Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Farewell Grumpy Jack

My grandfather was a quiet man who was not much on words. I remember meeting him when I was a kid and thinking he was about the scariest thing I ever laid eyes on, but then again, the Cameron family has a knack for rendering ‘the evil eye’ and I guess my Pop learned how to give us the look from having been raised in a house ruled by Grumpy Jack. He passed away Monday night after a short illness. I guess the person I am most worried about is my grandmother, married to him for more than 65 years, who possessed the only set of keys to him, who now has to carry on without him.

Grumpy Jack, or the “Old Man” was a first generation Scottish immigrant tradesman, a World War II Army Air Force combat veteran (Purple Heart) and father of seven children. If you count my cousin, Cameron, he raised eight kids. He leaves behind a plethora of grand kids and great grand kids scattered around the U.S., and if you were to give him a pop quiz on all their names, I am sure he would give you the evil eye.

My memories of him thinly span 40 years and the memories can be best categorized as intermittent and few (there goes my nursing cap). Several things stand out. Grumpy Jack liked to work outside with his hands and so did my Pop. Since he taught my dad all there was to know about auto body restoration, I guess you could say he was an artisan of sorts. He ran his own auto body business. In his middle years, post retirement, he was a vocational teacher. I say I was scared of him, but there were times I challenged myself to talk to him, cracking a hard shell where inside was a soft nut . He loved to show us around his tropical backyard when we were young. He raised and bred orchids and loved living in the hot humid climate of south Florida. During the Category five hurricanes, he hunkered down and refused to leave his homestead. No one could tell him what to do.

My memories of conversations with him are vague. Being a man of few words, we would usually be on the receiving end of his declarative short statement about something we said or did; or a question he wanted you to answer. I always felt that I had the wrong answer but sometimes he would throw you off with a grin that had you believing he actually liked you.

Grumpy was stalwart in maintaining his personal space and protecting my grandmother. I suppose he was reluctant to trust, something characteristic of having survived the depression years, a World War, fighting Communists and raising children in uncertain economic times.

The finest thing Grumpy ever did for me was to get on airplane (something he absolutely abhorred) to fly out for my wedding twenty years ago. It felt like a singular privilege, given that he was not one for flying anywhere to see anyone. I pray that he knows he was loved and that somewhere in heaven for him, is a nice patch of beach, a few of his orchids, a cold glass of beer, and a warm breeze, like home.

Tammy Maher is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her on the web at www.familyfare.blogspot.com

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Me Matey Skip!

When JD brought home Skipper eight years ago, I was perplexed, because he was never the doggie sort of guy. Even though I tried to convert him early on, he just wasn’t a person who adapted well to critters in the animal kingdom. I don’t know what the issues were, as I came from a long line of dog lovers on my mother’s side so for me, the addition of a canine to our growing family seemed only natural in the mergers and acquisitions of marrying each other, and having children and raising them in their formative years. After all, these delightful creatures taught children the importance of nurturing, responsibility, life skills, caretaking, dog walking, dog waking etc. The best pet funeral I ever attended was the one officiated by my Dad for my hamster Snuffy, one night in the rain when I was 10 years old. Pop was quite the serious undertaker. I learned some of my best life skills prepping that rigor mortis ridden rodent in a hair dryer box for his final resting place in the backyard while Pop worked up the sermon on the Mount. So, imagine my surprise when my dear hub spontaneously showed up one day after school with a rather large puppy in a box, after absolutely refusing for four long years to get a dog inciting reasons such as the transmission of fleas, rabies and the possibility that a dog could substantially ruin his life and his furniture.

What really happened was that one of JD’s favorite students had a litter of mutts and not being particularly astute at the mixes and breeds and temperaments of any non-Bassett Hound type looking dog, agreed to adopt a cute little puppy. I almost laughed at the cute ‘little’ Belgian Sheepdog, Lab, Cocker Spaniel-Red Fox mix with paws the size of small dishes. This was no lap dog, it was a small horse. Skipper’s name was undeniable. He was in charge from day one. He painfully cried away his first night of residence with us, whimpering in the kitchen until be broke free of his cardboard bondage whereby jumping up onto 9 year old- Shannon’s bed in what scientists aptly refer to as “imprinting”. She took over conservator ship of the 8 week old puppy and she’s been his mommy ever since.

I’d like to argue the point that the last person to walk Skip, drive him in the car with the wind beating on his head, and whoever so hath delivereth the best table scrap to his drooling chops, to be his master du jour of the moment, but it’s me talking here so what do I know? But, I swear that big old dog smiles at me. Maybe it’s because I’m his grandmother. There are limitations to my state of responsibility however, as anything regurgitated out of either end of that dog is promptly referred back to the mother to pick up and she never complains about the dooty duty.

So in honor of all creatures Great and Small, and in celebration of Birdy’s birthday last Saturday, we met the family in Sacramento to catch John Grogan’s book to film version of “Marley & Me”. In essence, it’s the story of a young couple, their growing family and how indelibly situated their dog; Marley was in the center of it all. I have to warn all my dog loving friends out there, this film is not for people who hate to laugh and cry at the same time. Shucks…it might as well have been titled, Me Matey Skip, or my grand dog Skipper….or in technical terms, my daughter & Skip. Shannon was the only person who refused to see the film. She simply could not face a future reality of a world without Skipper in it.

If you have a fondness in your heart for your animal friends who bring you unconditional fury and joy at their antics and intuitiveness, you must read the book and see the film. So much of Grogan’s story is your own tale; you will find it difficult not to see the Marley in every pet you’ve ever known.

While Skipper is still rather youthful at age 8, known to take and carry his leash to the front door in his teeth and telling us in his grunts and whines that we need to get going in that Skipper dog dance that he does; often twirling around excitedly like a pony, we know that our years remaining with him are less than we’ve had thus far. In his own little way, no matter who is responsible for the next step out the door, he always makes you feel like you’re his Matey and he’s your Skipper and that all dogs, no matter what, go to Heaven.

Tammy Maher is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at familyfare@sbcglobal.net