Sunday, January 20, 2013


For several years I've been wanting to have a dog in my life again. It's been over 20 years since I last owned a dog, but for the first 40 years of my life I was never without one.  Not sure what sparked the recent urge; perhaps it was just a dormant ember that never went away.

My dog has almost arrived on three different occasions. First, I found a Beagle on a rescue site whose mistress had died. The surviving spouse was moving into a small apartment and didn't feel he could keep the dog. On the day I was supposed to go meet her, I got cold feet and called the gentleman. Relief flooded through me to hear him say he took my change of heart as a sign that he needed to keep the dog after all.

The next dog who nearly came to live with me was my grandson's dog, Baxter, who actually spent a week visiting. At the time, my daughter and her family were considering a move out of the area, and it was going to be difficult to take Baxter with them. She asked if I would consider keeping Baxter when they left. I said, "Yes" because I'd enjoyed this companionable dog and walking him several times a day. But then the move fell through, and Baxter stayed with the family he'd known most of his life.

Solo is the 3rd dog. Several weeks ago my brother emailed that Solo, a sweet Baja hound, had been abandoned by his gringo owners. Andy thought Solo would be the perfect dog for me. I fell in love immediately.
But still, I hesitated. I spent a week thinking about Solo, imagining him in my home and heart, and I was blessed with learning much about myself. Here are the highlights:
  • The email and picture of Solo came hours after I learned of my Uncle Buddy's death, which drew a firm line between my love of animals and my Uncle, who in many ways cultivated that love.
  • My brother and my son reminded me of the unique love a dog gives, which is undoubtedly a thing a long for.
  • When Cindy stopped letting the decision be all mine and joined whole-heartedly in imagining Solo as our dog, the picture of him in our home grew vivid and alive. I could really feel what it would mean to grow our family with the presence of this dog. The reality was wonderful and also sobering.
  • Several weeks ago, I wrote in my journal that I planned to radically change the priorities in my life in 2013. Solo was a test of what that meant to me, for adding him to my life would certainly be a radical change. But suddenly this morning I knew that what I meant by radical change was letting go of wanting and making more space in my life.
I wrote to my brother and his wife saying I declined the offer of Solo. As much as I appreciated being their choice and as much as I wanted him, I knew I needed to look a different way.

A few minutes later, I read this poem by a writer I studied with in graduate school. Some how it seemed to resonate prophetically for better or worse with my decision. 

by Paul Lisicky

That silly retriever. He doesn't go to the two guys looking right at him, beaming him awake with concentrated joy. Not at all: he goes straight to the man with his head turned to the left, who could care less about doggy behavior and isn't the least bit stirred by the snout parked in the knee and the wagging hind parts. And that's it: the physics of the known world. Which is why the trees look better when they're left unwatered, and the birds actually prefer it when you don't sing back to them. And the holy man crossing the street with the black brim hat? He knows better than to pick up what he's dropped and lift his face to the mountains. Take it from him, friend. You probably wouldn't even want it if the light hit you in your head.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Uncle Buddy

Uncle Buddy was nothing like my dad, his brother. He was bald, smoked a pipe, and listened to classical music. For a good part of my childhood, he lived in an apartment behind my dad's shop. We lived in the flat upstairs--we being my mom and dad and four siblings. I was the eldest, and I always felt like I was Uncle Buddy's favorite.

That may or may not have been so, but what I do know is that I loved going down to his apartment to pet Uncle Buddy's Siamese cat, Spookie, until my eyes reddened and tears spilled from allergies. We had a dog upstairs, but I liked cats despite being allergic to them. Mostly, however, I enjoyed sitting in the sunny peaceful apartment in a pall of pipe smoke and drifting cat hair, listening to a Tchaikovsky piano concerto and mesmerized by the spinning turntable of my uncle's record player. It was a quiet interlude from the busy household upstairs.

When my best friend, moved from San Francisco to San Bruno when I was 7, it was Uncle Buddy who took me to see her on Saturday afternoons. It seemed like I had to beg him to take me. "Please, Uncle Buddy, can you take me to see Nancy?" And it seemed like he always did. I can't imagine what he did while I played with my friend for several hours. All I remember is the foggy drive back to the city on Skyline Boulevard.

When our family dog was hit by car, I was devastated. A few months later, Uncle Buddy took me to pick out a puppy to replace her. It was Uncle Buddy who taught me how to potty train the puppy and teach it to walk on a lead. I know I eventually tired of this responsibility and my mom took over Lucky's care, but I think I learned a lot because Uncle Buddy believed I could do it.  He also showed me how to feed the wounded pigeons I brought home and he brought the beautiful green parrot that lived in a cage in our dining room for many years. I know my love and appreciation of animals was stirred by this man.

Uncle Buddy taught me how to drive in his 1956 Jaguar--a stick shift. He had me practice in the quiet streets in the Sea Cliff district until I mastered the clutch. And then he took me on busier streets and taught me how to stop and go on the hills of San Francisco and how to parallel park on Clement Street. I passed my driver's test on my 16th birthday on the very first try. The following summer, he let me have the Jaguar for the month of August in Twain Harte where we had a summer cabin. But first he made sure I knew how to check the oil, fill it with gas, and change a flat tire.

My adult relationship with Uncle Buddy was distant and somewhat strained. I don't think he wanted me to grow up. But a few weeks ago, I visited him at the VA hospital. He was 90 years old, blind, hard of hearing, and frequently delirious, but in a moment of lucidity he said, "Ah, Patsy. Your hair is grey now. I saw a picture of you in your boat. Beautiful! You will live a long time." He was remembering a card I'd sent him 9 years earlier when he could still see a little. I held his big hand and let the tears drop on the bedsheets.

The blessings of elders are special. Uncle Buddy blessed me with loving attention as a child, but this blessing a few days before his death on January 6, 2013 was a treasure.