Lifetime Friendships, Parks & Ghosts

Think of the park where you played when you were young. It was probably the closest one to your house. Back then, you could walk to the park, meet your friends there and play all day without much worry at all.

So you've taken yourself to that place and you are accompanied by all your childhood friends and the bonds have been casted in plaster. Bonds that are perhaps or even likely the strongest you have ever formed beyond family and partners.

Everyone is there even those who have exited this life. They are all smiling, healthy and you can reach out and touch them. Today in this flashback, in this park, everyone is very much alive and safe.

The mission of the day - simple - have fun, laugh, chase one another across an open field, or a basketball court. Learn something - how to throw a Frisbee or pitch a strike or do a lay up. Gather that endless energy that has returned to every molecule of your being and put it all out there for everyone to see. Express yourself without any fear of being judged or silenced.

Smell the scent of summer all over you. Talk and talk a lot and really fast as you are unable to contain your excitement. Play a game for 5 minutes and then switch to another and keep it going until sun set when your mom calls you in for dinner.

Live in the here and now because when you're a kid, that's all you know and that's all you care about.

Laughing, joking, so much a part of being a child and so much lacking later in life when you are an adult. As an adult you often find yourself saying, " I have not laughed that much in ....". As an adult you hang onto those moments at dinner with friends or family or at work when as a group you laugh so hard that you cry. As a child that is a daily occurrence.

Have you ever gone back to a park or any special place from your childhood? Have you ever returned to your old neighborhood and felt the ghosts surround you as you found yourself capturing images of your friends faces? Places from our pasts are overloaded with memories - places from our pasts freeze time and capture everything that escaped as we moved on in life.

My park (Wentworth Park later renamed Kirwin Park) remains in back of the house where I was born and remained for over 20 years. My parents still live there and my nephews play baseball and hockey in that very park where my brothers dressed me in over sized goalie equipment and took slap shots on me. The park where I played girls softball, where my dad and my brothers were in baseball leagues and where me and my friend Karen first learned how to skate.

Karen and I lived across the park from one another - out back porches facing one another. So after having spent the entire day together and before our parent would send us to bed (and tell us we could not use the phone any longer), she would turn her porch light on and off and I would do the same - it was a signal that said goodnight - it was a signal of true childhood friendship.

It's also the park with the green bleachers under which I kissed a boy (and I liked it) for the first time. 

Later in life before the house was sold, before my dad passed away, I always visited them and headed out to the back porch. I set my dogs loose to run and roll in the grass. I watched the sky change from blue to gray to orange and I could still hear the ball players shouting and cheering under the giant lights. I breathed in the sweet scent of summer as it turned to fall and I had a vision of me, my brothers and our friends running all over yelling and screaming and having an amazing time.

I wish I could go back to that park with my brothers and friends and spend all day and all night there until curfew. I wish that porch light would blink just one more time as the ghosts appear and say hello - as they fly through the air and pay their respects to that sacred place in time.

Dogs, Heaven & Heartache

 This is a tribute, a pool of memories and a heavy heartache.

It's the one year anniversary of the passing of both of my dogs. We never would have expected to lose them within a month of one another. For all of those who know me, my family and friends, you also know this story too well yet it is a story I relive, day in, day out and as a writer, I write about what I live.

I had two dogs and they were the loves of my life. They were my children.

Buddy was 13 going on 14 yrs of age. We adopted him from a shelter when he was 4 months old. He was a Flat Coat Retriever, actually a sought after and very expensive breed. The people who gave him up were living in a small apartment, leaving him there for 10 hours each day unattended and he consistently barked and destroyed things while they were absent (big surprise).

He was a wild puppy. He barked all the time. He definitely mistaken me for a fellow canine and wanted to play with me and throw me around. He destroyed my bike helmet, speaker stands, spoon couch, coffee table, photo album (the only thing I couldn't replace - black and whites of my Grandmother and family)yet nothing belonging to my husband.

He ate a challah (cooling off in the kitchen before Shabbos. He drank wine (that my late father-in-law spilled all over the floor). He emptied the knife drawer without enduring a single cut. He use to escape from the groomer and be waiting for us outside - ditto for daycare and he thought it was really funny when we brought him to dog runs and he refused to come to us when it was time to leave. That would go on for sometimes over an hour until we were able to build a "posse" of other dog owners - whose dogs did return to them.

We brought him everywhere and on all of our vacations. We never left him in the hotel room or tent. We never placed him in a kennel and he even came to my friends wedding in Toronto (shout out to Mitch Lerner).

He ran on the beach in Maine and climbed to the Notch in Vermont. He stayed beside me in bed when I was sick and watched over me. He waited for me to return home from work every day so we could go on our walk or run. He hung out with my Dad when he was sick and watched over him.

And 6 years ago we decided to adopt another dog so Buddy could have a little brother. His name was Buster. He was a Golden Retriever/Lab Mix or you could say a "backyard dog" truly. His mother (a golden mix belonging to a friend of my husband) escaped from their backyard on the very day she was supposed to go and get fixed. She ran all the way to the house of a single ladies man - a large Golden mix in the neighbourhood and well they did the nasty. She then returned home pregnant and a few months later her family was expecting a baby of their own and caring for her 6 puppies.

We were invited to visit the litter when they were 4 weeks old. They all looked pretty much the same except for Buster who had an extra long blaze from the top of his head to his nose. I let them know that he was my choice and they asked that we return in 2 weeks (at 6 weeks of age for him should have really been 8 weeks before he left his mom but they couldn't manage any longer and we did not want to take any chances).

Buster was the most innocent, sweet, lovable dog I have ever had. He seemed to identify me as his actual mother. I guess it all started when we picked him up to take him home and he was shivering so I put him in my fleece next to my heart and zipped it up so all you could see was his heading poking out. He followed me every where and he studied my body language and facial expressions and voice tone to the point where I didn't have to move or say anything in order for him to know what I was going to do next.

He waited at the top of the stairs for me to come home at the end of the day. I loved him so much that leaving to work actually caused me to have pain in my gut because I wasn't going to be with him. When I would return home, he would jump up on me and knock me into the wall and then run away so that I could chase him. This was a daily ritual. He never grew tired of it nor did I.

He was always beside me whether I was sleeping or watching TV or reading on the couch. He had one rule - I had to scratch his belly while he layed upside down beside me and if I stopped, he lifted his head and gave me a dirty look (eyes to the side - head tilted).

He and Buddy were brothers and best friends. He followed Buddy's lead and looked to him for advice.

One night, a year ago, Buddy suffered a massive stroke. He collapsed to the floor, his head was stuck in a tilted position, his eyes were flickering and he became paralyzed. By the time we brought him to the Vet he was barely coherent and knowing there was no reversal only a worse situation to come, we let him go. It was one of the most awful experiences of my life. It happens so quickly. It's humane and it's with dignity but once you see that needle and that IV plunge itself in - your final goodbye is too quick for such a good friend and true love.

When we returned home, Buster greeted us at the truck and waited for the back door to open so that he could run circles around the garage with Buddy. We were still crying and I really couldn't explain anything to poor Buster. His brother was gone and within a few days, I found him staring out the front window, slouched on the couch, hoping that Buddy would come running up the walk.

We were in so much pain but we also recognized the incredibly charmed life that Buddy had led and all that we had learned from his friendship and dedication. So we decided to adopt another dog to serve as a new friend and brother to Buster.

Next up was Gainey - a beautiful boy - German Shepard - Husky - who knows what else? Mix - Gainey is an incredibly intelligent, calm dog who speaks often(howls) but otherwise is Mr. Cool, calm and collective. Him and Buster hit it off although Buster never quite let him all the way in I think as a sign of loyalty to Buddy.

Things were getting a bit better and we were healing and then the worst possible thing happened - Buster at almost 5 years of age became very sick, very rapidly. He stopped eating but he had always been a fussy eater and not a big one at that so at first we just decided to give him some rice and other dog food to keep his interest. Nothing seemed to work and then he started to show signs of being ill that I won't get into in this post. Two weeks later he was diagnosed with Cancer. At that point he had been spending days at the Vet where they were hydrating him and treating him for nausea so they could hopefully get some food into him but nothing was working and he was dwindling away.

You know when you look back at something in time and you want to slap yourself for what you did or didn't do and you think of how trivial every day life can be in comparison to life and death situations? Well at the time Buster was spending his days at the vet (and nights at home during which my husband stayed up every two hours to flush Buster's IV - the only way we could keep him at home with us at night) I had just started a new freelance contract in communications for a hospital. I had tons of work and as a freelancer, once you get a contract, you have to milk it for all its worth because you don't know when your next one will come. I left during the day a few times to visit Buster at the vet but had I known the outcome, I would have given up that contract and spent every day all day with him.

When I did take off a few hours during the day, mostly at lunch time, it killed me seeing him all hooked up and in a cage. I kissed his head and his blaze and ran my fingers through his soft hair over his ears and I told him how much I loved him and what a good boy he was and then I returned to work.

A few days later I don't know why but I suddenly felt like I should take the afternoon off and go be with Buster. My husband had the same inclination even though we did not discuss this and were quite surprised to see one another at the vet. When we arrived, Buster was being treated for muscle spasms that had started a few hours earlier - a reaction to medication - and so they gave him relaxants and one of the technicians was holding him in her arms. When we walked into the room, he slowly made his way over to me and collapsed in my lap. I wrapped my body around him and held him as closely as I could as if to guard him and keep him safe so that the grim reaper wouldn't come and take him.

Just then our Vet came in and the results from further tests were conclusive that he had terminal Cancer that had spread to all of his organs and it was a matter of days or less. We were given the option to take him home and let him pass from starvation or to let him go right then and there at the vet with dignity and without further suffering. I couldn't believe I was saying goodbye to my other boy, my special boy at only 4 years of age. I cry as I write this and let me tell you, my husband and I were balling our eyes out in disbelief. I wished for him to have a second chance, to be spared and knowing that was impossible, I wished for my entire being to become instantly numb to cut off the pain I was feeling.

We did what was best for Buster. I placed the side of my face by his ear so he could hear me saying "I love you Buster - I wish I could save you but I can't so go be with Buddy". My husband and I reached our arms and bodies over him and kissed his face and his blaze and within seconds he was gone. He just layed there like he was asleep, his beautiful little face and his powder, blond coat and his long white eyelashes.

I wanted to go with him. It was that bad. I felt like someone had come along and stabbed me in the heart and grabbed Buster and ran away with him to a place I would never find.

We cremated Buster as we had Buddy. My two beautiful boys who were just running around wrestling and eating each other's faces a month prior - at summer's end - were suddenly taken from us at Fall's beginning.

Often, I come home and expect to find Buster waiting for me on the top of the stairs. It's the one image that sticks in my mind most - him just sitting there anticipating my entrance. Buster was the first being that I would see when I woke up each morning and the last I would see before going to bed. I miss him every day and I look at his picture by my bedside every night before I go to sleep.

Sometimes he comes to me in my dreams. Buddy is with him as well. It's always the same dream. I am walking on a country road and there is a light fog in the distance. I hear the sound of paws pounding on the pavement. I look ahead and around a bend, Buster and Buddy come running toward me and when we meet, I lean down and hold them in my arms and I kiss them and laugh and I tell them how much I've missed them and they say "Oh come on Mom - let's just go run around and have some fun - life is too short and we can't stay with you for long"

Dogs live short lives or maybe humans live lives that are too long. I don't know which is better but I do know that dogs - my dogs - are and were gifts from God. They were sent to remind me that I am able to give love without asking for anything in return and to care for someone just because I love them and that is all I want to do . 

Dogs also teach us that we can be loved wholly for who we are and not for what we look like or how much money we make or what we have of material possessions in this world. They love us for our souls and they are souls in many ways.

Losing someone you love is losing a part of yourself and a part of your life. There is nothing you can do in those final moments other than hold them and pray that they leave this world for a better place.

Other than that, all I can do is dream about a winding road in the country, covered partially in fog until I reach a bend and Buddy and Buster come running toward me just wanting a kiss and to play. So simple, so brief and so it goes on and on.

Buster - when I close my eyes I see you - you will remain in my dreams and in my soul forever.

If you've lost a dog, feel free to comment and note his/her name.

James Taylor spoke French to me and I fell in love with a man in a turquoise outfit

I met James Taylor many years ago at a concert in Saratoga Springs. My boyfriend at the time was 20 years my senior (an attorney who dabbled in entertainment) and he brought me to the concert for my birthday.

I have been a big James Taylor fan since way back to my camp days when the best looking, most popular guy played "You've Got a Friend" on his guitar (and I was thinking to myself - "you bet you do").

Okay so we are going to skip the whole James Taylor thing for just a moment and move on to the other part of the story.

I live in Montreal and so having a knowledge of the French language is extremely useful. With this in mind, at the ripe age of 17 my friends and I decided to spend 6 weeks in a remote French village and participate in a French immersion program.

Here are some other reasons why as a teenager I wanted to go to a small remote French town.

1 - There was no drinking age.
2 - We could therefore get smashed every night (because of #1)
3 - The Quebec government  footed the bill.
4 - We could improve our French by dating French boys (if we weren't smashed)

So on a beautiful, sunny, Thursday morning back in 1980 something friends and I got on a 9 hour bus ride to our semester away.

On the first day of class, we were placed in these cubicles in a language lab and asked to complete an oral test. Based on our scores, we would then be placed in the appropriate level of French class.

Here is a sample of one of the questions - I will translate to the best of my ability.

A - La voiture est dans la garage - the car is in the garage.
B - La voiture est sur la garage - the car is in on top of the garage
C - La voiture est sous la garage (the car is under the garage - or is it dessous?)

I chose A (after twirling my finger around in the air, closing my eyes and seeing where my finger tip landed) and moved forward with that well thought out method for the remaining questions.

To my utter shock, I was placed in the Advanced Group while my friends were placed in the Beginner Group (they went on to have much more fun - for example on one of our "field days" they all wore pylons on their heads while my class sang a French song about a little girl who liked to weave baskets (not that there is anything wrong with that).

School began and we did the same thing on Day One as we did every other day of the program - we drank - a lot. Actually it was encouraged as they brought us on day trips to the forest (there was nowhere else to go except the steel mills) where they served us wine with lunch and then more wine without lunch.

They were however very strict about one thing - you were never to speak English until the program was over. My roommate and I didn't quite agree with this policy so as soon as we returned to our "pad" we spoke English. We had no idea that our "animators" were listening outside our door to make sure we were not cheating.

We were called before the board and reprimanded for speaking English and warned that if we did so again, we would be sent home.

"The Board" consisted of someones grandmother who was bored of playing Bingo at the local Seniors home, someones aunt Henrietta who looked like Tom Petty and smoked a cigar and the gardener who mowed the lawn in back of our residence and showed us his "parts" on a regular basis.

We were so fearful of being sent home that we apologized profusely and promised never to speak English again (until we returned to our rooms and started drinking too much and were only able to speak English).

During my stay, I managed to find an older man who I was very attracted to - that being one of the Deans. So being an ignorant 17 year old before the time of social media and YouTube, I told him in my best French that I wanted to go for a ride in his Corvette (even though he wore "outfits" and one in particular was turquoise - my mother loves that word - she uses it like this - "Lisa you would look really lovely in this outfit I bought when I was in Florida - it's an Anne Shapiro - or Anne Schwartz - I don't know).

Yeah so he was a handsome man - tall, green eyes, mustache and all wrapped up in his outfit. We ended up kissing in his car after the final dance and the next day I was back on the bus heading home.

However I did manage to slip my number to the Dean saying "If you are ever in Montreal - call me" (you should never say this to anyone).

He showed up in Montreal a month later and asked me out for dinner. I met up with him but the attraction on my end had dwindled. He however asked me if I would like to come and spend Christmas with him and his mom at which point I realized he lived with his mother (not that there is anything wrong with that), he wore outfits by Anne Shapiro and Anne Schwartz and that I had to immediately tell him that I was moving to Florida that very week.

I made one more mistake (okay many more) - instead of practicing my French, I spoke English with him.

Now back to the James Taylor portion of this story:

My boyfriend promised he was going to introduce me to James Taylor and get me back stage. Before the show, he did just that. We waited in back of the stadium and James Taylor walked out with a large bodyguard to where we and a few contest winners were standing. He was totally down to earth in his lumber shirt and jeans and sandals. He said hello to the contest winners  and then he moved toward me and I froze. James Taylor was looking right into my eyes (and he was not wearing an outfit).

Then my boyfriend decided to take care of the introductions "This is Lisa - she is a bit nervous - she came from Montreal to see your show (as if it was such a big journey from Montreal to Saratoga) and James reached out his hand and said "Bonjour Lisa - J'aime Montreal beaucoup - and then still in French - I lived in Paris for a year and so I love to practice my French" and this tremendous flush of regret came over me. I had cheated in the French Immersion program all those years back and now I was paying for it dearly.

I struggled for the words - I reflected on all that I had learned back in that small town  (like how to drink shots and inject vodka into a watermelon).

Once he realized I was clearly challenged in some way - he grabbed my ticket stub and gave me his autograph. He shook my hand one more time and then he was gone.

Moral of the Story: If you are given the choice between going on a fully paid 6 week French Immersion Program to a small remote town to learn a new language or going on a fully paid 6 week French Immersion Program to a small remote town to get totally wasted - don't be a fool - figure out at way to accomplish both and maybe one day you will be able to speak French to James Taylor or at least kiss a man in a turquoise outfit.