I spent yesterday celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary with my amazing husband, almost 33 years since we first met. If you’d told me all those years ago that I would be married this long, I wouldn’t have believed you. My track record up to that point had been nothing short of disastrous. Nevertheless, we usually recognize the date simply, a day free of work and the usual chores, a quiet dinner out.

We always manage to note our nuptials in the nick of time, right before the looming national holiday, a boisterous and bombastic event that steamrolls over our quaint little memories of a small country wedding with only 25 guests. (And that count included my husband and me.) For Throwback Thursday on Facebook yesterday, I joked that the above photo could easily have been taken in 1925 instead of 1985 if it weren’t for the Instamatic camera with 110 film that my husband holds in his left hand.

This year another anniversary follows fast on the heels of firecracker festivals and sizzling backyard feasts. It’s a new one that I dread, and one that I will always remember because of its proximity to the Fourth. Funny, how I don’t often recall the death dates of dear, departed pets, but this one seems to be different. He was the last, at least for a while until we become settled again; and in my travels of late, he returns to me in the form of farm cats at the retreat center where I work, who snooze on the porch steps all afternoon, or find a warm lap in the cool dawn dew when one becomes available from a lawn chair.

Once a country cat, my old buddy would have loved this place, where his kind roam freely all day to catch mice and tease the birds, though still called in to safety every night away from coyotes and other creatures of the night who would do them harm.  When I first came, they ran from me and stared back at a respectful distance, but now we are on a first-name basis. They tell me all about their nine lives, and I tell them about my old friend, how he could hunt even without his front claws, how he loved to stay out all night and sack out all day in a corner on the floor, no soft bed needed.

But I keep to myself how he ended his days up in a third-floor apartment, with a cupful of grass instead of a whole backyard lush with the stuff, while birds taunted him through the glass door of a balcony the size of his litter box. We did what we could to make the transition easier for him, since another home in the country or even a new suburban yard were out of the question for us in this stage of our journey. A cowardly trip to the shelter was unimaginable. In the end, he was stuck in his geriatric ways enough to be dependent on the people who took him in all those years ago, for better or for worse.

At least on this Fourth of July, I take solace in knowing that he doesn’t have to endure the battle sounds of our country’s anniversary, unless he wants to.


When the Last Pet Leaves

The last picture of him.
The final picture of him.

We said goodbye to our cat this summer, the last of five pets who came with us when we moved from the country back to the suburbs 13 years ago. With his departure, our 30-year streak of caring for a dependent (pet and/or child) ended, as well. We are truly empty nesters now.

I won’t lie to you — it feels strange. I’m having a hard time adjusting. No more trips down the grocery pet aisle, no more lugging cat litter up two flights of stairs, no more fur in the dryer vent. Okay, maybe I don’t miss those. But on the other hand, I do miss his greeting at the door after a long trip, his purring for no particular reason, his warm body hogging most of our bed on cold winter nights.

This particular cat was MY cat, my familiar. In early years outside, he left me half-dead gifts by the backdoor; in later years indoors he brought me tiny trinkets carefully placed on the floor by my side of the bed — buttons, toe nail clippings and plastic bits, choking hazards that a lesser being would ingest and end up at the emergency clinic. But not him. He caught elusive flies and terrorized the house spiders, leaving their gigantic crumpled carcasses in full view as evidence of his love for me.

He was a sickly, flea-infested stray who showed up at our door 14 years ago, and pushed the limits of my husband’s patience when I called to tell him that “we had a situation” with a stray kitten. “You didn’t feed him, did you?” he asked warily. And of course I had.

I must admit, this was always the plan. Child off living her own life, pets gently ushered out. But the empty rooms devoid of hairy tumbleweeds seem sterile now, and the silence that greets me when I turn to say we’ll be back soon is hard to bear.

Life goes on, however. Every day I notice more spiders moving in, rejoicing in corners free of feline tormentors, still alive.


Day 17: My Smile
Day 17: My Smile

Okay, I hate taking selfies. So here’s you-know-who with his perpetual dilemma: is he smiling, or not? There’s a thin line between crusty and cheerful. But I guess we’ll never know for sure.

I’ve decided to participate in Susannah Conway’s December Reflections  photo prompts again this year. During this hectic and stressful season, won’t you join me in mindful reflection from life’s photographic window seats and contemplative comments that provide refuge from the madness.

Wash Day


On my hands and knees
I scrub away your life
left in tile cracks and corners
of walls, the fine hairs
from countless days shed
waiting by our door
released in the snap of
doormat, the mop shaking
off memories from
fifteen years’ worth of
vigilance against life’s
marauders and circling
storms that dared threaten
your family, while carpet worn
into your shape testifies
to a loyalty that reaches far
beyond a dog’s age, for
when these windows crack
open to air out the void,
I feel you brush by, cleansed.
 *For the canine companion we lost last week.
NaPoWriMo #17
I’m writing a poem every day in April as part of NaPoWriMo’s celebration of National Poetry Month. We may be able to live without poetry, but who would want to?

What the Groundhog Didn’t Tell You

The cat didn’t see his reflection, either.

Okay, so Punxsutawney Phil and most of his rodent brethren predicted an early spring this year. His poor track record aside, you can’t deny the lengthening of days and the smell of thaw in the air. From precious offerings for protection of livestock (not necessarily groundhogs) to feasts celebrating a good lambing, this halfway point between winter solstice and the spring equinox has been as big a deal to the ancients as our Super Bowl rituals are to the sports obsessed (fair-weather halftime and commercial fans excluded).

I think modern folks can all agree, if they happen to look up from their mobile devices, that something is going on this time of year. There is the promise of love and/or bling on February 14th as well as the hope for a future tax refund. The weather maps show a good chance of enough rain to wash the road salt off the car. And I can always count on noticing the geese and robins, even though they’ve been around all winter or at least most of it. I want my indicators of spring to show up on my timeline.

At my house, our ancient corgi has rejuvenated herself enough to run pre-dinner laps again (no matter how wobbly or brief), while the cat who won’t step foot on anything white or wet has taken to poking his nose out the backdoor for a whiff of catnip to come. Late at night we hear him yelling disconsolately at a toy mouse that refuses to resurrect itself. Now there’s the spring-fever spirit.

This year, I have begun too many projects, always a good sign. Most of these could be fun, even. My own offerings of knitting, writing, sewing, pastel and music are lying about the house in various stages of address. I’ve signed up for a painting class, and made plans for a healthier diet and a big spring cleaning that will probably happen late summer.

There is no sure way to predict how this will all turn out, of course. The joy is in the process, the rush of potential and the good kind of exhaustion after a long day of using your imagination. The kind of tired you felt falling into bed as a kid. I have missed that.

As for assessing the whims of the gods, weather or otherwise, I have only this to say. The meteorologists are forecasting a big old nor’easter sweeping up the east coast later this week. And calling for the groundhog’s head.

Way to go, Phil.

Eye of the Cat

I do believe we’ve known each other in past lives, nine at least. Something about that gleam of recognition, the cry for home from rescues wandering in childhood’s corn fields, lonely strays found waiting at the door or languishing inside cardboard boxes offered by finders who don’t want to be keepers.

On a summer afternoon in this incarnation, he threw himself at my bare knees, and hung on for dear life. Covered in fleas, sick with virus, he had found me again.

I bring him back from the dead, only to save him over and over. There was the sinister piece of plastic stuck in his mouth, the suicidal leap onto a hot stove, the recovery of that giant hair ball after hundreds of dollars spent at the vet.

In exchange, he kills spiders in my dungeons, leaves me offerings by the backdoor, and brings the tiniest of lost treasures to lay at my feet. At night, he is the guardian of my dreams.

Off duty, he can be found basking in past glories on the living room ottoman, surveying our kingdom while he grooms his armaments for battle.

After ten years together, I know this to be true: Our union is inevitable as I gaze into the face of my familiar.

Nip it in the bud

I’ve seen those eyes before: in high school parking lots and open-air concerts, at parties your “mama told you not to come” to. He sits by the door waiting for another hit of aromatherapy.

I was smart this year and planted it in the front porch pot with the basil as olfactory camouflage. And that is the only reason his supply has lasted this long.

Let’s face it — dude is an addict. He doesn’t even roll in it anymore, just swallows the entire leaf like it’s his last day on earth.

Which it might be if he doesn’t shut up.

Most years I’ve tried to grow the stuff, he sniffs it out and mows down the whole crop like a kitty combine. Later, I’ll come upon yet another sad scene of destruction, plants inhaled down to broken stems, nothing left for a single, solitary . . . locust.

Oh, and he’s too good for store-bought bags. He turns up his little pink nose at the stuffed mice, herbal sachets and smell-enhanced teasers on a stick.

Only the real thing will do. Which is what I discovered this summer growing as a healthy volunteer in my flower bed, hidden in the weeds. Just to be sure, I pulled off a leaf and passed a sample under my sleeping tiger’s snout, causing a miraculous resurrection.

Next thing I know, he’s racing around the house high on life, munching at the food bowl, crazy as a — cat.

So yeah. This explains the all-night howl jams at our house.

He knows he’s busted.

Photo Friday: The Last Peep Show

or The Sad Tale of Eggbert

Is it just me, or do marshmallow peeps taste different these days?

Back in the ’60s I went to a classmate’s Easter party and came home with some live peeps as fun favors. Yep, at the end of the festivities each child was given a little bag with two baby chicks inside, fuzzy and yellow as tennis balls.

I lived on a farm, so it wasn’t terribly inconvenient to bring home real poultry, but I often wonder what the suburban kids did when they showed up at their ranch houses with cheeping party prizes.

Anyway, there appeared to be a male and female, so we named them Eggbert and Henrietta, and kept them warm inside a cardboard box in the kitchen with a window screen on top to keep them safe.

One day we came in the kitchen to check on the chicks and found the screen pushed aside. Henrietta was missing.

I swear, our dog, who had been hanging around the kitchen quite a bit, had a smile on his face.

That left Eggbert, who grew into an increasingly leggy and awkward youth. He was obviously a rooster, and spent a good deal of adolescence practicing his frustrated mating call in our barn. All for naught, as we had no hen house, and (with the loss of Henrietta) no flock.

He was also terrorized by my brother and me into being our bird pet. We dressed him up, built elaborate homes (cages) for him, and wandered around the farm with the unfortunate fowl tucked under our arms.

Contrary to my mother’s dire predictions, he never pecked our eyes out (although we deserved it).

He hated my mother with such passion that he often chased her across the barnyard, and hopped on the car where she had taken refuge, pecking viciously at the windshield while she drove off, wipers flapping in defense.

Taking his cock of the walk status seriously, he used the bank barn’s entrance ramp like a runway, silently stampeding down from the gaping barn doorway like some feathered superhero, wings held out, twitching and stomping in an elaborate dance meant to scare his nemesis witless before launching himself onto the leg of an adversary.

His victims were many, including relatives, long-lost friends, handymen and the president of the bank where my parents were applying for a business loan.

Eggbert didn’t like surprise visitors.

This went on for months, until one day my brother and I couldn’t find Eggbert anywhere. The barn loft was silent, the doorway empty, and my mother no longer had to run for her car, after checking to see if the coast was clear.

My parents finally gently suggested that ol’ Eggbert wasn’t coming back. Probably caught by a fox.

Sadly we put away the adornments (rags) we had made for Eggbert, and took apart the homes we designed for his unwilling occupancy.

Years later, my folks admitted that after multiple attacks on friend and foe alike, not to mention the ungodly racket of his crowing attempts, they gave Eggbert to the neighbor for his stew pot.

The old farmer reported it was the toughest bird he’d ever eaten.

Kinda like peeps.