Monday, September 23, 2019

Poem: Canoe

I am in your canoe.

Until we capsize,

Or you throw me overboard,

I will be paddling next to you.

Justine Frederiksen

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Married for 66 years, man visits wife's grave every day

A man brings red roses to his wife's grave on their anniversary.
Most days I drive by the cemetery I see a man visiting his wife's grave. 
When it's hot he wears a hat and short sleeves; for the rain he brings a raincoat and umbrella. First he tidies up the flowers and grass near the headstone, then he stands with his arms folded for about 15 minutes.

For years I've wanted to talk to him, always hesitating for fear of disturbing him. But something made me stop recently and approach him with a small wave. When he waved back I asked, "Are you visiting your wife?"

"Yes," he said, nodding at the fresh red roses lying on the grass. "Today is our wedding day."

That was cool.

"We were married for more than 66 years," he said of his high school sweetheart. "And you're not going to believe this, but in all those years we never had an argument."

"We both grew up in homes where people were always yelling at each other, so we made up our minds that we weren't going to do that," he continued. "And we didn't. We had a lot of discussions, though, with time for me to talk and for her to talk. And by the time we went to bed, we had worked everything out."

To stay married, he said, you've got to be "willing to listen and you've got to be willing to admit when you're wrong.  And usually, my wife was the one who was right. As a husband, there are two things you should say every day: 'I love you' and 'Yes, dear.'"

When asked what he liked about his wife when they met, he said it was her beautiful smile.
"I don't think there was another woman with a more beautiful smile. And she was pretty inside and out."

When asked what he thinks about as he stands over the headstone carved with both of their names, he said he mostly thinks of the good times. But there is a headstone to the right belonging to one of their children.

"That was the saddest day of our lives," he said, explaining that the couple bought two headstones then, one for themselves and one for their child.

When asked why he visits his wife's grave every day he said, "I'm 92 and half now, so I don't have much else to do. And she gave me her life. It's the least I can do."

To respect the man's privacy, the photo was edited to remove the names from the headstone.  

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Cat Story: Twenty years of friendship came in a cardboard box

He came to me in a box my sister had poked air holes in and taped shut for the drive from Arizona to California.
She put down the box and it shook and meowed until I finally opened it, revealing a black and white kitten built like a Great Dane with long legs, ears as big as his head and a solid black nose.

That was cool.

What wasn't cool was his reputation, having destroyed blinds, drapes and even a tablecloth at his previous stops. Then that first night he terrorized me, running up the covers until he found my face and swatted at it. I lay there with the covers to my nose, waiting for his feet to come running up my body again. The next morning, I told my sister to take him back when she left. 

But later when I stepped out of the shower to find him waiting for me by the sink, anxious to see if I would emerge from the water OK, the look in his eyes told me he could be my friend.
And for the next twenty years, he was my best friend, moving with me to college, my first newspaper jobs and even to Seattle.

The second night with him I lifted the covers instead of hiding under them and he curled up next to me, his favorite sleeping place for the next 19 and a half years.

When he wasn’t sleeping, however, he remained a terror. I named him DiMaggio, thinking next I would get a girl cat and name her Monroe. But Maggio would not share me; he guarded my room from our family cat and never let her come near it again. 

Maggio and me in Seattle.
He also didn't like sharing me with other humans. The first boyfriend I moved in with did not want a cat sleeping in the bedroom, so I tried that first night to lock Maggio out. He scratched and pounded at the door all night and the next morning, I discovered that the cat who had impeccable litter habits had jumped onto the stove and pooped in my cast iron frying pan. 
I let him back in the bedroom and vowed that the next man wouldn't ask him to leave.

Maggio loved to go outside, harassing the ladies in the neighborhood until their owners threw rolled up newspapers at him. But he never stayed out all night except once, when we moved for the first of a dozen times. He went exploring outside the new house and didn’t return to sleep with me. The next morning, I found him across the street, stuck behind a long, tall fence until I climbed over to free him.

He even learned to tolerate a harness and leash when I moved to a studio apartment near my college campus where he was not allowed to roam free. At first he acted like the harness paralyzed him, but once he realized it was his ticket outside, he ran over every time I got it out, waiting patiently as I put it on and walking happily outside with me. But he would never walk home; when I wanted to go back, I had to carry him, growling, the whole way. 

The only days he didn't demand to go outside were after a standoff with the neighbor's dog at my first place in Seattle. One afternoon when he was already a senior citizen, he had been gone longer than usual and I went outside to find him. Hearing a dog barking, I followed the sound down a hill to the creek bed and found that the Jack Russell terrier next-door had cornered Maggio against a tree, barking and barking while the cat stood statue still, his legs sinking in the mud as he stared down the dog. Exhausted and terrified, he clung to my shoulders as I picked him up and scrambled back up the muddy hill with one arm free and a 20-pound cat in the other. He spent two days in the closet and didn’t go outside again for a week.

The only thing he loved more than going outside was food. When I turned my back on a new bag of cat food and saw him biting a hole in the bottom corner so he could gorge on the waterfall, I never left one on the kitchen table again. When I came home to the floor covered in food after he pushed the bag off a shelf I thought he couldn't reach, I put his food in a locking plastic container. Over the next 18 years, Maggio covered it in claw marks and knocked it over countless times, but he never got it open.

He was even more excited about cans of wet food, not only sliding out cans with his paw whenever I opened the refrigerator door, but even opening the door himself when I had an old fridge with a low handle and a weak seal on the door.

When one vet scolded me for letting him get "obese," I bought reduced-calorie food and dutifully fed him only as much as the bag said. Until he jumped on the kitchen table when his bowl was empty and lunged at me in anger. After that, I decided to just let him be fat.

His appetite was so strong, even when he got all but two teeth pulled out at 16, the first thing he wanted to do when he got home was eat. The vet said he probably wouldn’t eat until the next day, but as soon as I put the carrier down and opened the door, Maggio staggered out and headed straight to his food bowl.

Every morning he woke me up to be fed, scratching on the front of the stereo speaker until I put it out of his reach, or batting at the door springs until I tore them off. Then, once I removed everything else he could make noise with, he began lightly biting my chin or touching my face, his paw trembling as he tried to touch my face as lightly as possible and remove it as quickly as possible so I might not know it was him that woke me up. 

Then my husband received this wake-up call once Maggio realized that human would never throw him off the bed or even yell, only obediently get up to feed him. Yet, despite that kindness, Maggio still stepped over my husband every night to sleep with me instead.

Though it got harder and harder for him to get on the bed. When he could no longer jump, he would pull himself up. When he began just pulling on the sheet until one of us carried him up, I asked a friend to build stairs for him.

And there were countless other indignities about getting older, especially constipation, enemas and years of never quite getting his poops inside the litter box again. The worst for both of us, however, was having to soak him in the bathtub and scrub off the chocolate frosting that more and more frequently covered his rear and lodged in his paws.  

The last few months, every day he seemed to get thinner and have more difficulty lying down and getting back up. One night, I dreamt there was a cat meowing inside the wall and woke at 3 a.m. to find Maggio trapped at the foot of the bed. He had slid between the mattress and the bed frame and was unable to move, his legs dangling between the wooden slats. 

Finally, on the first day of his 20th year, Maggio couldn't get off the bed. He still purred and licked my check, but we knew it was time as I brought him food and water on the bed and carried him to the litter box so he could pee. The next morning, we had him put to sleep.

After he was cremated, I brought him home the same way he came to me, in a cardboard box. Only this box had 20 years in it.