Friday, September 30, 2011

Remembering Del

Cotter Street in Hayward is an inviting tree-lined configuration of mostly older well- kept family homes, probably built in the forties. Curiously it is only one block long. The east end abuts busy Foothill Blvd, while the west end stops abruptly at a creek. When I’ve inquired in the past why it is so wide, like a boulevard, I’ve been told that no one knows for sure. One rumor is that a former mayor lived there when the suburb was being laid out. Most neighbors know one another by first name, or if not by name at least by habits of daily life. The geography dictates that. Yet that street safely harbored the anonymity of one long term resident.

Del was a lesbian and an elementary school teacher in the decades when to be outed meant the loss of your job, and perhaps even your freedom. She played it close to the vest. She had grown up on a cattle ranch in Old Castro Valley. When they were living she was close to her parents and siblings; she just never came out to them. She never partnered though I think she yearned to. The photo above shows her in Christmas attire, 2005, Emory mesmerized receiving her affection.

For a number of years after settling on Cotter Street my friends Stacy and Andrea observed a petite sprightly older woman walking past their front yard, a daily occurrence. She lived down the block, they speculated. They wanted to be friendly neighbors but she seemed a very private person, intent on getting somewhere important. Never looking left or right. It turned out she walked for her health, usually miles a day.

Eventually the ice was broken, and slowly Del was assimilated into their intimate circle of friends and family, which is how I came to know her. Del cherished her privacy, her garden, and her pets. Stacy and Andrea in turn cherished her. Trust grew until it seemed they had always been family. I have been fortunate to spend the last dozen or more Christmas day celebrations with her, as well as birthdays, Easter, and even Halloweens. She kept us all in stitches.

A few years ago a drug given Del caused her to have kidney failure. When three times a week dialysis was initiated Del took it boldly in stride. “I worked all my life teaching school,” she would relate, ”and I just figured this was my new job.” She became the darling of the dialysis center, cheering staff and patients alike. I never heard her complain of the challenges life had thrown her. No party was complete without her laughter and joking.

This week her very unique life ended. She was 94. Stacy and Andrea were on a trip to New York. Except for her dog she died alone, as she had lived her life. A friend found her on the floor beside her bed as a result of a phone call from a niece in San Diego who was worried about her. We don’t know how long she had been dead or the exact cause. Cotter Street neighbors will gather tomorrow in Andrea and Stacy’s back yard to remember her. Thanks to them she is no longer the mystery woman who walked and walked. There will be an empty spot at the table and in all of our hearts. I guess what matters is that her playful and courageous spirit lives on in all of us whose life she touched.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Great Reveal

Astrological fall is dawning today and some piece of out of orbit space debris is falling too, maybe in Chile. Ditto the stock market, down down. On Cathy Lane the kitchen cabinet doors have come off their hinges and are stacked on the deck in preparation for stripping. Next Tuesday the roofers will come and tear down part of the roof to find some leaks. Bonnie meanwhile is often down on her hands and knees tempting my appetite deficient dog with hand fed tidbits like fresh salmon and grilled chicken thighs.
Whatever it takes, I say.
How amusing to view the exposed contents of my kitchen. I had no idea I had six outdated cans of green beans, three boxes of outdated cold cereal (bought for various house guests) and so many duplicates on spices. Having abstained from alcohol for three decades why am I keeping those dusty cocktail glasses? On a top shelf I found 24 mini packets of sour skittles bought for some Halloween years ago. I can see a big purge is in order. Any volunteers?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What is Life, if full of care...

...We don't have time to sit and stare? Exactly what I am doing as I struggle to write upbeat news. For all the followers of the Kodi saga, he is slightly better. After three days of incredible testing from the doggie internist and much indignities to him the results show nothing wrong. His bones, parts, and disposition are like that of a much younger character. So for the last two days we are going on the assumption that there is pain somewhere undiscovered which in dogs causes their tummies to cramp and appetite stop. Now treating him with heavy pain medication and that seems to help a little.
Thursday afternoon some kind of beeping started in my house like the warning a battery was going dead. Haven't we all experienced that? It seemed to move around. In desperation I disabled every smoke alarm in the house (now restored) and looked in every cubby hole before I found it was my cell phone in my purse. During that frantic search I looked in the furnace room, a place I seldom go, and found large water stains on the ceiling. Calling the installer of my thirty-year guaranteed roof that is just ten years old I found they are out of business, like so many other small companies. Another victim of the economy no doubt. So Monday I start the search for a new roofer. Tut.
The carpenters that are refinishing my kitchen cabinets are still AWOL. Maybe they will start Monday but I'm not holding my breath. Meanwhile I'm surviving on two plates, two spoons, etc. as the rest of the kitchen is in boxes in the living room.
On the positive side the photo above shows me holding court last Sunday in Emily's
garden where my new art group, Different Dimensions, had their first show. It was lots of fun for all and the income will help offset a few of the vet bills.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wishing Dogs Could Talk

Kodi is ten and a half now, my age in dog years. I’m troubled that the last year has seen a steady decline in his wellness beginning with startling hair loss on his tail. My regular vet and two different doggie dermatologists have been unable to solve the mystery. Logical explanations such as Cushing’s Disease have been ruled out.

A week ago a dramatic event happened to further complicate matters. It was a quiet 5am and I was sitting in my living room recliner reading, a normal morning activity. Kodi was sleeping on the cool hardwood floor behind me, his custom. Suddenly he leaped to his feet, heading to my chair. Then he seemed to shudder for about 15 seconds. I thought he might be having a seizure, or a cardiac event. He seemed terrified. Could a cougar somehow be hiding under the house? Was an earthquake coming?

For almost three days he refused to eat. though he drank a normal amount of water. He avoided the house and clung to the farthest points on the outside cyclone fence. At night he would lie in his usual place on the floor beside my bed but with his head raised and his eyes furtively scanning the walls and ceiling. I could not hear or smell anything unusual. Were I a science fiction writer this might be the theme of a mystery story: “Alien possesses Husky” or “Ohlone Indian Ghost Spooks Pet Dog”.

Likewise if I were a canine psychologist I might start behavioral modification. I spoke in person with my regular vet who, like me, is stumped. The refusal of food changed Sunday night when he began taking tiny bites of meat if hand fed, but only out of doors or in the family room.

Abruptly Monday morning a total swing; he behaved and ate normally, but then the no eating strike resumed yesterday. Today, Friday, he clings to me like rubber cement and with serious coaxing he ate a cup of ground beef and brown rice. I’m very troubled and I dismay that I am in all respects inadequate to this task. Like an Olympic athlete I keep chanting: focus, Bonnie. The answer eludes me. I’m worried and stuck. Where should I turn next?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Great Aunt Lizzie

Though its been about seventy five years since I last saw her, I have chosen to honor my great aunt Lizzie with a painting, for to me she had little recognition in life and deserved better. I hope I've captured a little of the mistique about her. I imagined it from an old sepia photo my cousin sent.

In those days someone a little retarded was known as backward which is probably a lot kinder than the fancy terms we use today for folks born mentally challenged. As a child when visiting my relatives in Vancouver I was never informed how she was related to me nor was her status in the Canadian family explained. I sensed another family secret and knew better than to ask.
I remember her as a pleasant fixture, average build, slightly bent over. What stuck out for me was her name, Lizzie, which I thought totally unbecoming. Gross, in fact, but then I think I was a bit of a snob.

Recently I learned that Lizzie, full name Elizabeth, was the child of my great grandmother Emily. Her father, last name of Hughes, died when soldiering in India. She was likely born in India, unlike the rest of my maternal relatives who were born in England. About 1883 as best my living cousins can figure.

G granny, a tiny wisp of a thing with skin as white and tender as new fallen snow went on to marry a man named Dyer , possibly another soldier in India, and to bear thirteen more children, of whom only five plus Lizzie lived. Ironic since Emily worked as a midwife in England. At some point almost all the relatives emigrated to Moosejaw, Sask.

Lizzie was the type of person who would give you the shirt off of her back, but she would also give others the shirt off your back. Since her stepfather refused to let her marry, she became the spinster aunt.

After G grandfather Dyer died, they moved to Vancouver, where as was the custom they were passed around from relative to relative, probably depending on who had a spare room.

My cousin Ed relates the following story of a time Lizzie was living with his parents. This occurred about 1946. His little brother Tom, about four, put a can of pork and beans into the oven of their sawdust burning kitchen stove. No one was injured but the oven door was blown off and landed at Lizzie’s feet. The ceiling and walls were covered with pork and beans.

My cousin Dollie heard two stories of Lizzie’s death: one version says she choked to death on an orange peel; the other that she was scrubbing the kitchen floor and her half brother Fred, a mean sort, came by and gave her a kick. We all prefer the orange peel version. Lizzie was known to save and store old food, and the dried up orange story makes some sense.