man’s woman’s best friend

When I was a baby, my parents got a black labrador retriever that they named Duke. Duke was a feisty little boy, with an ever-moving tail and boundless energy – at least that’s what I’ve been told. I obviously don’t remember.

What I do remember is long walks in the fields surrounding my parent’s house. We were surrounded by farmland, overlooking a quiet bay. Duke and I would spend hours out in the yard, throwing the ball, hunting snakes, swimming and enjoying life.
Having been raised alongside an infant, he was a gentle boy… never growling or biting anyone, greeting the tourists as they rode by on their bikes, offering his ball to them so they could throw it. Everyone enjoyed his diving tricks; throw a small stone in to the water and he’d come out with one so big he could barely lift it.
He was my Dad’s hunting buddy – he trained him for duck hunting, and he was skilled in the art of ‘sit’ and ‘stay’, ‘back’ and ‘release’. My father always said he had a gentle mouth, and would never leave a mark on anything that he retrieved.
His coat was so black, it almost looked blue. I brushed him all. the. time. so it shined like it was wet. He probably would have won conformation classes, as he was the exact dog that you will find on the cover of any Black Labrador book. Not a fleck of white on him, and no kink in his tail. A perfect head and strong bones.

Duke lived unusually long for a Lab – he was 13 when he was attacked by another dog and died from his injuries.

My whole family was at a wedding when we got a phone call that something had happened to Duke. We raced home to find him hiding in the barn, unable to breathe, and knowing there was nothing we could do, we said our goodbyes and he slipped away.

It was the first time I had ever seen my father cry.

The first time I had experienced death close enough to personally affect me.

We buried him in the back yard under a cedar sapling. Every time I see a fine-boned silky-smooth black lab, I think of Duke.

The boys have been bugging us for a dog since we moved here. There are dogs everywhere in our neighbourhood, and an off-leash part just down the road. Because Peanut and Monster have a dog at their father’s, and Speedy has one at his mother’s, they thought it was only fair to have one here.

The consensus was originally ‘absolutely not’ – too much work. We want to travel, we love to golf, we are never home. We don’t have a fenced yard, and I don’t want a dog in the house.

Until we realized that we are ALWAYS home. Yes we love to golf, but we don’t really travel, other than overnight sometimes. A fence isn’t that expensive, and the house is empty when the boys aren’t here… why not bring a furry friend in to love?

And so, the search began. First, it was finding a breed that fit with us. It had to be active, but not crazy; trainable, but not conniving, lovable and affectionate, with an even temperament. Then the debate: puppy or dog? Breeder or shelter?
While I love the thought of “rescuing” a dog, the unknown history would leave me feeling less than confident about having my less than calm children around it.

After much research, emails, phone calls, and a visit – we would like to introduce you to the latest member of the family:

Soul Man a.k.a. "Sam"

More to come, but have a look at this – Monster had known him for 10 minutes:

Best friends already

Oh (dear) Canada

Mama Kat has asked us to share a time when we laughed at an inappropriate moment.
It was hard to narrow it down to one, but here goes….

The summer had ended. School beginning. We were gathered in the classroom, stories of vacations and camps, parties and ‘romance’.
The teacher was new. She entered the classroom amongst the hurried whispers. She was an older lady, her expression one of a weathered teacher. She had seen her share of teenagers and preteens, not much surprised her anymore.
She took her job very seriously.
Catholic school, after all, was serious business… to everyone but a student. Morning prayers over the loudspeaker, general announcements, then Oh Canada. The majority of us mouthing the words, leaving the actual singing to the teacher’s pets and the teachers themselves.

Today was no different.

As the music began, we shuffled ourselves to our feet, shuffling and shifting weight, already annoyed that this was taking so long.

Then she began to sing.

It was painful. Even looking back on it, I can’t pretend that it was ok and I was just looking at it through preteen glasses.

It was bad. Shrill soprano and thick with vibrato. It was an opera singer who has had her day and doesn’t know the time has passed. It was twenty-some kids, head tilted to one side, eyebrows drawn close together, jaws agape.

Sideways glances passed.

I felt it begin at my toes. The waves of laughter washing over my body. My belly hurt. I stared at the floor. please…please don’t…

The moment the giggle escaped my lips the music stopped.

And she was starting in my direction.

by heart

Today, we’re going to my Nanny and Poppy’s cottage.

This is the epitome of the cottage experience. Many miles off any regularly used road, on a back lake small and sheltered enough to very rarely be so rough that a boater would not venture out.

As you turn off the highway, the flea market is on the right. Full of musty books and cracked mirrors. People wandering around, searching for that lost treasure.

Continuing down the road, the trees creeping in on the sides of the road. My brother and I reach our arms lazily out the window, hands moving as if over waves. The branches seem close enough, but never brush our outstretched fingers.

Left turn.

The house on the left with all the painted plywood people cut out. The silhouette of the man waving, the woman with the red dress and white polka-dots bent over in the garden.
The farm on the right with the long driveway. White wooden fences surrounding the emerald green pastures. I imagine myself riding my beautiful dapple grey, Chief, around the fields. “I’m going to live there someday”, I tell my Mom.
“It will be a long drive in the winter”, she always replies.

Right turn.

The little house with the piles of wood. It always looks as though no one lives here. It looks abandoned, having fallen into such disrepair that there is a trailer parked beside it. I imagine that the owners live in that instead of the house.

This road is fun. It mimics a roller coaster with its undulations and it twists and turns. Mom is nervous, as she always is at this part of the trip. The road is narrow, and at many points, the sides drop away into streams and steep embankments. No guard rails have yet been installed. My brother and I spur Dad to drive faster over the hills. As the road drops sharply away from the apex, the feeling of reduced gravity causes our stomachs to jump. We throw our hands in the air and mimic a roller coaster. “Wheeeeeeee!!!” Mom’s knuckles are white on the armrest.

Right turn.

Past the Hickey’s farm. Mrs Hickey sits in the window of the rickety sunporch. I wonder why a woman that old would want to live all alone so far from any town.
I guess she isn’t scared of anything, much like all old farm wives.

Another quick left and the road is only wide enough for our car. Grass grows down the middle of the lane, and the sand and rock have become saturated with a deeper brown than the regular sand. Now we can literally touch the branches. I grab handfuls of leaves as we continue down the lane.

Stay left at the fork.

The spring where all the cottagers go to bottle the crisp, cool water that runs from the rocks. The spring that never stops flowing. Ferns grow at its edge, tickling the stream as it flows down the hill, wandering through the woods towards the bay.

As we descend the final hill, my heart starts to race. We’re nearly there! The exposed rocks jutting through the grass, countless forts and hiding places where we will disappear for hours on end, no-one worried, no-one looking for us.

In the driveway… the little white sided cottage with the red deck surround. The front yard slopes to the water, birdhouses freckle the yard, the boat rubs gently against the dock, quiet bumps caused from the rippling wake of a passing boat.

Let the holidays begin.

*******************
Nan and Pop are both gone now, and the cottage with them. I will always remember the drive to that special place. That little piece of heaven on the little bay with the rolling hills will remain in my heart. I will remember it by heart.

This post is brought to you by RemembeRED – a memoir meme
“This week, as the school year is wrapping up and we’re on the cusp of summer, we’ve decided to go easy on you.

We want to know what, from your childhood, do you still know by heart?”