Mystery and fantasy writing

Posts tagged ‘Life lessons’


Sunday Winkie

Winkie, the one-eyed Chihuahua, came into my life in 2005. I had retired and had time for a little dog, and Winkie was indeed little. She fit into my hand and would later grow to be three pounds and about the size of my sneaker. She had beautiful markings, brown with white around her neck and throat, white feet, tan legs and markings on her face. The woman who gave her to me had named her Mindy, but from the beginning, I knew this little dog was not a sweet timid Mindy. She needed a name with pizzazz. Since she had only one eye, my mother suggested Winkie because she looked like she was winking at me. “Winkie” also had literary roots, from Wizard of Oz to Harry Potter. As an English major, I appreciated this.
Winkie became the most expensive free dog ever. I used to tell people I spent thousands of dollars so a little animal could sit on my lap. The vet said if there was a market for Chihuahua ear wax, I’d be a millionaire. She developed a skin condition that required special (read: expensive) shampoos, oils, and shots. Her back legs had to be operated on because her knee caps were so small, the ligaments kept slipping off. The fancy name for this is patella luxation. Her one good eye developed something called an ossified iris and later, a cataract. She occasionally had separation anxiety. She developed a heart murmur and needed three medications, plus a liquid I got to squirt in her mouth twice a day. All this was in addition to teeth cleanings, nail trims, and normal Chihuahua maintenance, which she hated and would resist with three pounds of fury. The nurses at the vet’s have the scars to prove it.
I thought it would be fun to dress Winkie in cute clothes. Winkie thought otherwise. Whenever I put something on her, she became Houdini Hound and could get out of the outfit in record speed, usually prancing around as if to say, I’m naked and I like it that way. She managed to stay in her Dracula costume long enough to win “Smallest Dog” in a Halloween contest. The prize was a bone bigger than she was.
She was too tiny to sleep on my bed, so she had her own crate in the spare bedroom. She was too tiny to walk, so I found an old stroller at a yard sale and often took her around the neighborhood. She was paper trained and never had an accident unless she was angry at me for some reason, once for bringing in another dog. I thought, oh, she’ll have a playmate, someone to keep her company when I’m not here. Wrong. She hated the other dog, and I had to take it back. Winkie had no idea how small she was. Once she tried to chase a truck. An eighteen-wheeler.
If I wanted her to take a pill or to reward her in some way, all I needed was a piece of cheese. She loved cheese and would spin around in happiness. She also loved green peas, broccoli, apple, peanuts, and anything else I was eating. I’d look up, and her tongue would be sticking out as if she were starving. Please give me some pizza.
Winkie’s favorite place was on the sofa where she would burrow under her blanket. If I had to leave, she would roll over as if to say, Look how adorable I am. Let me stay on the sofa. At night, she knew when I turned off the TV and the light that it was bedtime, and she’d get ready for her evening cheese and trot into her room, and hop in her crate. If I was too slow with the cheese, she’d come get me, her expression indignant, as if to say, I’m waiting.
Well, you know where this story’s going, don’t you?
Gradually, Winkie’s heart condition worsened until she couldn’t breathe without staying in an oxygen box at the vet’s. I’d bring her home a few days, but I couldn’t bear to watch her little sides heaving as she struggled to get enough air. This went on for a few weeks until I had to make the decision that all pet owners dread.
Winkie was nine years old.
I’d had lots of dogs growing up. We raised collies, and my father and grandfather had beagles to hunt rabbits. There was always at least one little dog in the house. But Winkie was all mine. Even though she was only three pounds, she was a huge part of my life. I’m glad I took hundreds of pictures and made little videos. You do that with your first child.
Sometimes I wonder how our pets can love us so much. Sure, we feed them and take care of them, but you can’t deny when they look up at you with such adoration, there has to be something else there. I know Winkie loved me. And the last thing she felt was me patting her. The last thing she heard was, “Good girl.”


Let’s Dance!

            You’ve heard this story before: shy, overweight, non-assertive Southern girl grows up, bringing all that baggage along.  Well, maybe not all of it.  I did lose weight, and I did learn that if someone cut in front of me in line, it was acceptable to say, “Excuse me, I was here first, wait your turn or I will hurt you.”  But still, when I was in my late twenties, I wasn’t quite assertive enough to approach a man, not confident enough to make that first move.

            Here’s how that changed.

            Being a pianist and a fan of ragtime music, I was excited to find the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, where Joplin wrote his famous “Maple Leaf Rag.”  It’s a five day celebration of ragtime, and people and entertainers come from all over the world.  And of course, there was dancing.  I took the free lessons and learned the one-step, the two-step, and the novelty dances of the era like the Turkey Trot and the Grizzly Bear.  But partners were in short supply.  Usually the dance instructor took turns dancing with the single women.  The rest of the time, I sat, my feet tapping to the infectious rhythm, wondering why I bothered to learn dances when I didn’t have anyone to dance with

            The highlight of the festival was the Ragtime Ball, a gala affair with a fine orchestra and everyone decked out in vintage suits and gowns.  Just like a turn of the 19th century Cinderella, I wanted to dance at the ball, and not just a few dances with the instructor.  I wanted to dance every dance.  I had my gown.  I had my dancing shoes.  I was going to have to push through my self-effacing upbringing and snag a partner.

            At the dance lessons the afternoon before the ball, I saw a man about my age sitting by himself, watching with interest.  As I kicked aside that small but heavy carry-on bag of Southern manners, I tried not to listen to the voice that said: People are looking at you.  Women don’t ask men to dance.  I took a deep breath, reminded myself that no one knew me in Sedalia, Missouri, walked up to the man, and said, “Would you like to dance?”

            He smiled and answered in a pleasant Latin accent, “I only know how to tango.”

            Tango!  I took a moment to recalibrate.  Maybe this was too much.  But I was in it now and had to keep going.

            “Well,” I said, continuing my out of body experience, “if you can tango, you won’t have any trouble with the one-step.”

            He shyly agreed to try.  When he realized how easy the dances were—even the tricky Grizzly Bear—he became very enthusiastic about learning them and agreed to meet me at the ball that night.  We danced all night and the rest of the week whenever music was playing, all through the nights and into the early mornings.  When the festival was over, he went home to Argentina.  I went home to North Carolina.  For the next five years, we met in Sedalia, Missouri, and danced and danced and danced.

            I found out he was just like me, worried about looking foolish, paralyzed by the thought of rejection, but willing to take a chance and try something new.  And I learned that if I could ask a man to dance, then it was entirely possible I could do whatever scary thing came along, even if people were watching, even if it was something “women don’t do.”

            I’ve been coming to the Ragtime festival by myself for over thirty years now.  Every year, I ask a man if he’d like to dance.  So far, every one has said yes.


            Let’s dance!