The Family Pet

            When you never go anywhere and you’re dirt poor and there’s no television, the idea of owning a pet doesn’t enter your mind.

            Twice a year we’d visit relatives. No one on my mother’s side had a pet. My dad’s stepfather owned a farm. He had a mule that brayed quite loudly, even from across the pasture. There were a ton of chickens, but they stayed in the barn. I was too young to question whether they were for eating or for egg-laying.

            One of my dad’s stepsisters had a horse. To me, at age five or six, the horse seemed gargantuan. My aunt did offer to ride with me, but my mother refused.

            What I remember most about that horse was that it loved to roll in the mud! One time when we were visiting, my aunt walked her horse out where we were. One half was its normal dark brown. The other side was caked in mud! I thought that was the funniest thing I’d even seen!

            Before my grandparents bought the farm, they’d lived in Dayton. I don’t remember much about the house except that you entered through a screened-in porch.

            My uncle was in the navy. While he was overseas, he’d bought a beautifully colored parrot.

            When we arrived, the bird was in a huge cage, swinging from a beam in the porch. I was amazed, not just at the colors, but at the noises it made. I’d never heard a bird so loud and so screechy.

            And then it began swearing! I knew most of the words as both my parents threw swear words around like others threw baseballs. Apparently, however, the unfamiliar words were not for me to hear, so I was quickly ushered inside the house. The door was slammed shut shortly after I was inside.

            None of those animals inspired me to want a pet.

            That changed when the local five and dime sold turtles. This was long before anyone knew they carried diseases or that they shouldn’t have been in the country.

            But, my parents let me get one. And a cute little plastic bowl, complete with a ramp so it could get out of the water.

            I was thrilled. My very own pet! It didn’t bother me that my brother had one as well and that they shared that little bowl.

            I fed it diligently. I kept it’s bowl clean of poop. Sometimes I’d let it walk on the table. I never grew tired of watching and caring for it.

            Until one afternoon, when I returned from school, both turtles were gone.

            Two people had been in the house: my mother and my younger sister. I never suspected my mother for she had approved of pet ownership.

My sister, however, was my prime suspect because we never got along. I was jealous of her freedoms that, despite being seven years older, I didn’t have. I’m not sure why she’d be jealous of me, for she had the good looks, the thin body, the nicer clothes. But she must have harbored enough venom to free my turtle.

I looked all over the front room for it. I checked in the sofa’s cushions, under tables, and finally got down on my stomach to search under the sofa.

The turtle was there, but dead. It looked more like a desiccated starfish than anything that had once been alive.

I was devastated. Sort of. The truth was that I’d grown tired of a pet that was incapable of showing love.

For the longest time, no animals lived in our house.

My mother was terrified of cats, declaring that they sucked the air out of babies’ mouths. At the time, I believed her, but much later, when I did some research, I discovered that there was no way that a cat could seal off the air.

We had frequent thunderstorms and tornado warnings. When we had advance warning, we’d gather in the crawlspace. It smelled like damp dirt and had cobwebs hanging from the rafters. It was dark, but because my dad had strung one cord down through the floor, we could listen to the radio.

We’d hunker down there until the broadcaster said it was safe to come out.

After one such storm, when my brother and I finally got approval from my mom to go outside, we decided to wash down our bikes. They’d been out in that storm, and were now covered with dirt and leaves.

I had just begun cleaning my bike when I heard an unfamiliar chirping. It was coming from the large bushes that grew along the side of the house.

I decided to find the bird.

I pushed aside a branch here, a branch there until a small green bird was revealed. I’d never seen a green bird before, so I didn’t know if it was wild or someone’s pet.

I got my brother, who didn’t believe me until he saw it for himself. He told me to stand guard, then went inside to tell our mom.

She never appeared, but handed my brother a shoebox.

It was surprisingly easy to capture the bird and put it in the box.

Later on I learned that it was a parakeet.

Mom let us keep it. It lived in the box for a couple of days while she made call after call. Eventually she found a relative who’s bird had died and was no longer interested in having any more.

When the weekend arrived, we drove well over an hour to their house. They did, indeed, have a cage, but demanded that we stay for a while and visit.

They had a daughter my age. For some reason, my mom let me go upstairs to the girl’s room. This was the first, and then the last, time that I wasn’t confined to a sofa or chair.

I was amazed at her room! She had bunkbeds, something I’d never heard of, so that a friend could sleep over. She had tons of dolls and all kinds of toys and games. We played with everything. It was the most fun I had ever had!

When we got home, the bird was put inside. In time, we got toys, a type of paper for the perches, and different kinds of seed.

The bird was friendly, could say a few words, and was easily trained to do a few things. My mom named it Petey, even though we had no clue at to its gender.

Petey moved with us to a bigger house closer to downtown Dayton.

All was well until Christmas. My brother got an erector set, which was great fun. We both enjoyed building every design that was in the pamphlet.

There was a motor that made things move. My favorite was the elevator that could climb high into the tower. My brother liked the Ferris wheel, however.

That, too was fun. We’d put small things in the little seats and watch them go around and around.

Meanwhile Petey had demonstrated how very intelligent she was, by learning how to open her cage door! She’d let herself out, fly around the kitchen, then return to the top of her cage, where she’d stay until night. Petey would put herself to bed, with a little help from someone who’d shut her door.

My brother and father decided it would be great fun to put Petey in the Ferris wheel.

She’d sit there as her chair went around and around. Petey could have flown off, but she stayed put, seeming to enjoy the ride.

Until my brother got the idea to speed it up! Petey stayed put at first, but when the wheel was spinning quite fast, Petey got spooked and flew into the kitchen, where she settled on top of the cabinets.

From then on, Petey never sat on a finger, never talked, never allowed any person to get too close.

I was furious.

My dad loved tropical fish. When we moved to Beavercreek, Ohio, he set up one tank after another. I loved watching them, but it wasn’t until we moved to California that I got my first tank.

I filled it with goldfish because they were cheap, plus I loved their pretty color.

I added more and more tanks, until I had about six. I studied different types of fish, what they ate and what types would live in harmony. By the time I moved into my first apartment, I had close to ten tanks!

I loved the burble of the filtration system and found that watching the fish swim about calmed me down. I needed calming, for my parents were still attempting to control my life.

It wasn’t too long before I bought a pair of parakeets. Their pretty chirping blended nicely with the bubbling tanks.

My “pets” brought great joy to my life.

The last family pet we had was a beagle name Lady Coco. My mom hadn’t wanted a dog, so she was furious when my dad brought it home. He intended it to be a hunting dog, so he built a doghouse which he placed at the end of our yard.

The puppy was scared and lonely, so she cried and howled until someone rescued her. My mom couldn’t stand the plaintive sounds, so she brought the dog inside, ruining her for hunting.

I loved Lady Coco. She cuddled with me, let me pet her, slept on my bed and let me walk her every day when I got home from school. When we moved to California, she rod in the family car.

By then I was well into my teen years and filled with a great deal of  anger and angst. Lady Coco let me cry into her fur. She was my sounding board, for she never judged me, no matter what I told her.

I was devastated when she died.

It wasn’t until after I married that another dog entered my life. Over the next fifteen or so years, our family adopted a variety of dogs, none of them purebred, all of them strays. Some were better behaved then others, but we loved them all and mourned their passing.

When our son was about five, he fell in love with a stray cat at church. Just like with the dogs, we were never without a cat until the past year.

I’d also brought parakeets into our marriage and four tanks of fish.

As the fish died, I didn’t replace them. Money was tight, and tropical fish had gotten more and more expensive. Plus when I returned to work, there was no time to maintain the tanks properly.

Same with the birds.

It’s funny how pets enrich your lives. They give you a reason for being. They fill your house with love and loving sounds. Some are capable of loving back, while others are simply company.

My life had been filled with a variety of pets. They were there when I needed comforting. Now, since my life is one of love and support, I no longer need the calming a pet provides or the confidant that listens to my deepest, most painful thoughts.

I can love them, care for them and simply enjoy them.

Except for when my cat jumps on my puzzle table and pushes a nearly complete puzzle onto the floor!

Blessed Firelight

The fire crackles,

tongues of flame reaching

high into the night sky,

reaching to capture the

essence of the One who

feeds all flames.

Sparks whirl, grasping,

leaping for joy, celebrating

a temporary life lived in

fullness. Rejoicing, dancing,

sprinkling the darkness

with pinpoints of light.

Flickering flames bathe

the woods nearby, casting

eerie glows on low-reaching

fir trees; on fallen logs whose

souls have flown and rest

now in peace.

Horned owls hoot in syncopated

harmonies joined by a distant

pack of coyotes whose yips rise

and fall with unequaled grace.

A fir branch snaps, splitting the

song’s joyful tunes.

The night has a bite, a sharpness

that penetrates the inner core,

threatens to steal warmth,

warded off by a rising taper of

sparks, resurrecting feeble souls

who yearn for life.

Serenity beckons, calling the flames

to calm, to settle, to dwindle

until only a feeble light survives,

burning into perpetuity,

fueled by the eternal love

of One who feeds all flames.

Vacation Memories

            Before the software existed that allow us to import photos and add written descriptions, cataloguing vacation photos was often inconsistently done. Sometimes pictures would be sealed under a thin clear film with no words to show where there were taken or even who was in them.

            After too many page turnings, the adhesive would fail and the photos would slip out.

            The glue would yellow, leaching into the pictures, fading out faces and places alike.

            Even so, I’d hang on to the albums, for they were what connected me to that past.

            After a while, however, I’d quit looking at the albums. Work and parenting demands took center court, chewing up time that I used to spend reminiscing.

            When our kids grew up, we handed over their albums, a passing of memories, so to speak. None of them seemed overjoyed at the prospect of storing those aged tomes. I have a feeling that they all ended up in the garbage. But that’s okay.

            These days I import photos into online albums, clustering them by place and theme. I research descriptions of where I’d been, so as to ensure that my information is accurate.

            When finished, all I have to do is click a button, pay over money, and then within a few weeks a glossy keepsake arrives in the mail.

            We do pull out the first albums as they remind us of the trips we’ve been on, the places we’ve visited and the things we saw.

            Initially I only took photos of “things,” never us. But then I read somewhere that our kids and grandkids need to see us as we were then, not necessarily as we are now.

            This is especially true as my husband and I quickly approach eighty.

            The first commercially prepared album was done in our sixties. We looked very different then. Both of us carried quite a bit more weight. Our hair still had some original color to it and my husband’s covered a tad more of his scalp.

            Our clothes were looser, to cover our bellies, sort of.

            We had to ask someone to take our picture if we wanted one with the two of us. Otherwise, my husband would be in two or three, me in one. I liked taking his pictures and hated the way I looked in mine.

            As time passed, we show up together in more and more albums. We got brave enough to ask for help and got less embarrassed about how we looked.

            The photos were seldom good. They might be off-kilter or out-of-focus. They might have been in shadow or in light so bright that the sun glinted in my glasses. There might be deep shadows obliterating half our faces. The background that we’d chosen might not be visible.

            So many things can go wrong!

            But, now when I create albums, we’re there, standing next to penguins in the Falkland Islands, pretending to ride a camel in Morocco, leaning against the railing of the ship at a particularly lovely port.

            I am glad that we decided to take more pictures of us. I want our family to see us, at this age, going places and doing things. Enjoying life, to the best of our ability. Eating fine meals, getting dressed for dinner, wearing sun hats to protect our faces.

            These are the important memories, not just the ones of ancient Mesa cliff dwellings or unusual rock formations or penguins dashing into the water.

            Perhaps no one in our family will want the albums, but for now, they are a living legend of who we are, where we’ve been and what we looked like at the time of that voyage. They’ll look at those pictures and remember that we walked among penguins, saw a snake charmer in Fez, and watched glaciers cave in Alaska.

Update on the Clerk

            Van tells me that he is doing better in his classes, thanks to my suggestions!

            Last Sunday he had two assignments left to do, one in math and one in Macroeconomics.  When he got home from work, he planned on completing the math quiz first, as it would take about twenty minutes. He then said he’d take a short break before answering one discussion question on what we used to call Blackboard.

            Today is the first time I’ve been able to talk to him for a while.

            Van is pleased to say that he’s now passing both classes!

            He now schedules study time, interspersed with no more than five-minute breaks.

            He only has two assignments to complete today. Neither are late! He’s quite proud of the fact that he’s now turning in assignments on a timely basis.

            He also shared that his grades, in both classes, have greatly improved.

            I didn’t expect verbal thanks as that’s something that many high-functioning autistic individuals struggle with, but his pride was sufficient!

My Place in Time


In the middle of a crowded room

Silent voices scream for recognition


Twists guts into compressed clay

Paralyzing limbs, numbing throats


Fills the ears of the emotionally injured

Ruining scarce moments of hard-fought joy


Carries sinking hearts into oblivion

Erasing memories of happiness felt


Reach out, begging for salvation

Yearning for one sign of love


Arrive in rain-soaked clouds

Pouring down tears of understanding


Clears the night of unmasked terrors

Awakening remnants of esteem, long forgotten


Blooms in multi-colored bursts of words

Spoken, thoughts shared, kindnesses felt


Seeps into the crevices of the heart

Obliterating shards of self-doubt


Explodes in multicolored bursts

Opening souls to welcoming voices




Alone no more

The New Clerk

            A new young man is now working the desk at my gym. There was something about the stiffness of his posture, the rhythm of his speech, even his word choices that made me smile.

            After working with special needs students for twenty-eight years, I’m pretty adept at identifying young people who might have been in my class.

            This morning when I arrived, there was a notice on the desk that the pool will be closed on the 6th. Not knowing when that is, I asked the young man. He had to walk around the desk to read the sign. He pulled out his phone and then told me today’s date.

            He smiled a somewhat stiff smile that showed no sparkle in his eyes.

            Because no one was needing help right then, I began asking him questions. First, was he a student. Using a rather stilted word pattern, I realized that my first impression was correct: he was high-functioning autistic.

            He answered every question, something more guarded young people most likely would not do.

            I found out that he graduated from high school last year and enrolled in Cal State East Bay. He struggled with the course load and ended up failing a few classes.

            He hasn’t given up on getting a degree, in Entrepreneurship, no less. When I asked him what he intended to do with that major, he seemed befuddled.

            He then told me that he’s currently taking only two courses at Chabot College, a local community college. Even with that reduced load, he’s having a hard time.

            I told him about my granddaughter, who freaks out when too many assignments are due at the same time, and how I’ve tried to encourage her to focus on one assignment at a time, get it finished, then go to the next.

            He thanked me for that advice and said he’d begin doing that. In fact, he named his current classes and identified a study schedule for each.

            What surprised me was that he wanted to know how I realized he needed help!

            I explained that I taught Special Needs students for many years, working with them and with their teachers.

            That’s when he revealed that he was identified as being autistic when he was quite young and that he received quite a bit of help throughout his academic years.

            He also wanted to know how I deduced that. I tried to explain that his word choices and the structure of his sentences were the clues.

            I needed to go do my workout and he needed to return to the desk. We parted with me wishing him good luck in his studies. He mimicked my words, wishing me good luck with my workout.

            I am proud of him, and students like him, who don’t give up on their dreams even when it’s difficult.

            He found a job that’s perfect for him, greeting clients as they enter the gym.

            I hope he works there a good long time, as that way I’ll be able to stay in touch.

Women Who Serve Their Country

A lot of emphasis was placed on the #MeToo movement a few years back. Thanks to those who came forward with their stories, awareness of the sexual harassment that women face rose in prominence. Voices that previously went unheard or were pushed aside were suddenly important enough to draw the attention of politicians everywhere.            Going way back in time, the suffragette movement argued for equal rights for women, especially for the right to vote. Many years later the women’s liberation movement argued for equal treatment in terms of career and education.            The time period that impacted me the most took place during WWII when women were called to enlist. So many working-age men actively serving in the military, which left necessary jobs understaffed. In 1943 Norman Rockwell painted a poster to entice women to leave homes in order to help the United States win the war. While the painting might have been the first call for help, it was J. Howard Miller’s depiction of Rosie Riveter, wearing a red bandana and flexing her biceps accompanied by the words We Can do It! that inspired women to take on the traditionally male jobs of welding, riveting and construction.Women entered these fields in unprecedented numbers. According to, more than 310,000 women worked in the aircraft industry and a comparable amount were in the munitions industry. They were needed to fill the ranks, but they encountered many problems, such as men who refused to work side-by-side with women until ordered to do so.            A sterling example of the impact of these Rosies is in Richmond, California, at the site of the former Kaiser Shipyards.  Rosies helped to produce 747 ships there in Richmond, more than any other shipyard in the United States. The women worked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Over 90,000 employees assembled the ships, which were built in sections that were then lowered into place.Women came from all over the United States to learn welding, riveting and various construction skills. The city of Richmond grew from a population of 24,000 to over 100,000 in just a few years.             Kaiser himself was a brilliant entrepreneur. He employed his own drafts people, many of them women, to replicate the mandatory designs for Liberty and Victory ships that moved soldiers and materials all over the world. In fact, large equipment such as jeeps were disassembled into segments and then crated. Once at the site, the equipment was rebuilt. In this way the holds could be crammed with materials.He understood that these women were doing the same jobs as men, with the same level of training and under the same working conditions. Because of this, Kaiser paid the women the same wage as the men. He also understood that many of the women had children that needed a place to stay while their mothers worked. To alleviate the problem, Kaiser offered Child Care Centers at their industrial sites run by highly skilled teachers. This was a novel idea, and unfortunately still would be considered such today.             Another benefit was health care.  Kaiser understood that Americans were dying in Home Front accidents. He also knew that only healthy workers could meet his grueling demands and construction needs. The nearest clinic to the shipyards couldn’t handle the explosion in population needing services. When a worker got injured on the job, many hours of valuable time were lost. To remedy the situation, Kaiser built a field hospital at the shipyard in 1942. He also encouraged prepaid medical care at fifty cents a week. Within two years more than 92% of Kaiser employees were enrolled in the plan, the first of its kind in the nation. There were skilled medical practitioners, a prepayment plan and substantial facilities all at a moderate rate.            Another problem was housing. When new workers arrived, there were no suitable places to live. Many slept in the all-night movie theaters and a huge number shared what beds there were. Because there were three shifts to work, someone could be in the bed during the morning shift, someone in the afternoon, and a third at night. Today we would find this unacceptable.            The Rosies are slowly dying, with limited recognition of their outstanding service. A push began to earn recognition at the federal level. One of the Rosies began a letter-writing campaign. Every year, beginning during the time of  President Clinton, she wrote a letter asking for the government to commemorate the service these women gave to the country. After twelve years of writing, one of the letters arrived in Joe Biden’s mailbox while he was serving as Vice President. He arranged for several Rosies to come to the White House for a private tour. He greeted them with hugs and words that let the nation know how important their service was. During the visit, President Obama dropped in, a surprise for everyone.On a recent tour of the Richmond Museum, four of the Rosies shared their stories. They spoke of the call to serve, the desire to do something for their country. None of them had been employed before, so this was quite an adventure. Two of them became welders which meant overcoming the prejudice of the union that would not allow women to join. Without a union card, they could not work. Kaiser himself intervened and the rules changed.The welders learned to set down seams vertically, horizontally and overhead. Overhead was the most challenging physically. Another problem was that to get to the places where welding was needed, they crawled through eighteen-inch square holes dragging their equipment along. It was dark and hot, but they persevered.Another Rosie learned how to draft blueprints. She knew that if she missed something, an error in the design might occur, making it so that the ship might not be sea-worthy.Because there are so few Rosies left, we felt blessed to hear their stories.If you get a chance to visit the memorial, stop by.              

New Day Delivers

bubbles of brilliant blue

burst through the blossom-like


bringing much yearned-for

brightness to an

otherwise gloomy world

shrugging off stormy thoughts

seers sought soft,

sumptuous caresses

strips of comfort

seeping into the marrow

of the heart

comfort casually ceases

to tempt the carefree

cajoling them into

caroling loudly

coronation carols of the

newborn day

floating ferociously among

the now-frivolous clouds

freeborn fools giggle

with felt delight

first-time believers in

the flight of the soul

rejoice riotously with

royal revelation

as reborn receivers

rise with rejuvenated wings

weightless, wish-filled

centers recalibrated


            Neither my husband nor myself can sleep on planes, even on very long flights. When we arrived in Santiago recently, we weren’t thinking clearly. We’d prepaid a ride from the airport to our hotel, so all we were doing was getting luggage, then get out to where the ride would be. We failed to stop at a currency exchange, which turned out to be a huge mistake.

            As we walked past the line a drivers holding cards, we didn’t see one with our name. A nicely dressed man stood at the end, offering help. We both thought he looked somewhat official, so we handed him our confirmation paper. He claimed to have seen the driver, then went outside. Came back, reported that there was no driver. Then he called the number, we think. He spoke to someone, handed my husband the phone, who then was told that the driver had broken down on the freeway and we’d have to find alternate transportation.

            Of course, the nicely dressed man could do that! We’re stuck, right? So we agreed. He called someone. Next thing we’re being ushered out to the parking garage where the ride awaited.

            The car was an immaculate SUV with leather upholstery. The driver spoke no English, so the nicely dressed man rode with us.

            You’d think that by now we’d be a bit suspicious. Well, we were, but we needed to get to our hotel.

            Anyway, we took off down the highway. We have no idea if these guys are taking us to the hotel or out to a deserted place to kill us, but we’re stuck, zooming down the freeway.

            After about thirty minutes, the guy tells us they’re going to pull off the freeway to an ATM they know.

            It was a decrepit gas station in the middle of an extremely poor area. Homeless people were standing around. It didn’t feel safe.

            The driver got out a card-reading device and swiped one of our credit cards. It was declined. He swiped it several times, declined over and over. We don’t know why, but we’re both getting worried. Would these guys dump us here? Throw out our luggage and leave us stranded?

            Mike handed the guy his debit card. It was declined. Repeatedly. Then I made a huge mistake: I gave Mike my credit card!

            Fortunately I stayed in the car as the men took Mike to the ATM. All our cards were tried there as well, and all declined.

            The men conferred, decided to drive into Santiago to a major bank. At least it was in a good neighborhood! Again, all our cards failed.

            The me decided they’d take $40 US dollars. They dropped us off in the street in front of our hotel, not at the door, which was a bit of a walk.

            At least we got there safely!

            The hotel wanted a card as a deposit in case we drank the expensive water in the fridge. Our cards were all declined, as before. I tried calling the bank, but all I got was a prerecorded message in Spanish, which I couldn’t understand.

            The hotel clerk also called, got the same message, which was that our cards were declined.

            We needed money to get to the port the next day. Only Chilean pesos would do. Mike did have some cash, which we could exchange.

            After allowing us to check in, we walked several blocks to a shopping center that had an exchange. We got there, no problems, but no one that I approached at the mall spoke English! We kept wandering, from one floor to another, eventually stumbling into the exchange!

            No one there spoke English! Fortunately a nice customer offered to translate, so we ended up with enough pesos to pay for transport and to buy a little something to eat.

            McDonald’s was expensive! So all we got was four thumb-nail sized nuggets for me and a small cheeseburger for Mike.

            Back at the hotel, we arranged transport, but we had no money for dinner and no working credit card. I called our son Tim who is fluent in Spanish.

            He put together a three-way call to our bank. Our cards had been frozen due to suspicious activity. That was the good news.

            The bank gave us twenty minutes to get to an ATM and withdraw pesos. Tim somehow found an ATM around the corner from our hotel! The bank also agreed to keep my card active until we got home.

            What a relief! We had enough pesos to buy a little dinner and to get me a sweatshirt in Punto Arenas. We had credit to purchase excursions to see the penguins in the Falklands and to go to a ranch in Buenas Aires, which would also take us to the airport.

            After that experience, we now know to get money before leaving the airport. We know not to trust a nicely-dressed man at the end of the line, but to look for an actual taxi.

And we also know that our bank caught the attempts to steal our money!

We were hoodwinked, yes, but we survived to live to share our story.


One chilly fall afternoon

A stealthy plan did emerge.

My friend, of death, he did croon,

Until I felt the urge

And quick enjoined heart-cold risk

Sealed by firmly pounded fist.

I rose: formula in hand.

Fate bound to my enemy

In silence we did disband.

One embrace he gave to me.

I did blubber in stark fear

And chugged one last ice-cold beer.

Darkness fell. My heart did pound.

The plan, I had to enact.

I stepped outside and looked around/

My fate was sealed. That’s a fact.

I spied my foe; he saw me.

He tried to climb yon oak tree.

I grabbed him firm with my right hand.

Saw his mouth with pearly teeth.

“Open wide,” I did demand.

In panic, in disbelief,

I bashed him on his mean head,

Then left him there, as one dead.

Home, I fell into my chair.

Evil deed was surely done.

“Poor me,” I cried in despair.

My hand did bleed: I’m undone.

For Jack, the Cat, my hand clawed.

I’m caught. The plan was flawed.