This was the picture of Nellie in the Kijiji ad

This was the picture of Nellie in the Kijiji ad

When Buddy, our previous  dog, died in March 2010, I phoned my daughter Sabrina and asked her to call her brother and sister and other family members to let them know. “I can’t talk about it,” I told her between sobs. My husband and I took a couple of days off work, which we spent poring over photos of our darling boy, weeping and gulping whiskey. Then my dear friend Linda Nicholas came over and helped us craft a collage made up of Buddy’s photographs, celebrating his life from precious puppy to elder states-dog. Finally we were healed enough to resume our lives or, at least, to go outside.

But not truly healed. I understood that the desolation I was experiencing could only be assuaged by procuring another dog. This is because I am a Hardy and that’s what we do when presented with the gaping hole in one’s heart that is no-dog – get another as soon as humanly possible, notwithstanding the occasional disastrous consequence. (See my post on Crocapuppy.)

My husband, however, is not a Hardy. He is a Trevenna. He loved Buddy every bit as much as I did, but saw no need to replace The Perfect Dog. And he wanted the relative freedom that comes with no dependents. He prevailed upon me to wait for one year before getting another dog, figuring that by that time I would realize how liberating it was to go pooch-less. When Sabrina heard about this plan, she was skeptical. “He doesn’t know our family,” she said.

To heal ourselves . . . and because Buddy’s infirmity and our unwillingness to leave him in a kennel had meant that, for the past several years, we had gone nowhere we couldn’t drive to in a car with him in tow . . . we traveled  to Hawaii.  While  there, prior to a hike through the jungle to a waterfall,  we toured a  taro farm and, together with a family of four from the States, enjoyed one of those slightly cringe-worthy cultural experiences wherein you are exposed to traditional culture and  compelled, in front of other people, to admit the reason why you came to this remote part of Hawaii, so far from the beaches of Waikiki .  I can’t remember precisely what the family said — something having to do with togetherness and adventure and being a family.   Then it was our turn. “We are just trying to recover from the death of our dog,” we said, feeling pathetic.  “We’re taking a year,” my husband added.  “To mourn.”    Later the wife pulled me aside and whispered, “Just get another one.   Don’t wait. What’s the point?”

All in all, I lasted five months, during which time I spent my leisure hours immersed in puppy porn on the Internet. I knew where every golden retriever puppy within a one hundred mile radius of our house was at any time. Then one day I saw an ad on Kijiji – a four month old female golden retriever in Toronto looking for her “forever home.” The puppy in the photograph was adorable; I couldn’t get her sweet image out of my mind. For a week, I kept returning to Kijiji, returning to that photograph. In my head I named the puppy Nellie, after my mother. I fantasized about Nellie and our life together, of walks and swims and couch cuddles. Then on the seventh night I dreamed that she was calling me, crying for me to come and get her. The next morning I told my husband about my dream.

Then it happened: he had a moment of weakness. “Call the number and, if she’s still there, we’ll go and get her,” he said.  Clearly he was counting on such an adorable puppy having a short shelf life. He was out of luck: she was there.

“If we go and get her, are you going to resent me going forward?” I asked.

“Probably,” he said.

Nellie  in her "Little Lamb" pose

Nellie in her “Little Lamb” pose

I considered this for a moment, but decided that I would just have to find a way of making it up to him. We got in the car and drove to a downtown Toronto address, two hours away, and a young Chinese woman named Kathy buzzed us up to an apartment in a high rise building.  She explained in broken English that she and her husband had never owned a dog before and hadn’t realized how much of a commitment it was. They worked long shifts and the puppy was left alone a lot. “She is lonely,” Kathy explained.  “She needs to be somewhere with people.”

Nellie at five months

Nellie at five months — all sinew and nerve!

No sooner had we walked through the door than a ball of fur and legs came hurtling through the air as though  shot from a cannon and began to maul us in frenzied greeting.  We were later to learn that this is how Nellie greets everyone; at the time we thought it was because we were special.  To our great surprise,  this puppy didn’t look like any golden retriever puppy we had ever seen and certainly not like our Precious Boy.  Rather than being soft and furry and pudding-y, she was all sinew and nerve —  leggy and thin with a crooked tail and a narrow muzzle. It didn’t matter. She was a puppy and I had her in my arms; there was no way I was going to not take her with us.  Tucking her, squirming and thrashing, under one arm, we summarily  forked over the cash and headed out, Nellie in tow, poor Kathy, waving and tearful as the car pulled away from the curb. In my haste to make off with the goods, we had, I realize now, not given her time to say goodbye to a puppy she loved enough to want a good home for.

And that is how it came to pass that today, when once again I took the now four year old Nellie, with whom I am, incidentally, utterly besotted,  to Fingal Wildlife Management Area and she, once again, rolled in  shit, compelling me to bathe her for the second time in so many days, I do not complain, but am only grateful that she is our dog and that ours is her Forever Home.


Whoa, Nellie!

I have three looks: gussied up, not gussied up and OMG.  My friend Catharine says that I should include ‘Gone to the dogs’ but I argue that that’s just a subset of OMG.  I used to have many looks: most of them pleasing.  .  . .  But now I have only the three.

The Ladies of the Book Club c. 1987. Left, Linda Nicholas, Back, Mary Malone, Bottom, Nancy Bjerring and Right, me

The Ladies of the Book Club c. 1987. Left, Linda Nicholas, Back, Mary Malone, Bottom, Nancy Bjerring and Right, me

My brother Peter once exclaimed at how my mother and I could go from plain to pretty in a matter of minutes with a little judicious hair and makeup.  For years the women in my now nearly thirty-year old book club were able to “come up well” . . . until we couldn’t.  We had a group photo done of us in those glory days.  We have not repeated the exercise.  Before and after. You don’t want to go there.

An old family friend used to say of women wearing housecoats and curlers in public, “It’s all right to look like that, but do you have to come out of the house?”  Every night I don a denim bag I brought used off of eBay, put my hair in pink foam rollers and my feet in Wellies and take the dogs out for their last pee, praying that we don’t run into anymore.   If I do not curl my hair, I look like a woman who kidnaps children from shopping malls.   No, really.  And blow drying isn’t an option.  I can’t bear to look at myself in the mirror long enough to successfully pull it off.

At CREA PAC c.1993

At CREA PAC c.1993

Last year at the Canadian Real Estate Association’s Political Action Day in Ottawa I opened up a new publication outlining CREA’s lobbying successes over the years.  There was a candid black and white photo of me taken twenty two years ago.  I went around the conference showing everybody the photo and saying, “See! This was me!”  To my alarm and distress, most people looked incredulous and asked, “Really?” or, “Wow! You’re kidding!”  Needless to say, a downward spiral quickly ensued. I knew it was pathetic to persist in my quest to find somebody, anybody who would respond to my showing them the ancient photo by saying, “You haven’t changed a bit,” but, alas, I could not help myself.

Right now I am reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals and watching Ken Burns’ Civil War for the third time, trying to wrap my mind around what tore my native country asunder during that conflict.  This is my idea of a good time.  I am a history nerd, a political junkie and a tree hugging, left leaning radical Obamist.  Documentaries are my guilty pleasure, a pleasure in which I indulge perhaps to excess.  I subscribe to serious podcasts and listen to them religiously.  I sit on the Steering Committee for the London Homeless Coalition, for Pete’s sake.  From all of which you might deduce that I am a fairly serious person, but you would be wrong.  You would be wrong because, at the age of 61, I’m still expending blood and treasure – that is to say, my dwindling stock of time – on pretty.

Ruth Skinner Zant. OK, but she didn't last.

Ruth Skinner Zant. OK, but she didn’t last.

Once, while visiting my then ninety-five year old grandfather, I gestured to a photo of my grandmother taken in her early twenties; she had predeceased him by a dozen years.  “Grandmother was awfully pretty,” I said to spark a lagging conversation.  To which Granddaddy replied, “She was OK, but she didn’t last.”

I guess none of us do.

Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.  And then they didn’t.

Bare ruined choirs

The Angel Moroni and Joseph Smith

The Angel Moroni and Joseph Smith

My father had a ginormous number of cousins – his father had come from a family of thirteen and his mother from a family of ten.  One of these was Cousin Faye, who converted to Mormonism when she married her husband Gil.  I’ve always found religion of any description intriguing, so, when I was thirteen and Cousin Faye came for a visit, I let her try and convert me, thereby earning the thanks of a grateful family. They retired to the living room to drink and otherwise blaspheme, while a woefully decaffeinated Faye and I stayed behind in the family room, poring over the Book of Mormon, which I found secretly hilarious.  For starters, there’s the name of the angel who served as God’s emissary — Moroni.  What kid wouldn’t find that funny?

Back in those days, Mormons were the great genealogists.  One of the core tenets of that creed is that the dead can be baptized by proxy into the faith post mortem – this solves the messy problem of what to do about all those unlucky ancestors who happened to be born before Moroni clued Joseph Smith in on the location of the  Golden Tablets or who otherwise didn’t get the memo.  To do this, however, the Mormons had to determine just who those hapless relatives were.  I mean, you couldn’t let just anybody in.  Hence the great Mormon genealogical project.  And they meant business.  The original records, preserved on over 2 million rolls of microfilm containing 2 billion names, are locked away behind fourteen-tonne doors in the Granite Mountain Records Vault, a climate-controlled depository designed to withstand a nuclear attack.  Think Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Only in Utah.

Thanks to Faye’s considerable efforts to trace our family as far back as Mormonly possible, we have a family tree that goes all the way back to 1605 and one Anthony Hardy. It was his son John who first came to the New World, settling initially on the James River in Virginia before hauling up stakes and moving to Chowan in Bertie County, North Carolina, where the family was to occupy property demarcated by such landmarks as “the middle swamp”, the “rooty branch” and “the Great Beaverdam” for the next two hundred plus years.

Plaque on the Jerusalem Lutheran Church at Ebenezer

Plaque on the Jerusalem Lutheran Church at Ebenezer

My mother’s family also traced the Zant and Loving families (her father’s people) back to their European roots, only without any help from Mormons.  I have in my possession a much faded mimeographed copy of that family tree.  What is new and kind of amazing is how the Internet allows us to fill in some of the blanks as to who those people were.  For my last blog post – Ruminations on the Confederacy —  I noted that my great – times six – grandfather Solomon Zant married Elizabetha Keiffer in 1767 in the town of Ebenezer in Effingham County in Georgia.  I googled ‘Ebenezer’ and found that it was established in 1734 by 150 Protestants expelled as heretics from the Catholic Archbishopric of Saltzburg – they envisioned it as a religious Utopia on the Georgian frontier, a fanciful notion if ever there was one.   Construction of  the town’s Jerusalem Lutheran Church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, began in the year of Solomon and Elizabeth’s marriage.  As it turns out, both Soloman’s mother and his wife were from Saltzburg. Wowza! My ancestors were religious refugees and wannabe Utopians.  I did not know that.

Ultimately Cousin Faye not only baptized by proxy some thirteen plus generations of Hardys, but also sealed them in celestial marriage for eternity to their respective spouses.  This upset my older brother no end; he saw it as tantamount to tying cats up in a bag, only forever – in his case, this would prove to be a number of cats.  Did her Mormon magic work?  I hope not, because 1) the idea of a non-alcoholic Heaven isn’t my idea of a Hardy Family Reunion and 2) if I’m to be sealed for eternity, I much prefer my second husband to that other one.

Cousin Faye, the Angel Moroni and the Saltzburgers