tuna before.
He might just be a pet that's an "indoor/outdoor" cat, forgotten perhaps for a meal today while his family was late getting home with the weather and will find his way home later, He didn't finish off the can, so he's not starving, perhaps just a little cold and hungry. If he stays, and appears to be not getting adequate food elsewhere, we'll make sure he's fed and has a warm place to sleep in the shop, and some vet care, until we can find him a permanent home. If he's a neighbor's cat, looking for some attention - we'll welcome the visits - even if it costs us a can of the good tuna or two.
Abby Lab here. I was just hoping for something simple like
Treats. Bacon. Stuffie.
But Mom went and wrote another chapter her third book For those of you interested, here it is.
Chapter 13 of Small Town Roads - "Books in Hand." She didn't know what she would do without her books. Remember the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury? It was set in a dystopian future in which firemen intentionally burn any house in which a book is located, because it's against the law to possess them. In the end, a fireman who had grown to love books escapes the city of quick, mindless but big screen, reality based entertainment, to find a small group of book-loving refugees banded together. Each person is assigned the memorization of one complete book -- Aristotle, Dickens, James Joyce and more -- so the books will survive until society is ready to embrace them again
She didn't read a lot of popular novels, though she had a rather large collection of classic Sci-Fi. When her grade school classmates were reading The BoxCar Children and Pippi Longstocking, She was reading the works of Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein and a whole world beyond her quiet, hushed one at home, opened up to me.
Reading for her was not just intellectual but embracive. She loved the way the spine of a book feels in the crook of her fingers. The smooth, hard end boards snug on either side of the pages sewn together, their edges flush and perfect. The smell of ink, the texture of a page as her fingers gently turns it.
She tended to read a lot of non fiction and books that teach you how to create and maintain things. She likes to read of history. She loves reading about long ago. know more about her own life when she knew more about the past. It's a sense of perspective; of days full of people that killed, tortured, struggled and suffered, agonizing for things that were of the utmost importance to them; working and living for reasons that may be well the same as ours. Now they've been gone some 500 years and all that is left to us is the essence and quintessence of their lives so she can remember all that they never forgot.
To her, history was more than a story, more than a book, it's the life, the heart and soul of ages long ago. It's the ultimate myth and inevitably ambiguous, but she did believe, as Lord Bolingbroke stated, "History is philosophy teaching by example and also by warning." History not read is like ammo not used, someone once said, and without reading, for herself at least, the past is silence and the future is haze.
Quantum Physicists have stated that time, as most of us think of it, is an illusion. They have postulated that the past,the present and the future are here, now, captured in a touch, the blink of an eye, or perhaps,simply between two pages.
Between two pages here is a photo of her Mother in her garden. Outside the window here now, a plant opens up, spilling forth its seed onto the soil. She remembered days of working in the flowerbeds that her Mom so lovingly maintained. After her death, She kept it going as long as she could for her Dad, until adulthood called me away. As she toiled in the garden, the sun kissed the top of her head, the touch a benediction, a blessing.
She had not yet learned of other kisses, the ones in the crook of the neck where the head joins the body and the body knows not its limitations. The one that dances on the skin like light that falls upon it, outstretched hands gathering fistfuls of flowers imprinted upon starched cotton. She had not yet learned that love is not just as wild as the flowers; it’s as fragile and elusive as glass; that in nature, the most delicate of things are often trod underfoot as they go unnoticed. So much contained in those pages never read.
At the bookstore recently, an engineering manual, two generations old, was opened to browse. In it was an ancient leaf, carefully pressed within the pages, the person who had done so likely long gone. She has many books like that old book, purchased from stores that contain more light than dust, yet containing within them things old and forgotten, things that in the wrong hands would only grow older. Finding the right one is like finding treasure, fingers tracing the spine, fingers that are gentle and forgiving, not wishing any further scar upon that which binds.
Such books find their way to her home, where they lay looking out from under leaded glass, pulled out to be read on late nights, the mind marveling that other minds marveled, the mysteries, the mistakes, playing out across the pages as if they were penned today. They tell their tales like the lonely, animated elderly, to anyone who is willing to listen, lessons given without rancor or heat, so many words that need to be said while they can still be heard.
Nothing for her is worse than being in the back of an airplane or at a hotel with nothing to read. When in one mountainous far off place, she had to downsize a bag as the little airplane being piloted by what she believde was a Yeti, was weight restricted and her books were left behind for materials she had to have for the missionary work. She almost would have given up her tools, her poncho and her hiking boots than her little collection of paperbacks, of Earth Abides and Stranger in a Strange Land and a small leather bound book of Shakespeare sonnets.
Let the weather play God with her itinerary, let the tanker bringing in supplies break down somewhere, let the post sell the last bottle of whiskey, but if she'd laid up alone in the middle of no where after she busts a move down the Himalayas and break her leg, she want a book. Curled up in strange places among a couple artifacts of family that get toted around in her suitcase, she may be lonely, but she will be be content.
For she has a book.
It's a big old paper dead tree book, because she wants to hold something in her hand that feels alive, to me even if a living thing died to create its pages. It's words that form pictures, laid out upon a living thing that never slept, never dreamed of the soft perch of birds or the sharp blade of the ax, never mourned the tender leaves that it nourished and abandoned. It’s a piece of wood, that which can be warmth, support and shelter, or the perfect, pristine bed of memory laid down bare.
Such is it tonight.as she is alone tonight, her husband long buried. But in her head is history, the cries of warriors, rushing forth immortal beneath disported sabers and brandished flags, men rushing forward into time, propelled by gunpowder and righteousness, underneath a sky of thunder. She has a book. She is caught up in battles, in loves, both forbidden and forgotten, coursing like blood as long as the words will, that immortal, fresh, abiding blood which bears respect above regret and commitment above the ease of dishonor.
Her housework is put aside for at least an hour or two before bed and she'll pick up that book. She'll let it transport her to somewhere far away, until a chime will toll for warriors, for battles won and those so easily lost. As her hand turns the pages, she will move among people who lived and died, or perhaps never existed at all, their shadows not of flesh of blood but of imagination, shadows as strong as finely honed steel and shadows as quiet as murmuring breath, forgotten until they were put upon paper.
Then, on the sound of that chime, perhaps a clock, perhaps something that just travels within her, the note cutting the air, as sharp, clear and quiet as a blade, she will fall off into sleep, there in that lonely bed. The book lays prone on the nightstand next to her, two forms, creating one shadow, the stories in both of them, never ceasing, even at rest. Outside the world continues in that illusion of change, the sky letting go of its tears, washing a parched landscape anew.