The Gift of Birthdays

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Photo by Kara Hathaway

He woke  up today like he does pretty much every morning, curled at the foot of the bed, his back pressed against my legs. Howie is not the cuddly type, but he always lets me know he’s right there. It’s comforting to stir in the night and feel his warm presence.

To Howie, our beloved senior Dalmatian, today probably seemed like every other day. Get up, stretch, rub your face vigorously into the bedspread (it’s a Howie thing). Then it’s out the door to leave a streaming calling card on a favorite fence post and back inside to watch the she-human for any sign that she might be heading toward the dog bowls to prepare breakfast.

Little does Howie know, however, today is anything but a normal day. Today is Howie’s 14th birthday. It is a milestone day. Maybe he senses it in the extra dose of attention he’s receiving from me and Jim. I give him a big kiss and a hug that results in an “oh-mom” expression on his face, his ears sticking out to the sides like those of a baby goat.

Maybe he recognizes his own name highlighted in the lyrics of the happy birthday song…especially after I’ve serenaded him about 10 times. Maybe the little bites of chicken topping his morning meal make him realize today is no ordinary day. Maybe he somehow knows that the good smell coming from the oven is a cake for him to share with his canine family.

Maybe.

Or maybe the fuss and celebration is actually more for me. During a time when the world seems to have stopped spinning and seeing those I love means having to step away instead of stepping in to give a big hug, celebrating something as beautifully normal as my special dog’s birthday is a gift. A gift to myself.

I love this dog. He is my guy. He has been firmly attached to my heart since the day I lifted his little eight-week-old body from a crate and held him close. He is smart, he is lord of this doggy castle. He is stoic and strong. He is loyal and devoted. And when he lets his boss-dog facade slip just a bit, his head nodding low, his ears pushed comically sideways, his eyes darting up to meet yours, he will surely melt you into a puddle.

And so today, on April 5th, as I have for 13 years before, I am celebrating Howie’s birthday. I am following a well-established routine and reveling in the sweet normalcy of it all. No hidden demon can disrupt this simple, day-long ceremony. I’m ecstatic about normal. It is a blessed escape from the world outside the gate of our little farm.

Today I am also celebrating the birthday of my darling great-nephew, Caleb. He is funny, cute, clever, and when he smiles his whole face just glows. He deserves a great celebration and yet his birthday party will be anything but normal. We won’t be gathering close around him to sing and shower him with gifts. We won’t be there to see him blow out seven candles with one to grow on.

This is the reality of our lives right now. But while the threat of a virus and our new practice of “social distancing” may have put our idea of normal on hold for a bit, in its place I have seen more creativity, determination, and pure human spirit than I have ever seen before.

So today, Jim, Howie and I got to be in a birthday parade. A line of cars, each filled with family and friends and festooned with streamers, balloons and signs, created a mobile surprise party parade, honking and calling out greetings to the obvious delight of the birthday boy.  On the second pass by their home, each car in the parade stopped to express personal wishes and to drop cards and gifts in a bin placed by the curb. Caleb and his family waved from their porch, laughing and calling out their I-love-yous.

In Caleb’s own words, his birthday parade was “epic.” No, it was not normal. It was not a party with a bouncy castle, games, party favors and a dozen friends. But it was filled with pure joy and fun. It was creative. It was uplifting. And the love surrounding that little boy couldn’t have been stronger.

So today was a day of celebrations. One beautifully normal, one beautifully creative. And in the end, I’m pretty sure I’m the one who received the best gifts. I have the gift of quietly celebrating Howie, my special spotted boy, who is living a long, healthy life. I have the gift of celebrating Caleb whose huge grin and waving hands served to lift a chunk of the weight from my shoulders that has been trying its best to drag me down.

Today was a day to be reminded of gratitude. A day to feel connected and grounded in a time of such extreme uncertainty. A day to recognize that normal and out-of-the-ordinary can be equally beautiful.

Happy, happy birthday to Howie and Caleb. Thank you both for the gift of your celebrations. Thank for reminding me that the human (and canine!) spirit is strong, alive, and well.

 

A Different Kind of Merry.

Baby Nan and Santa Dad

Baby Nan visiting with the REAL Santa

Christmas. Just saying the word brings a smile to my face. I admit it, I love Christmas.

When I was a kid, my family celebrated in a big, festive, fa-la-la-la manner. We kind of had to because, in case you didn’t realize it, my father, who for 11 months of the year was Dr. John W. Gallimore, Jr., DDS, became Santa Claus during the month of December. I’m talking THE Santa Claus.

Santa Dad revNo, really. He was the real deal. He had the red velvety costume, the big black boots, the white beard, a booming HO-HO-HO, and the hat with the fluffy band. Ask any number of kids who sat on his lap to whisper their wishes in his ear. R-E-A-L.

Ok. The beard may have been fake.

But the twinkle in Dad’s eye? That was the real deal.

And together with his Mrs. Claus (aka: Mom for most of the year), well, our house was filled with shiny, sparkly, bow-festooned Christmas magic.

It’s not that our celebration was unusual, or outside of the box. If anything, our traditions were firmly IN the box. And it was perfect.

It kicked off a week or so after Thanksgiving when we would race around the corner lot to find that one perfect tree that begged to be ours…while also meeting Dad’s exacting expectations.  The tree had to be six feet tall, with still-soft needles, and a very straight trunk. You did NOT want to bring home a tree with a wonky, crooked trunk.

We always found our perfect tree. And sometimes the trunk was crooked. And Dad would grumble a little as he tried to get the tree into the stand, straight and tall. Sorry Dad.

But it was perfect anyway.

My sisters and I would decorate it with Mom’s  guidance. She liked red lights. She liked the ornaments spaced evenly around the tree. She liked the icicles placed carefully, one slender ribbon of silver at a time. No clumps. When she wasn’t looking, I would grab a handful of icicles and toss them into the air, letting them flutter down on the tree in a haphazard  manner.

Mom always said it was the prettiest tree ever.

Christmas Eve was feast time.  Our extended family would gather at our home, in festive holiday attire. I’d always ride in the car with mom to pick up Grandma Daisy and great-Aunt Elva. We’d take the long route home so we could admire all of the best Christmas light displays in town. Then Grandpa and Grandma, Dad’s parents, would arrive and I’d rush outside to help transfer Grandma’s amazing homemade pies from their car to our kitchen, maybe getting a small taste of meringue on my finger in the process.

There was so much food. Mom would worry that the turkey was dry.  There was a running joke about hovering over the gravy on the stove to stir, stir, stir so it wouldn’t be lumpy. There was a kid’s table. There was a lot of laughter. There was excitement and anticipation and lots of hugs.

My sister Terry would play the piano as we sang Christmas carols. We weren’t really a family of singers. It didn’t matter. We sang loudly and passionately. We might have digressed to silly at times. OK, no “might” about it.

My sisters and I did a mad rendition of We Three Kings. We even harmonized. Or at least we tried. If we were slightly off key, and I’m fairly sure we were, no one complained.

It was perfect. Our grandparents always said so.

Before bedtime each kid was allowed to choose and open one gift to whet the pre-Christmas appetite. There were cookies and milk to set out. Then it was off to bed to pretend to sleep while listening carefully as Mom and Dad shuffled around, working their Christmas magic.

Remember, Dad really was Santa Claus and Mom really was the jolly man’s missus.

And finally there was Christmas morning. First, there were filled stockings placed strategically at our bedside, presumably to give us our first little gift of the day, but in reality, I think, to allow the couple Claus just a few more minutes of peace and a first cup of coffee. Their calm before the Christmas storm.

The year I hoped and prayed and hinted for a Mrs. Beasley doll?  She was there, righ under the tree. The year my letter to Santa promised all sorts of good deeds in exchange for a Beautiful Crissy doll? She showed up to share my Christmas morning. The year my obsession with horses was at its peak? A blue cowboy hat and new boots were nestled in tissue inside the box with my name on it.

And the year I really, really, really just wanted a hamster? I named him Kris Kringle.

Santa didn’t disappoint. And, in the eyes of young Nancy, Christmas was pure magic.

Family christmas revAs I grew older, as our family grew to include grandkids,  and as I started to really watch, I realized the magic wasn’t in the gifts, but rather in watching my parents’ excitement as they helped the holiday unfold. The true joy of the season, I grew to understand, was behind the flying tissue paper and oooos and ahhhhs. It was right back to that twinkle in Santa’s eye.

Now, with the passing of time, a lot of things have changed. My family has changed. Those grandkids, my nieces and nephews, are all grown up and have families of their own. My grandparents are gone, and my sister Terry now answers to the name Grandma. I am great-Aunt Nan.

My oldest sister is gone.

My parents are gone.

Christmas looks very different now. Celebrations have shifted and rearranged. Family members come together some years, and go different directions on others. Some are near to us, some are near in our hearts.

Christmas is smaller. It is quieter. We create new traditions. Sometimes it’s just me and Jim surrounded by the dogs that are our family. And, you know, that’s perfect too.

The magic may have a different sparkle, but even with a softer glow, it still shines so beautifully.

This year we’ll celebrate a lovely Christmas Eve at home. Just two people and a herd of dogs. Maybe we’ll start the evening by taking some apples and carrots out to the animals in the barn. I think I’ll ask Santa for a clear, crisp night with a sky sparkling with stars and a bright, full moon.

Then maybe we’ll fix our own little Christmas Eve dinner with all of the trimmings. We’ll light a fire, we’ll turn out all of the lights leaving just the Christmas tree to glow–you know, the tree with the crooked trunk that begged to be mine. There will be classic Christmas movies; maybe we’ll watch White Christmas, or we might give the night a dose of laughter with a Chevy Chase twist. And we’ll each open just one small gift.

On Christmas morning, we’ll get up extra early to head downtown to help a different Santa hand out small gifts we have prepared for children gathering with their families to enjoy a warm, free breakfast. I think we might sing carols. I think we will sing loudly and passionately.

SANTA & NANCY rev

Our own little Christmas. Santa Jim!

And, like my dear Santa once did, I will have a twinkle in my eye that just might escape to trace down my cheek as I remember, as I honor, and as I embrace my new traditions. Different, yes, but still merry. Still wonderful. Still filled with magic.

Thank you, Santa, for this one lasting gift. You taught me well. It’s just what I always wanted.

And it’s absolutely perfect.

Happy Tink Day!

Tink loving life...even during an ice storm. Most excellent photo by Jim Thomason

Tink loving life…even during an ice storm. Most excellent photo by Jim Thomason

Today is the fourth annual national…

no…

Worldwide, Universal TINK DAY!

You do know what Tink Day is, right?

No? Seriously?

Ok. Twist my arm. I’ll tell you.

The tale of Tink actually started on Saturday, May 1, 2010. I was off running errands. Jim was off running errands. The weather was gorgeous, spring was in the air, and it was a busy, get-things-done kind of day.

Just as I was getting down to the business of checking things off of my to-do list, my phone rang and Jim uttered those telling words, “Where are you?”

Now that may sound like a really innocent question, but in Nancy-Jim speak, the actual translation generally is: I have found an animal of some sort and I need help.

My immediate response was, “Why? What did you find?”

While cutting through the back alley of a strip mall (note: MALL, not CLUB), Jim caught a quick glimpse of a small dog sniffing around a dumpster. OF COURSE he stopped to check on her.

When he parked the car and got out to call to the little dog, she took one look at him and shot immediately under another nearby dumpster; this one a giant compacting dumpster.  Not the type to just shrug and go on his way (yeah, another one of the million reasons I love this guy), Jim stopped to investigate.

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Our first glimpse of dumpster dog.

On hands and knees to look under the dumpster, Jim could just see, in the small, filthy space, a tiny face peering back. Well out of his reach, Jim tried to coax the dog into coming out to see him. He even bribed her with some dog treats he had in the car (doesn’t everyone always carry a few emergency dog treats?). Dumpster dog, however, was having none of it.

This is where Jim hoped I could step in. Sometimes a dog will be wary of a man, but might respond better to a woman. You see it all the time.  Jim also suggested that I run to the store for something a bit higher value than dog treats. Yes, it was time to break out some stinky lunch meat.

So I ran to the nearest convenience store (my regional favorite, Quik Trip—and yes, I will continue to plug them until they decide to sponsor my blog and/or give me free fountain drinks for life). There I found what would surely be Dumpster Dog’s olfactory siren song.

Bologna. I really can think of no better purpose for the stuff than bribing a dog away from a dumpster. Stinky bologna in hand, I rushed to meet Jim in a back alley. He takes me to all of the nicest places.

There I found my partner, sitting on the dirty pavement, appearing, to the unknowing eye, to be talking to a dumpster. Further proof that public appearance means NOTHING when trying to save a cute little dog.

Jim stepped back while I, confident of my dog magnetism (especially when wearing Eau d’Oscar Meyer perfume), plopped down on the warm pavement to work my charm on what was sure to be my new little bestie. I talked to her in my best soft, reassuring voice. I offered very lovely, stinky, slimy bologna. I gave it my very best shot. And I was shot right down.

In fact, I even thought I heard a little growl. But not really a growl. A moan? A groan? Maybe more of an audible sneer? Whatever the sound, it did not convey an oh-yay-the-human-of-my-dreams-has-arrived message.

Ok. Plan B.

It was apparent to both of us that Dumpster Dog was no stranger to this way of life. The space under the dumpster was obviously her current home. She felt safe there. Nothing could really touch her there.

So we decided to back off for that moment and visit her the following morning. It would be a Sunday morning, so the strip mall would be quiet and we would surely convince this little darling to run into our waiting arms.

Sunday morning dawned and we were in the car, on our way to claim our newest foster dog. When we pulled to the stark space Imagebehind the building, Dumpster Dog was actually resting in the shade of the one tree planted in the middle of the one small patch of grass adjacent to a loading dock. One glance at our slowing vehicle and she was once again a white blur darting beneath her dumpster fort.

So we sat and talked to her. We reached as far under the damn dumpster (it was swiftly earning that name) as our arms could reach to offer bits of turkey, chicken, and hot dogs. While she would stretch her neck to pick up offerings tossed her way, she was not budging an inch.

That’s ok. She was just not ready. And she was still making that weird noise that we couldn’t decipher. We left a bowl of water and a bowl of dog food. If Dumpster Dog needed us to work a little harder to gain her trust, then work a little harder we would.

And so our lives as part of a bizarre dumpster sit-in commenced.

Between the two of us, I would say we visited Dumpster Dog around five or six times throughout the day, for the next four days. Fortunately we were having a run of gorgeous, mild spring weather, so sitting in the middle of a sea of concrete chatting up an invisible dog was not a completely unpleasant task.

We got to know the UPS guy who said he had been tossing food to the little dog. We learned from the employees of Bed Bath & Beyond (anyone else pre-occupied by this company’s decision to eschew not only the Oxford comma, but all forms of punctuation? Only me?) that our little dog had been sharing their dumpster’s address for around six to eight weeks. They too had been tossing her some food, but gave up when the dog refused to warm up to their attention.

Gave up? Blasphemy! Heartstrings twanging at the thought of this little creature surviving on her own for such a long time, our determination to win her over doubled.

I went by on my way to work. I spent my lunch hours with her. I stopped by after work every day. I ran over to Dumpster Central every chance I could.

I read books to her. I sang to her. I shared my lunch with her. I made her all sorts of crazy promises. Had she crawled her way to me on visit four of day three, I believe she would have been the lucky winner of a BRAND NEW CAR! (Price is Right Voice…Bob Barker version. No offense, Drew, it’s just not the same.)

Meanwhile Jim was putting in an equal number of visits. We were nothing if not determined and Mother Nature was brewing some incredibly good inspiration.

Spring in Oklahoma. Yes, it can be quite lovely, and in the click of the minute hand, it can turn quite nasty. The forecast for the coming weekend promised strong thunderstorms and heavy rain. We could not stand the thought of this little, lost dog left to ride out storms of that magnitude by herself. We also did not relish the thought of huddling under umbrellas (AKA: lightning rods) to keep her company through it all.

Dumpster Dog had to surrender.

Friday rolled around. I visited in the morning. Jim visited later in the morning. I visited at lunch. I begged the little dog to come to me. I desperately wanted to be able to call Jim to tell him that she was safely tucked in my car.

Instead, I was the one to receive that delightful message—live and in person.

Right after work I headed over to my now-favorite dumpster in the world.  Just as I was rounding the corner for yet another visit, there was Jim, walking toward me, cradling a small white dog in his arms. OH happy day!

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Jim and Tink. The first of many selfies.

I will admit that I just burst into tears. Finally, this precious little dog was safe. I believe my first words were, “I love her! We’re keeping her!” Oops. Did I say that out loud? Yes, over the course of the week, this dog had become more than just someone’s dog. She was our dog—in my heart and mind. I just failed to mention that concept to Jim…until I saw him holding her.

Laughing and hugging in relief, Jim told me that in desperation he finally just stretched out on the pavement and shoved himself as far under the dumpster as he could fit. Let’s consider this visual for just a moment:  A man flat out on his back in an alley who, to the unknowing eye, likely appeared to be half crushed by a huge dumpster.  Thank goodness for seldom traveled back alleys and a few I’m-not-getting-involved passersby.

Jim just stayed right there. He shut his eyes and pretended to nap. He became one with the damn dumpster. For 45 minutes.

Eventually, he felt a cautious sniff at the top of his head. He still didn’t move. Slowly, a little white dog with faint black spots moved to Jim’s side to curl up with him. And so a beautiful and devoted friendship was born.

Upon finally meeting her up close and personal, it was immediately clear that the little creature who had seemed so very shy while in her hiding place, was actually a very friendly, fun dog. The odd not-exactly-a-growl sound that she emitted from her dumpster fort (where Jim swears she lorded over an army of minion mice) now seemed to be from some sort of congestion, so off to the vet we ran.

This is where it is a very good thing to have a best buddy who is also your awesome veterinarian. Stick around after hours on a Friday to see our latest foundling? Well, sure she would.

A quick exam revealed a basically healthy five to six month old puppy that just seemed to have a really stuffy nose. We headed home with antibiotics and very high spirits.

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First visit with Dr. Lauren. She’s really nice.

We got to know our new puppy and found that she was one huge character packed into an 18 pound body. Her small stature combined with her huge spirit quickly earned her a pixie-inspired name…Tink.

Now properly named and in procession of two completely love-struck humans, Tink should have been ready to just live out her happily-ever-after, but following a full week of antibiotics, her cute little nose was still doing a heck of an impression of the Sleestaks from Land of the Lost. (If you don’t get it, check it out on YouTube…you don’t want to miss out on this slice of pop culture).

So we headed back to the veterinarian, who consulted with another veterinarian. Who then sent us to see another veterinarian with a fancy scope-thingie. Who then found that Tink wasn’t ill at all. Her nose had apparently suffered major trauma, likely as a very young puppy, and both nasal passages were almost completely blocked. The noise we kept hearing wasn’t growling, groaning, moaning, or even a really good Sleestak impression. It was simply a puppy trying to breath.

Well if we didn’t love her madly before, that sure sealed the deal.

With our “free puppy” in tow, we were sent off to a veterinary specialist in another city. He performed a surgery that he hoped would result in a reduction of some of the scar tissue and blockage in Tink’s nose.

A few thousand dollars and six weeks of green tubes protruding from said nose later…we still had a really cute little Sleestak.

ImageSo no, Tink still really can’t breathe through her nose. But she has overcome and we have grown accustomed to her snoring.  Jim says I’m louder anyway. Ironically, I really can’t breathe through my nose very well either. Paints a pretty picture, doesn’t it?

Tink has now been head of our canine household for four wonderful years. She is Jim’s devoted little buddy. Oh she likes me too, but I would never want to ask her to choose between us because I guarantee she wouldn’t give me a backwards glance. Jim is Tink’s prince in this fairy tale. After all, he’s the one who crawled into the dumpster fort to save her, didn’t he?

A couple of years ago we had the opportunity to have Tink meet with our favorite animal communicator, Pam Case. It’s always fun to hear what our furry friends have to tell Pam–she always manages to hit several proverbial nails squarely on the head.

We purposely did not tell Pam any of Tink’s story—nothing about her rescue or her injured nose. Pam and Tink “talked for a bit.” Pam related many stories about Tink’s thoughts on her life with us. She told us many likes…a few dislikes. She did not, however, say anything about Tink’s life before we found her. So I asked Pam what Tink thought about her life before coming to us.

Pam got very quiet and still for a moment as she studied Tink. Tink studied Pam right back for that moment, and then hopped up to go sniff around, as best as a dog with a broken nose can. Pam looked up and said, “All I saw was a heavy work boot coming straight at her face. After that, she said she didn’t want to think about her life before coming home with you anymore.”Image

Well, what a great little teacher Tink turned out to be. The image that Pam related to us (and she had no prior knowledge of Tink’s nose problems), was exactly in line with the type of injury the veterinarians believe Tink suffered. Exactly.

But according to Tink herself, dwelling on the past was wasted energy. That was then, this is now, and now is a pretty damn good place to be. We should all be so wise as to follow Tink’s lead. Leave the past where it is and go sniff something new.

Thanks Tink. Thanks for four great years and many, many more Worldwide, Universal Tink Days to come.

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