Thursday, November 27, 2008


It's early, my brother is asleep on the third floor which finally has heat. Alice is in her bed. My nephew has moved from the sofa to my room so I can bang around downstairs, starting the green beans, and pie crusts.

Now Pickie has climbed onto my lap. She's become quite an affectionate cat as she's gotten older. For her first 12 years she ignored us. Now she's become almost doglike, greeting me, following me, finding my lap, checking in on me.

I am thankful for this quiet warm house and the people and animals in it. For the loved ones near and further away.

For all the people who have shared Thanksgiving with us in the past and have passed: my father, grandmother, grandfather, Uncle Bev, Aunt Elllie, Aunt Margaret, her husband Dick. For everyone who's shared it with us in the past and will gather around other tables: my cousins Liz, Freida and Valerie, their children; the Wolperts and their children; Mr. Davidson and his son John and his family, who else, Tina, my sister-in-law. One year I went to the Violas for dinner and it remains one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories. Each year Carol shares it with her family and that feels fine.

In a little while I'll shower, run out and purchase bacon, eggs and English muffos. I'll come back and start frying it up, hoping it wakes some helpers to get started on pie crusts (they have to chill) and snapping the green beans.

We'll get into cars and travel to my brother Tom's in Paoli and here's who'll be there: Tom, Kim, their children Daniel and Rachel; Kim's sister Kelly, her husband I hope I remember his name before we get there, their children Matthew and Carly; Aunt Ellie, my mother and Bob; John, Chris, my daughters Elizabeth and Alice. There will be laughter and a few jibes, maybe some hurt feelings, maybe not. But we'll gather and give thanks and once again that mix of feelings will fill me: love and gratitude and the hope that we'll all be together next year.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My mother remembers Rusty, the dog who wasn't Lassie

Well. I was crazy about Lassie when I was a child and determined to get a collie. In those days the SPCA went door to door and one day a man brought two dogs to the rectory in Dobbs Ferry. He said one was a purebred Belgian Shepherd and the other was a mutt. I said, which one has more collie? The man said the mutt and that's how we got Rusty.

I took a long lead and put Rusty on one end and walked along the main street of Dobbs Ferry to show off my new dog. The first shopkeeper who saw me said, so you're the one who ended up with that one! Evidently Rusty was well known in Dobbs Ferry.

I told my mother and she said, "From the bottom of Dobbs Ferry to the heights of Zion Church, that dog has traveled far!"

I took Rusty to the golf course and tried to train him to be as courageous as Lassie. That lasted about a day.

Collies were so popular and then they overbred them and they got silly. It's a shame.

My Mother Said (It helps to read Dog Story first)

It wasn't MacGregor who drowned, it was Rebel.

Rebel? There was another dog? God, are there any other dogs I don't know about?

MacGregor was a Sheltie that I had before I married your father. He was the one who ate everything, and one Saturday night he ate one of your father's clerical collars. And he had services the next day so you can imagine the panic we were in.

So what really happened to MacGregor?

He loved to chase cars. The last time the car chased him.

And Rebel?

Rebel was a beautiful collie. Joy Wheatley gave him to us. I think she never liked me after he drowned because she blamed me. It was a Sunday morning and I was getting you kids ready for church. He bolted out the door and I had to choose between going to church and going after him. We looked for him for days. The fireman didn't come to the door, I had gone to the firehouse. And the fireman who told me was terribly upset.

So you had to choose between being a good clergy wife and getting the dog. I remember Joy Wheatley having like a hundred cats.

She had a lot of cats, yes, but she bred dogs too.

Is it true that you don't believe in training dogs?

Oh absolutely, we always believed dogs should be free, live their lives.

And what about Jock, Mom, was that pretty much how it happened?

Scotties were so popular then, everyone had to have a Scottie. I can't remember where we got him, but he wasn't a puppy. But he did get in the car with the kids and the woman didn't realize it until she was across the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Mom, there are holes in that story a mile wide.

I'm sorry dear, that's what happened. It was your father who took the phone call and I remember saying: do her kids love him? and your father asked her and she said yes. So I said, keep him!

But what about us? Did you gather us together to break it to us that our dog wouldn't be coming home? Didn't we love him?

I don't remember getting you all together. But you didn't love him that much.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dog Story

Yesterday on the train I was reading a book by Dorothy Sayers set in Scotland and realized that a dog we'd had when I was a child was named Jock, not Jacques as I had thought for more than 40 years.

I always wondered why my parents had given a French name to a Scottie. Now I know they hadn't. They had given him a traditional Scots name: Jock. And I had thought that he looked pissed at our attempt to Frenchify him. Now I wonder what exactly Jock was pissed about.

He was one in a series of pets that we had in Port Chester. They all met curious ends. There was MacGregor, a collie who drowned in the Byrum River. My mother said the fireman who had jumped in the ice cold river to try and save MacGregor was sobbing when he came to 535 King Street and apologized over and over again about his inability to save him. Somehow I picture my mother exhaling smoke from her Kent cigarette and saying, tap tap ash drop: don't worry about it. She was probably relieved to have one less thing to look after, one less animate object out of her control, running away.

I always loved the Scottie magnets sold in the restrooms of the Howard Johnson's on the turnpike to Maine.

I can remember sitting in the car for what seems like hours and was probably 15 minutes, holding the white Terrier in one hand and the black Scottie in the other and clicking them together over and over again. I like to think that my parents noticed my obsession with the magnets and thought a live one would be just the thing for their precious princess.

So Jock was "my" dog inasmuch as a Terrier can be anyone's dog. And like all our dogs, he ran away a lot. We were taught that it was the dog's fault, like running away was a bad trait that some dogs had and others didn't. It probably never occurred to my mother that the dog needed to be fenced in, walked or taught to sit stay and hang around the house. I imagine her opening the back door, out he goes and oops! doesn't come back. Bad dog Jacques, I mean Jock.

Here's how it ended for Jock:

My mother gets a phone call from a woman in New Jersey. Evidently the woman was driving with her kids in a station wagon with the back down. (That's how we rolled back then, no seat belts and the chance that we would tumble out the back on a steep incline.) Anyway, the woman's children had seen Jock trotting along behind and encouraged him to jump in the car and join them! And miracle of miracles, his stubby little Scottie legs were able to propel him two feet in the air to jump into a moving car! They were across the Tappan Zee Bridge before the woman even realized there was a yippy purebred Scottie in her car! The children loved the dog!

My mom said keep him.

My mom said keep our dog! New Jersey was too far to go to pick him up. The other family loved him. He was always running away. It was turned into a dog fairy tale of how he had run to his true family, a miracle story, jumping into that car, the children there happy and laughing, loving Jock.

But I thought we loved him. Sure we kept opening the door but we always hoped he would come back.