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Goodbye to Baxter, a Loving Dog

It’s said that a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child. Because Son and Daughter 2 (aka Daughter-in-law) and their three children said goodbye to Baxter, their 13-year-old Boxer, I’m sad. Baxter was family. My Grand, four year-old Neil would say, “There are four boys at our house. Me, Daniel, Daddy and Baxter.”

When Husband and I visited Son and Daughter 2’s home, Baxter welcomed us first. I braced myself for his full-force hug as he leaned against my legs. When I sat down, Baxter lay his head in my lap, his tongue licking my hands, my arms. It took a while for me to learn to say sternly, “Baxter, go away,” as Son suggested. That sounded cruel. Surely he’d understand, “Baxter, I love you, too and you are such a good dog and I’ll throw a ball with you later, but right now I want to hug my Grands.”

These three Grands, ages 6, 4, and 2, have only known life with Baxter. He’d be asleep, even snoring, on his mat in the corner of the family room and one of them would pet him or sit beside him or lay face to face with him. When Baxter awoke, he’d lie still or stand and walk to another room, another mat, or his crate. I wondered if he hid in his crate for peace and quiet.

Although all three Grands loved Baxter, two-year-old Ann turned to him for comfort. When we visited recently, Ann was unhappy that she couldn’t do what she wanted. She ran across the room and said, “I need my Baxter!” Baxter, sound asleep, didn’t flinch when Ann slung herself across his body.

It’s Daughter 2 I’m saddest for. Baxter was given to her as a young pup and he kept her company, especially when Son travelled on overnight business trips. She wrote the following tribute.

Baxter — my sweet, people-loving furry boy. My baby before I had a real baby.
He was a leaner, a licker, and a lover. As long as he was getting loved on, he was happy (even at the vet). You could see it in his short, wagging tail and feel it as his entire body weight leaned against your legs, and he licked whatever he could reach.
His ears were velvety soft, and he had a small white spot on the back of his neck. He had one black toenail, and his paws smelled a bit like corn chips. (One learns these things when an 85-pound furry boy shares your bed, occasionally). He loved peanut butter and would eat almost anything, including small stinky socks.
He lived a long, happy life. I’m grateful to have had him by my side for so long – in four different states and numerous homes, along for the ride in life’s big and small moments. His absence has left an almost tangible void in our house.

So Son, Daughter 2, and Grands, know that others are sad with you. Baxter was one loving dog.

 

 

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Roses, Violets, Sugar, and Cards

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 7.54.23 AMIt’s Valentine’s Day. A day to send greetings to those we love. A day that the Greeting Card Association says that over a billion cards are sent, and it’s estimated that almost two hundred million roses are produced for this holiday. That’s about 17,000,000 bouquets of a dozen roses.

When I think of Valentine’s Day cards, I think of a two-line poem I first heard Dad quote when I was a child, and it was printed on some of the first mass produced cards in the mid-1800s.

Roses are red, violets are blue

Sugar is sweet and so are you.

But that’s not how the poem was first written. These lines were adapted from a rhyme published in 1784 in a collection of English nursery rhymes and read as follows:

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,

The honey’s sweet, and so are you.

Thou are my love and I am thine;

I drew thee to my Valentine.

The origins of these words can be traced back all the way to the 16th century, 1590, and were written by Sir Edmund Spenser in his epic The Faerie Queene. To describd a fair lady, he wrote, ‘She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew.’ All these years later, cards are printed with variations of the two lines about roses and violets and honey.

By the time you read this, I’m sure everyone has given and received Valentine cards. But what if you haven’t? It’s not too late. All you need is a pen or keyboard, a little time, and a willingness to put your feelings in words.

Husband and I have celebrated more that fifty Valentine’s Days. Yes, fifty! Three as college sweethearts and forty-eight as husband and wife. The cards we’ve given each other chronicle our time together. From lovey-dovey courtship days. Busyness of early marriage, each holding a job. Appreciation of love and care given to children and family. To funny verses about love lasting through the years. And we’ve exchanged gifts of flowers and candy.

I do appreciate every card, every gift, but I most remember one gift and one card. When Husband and I were college students, I was the only girl in my dormitory who received a dozen long- stemmed yellow roses. Yellow, not red, roses. No doubt the florist tried to convince Husband that red roses signify love and romance and were the perfect Valentine flower. Yellow roses represent joy and friendship. Husband knew yellow roses were my favorite flowers.

And my best-loved card didn’t cost one penny, except Husband’s time and the expense of printer ink. Not a store-bought card, but a personal card. I read this just-for-me card every Valentine’s Day and sometimes in between.

So write a card for your sweetheart. Begin with ‘Roses are red and violets are blue. Sugar is sweet and so are you.’ You can’t go wrong with those words. They’ve been around a long time.

Collecting: A good hobby?

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 7.45.11 AM‘Surely, collecting is a good hobby.’ With those words I ended a column two weeks ago that was inspired by the current Collecting Cookeville exhibit at the Cookeville History Museum. Friends have told me their adult children don’t appreciate their collections. One daughter refused her mother’s offer of a few of her Hummel figurines. “Mom,” the daughter said, “you like those more that I do. You keep them.” This mother knows a time will come when her only child will donate her treasured collection to a non-profit organization or sell them to add dollars to her son’s college education fund.

I know no one else in my family is particularly fond of clowns. I really like my twenty or so clowns arranged in small groups, which sit among the books on our living room bookshelves. Clowns with notes on the bottom telling who gave them to me and when. A clown depicting an adult reading a book to a child. One holding brightly colored birthday balloons. A clay clown, with a broken foot, that Daughter made.

According to psychologists, we humans are unique in the way we collect items just for the satisfaction of seeking and owning. We’ve done it for thousands of years, since earliest man gave up nomadic life and settled in one place.

Somehow I feel compelled to defend the importance of collecting and I found a blog that gives 8 reasons why collecting things you love is good for your brain. Now who can argue with anything that is good for our brains?

Collecting builds observation skills and organizational skills. We collectors search for details to make choices and look for common characteristics. Collections call for sorting into categories and that can transfer into other tasks, i.e. presenting school assignments and work projects.

Collecting builds knowledge and may lead to a career. A bird collection could inspire the study of habitats, the many species, and the distinct differences among birds. It’s possible a child could become an ornithologist because her mother collected wooden bird carvings. And think about children who collect rocks and are budding geologists. Charles Darwin collected beetles when he was a child and developed a curiosity for all living things. We know him best for his theory of evolution through natural selection presented in 1859.

Collections inspire creativity. Artists often collect things that influence their work. And social connections are made through collections. At model train shows and swaps, people from all walks of life and all ages meet to exhibit and trade train cars. And there are worldwide clubs for philatelists, people who collect postage stamps.

I knew it. Collecting is a good hobby. But I know collections are often valued only by the owner. I don’t expect my children to ever want all my clowns on their bookshelves, but someday they may want one or two. Ones with their names and “Happy Birthday, Mom” on the bottom. Just as a keepsake of something that made me smile and was good for my brain.

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Lost Again?

Ruth, Lou, and David fastened seatbelts and settled in my van one afternoon recently. I said, “While you’re at mine and Pop’s house, please tell me if you see my red glasses.”

“Your what?” said David, age 12.

“My glasses. The ones with red frames.”

“You lost them again, Gran?” asked 10-year-old Lou.

“Not lost. Misplaced.”

“The same ones that Elaine (these Grands’ youngest sister) found in the grass in your yard?” asked Ruth, age 8.

“Yes, and someone found them in the creek one time. Was that you, Ruth?” I said.

“Yes, I think I did! On the bottom,” said Ruth.

“Wait,” said David, “you lost them in the grass and the creek? Why don’t you just wear them all the time like Mom does?”

I explained that I need glasses only to see something close. Not to see at a distance. “Don’t you have other glasses?” asked David.

Yes, I have two pairs I bought at the Dollar Store. “So, can’t you just wear them?” I explained that my red-framed glasses are prescription and made with better glass and I can see best with them and I rattled on about how frustrating it is to misplace them.

My Grands didn’t say a word. It was a case of information overload and it wasn’t my Grands’ problem. I wanted responses. “So, will you please look around for my glasses? I really need them,” I said.

Ruth looked out the van window, seemingly lost in thought. “Gran, I have an idea.” She paused. “Think real hard. Where was the last place you remember having them?” Spoken with inflection of someone who has heard this question many times.

So, later that day after my Grands left, I backtracked my morning steps. Upstairs in the green room where I typed on my laptop computer. In the bathroom. On the kitchen desk. The kitchen table. In the dirty clothesbasket in the laundry room. I pulled out every stinking piece of dirty clothes because I was pretty sure I had pushed my glasses to the top of my head before I put dirty clothes in the washer and took clean ones out of the dryer.

At suppertime, I shared my dilemma with Husband and how David thought I should wear another pair and Ruth’s insightful question. Husband smiled. That smile that meant ‘We’ve been here before.’ “Where have you looked?” he asked. I explained and named every piece of dirty clothes I touched.

After supper, Husband nonchalantly walked from the laundry room and laid my red glasses on the kitchen counter. “What?” I said, “I looked in there! Went through all our stinky clothes. Looked on the floor.”

“Did you look in the trash can?” he asked.

My Grands will laugh when I tell them about Pop’s discovery. And, someday I’m going to write a story from my glasses’s point of view. They’ll scream, “Don’t put me on top of your head. I don’t like falling in grass and creeks and trash cans!”

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Are you a Collector?

Everybody collects something. Even if we don’t intend to. I certainly didn’t set out to collect glasses, eyeglasses. When Dad passed away, I wrapped his glasses in a soft cloth and stored them in my bedroom dresser drawer beside Mom’s glasses that I had saved after her death.

A few years later, I discovered four pairs of glasses among a box of my paternal grandmother’s keepsakes. I recognized Granny’s glasses, but not the other round wire framed ones. One missing a temple and one held together with wire and a brown shoelace. And a pair of fragile, falling-apart glasses inside a hard black case stamped with an Oklahoma doctor’s address. Because these three pairs are small, I think they belonged to a woman, maybe my great-grandmother or maybe Granny when she was young.

Now, these eyeglasses are displayed in a glass curio cabinet in my home. It feels good to see something that my parents and grandmother wore.

So does only a few pairs of glasses make a collection? How many of anything is a collection? Some say three. Some say a collection is more than can be used or enjoyed at one time. There is no set number and that makes everyone who owns a group of things a collector.

The Cookeville History Museum recognizes that we are all collectors and its current featured exhibit is Collecting Cookeville. Collections owned by Cookevillians. When the museum asked for 3-5 items from collections to borrow for display, I took my ancestors’ glasses. Other people took vintage Coca-Cola items, antique silver trophies, silver napkin rings, vintage books, flower frogs and many more things. This exhibit runs thru February 24 and is in memory of Linda P. Carlen who was an avid collector and a friend of the history museum.

So does the History Museum have only this special exhibit? No. When you visit, take a few minutes to stroll through Cookeville’s past. You’ll see items reflecting pioneer life: farm and kitchen tools, spinning wheels, and arrowheads. Civil war items include a diary, bullets, and a lance. From World War I and II, there are uniforms, canteens, medals, draft cards, and trench art.

My Grands’ favorite displays relate to school. An old timey desk with a chair attached. Sweaters, beanies, and artwork from Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, TPI, and later Tennessee Technological University, TTU.

Stop by the History Museum (admission is free) located at 40 East Broad Street from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Tuesday thru Saturday to travel back in time. I applaud the folks at the museum for documenting our community’s history and I appreciate these collections loaned by regular, everyday people.

Everyone collects. Why? Professional collectors are usually motivated by money. The reason most amateurs collect is love. That’s exactly why I saved Mom’s, Dad’s and Granny’s glasses. And, yes, I have a few other collections.

Surely, collecting is a good hobby.

Best Wintertime Eating

What’s better than a bowl of hot soup for supper on a cold, winter day? I’m not a soup snob. I’ll eat almost anything that’s served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon, but I have favorites.

My go-to canned soup has been around since 1897. Talk about standing the test of time! Campbell’s condensed tomato soup was first marketed 121 years ago. Campbell’s first produced ready-to-eat soup in 1872, but its condensed soup wasn’t introduced until years later. Tomato soup was one of the few canned foods Mom bought when I was a kid, and it was a cure for whatever ailed me. Mom added about half a can of milk and heated it on the stove in a pan. I’d crumbled soda crackers on top and practically lick the bowl.

Now one of my Grands acts as if she’s getting a treat when offered tomato soup. At age 10, she makes her own. She dumps the thick, red mixture in a bowl, adds a little water, and heats it the in microwave. As far as Lou and I are concerned, only Campbell’s makes tomato soup.

My go-to soup recipe is White Chili. I discovered more than twenty years ago on the side of a can of Bush’s beans. I figure a recipe written on a can label in size 9 font, so small I get out my magnifying glass, must be good. Why would a company print a recipe for their product that wasn’t good? I open a few cans, dice cooked chicken, and heat everything in a pan, bake a skillet of cornbread, and it’s supper. I’ve tried other and more complicated white chili recipes, but always come back to this one. (https://susanrray.com/recipes   It’s listed at the bottom of the recipe page.)

My all-time favorite soup isn’t canned or printed as a recipe.   Mom’s vegetable soup. She had everything needed on hand, but the ingredients were never exactly the same. She opened a jar or two of her home canned tomatoes and added whatever vegetables she’d saved from leftovers. Maybe a spoonful of lima beans, a serving or two of corn, a cup of green beans, some black-eyed peas. Vegetables that she and Dad had grown in their backyard garden, harvested, preserved, and Mom cooked. Then she froze leftovers, no matter how small the amount, in a plastic container that was labeled vegetable soup leftovers.

After all the leftovers were in the soup pot, Mom added cubed white potatoes, a chopped onion, and sliced carrots, if there were any in the refrigerator. And then she’d reach in the cabinet for her secret ingredient: two bay leaves. A dash of salt and black pepper, and an hour later, Mom served the most delicious soup I’ve ever eaten.

I do my best to make Mom’s vegetable soup. Freeze leftover veggies. Can summer tomatoes, specifically for soup. Add everything to the soup pot that she did, even bay leaves, and it tastes almost the same.

Yes, cold weather calls for hot soup. Don’t you agree?

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Hold Hands

 “Choose a hand,” my Grand’s mother said.

Three-year-old Dean stopped walking, looked back, and waited for me to catch up. He reached his hand toward mine. “I got Gran!” he shouted. So that windy March day three years ago Dean and I were partners as we walked through the Denver Zoo with his family and Husband. Dean reached up, I reached down, holding hands and watching camels and giraffes and hippos and all the zoo animals.

Choose a hand. All my Grands’ parents say and it sounds much better than what I told my children: you have to hold somebody’s hand. To cross the street. To explore the zoo. To walk a treacherous trail. To stay together in a crowd. To walk up steps.

When I was about nine years old, I held my Granny’s hand and sat beside her on her green chenille couch while she watched As the World Turns. Granny’s hands, strong and slim, had probably dug potatoes and stitched quilt pieces together that day. She focused on the troubles of the people who lived in Oakdale and I pinched the skin on the back of her hand forming a little ridge. I counted the seconds until the ridge flattened.

I held Jo’s hands as I sat beside her and she lay in bed recuperating from a broken hip. My friend’s hands had changed her children’s cloth diapers more than sixty years ago. Washed more dishes in her kitchen sink than have ever been inside my dishwasher. Smoothed many broken hearts during the years that she and her husband owned a funeral home. “Oh, you’ve made my day. Tell me about your family. How are all those little grandchildren?” Jo asked.

“Everybody come in here and hold hands,” Husband’s mother said to call us into her living room before Thanksgiving dinner was served. After her children, grandchildren, and great-grands juggled into place and took a hand, a thankful blessing was offered. Hands dropped quickly as children rushed to their plates. But some hands held, just a moment longer. “Oh, your hand feels so warm,” Grandmother told me.

Dunn’s River Falls, near Ocho Rios on the north coast of Jamaica, is 1,000 feet high, and the rocks lining the bottom are terraced like steps. I watched as twenty people, in one long line, climbed the falls. The river guides had said, “Hold hands, and everyone goes up, linked together.”

We’ve all heard the wedding officiant say, “And now I pronounce you husband and wife.” The newlyweds clasp hands, turn toward their friends and family, and practically skip down the aisle to begin life together. They begin their marriage holding hands. Gripping. Loving. Declaring.

Among the many gems that Robert Fulghum wrote in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, are these words: And it is still true, no matter how old you are — when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

How very true. Choose a hand.

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