Murphy Sweet Punkin’

Murphy

 

Murphy lay on the floor and barked. I felt myself shaking a little. I held out my hand to see if the shaking was outside or in-. In, I decided.

The veterinary technician was familiar and I like her, but I could not come up with her name. Maybe it’s Chrissy. Dave might know, but he wasn’t there. He was Murphy’s primary caretaker, spent more time with her than anyone else. No way my husband could do this. I could, so I did.

Chrissy told me how sorry she was, tears in her eyes.

I nodded.

“I have a couple of things to go over with you,” she said. “There are three options. With the first one, you’d take her home with you.” When she offered the second option, I said, “Yes, that’s what we want,” a communal cremation where the crematorium scattered her ashes in a private wooded area.

Chrissy went on to the procedure. I stopped her and said I’d already discussed with Mel, the long-term receptionist, when I booked the appointment.

“Do you want me to put her on the table?” I asked.

She said yes, so I hefted our puppy’s almost 15 pounds on top of the exam table.  I still called her our puppy. Dave laughed at me and says “She’s hardly a puppy,” but her little Shih-tzu face still looked like a puppy to me.

Chrissy asked me to check and initial the preferred option and then sign permission. The initials ran off the line and I found it difficult to write my last name. Revell came out more like Reiwelll.

Dr. O’Neill eased the door open. She said she knew this was a difficult decision, and that we’d gone the extra mile for Murphy. “Do you want your friend to come in?”

“No,” I said and wrapped my arms around Murphy. The tech held her bottom half.

“Okay, sweet girl,” Dr. O’Neill said as she did the first injection, “you’ll sleep in a few minutes.” She stroked Murphy’s head. In sync, our hands touched. I instantly glanced at Dr. O’Neill, but she had already averted her eyes.

I held our Murphy Sweet Punkin while she drifted off to sleep. I knew she was asleep when she started to snore. She grew heavier and the tip of her tongue protruded. I smiled.

“I think she’s asleep,” Dr. O’Neill said.

I lifted Murphy’s back leg and let it fall–gently. “She is.”

The second injection of clear deep pink solution struck me as a good color. I’d always told groomers “She’s partial to hot pink” when they asked if they could put bows on her ears.

It took three tries for Dr. O’Neill to get a good vein. They were all small and kept collapsing. When the needle found the third vein, it seemed that my little old dog’s heart stopped beating within a couple of minutes. I held her tight and wept, happy to see a tissue box at the end of the table.

“Okay,” I said, “I’m going to leave her with you.” I kissed her head and said something like “Sleep, no more pain now.” I moved her gently from my arms to the table.

I know Dr. O’Neill and Chrissy said something. I don’t know what they said.

When I reached the waiting room, I nodded to my friend Peggy, who had driven me to Animal Care Center. At the counter, I said, “Do I need to sign…..”

“No,” the young woman at the desk said, “we’re good. I’m so sorry.”

I turned to Peggy. “Okay,” I said. She followed me out the door.

Past the beautiful statue of St. Francis and the animals, I remembered to pick up the bag of poop I’d left on the short wall around the clinic front patio. We didn’t see a trash receptacle so I put it on the floor of the van, along with the pink harness and leash.

When we got home, I gathered my purse, my water bottle, and the leash. “Oh, let me get the poop,” I said.

Peggy answered, “Whew, I’m glad you said that. It’s pretty ripe.” We both laughed a little.

“You mean you could smell it?” I asked.

“Lord, yes,” she said. “But I knew you couldn’t smell anything.”

I laughed. Peggy knew my sense of smell left with years of inhalers and other medications for asthma.

We hugged and I told her thank you, couldn’t say much more. I had to get inside to Dave and his grief combined with mine.

When I walked onto the porch and threw the bag of poop in the trash, I realized I never looked at Murphy’s face. No way I could look at that little face. But I’ll always remember it.

***

 

Jimmy Lee Wong 1955 – 2018

When I was in my first year of college at San Jose State, three little brothers came to live with my parents in Montana.  One of those little boys, Jimmy Lee Wong, died yesterday mid-day.

Jimmy Lee Wong was the oldest of the three, eleven months older than Jerry Lee, who was eleven months older than Johnny Lee. Two of the boys were mentally challenged as was their mother. Their father, Lee Wong, was very old and had died only a couple of months before.  The boys had already been in three foster homes. Lee Wong was Chinese, thirty-five years older than Lucille Deserley of the Pembina Band of Chippewa under the leadership of Chief Thomas Little Shell.  Lucille, a beautiful young woman in the one photo I’ve seen, died in childbirth when the boys were just toddlers.

It was a couple of days before my Christmas break when Dad drove the boys from the Social Services office in Great Falls to our home in Lewistown.  When I arrived home from a long drive home from the Billings airport, Mom called them from their basement “suite.” They bounded up the stairs whispering to each other, hands over mouths, and lined up in the kitchen. I guessed which name went with which boy. What I remember most is their eyes. Against their copper/olive skin, their eyes were big, round, and almost black.

Everything the boys brought with them, all their worldly goods, the entirety of their belongings, fit in two cardboard boxes and one Chinese trunk.  The trunk was almost empty except for an envelope of ten pictures, a couple of books, and a ginger jar they gave to Mom. The boxes contained a few pieces of clothing each and some old pots and pans. No coats. It was December in Montana and there were no coats.

Mom issued a “please help” to the ladies of the church. Those women blessed us and  gathered good coats, jeans, shirts, and shoes. Mom sent me on a run to the five and dime (Woolworth’s, I think) for underwear. When the manager saw my pile of whitey tidies, tee shirts, and insulated pieces, he asked me who on earth I was shopping for. When I told him, he sighed and said, “I think we can afford a donation here.”

Those three didn’t talk much at first.  I coaxed them, and then they turned loose. Well, Jerry and Johnny became quite the conversationalists; Jimmy, not so much.  For all the years the Wongs were in the Blair home, Jimmy’s main communication consisted of “Good, Mom,” which he said after every meal, every snack, and “Mom, Mom, somebody farted.” Those two statements are etched into our family’s culture. We still quote Jimmy.

The years were good–and bad–to the Wong boys. Jerry and Johnny wound up in Tennessee when Mom and Dad moved back home. In his late teens, Jimmy developed schizophrenia in addition to his other challenges, and since the boys were unadoptable and wards of the State of Montana, he was moved by the State of California to Billings. He has been under the supervision of a caseworker as part of what we used to call sheltered workshops. It was a lucky move for Jimmy. He thrived there, always had some kind of job, and was eventually allowed his own apartment where he was found in the floor yesterday.

For the past several years, Jimmy came to Tennessee for Thanksgiving or Christmas. We always bought him DVD’s to add to his immense movie collection. As an older adult, all of the words he never said when he was a kid came out, constantly and with frequent repetition. He laughed loud–at anything and everything. He was excitable when talking about problems he may have had on his job or with some other member of the center. Almost every year, he wound up in the ER with an asthma attack.

The word from his caseworker is he died of a rupture in his esophagus where it meets the stomach, caused by Barrett’s Esophagus Disease and the cancer that followed. We had never heard that he had the disease nor the cancer. We just knew he had a lot of reflux issues, asthma, and heart problems.

He was visiting a friend in his apartment building yesterday morning and didn’t stay long. The friend said he’d make some coffee. Jimmy didn’t want coffee. He said he just wanted to go home. It wasn’t long until his best friend George went to check on him and found him in the floor. He was already gone.

Last night, after talking with Jerry several times, I emailed a scanned copy of written permission to the funeral home in Billings to perform the cremation. I explained that I have no legal right to do it, and that I was doing it at Jerry’s request. The woman said, “That’s okay, we just need a signature from a family member.” I didn’t offer anything else.

Jimmy Wong, you came to this earth for hard times, but it seems you finished well–with friends and family and helpers who loved you. In your voice, I’m saying, “Good Jimmy.”

 

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Murphy bit my nose.

I knew it was coming someday, and it was my own fault. She was already in bed, curled up, occupying the space that would hold my feet if that little Punkin’ wasn’t there. I bent down at the foot of the bed to kiss her on the head and she didn’t feel me coming. Bless her, she can’t see, hear nor smell very well,  but most of the time she senses me present. She didn’t hurt me and didn’t growl. It was as close as she could get to biting without biting.

We’ll celebrate Murphy’s fourteenth birthday April 22.

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Jameson Blair Graham, the oldest grandson, will turn fourteen on May 17.  Our little black and white fuzzball Murphy Sweet Punkin’ has been plagued with medical problems, including an autoimmune disease, and has already lived past the average age of demise for a Shih-tzu. In contrast, Jameson is leaned in and fast approaching adulthood. He’s left all pre-teen notions behind and is a bonafide, full-fledged teenager.  He still loves his young cousin, and they think he’s wonderful. He’ll be driving on a learner’s permit in a little over a year.

Yeah, we know what’s coming, and we know it’s coming soon.

We bought a lift chair for Dad yesterday. It is a pretty chair, just the right size for his space, chocolate brown faux suede. LIFT chairDad turns eighty-nine in September. He’s fallen several times since Christmas, the time when his scleroderma started acting out as if on a mission. Some days, he’s needed help to get out of his old favorite recliner–or actually any chair he sits in. His legs won’t hold him up without his Rollator, and several times a day, he can’t even move his feet holding to the walker.

After Sunday Dinner this week, Dave and I made the decision to set the table at the apartment from now on. Mom always writes Sunday Dinner with the two capitals, I think because it’s one of their favorite times at our house.  We set the table with the good silverware and glasses, and we always use cloth napkins–unless we’re eating pasta with red sauce or pork barbecue. Dad was too weak to eat Sunday. It was exhausting to walk those one hundred steps or so to the table, impossible for him to navigate to a chair in the den, and futile to think he could get out of his at-my-house favorite, an old red chenille recliner.

Murphy loved Old Red in her younger years. It’s been a long time since she could jump on and off a chair.Murphy3

Monday morning, he was in the bedroom trying to play Merle Haggard on his new boombox (generously donated on Sunday afternoon by fellow book-clubber Susan) when he fell, punching out the cane back of his sturdy wooden chair. I hurried next door when Mom called. Dave was away from home, but I knew I could call on neighbor Don to help me get him up if necessary.  I found Dad on all fours, trying to crawl across the bedroom to the bathroom. He knew he needed to clean up and change some clothes. With Mom’s help, I convinced him to get his chest against his punched-out chair. It took three tries, but I got him up–and he helped. His voice was so weak I could barely hear him.

Once in the bathroom, he cleaned up as much as he could, holding himself upright by pressing against the clothes dryer. I “polished him off” and then scrubbed down the place, paying particular attention to the washer and dryer that acted as his props. I was reminded to find Mom a dryer since hers quit that very morning.  Later that afternoon, I bought a new dryer at Lowe’s and drove a few miles to Franklin to pick up my newly repaired sewing machine.

The dryer arrived on Tuesday morning.

We moved Dad’s old leather recliner downstairs to his study, a place nobody goes anymore except to water overwintering plants. We got another wooden armchair for Dad’s bedroom and started looking for a sturdy chair for the den, one that might be described as “easy in, easy out.”  Then we put Old Red up for sale, even though it really was the most comfortable seat in the house. It doesn’t match the den colors anyway.

So we’re prepared. We know what’s coming, but we don’t know how soon.

 

Goodbye, Wichita Lineman

Glen Campbell died on my birthday.

Driving home after birthday greetings, giggles, jokes, and toasts with my writing tribe, I thought how there was never a time I didn’t like Glen. He wasn’t anything like a heartthrob; he was just the consummate performer and he, or somebody working for him, knew how to pick a song.

When I heard Wichita Lineman for the first time, I had just finished my first year at San Jose State and decided to set out my sophomore year in Lewistown, Montana. The California college system had decided I was an out-of-state student, even though I hadn’t left California when Dad took a church and teaching position in Montana during my senior year at Pittsburg High School. I had to pay out-of-state tuition–in arrears–before they’d give me my grades.

I’d broken an engagement. I was emotionally adrift in a place as foreign to me as the moon. Mom and Dad did their best to take care of me. Dad and I decided to drive to California in his brown Dodge station wagon to move my “things.”

I don’t recall what we moved but I remember the car was full from the rear door to the front seats. We drove straight through Nevada, with only occasional stops for meals and a few naps.

We stopped for breakfast in the little town of Blackfoot, Idaho. We’d been on the road for about twelve hours, just about two-thirds of the way home. I know it was Blackfoot because we started talking about the Blackfoot Native American tribe before we hit the city limits. Mom and Dad had taken three little boys from Great Falls as foster children at Christmas time and they were “half-American Indian and half Chinese.” At that time, there was no information about their tribal heritage; we could only speculate.

“Is it possible the boys might be Blackfoot?” I asked.

“I suppose so,” Dad said. “Your guess is as good as mine. I’ve heard Cree, Creek, Blackfoot, Lakota. I don’t think anybody really knows.”

When Dad pulled in the gravel parking lot a little before 6:00 o’clock, we noted on the sign outside that the place was open from 6:00 a.m. one day until 3:00 a.m. the next. Our waitress, also one of the owners, brought coffee to the table before we sat down. She said their long hours gave them the after-bar business, and it was the only early-morning breakfast spot within a good radius. She and her husband took turns sleeping for more than the three-hour break, allowing for one of them to always be onsite. She seemed happy–and proud.

“Whatcha gonna eat this morning?” she asked.

Dad sighed. “Whatever you want to cook. I’m more interested in this coffee.”

“How about some bacon and eggs–or would you rather have ham–our ham is good–or I’ve got some good kielbasa, and how do you want those eggs?”

I answered this time. “Bacon and eggs, scrambled, and toast.”

“I’ll try some of that kielbasa,” Dad said. He didn’t say how he wanted his eggs and she didn’t ask.

“I’m gonna bring you a pot of coffee,” she said, on her way to the kitchen window.  She didn’t hang her order on the clothes pin line, just handed it through the window to her husband and whispered.

She turned toward the jukebox against the front wall of windows and fished some coins from her apron. “We need some music. I won’t play anything too rowdy.” Then she picked up a pitcher thermos from behind the counter and set it on our table.

“I like him,” she said. “Glen Campbell. By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

I nodded. “I like him, too.”

“He can sure play that guitar,” Dad said.

When she left, I said, “Funny how he sings traveling songs.”

“All of them?” Dad asked.

“Well, Gentle On My Mind is about a guy jumping trains. And this one is he’s on his way to Phoenix.”

“Hadn’t thought about that.”

By the time the steaming plates arrived, we’d all moved on from Glen Campbell. I don’t remember what else played. The man stepped out of the kitchen, reached behind the jukebox, and turned the volume down.

While we were eating, the place filled up with working men and two more waitresses tied on aprons over white polyester dresses. There were no other women except for me. I felt obligated as the new target of ogling and sat up straight in my chair. A new waitress removed our dishes and we poured the last of the coffee.

“Are we rested enough to get on the road?” I asked. “I’ll drive.”

“Yeah. Let me finish this cup of coffee. We better hit the restrooms before we leave.”

About that time, a burly bald-headed guy at a table yelled, “Hey, Jack, turn that up.”

“Jack” stepped out of the kitchen again, wiping his hands. “I’m busy back here,” he said. But he turned up the music and we heard, “And the Wichita lineman is still on the line.”

“Make it play over,” Mr. Burly said. “That song’s about me.”

Somebody across the room said, “This ain’t Wichita,” but Jack pulled the plug on the machine. “Somebody needs to get over here and feed it some dimes. I’m busy back there.”

Our waitress sat her coffee pot on the top of the jukebox and fished out some more coins. “Alright, I’m paying,” she said, “but somebody needs to get over here and pick out.”

Burly obliged, pulling up his Duckheads as he punched numbers.

Dad reached in his pocket and laid some bills on the table. “We better get going.”

“Shhhh, shhhh,” I said, “that’s Glen Campbell. That’s his new song.”

Go ahead. Play Wichita Lineman.

I got up and headed for the ladies’ room when I heard, “…and I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.” I didn’t cry until I got in a stall.

I feel the same way about Glen Campbell that I remember feeling when John Denver died. I didn’t know how much I’d miss him until he was gone. Wichita Lineman ranks right up there with the best songs ever written and, without doubt, Jimmy Webb, its penman, in the top ten songwriters, maybe five. He lucked out, or maybe he was just smart, when he chose Glen Campbell to interpret his songs.

Trish Yearwood sings a Hugh Prestwood song called The Song Remembers When. The song testifies to the way that music can instantly–and intensely–give rise a memory that hasn’t shown itself in years. Funny, the woman in the lyrics says she was “standing at the counter, waiting for some change” when it happened:

Still I guess some things we bury
Are just bound to rise again
For even if the whole world has forgotten
The song remembers when
Yeah, and even if the whole world has forgotten
The song remembers when.

I know what she means.