Category Archives: Nellie

Not on my watch

Buddy and me.  I might have been a little overprotective of Buddy.

Buddy and me. I might have been a little overprotective of Buddy. Just a little.

Last night my husband and I had an argument.

Well, a nano spat.

We were about to watch an episode of Borgen, when, remote in hand, he suddenly closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair and pressed the fingers of one hand to his forehead, looking stricken. It occurred to me that he might be having a stroke. After all, it’s not as if fifty-nine year old Type-A men don’t ever have strokes and Ken’s life is not entirely without stress.   For example, he is married to someone who, by her own admission, can occasionally be a teensy bit of a demando-guts.  Also, a decade ago, he had a bout of Central Serous Retinopathy, a condition brought on by stress — in CSR, fluid buildup under the retinal pigment epithelium of the eye results, temporarily in his case, in vision distortion. As disconcerting as this was, it did come in handy one Christmas, when two of our semi-adult children were going at each other, hammer and tongs. Finally, unable to stand their bickering and recriminations a second longer, I leaped to my feet, pointed dramatically in Ken’s direction and cried, “If you don’t stop this immediately, your father’s eye is going to explode!” Whereupon they took it outside. (They get along fine now.)

So, bearing in mind my husband’s advancing age and blood pressure issues and aware that, one day, one of us is going to not be OK and could that moment . . . that terrible moment possibly be this moment, the moment everything changes and all is lost? Bearing all that in mind, I asked, “Are you all right?”

To which he responded with a terse, “Quiet!”

I waited, leaning forward in my chair, my eyes fixed on him.  I waited some more. Then, because his demeanor had not altered and remembering that, in cases of stroke, it’s important to act quickly though in what precise way I can never remember, I tried a second time: “Ken,” I asked, enunciating carefully, “Are. You. All. Right. Question mark.”

Sabrina and me

Sabrina and me

Now, I admit I can be overly solicitous on occasion. When my daughter Sabrina was a baby, I was so terrified she would succumb to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome that I used to creep into her bedroom when she was sleeping and hold a mirror under her tiny  nose. If ever she seemed suspiciously still to me — and this was not infrequently — I would wake her up to make sure she was alive.  Neither of us got a lot of sleep that first year.

Once, in a sun-baked and utterly deserted park in Mt. Olive, the pickle capitol of North Carolina, I ignored cries for help from the same husband for whose health I was now so solicitous in order to save Buddy, our aged and very infirm golden retriever, from nothing at all.   This is what happened. At the same moment as a colony of fire ants was inexplicably swarming up Ken’s bare legs, I  spotted a lone car on the distant horizon. And I mean distant. Convinced that this same car was going to suddenly accelerate, cover the half mile or so that separated us in a matter of seconds and flatten Buddy, I left Ken to fend for himself while I  took off after the dog, flailing my arms and crying, “No! Buddy! Stop!”

Just the other day, I tried to get our current golden retriever, Nellie, up for her late afternoon pee. To no avail. This was beyond alarming, especially if you’re me, hence, easily alarmed; Nellie came into this world spring-loaded; she is the canine equivalent of Tigger.  The prospect of a walk, any walk, sends her into virtual paroxysms. What could possibly be the matter with her, I wondered?  Was she sick? Then I remembered the asphalt on her paws from an earlier outing with our dog walker.  Had she licked her paws and, in so doing, poisoned herself? Was she dying?  I consulted my iPad for an antidote to asphalt. Finding none, I gave her a bowl of milk, because, you know, milk. I then made an emergency vet appointment for an hour later and commenced pacing frantically back and forth, wringing my hands.  Was this it?  Was this how Nellie died?  Was I going to lose my baby?   Then  I offered her a dentabone. Turns out, a long-lasting oral care chew was all it took to reinvigorate her. Up she leaped, out we went; she peed. I wept with relief, then called the vet and cancelled the appointment. We went on with our day.

Nellie was born spring-loaded.


Meanwhile, here was my beloved husband, frozen in an attitude of pain, his expression that of someone who has just had an ice pick driven through his forehead.

“Are you all right?” I repeated for the third time.

“Damn it!” he said then, opening his eyes and glaring at me.  “I was thinking! Can’t a person think?”

Not if they look like they’re having a stroke, they can’t.  Not on my watch.

Clan of the Dog People

Cave painting of girl with dog

Cave painting of girl with dog

When National Geographic’s Genographic Project was all shiny and new, my husband Ken and I joined 678,632 other individuals in over 140 countries in sending in samples of our DNA to be included in the database. This was not inexpensive, but we figured it was our contribution to scientific research and, besides, who doesn’t want to unlock the secrets hidden in their DNA?

In due time we received a package from National Geographic and the big reveal was this: our ancestors originated in Africa long, long ago, but had more recently hailed from Northern Europe.  To which we could only say, “Duh!”   As it turns out, we had opted for the Economy DNA Package. If we had wanted to know whether we had inherited a genetic predisposition to like cilantro or what percentage Neanderthal we were, well, that’ll be extra.

Or would it?

Our ancestral path from Africa to Northern Europe. Surprise?  Not really.

Our ancestral path from Africa to Northern Europe. Surprise? Not really.

My grandfather, James H. Zant, who liked a good story, told this one about an acquaintance’s visit to a local Cherokee chief.   “Dig deep, White Man,” the chief reportedly told his visitor.  “Puppy at bottom of pot.”

A few nights ago, I found myself sitting in a darkened room, mired in thought,  when our dog Nellie deposited herself before me, trawling for attention. I obliged, closing my eyes as I scratched her ears, and conjured up an image of myself in my mind’s eye.  However, instead of picturing the little old lady  I am all too rapidly metamorphosing into and her (sort of trusty) dog,  what I saw was a girl — nine or ten, Neanderthal, grubby and sitting on a rock in a dark place barely illuminated by flickering fire light, scratching the ears of a wolf cub.

Now, my view of reality has always been a tad elastic — the result, no doubt, of coming of age in the late sixties and early seventies and all that that entailed — so it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to conclude l that what I had glimpsed in my mind’s eye was a distant ancestor, one embedded in my DNA, that  I had, in fact, descended from those humanoids who, laboring in different places over vast expanses of time, succeeded in the magic trick of turning wolves into dogs,  that, just as our domestication of dogs impacted their genome, so their domestication of us  has impacted ours, meaning that the term “Dog People” describes something not superficial, but very fundamental.    Which explains SO much. Why I cannot imagine a happy and contented life without a dog. Why my father, speaking of his life in the nursing home, says, “The only thing I really miss is a dog . . . ,”  his voice trailing wistfully off.

Golden Retriever?  Hummm...

Golden Retriever? Hummm…

Back when we acquired Nellie, we were unconvinced that she was, in fact, the Golden Retriever the Kijiji ad purported her to be, given her ridiculously long legs, her narrow muzzle and crooked tail, and, all of it, the whole nine yards, completely wired. While we never suffered from Buyers’ Remorse – well, maybe just a little when she hoovered up a finishing nail, necessitating a $2,500  surgery – we were, nevertheless,  curious to know the ancestry of our whacky little bundle of fur and fun. So we tested her DNA.

Turns out she’s a Golden Retriever – quel surprise! — just the way it turns out Ken and I are Northern Europeans. As for delving any more deeply into our DNA, there’s really no need now. Not after my little epiphany.   I know who I am, down deep:  a  Dog Person with slightly more than a dollop of Neanderthal. As for Nellie, she’s clearly a wolf.


See Spot Run!

fatNearly thirty years ago I found myself in Newtown, Connecticut, celebrating the Fourth of July with some second cousins of my first husband whom his mother had browbeaten us into contacting when we moved to Cambridge, MA. Steve was a cop and Lynette was a secretary. They lived in a neat little Cape Cod on a well-manicured street and had two spindly little kids, made all the more spindly by the fact that each of their parents weighed in at well over three hundred pounds. They were also really nice folks, Steve and Lynette, salt of the earth. Steve confided to my ex that the few extra pounds had proven an asset in his line of work, since it increased the intimidation factor. “The bad guys,” he said, indicating his formidable paunch. “They don’t want to mess with this.” Pre-Adam Lanza, Newtown was a sleepy little burg, clearly untroubled by serious malfeasance if would-be preps could be deterred from crime simply by the prospect – as alarming as that prospect was — of being sat on by one of Newtown’s Finest.

Lynette wore her arm – which, both in size and appearance, resembled a large ham — in a sling. She had broken it rolling down the stairs the previous week. “She got wedged at an angle between the wall and the bannister,” Steve explained. “Like really stuck. We had to call in the paramedics to dislodge her.” Lynette laughed and shrugged. “I get stuck a lot.” I brought a pecan pie for dessert. It had raisins in it. Lynette was surprised. “Raisins in a pecan pie,” she said. “Well . . . that’s different!” She did not appear to hold out much hope for a pie that contained both nuts and dried fruit.

After dinner we retired to a park to watch tiny boys play softball. We sat on lawn chairs arranged alongside a baseball diamond — all the parents did and every single one of these parents, without exception, was spherical. This would not perhaps have been so striking had not each and every one of the tiny boys, without exception, looked like escapees from a North Korean orphanage. The juxtaposition of the leviathan adults sprawled like beached whales atop groaning lawn chairs, lustily bawling at their spindly offspring to, “Run!” “Stop him!” and, “Slide! Slide!” all the time mowing down jumbo-sized bags of potato chips and vats of sugary drink, struck me at the time as . . . as what? The word that came to mind at the time was, “grotesque.”

Fast forward thirty years.

Nellie having a blast at Lake Nellie

Nellie having a blast at Lake Nellie

Later this month we will travel north to Timmins, Ontario to visit my in laws. If the weather cooperates, we will spend a day at my brother-in-law’s cottage on the aptly named Nellie Lake.

This is what will happen at Nellie Lake.

Everyone will park his or her ass on a lawn chair, down one alcoholic beverage after another and watch Nellievision. Nellievision is what happens when a half a dozen adults and a few bored recent escapees from adolescence blearily eyeball Nellie, our four year old golden retriever, as she proceeds to have the absolute time of her life treeing squirrels, frantically digging in the mud in the hopes of finding toads to lick or varmints to inhale and swimming out to fetch sticks thrown far out into the Lake. “Chase those geese, Nellie!” everyone will cry. “Don’t let them poop on our beach!” And obligingly off Nellie will swim, in dogged pursuit of the offending geese.

And the sight of all of us drunkenly urging the dog on to new feats of athleticism somehow puts me in mind of that long ago Independence Day in Newtown. Only the word that comes to my mind this time is, “Fun.” It seems that, with the passage of time, I have become less judgy. Also less possessed of a waist. And, yes, I believe I will have another and, Nellie, clean up that goose poop for us, won’t you? Because, God knows: you’ve eaten worse.  Yes, you have.