Thursday, September 7, 2017

Woof The Leonberger



A dear friend for over 30 years, John has also been an dog lover and animal rights advocate all his life.  Over our long association we’ve become well-acquainted with each other’s much-beloved pets, of which we’ve had many:  dogs, cats, birds.

For years John was the proud father of a beautiful Husky-Malamute mix named King, who, at the age of 9, unfortunately developed bone cancer in a rear leg.  The vet suggested to John that it may be humane to consider euthanasia to avoid pain and suffering in his “elderly” pet. “No,” retorted John, “No way!”  After total and successful amputation of his pup’s right rear leg, the two carried on as an inseparable team for  another 5 years, King ultimately passing away in his sleep at the ripe old age of 14, a happy and much-loved partner to the very end.

Several months after King’s passing, John found out about a Leonberger Rescue organization somewhere on the east coast that had a one-year-old, previously abused pup ready for adoption. John flew east from northern California, rescued his new friend and brought him home to begin a charmed life as constant companion to John, and sometime companion for John’s wife.  

I was introduced to Woof one fine spring Saturday morning when John and I met, with several other friends, for our weekly coffee klatch at Book Passage, a famous Marin County bookstore with an outdoor cafe that welcomes pets.  I’d recently become the proud mother of Bella, a not-yet ten-pound Shih Tzu, who accompanied me on about 90% of my outings.  (Yes, I’m also a dog-lover who keeps my pets with me as close to 24-hours a day as possible.)

That warm morning, as the group of about ten of us gathered for our weekly coffee and conversation, I settled Bella on my lap and was definitely surprised (maybe “astounded” is a more apt description of my reaction) when up to the group walked John with his new “puppy,” one-year old Woof.

What a commotion the two of them caused:  John sauntered up to join us,  very casually holding a short leash attached to the biggest dog I’d ever seen!  Woof stood about 30 inches at the shoulder and weighed in at just under 200 pounds; we soon discovered that he was the gentlest giant you could ever imagine.  John pulled up a chair and Woof lay down beside him, taking up about 25 square feet of real estate!  He was calm, quiet, sweet  and well-behaved, enjoying the attention he garnered, but not having any inclination to leave John’s side.  Bella sat on my lap and stared; I swear her eyes grew bigger just trying to take in the entirety of this enormous being in her line of vision.  Curled up as she was, she seemed to communicate that this colossal dog in her vicinity was to be looked at, but not sniffed or otherwise investigated!  Woof endured the “Ohs” and “Ahs” of the group and other patrons with a relaxed, quiet demeanor  -  his massive body taking up the floor space of three German Shepherds; he appeared to be very used to the falderal his presence caused, taking it all in stride.  John had had Woof for only a week or so, but their bond was evident; Woof was very pleased with his turn of fortune and John was most certainly a proud papa.

Our coffee klatch lasted most of the morning; after about the first hour Bella’s curiosity got the best of her and she decided she just had to get down from my lap to find out more about this potentially new friend.  She jumped down and slowly made her way towards Woof until she was directly in front of his nose; he lifted his head and they proceeded to do the nose-to-nose sniff greeting - no growling, barking or untoward bad temperament from either.  Woof didn’t get up, simply lifted his about-40-pound head and sniffed. Bella kind of walked around his head to take a little whiff of his front paw - nearly the size of a grand piano leg!  “Hmmm,” Bella appeared to say to herself, “this creature doesn’t seem to have any negative feelings about my presence, so I guess I’ll just continue sniffing my way around his gargantuan body.”

And, that she did, making a slow circumnavigation of his body, sniff-sniffing all the identifying odors that she was indexing to recognize as “Woof smells.”  He lay calmly, waiting for her to make her way back to in front of his face.  We all watched with interest (and a little trepidation on my part) as Woof and Bella became comfortable with one another.  After about ten minutes, or so, we kind of just let them do their thing and we went back to our stimulating conversation.  Minutes later I thought to take a look at what they were up to.  To my shock - and delight - Bella had climbed up on Woof’s head and was sound asleep!  Sadly this happened in the pre-smart phone era; nobody had a camera to record what might have been an award-winning snapshot of two new friends just being themselves!

Woof and Bella both became fixtures at our Saturday morning coffee group, and great friends, to boot.  Their presence was enjoyed by all who chanced to meet them.  Bella would sometimes climb on Woof’s, head, but more often, she’d just simply curl up between his two front paws and the two of them would sleep the coffee party away, totally content until it was time to head back to their regular routine of companionship for two lucky humans - John and me.

John had rescued a dog much in need of what John had plenty to give:  care, love and attention.  Woof was gentle and quiet.  He was calm and agreeable.  But, as John found out early on, Woof had a terrible fear of abandonment.  It became evident shortly after Woof came to live with John.  John loaded him in the back of his generously-sized SUV for a trip to a shop located on Fourth, the main street in San Rafael.  He found a parallel parking space directly outside the shop he needed to visit, parked the car and left Woof sprawled out in the rear of the SUV catching some much-appreciated zzz-s and walked into the shop.  It was a temperate Marin County morning, no need to worry about the car interior becoming too hot, and John knew he could check to make sure all was well in the car while he carried out his business.  Fortunately, he had a cell phone with him and it began to ring.  (Cell phones weren't so much a part of everybody’s life; John was unusually tech-savvy and carried his cell phone with him.)  He answered to hear, “Mr. X, this is Sergeant So-n-So from the San Rafael Police Department; we have your dog here at the Station.”   John immediately looked out the window and noticed the rear window of his SUV broken all over the street behind his vehicle!  Woof had pushed out the entire rear window of the car.  He’d started walking down the street, obviously looking for John, when somebody called the police, reporting a giant dog-like animal out on the sidewalk.  Two patrolmen in a police car came to investigate and found this gentle giant, who obediently walked alongside one of the two who’d been summoned, the four blocks to the Police Department.  It was there that they saw Woof’s ID tag and called his owner to come and pick him up!  When John arrived at the station, Woof was sitting on an office chair(!) calmly awaiting the return of his master.  The officer explained that he’d decided not to try to load Woof in the patrol car, opting instead to walk the dog to the station.  In the first month John had Woof, he replaced the rear windshield in his SUV three times before he was assured that his master would be back!













Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Your Mother Is Always With You

After posting yesterday to honor my mom's birthday, this morning I found the following on Facebook:

                            Your Mother Is Always With You

She's the whisper of the leaves as you walk down the street, she's the smell of certain foods you remember, flowers you pick, the fragrance of life itself.  She's the cool hand on your brow when you're not feeling well, she's your breath in the air on a cold winter's day.  She is the sound of the rain that lulls you to sleep, the colors of a rainbow, she is Christmas morning.  Your mother lives inside your laughter.  She's the place you came from, your first home, and she's the map you follow with every step you take.  She's your first love, your first friend, even your first enemy, but nothing on earth can separate you.  Not time, not space . . . not even death.

Getting ready for Mother's Day . . . celebrating all mothers!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Dorothy Magdalaine (nee Boissy) Ryan



Some of my longtime followers may recall that I started this blog several years ago with the express intention that it would be especially for my grandchildren.  Then, as I merrily traipsed around North America in my RV posting almost daily about my adventures, I realized that those very same grandchildren really had no interest in my blog . . . or, so I thought.  Several months ago daughter Kari informed me that my only grandson, 17-year-old triplet Spencer, had read most of my posts, what a surprise that was!  Since then, I've been contemplating a return to posting, but hadn't actually done much about it - until now.  With several family events and memories currently and in the making, I'm going to start again.  Granddaughter Avery, another of the triplets, asked me a few weeks back why I wasn't posting on my blog, saying she'd read lots of my posts and would like to read more.  Wow!  I'm ecstatic to know that at least two of the kids I thought had no interest  have been reading - without my even knowing it.

Today's post is a tribute to my mother who would be 109-years-old on this lovely 8th day of May.  Interestingly, I remember that when she was 65 she applied for Social Security and found that the  documentation of her birth was May 19, 1908; the discrepancy was, I'm pretty sure that, although her home birth took place on the 8th, the official registration was made on the 19th.  She did, however, have to wait an extra 11 days before she was eligible for her first SSA monthly payment!

Dorothy Magdalaine Boissy was born, the youngest of four siblings, to Jean de Baptiste Boissy and his wife Laura (nee de Bouvier) Boissy, in Plattsburgh, New York.  My grandparents were a Québecois (French-Canadian) couple visiting New York from Québec, Canada, when Dorothy (pronounced DOR-O-TAY’) arrived on this Earth.  She joined older siblings, Renée, Berthe and Laurence.  Mom became known as Dot, Renée as Rena, Berthe as Bertha and Laurence as Lawrence.  My grandfather, Jean (John) was a architect and his wife Laura a homemaker.  Mom was a natural U.S. citizen and her family immigrated to Plattsburgh, where she was raised.  Plattsburgh, located so close to the Canadian border with Québec, was, and still is, an area very influenced by its French roots.  Dot's mother tongue was French; she didn't start learning English until she was in high school.  [There's an interesting story about how I learned to speak French, for the most part, after Mom passed away.  But, that's a subject for a future post!] 

Mom's childhood was not always a happy one.  Her father passed away when she was only 18-months-old; she really had no personal recollection of him.  He died of "lockjaw," which we now know as "tetanus," an infectious disease of the central nervous system caused by a bacteria Clostridium tetani  that initiates a pathological condition in which the mouth is held tightly shut by a sustained spasm of the massater (jaw) muscle.  Remember this was the first decade of the 20th century; although a passive immunology had been discovered as early as 1890, the first useable vaccine wasn't produced until 1924.  "Grandpere" probably starved to death, as there was no cure.  Sadly, "Grandmere," Mom's mom, followed her husband just a short time later, dying of "jaundice" when Mom was 4 ½-years-old.  Because records were scarce, most family histories were oral and Mom was so young at the time of my grandparents' demise, little is known about the particulars of their lives I'm sad to say.

Four children were orphaned at a time when there was no government aid available for parentless children.  Fortunately, the Boissy family had friends and relatives throughout the Plattsburgh area, one of whom was a spinster aunt who had recently married a widower with seven children.  As Mom described, this aunt had a "heart of gold" and notwithstanding her busy life as very recent wife and mother, Auntie and her family took in my mother and her three siblings, thus making Mom the youngest of 11!  As I recall Mom describing her formative years, I sense that she suffered from a distinct lack of motherly attention; I'm sure her aunt was simply overwhelmed by the enormity of her life and daily tasks.  Her inability to give needed emotional and educational nourishment to my mother is understandable, but had injurious influence on her upbringing and adulthood.  Although Mom and Dad essentially dedicated themselves completely to the rearing of my brother and me, to the exclusion of their own social and emotional well-being, I know Mom always felt she should be "doing more" - a kind of motherly work ethic shortfall that carried throughout her life.

After graduating from high school in Plattsburgh in 1926, Mom and a girlfriend set out for the big city, New York, a pretty gutsy thing for a young lady to do in those days.  They stayed and worked there at various sales- and office-girl jobs for a couple of years, then returned to Plattsburgh, where Mom worked in the Post Exchange at the oldest military post in United states history, called the Plattsburgh Barracks. The land there, twenty miles from the Canadian border, had been purchased by the Federal Government in 1814. Originally it was an Army base, but in the 1950s it became Plattsburgh Air Force Base, then was permanently closed in 1995.  It played a big role in Mom’s life . . .

[There are only a few photos of Dot before her marriage to my dad, and I'll have to dig through boxes of old photos when I get settled in a few months to share them.] 

So, as a beautiful young woman, she was working in the Post Exchange when a young Army officer, Leo Francis Ryan, received orders and was stationed at Plattsburgh Barracks where he met Dot when he became a customer in the Post Exchange.  I'm sure their courtship was exciting and fiery - she 100% French Canadian and he of Irish (father) and German (mother) heritage.  They were married in a Roman Catholic service on a very, very cold Saturday evening, February 3, 1934 in Plattsburgh.  When I say cold, I do mean cold - the wind-chill factor was 40-below-zero Fahrenheit! It was a very simple ceremony and reception given by my Aunts Rena and Bertha.  I don't know a lot about what it was like, except I do remember Mom telling me that, in a French-Canadian tradition, her sisters had made the wedding fruitcake weeks in advance, macerating with French brandy (and a little rum and bourbon, too) every other day or so until the wedding celebration.  That must have been one mind-altering wedding cake by the time they ate it!  As the weather was so inhospitable Dot and Leo spent their wedding night and short honeymoon in my aunt's house!

As a newly-wed, Mom continued to work in the Post Exchange during the remainder of my dad's Army commitment in Plattsburgh.  From there they embarked on a military life that took them as far as the Philippines and all around the U.S.; they never returned to Plattsburgh together to live, although Mom, brother Jim and I did live there for a time during World War II when Dad was overseas.  In late 1934 Dad was ordered to be stationed in the Philippines, where they lived for two years.   (After the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934 that was signed into federal law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that established the process for the Philippines, then an American colony, to become an independent country after a ten-year transition period.  The provisions of the law allowed the U.S. to maintain military forces in the islands and to call all military forces of the Philippine government to be called into U.S. military service. Dad was an officer accountant in the Army and was tasked with participation in the development of the newly developing nation's financial system.)

As children, Jim and I loved to peruse Mom and Dad's collection of snapshots of their life in the Philippines.  Dad told us that he "worked hard" for a few hours every day, then headed out to the golf course, horseback riding and / or partying.  They lived a bit like the English during the Raj in India - quite "high on the hog," with a lovely cottage that included the services of a maid, a cook and a house-boy.  Mom played golf with Dad, bridge and social club with the ladies at the Officers’ Club, and did her fair share of partying.  They were young, had no children and had ample opportunity to enjoy an eventful and satisfying life.  The Philippines, in general, was fairly primitive at that time; I don't think Mom and Dad had much social contact with the "natives," again spending much of their time with other American military couples.

One memory that comes to mind about my childhood: In our home in Santa Clara, my dad had hung a patriotic picture of the American flag, framed and under glass, in Jim's bedroom.  One day Mom was cleaning house and called me into Jim's bedroom to show me something she'd found. On the back of the American flag picture were taped several photos the folks had taken of the naked "natives" of the Philippines - quite a treasure for the prepubescent Jimmy!!

Another tidbit:  In many photos of me as an infant and toddler, I am seen wearing beautiful handmade with hand-embroidered smocked organdy dresses - gifts from the families of their house helpers and friends who worked for my dad; my parents were loved and remembered by many during and after their time in the islands.

After life in the Philippines, Dad continued his career with the Army, but the world was becoming a distraught and dangerous place.  World War II 1939-1945 was a time of great global hardship for countries, governments and populations.  In learning about the atrocities of war and the loses sustained by both the Allied and Axis participants, my family was lucky.  I was born in the middle of the U.S. involvement on February 3, 1943 (Mom and Dad's 9th anniversary!) in San Francisco, where Mom had moved to be ready for a short R and R Dad had - he was with Mom for my birth in the French Hospital in San Francisco, and was with us, as I understand, for about 6 weeks after my arrival,  though he spent most of the time after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in the Pacific, as a financial officer under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.  Mom, myself and a nursemaid, and later Jimmy, passed the remainder of the war years driving back and forth across this big country in order to be in a place where Dad would be coming home for leave.  After the leave during which I was born, Dad was again in the Pacific until I was 9 months old, at which time, during an R and R, Mom and Dad conceived brother Jim.  Jimmy was born in Monterey, California on August 2, 1943, 18 months younger than me.  Dad didn't "meet" Jimmy until he was  over a year old - on the east coast during another R and R.

I marvel at how brave and independent Mom was during that time.  WWII changed so much of the culture of our world - from a young, unsophisticated, but energetic nation to a world power.  I suspect Mom was somewhat "liberated"  before the her marriage and the war, but it's hard to imagine how much gumption it took to travel across the U.S. with two babies and all the responsibilities of finding housing, etc. without the traditional husband, general manager in attendance. I'm really saddened to think that I don't remember giving my mother all the credit she deserved for the sacrifices and hard times she endured for her young family.

That brings me to share some of what I do personally remember.  My mom loved me, unconditionally; that is not to say that she didn't always strive to have us be, and do, better.  (A tenant of the history Roman Catholicism, that has only recently seen headway in changing, partnered with the Protestant Work Ethic, stipulated that one could never learn enough, do enough, work hard enough, be enough.  There was always room for improvement).  I can't truly say that that was Mom's mantra, but it was definitely Dad's, and she had to learn to accept and transmit that tenant:  Do your best at all times, and then do your best better!

Dad was the task-master, Mom was his assistant.  But, I know I was loved.  I remember her rubbing my head as we took our Sunday drive after Mass in our 1947 Hudson.  I remember gathering wild mushrooms in the New York countryside on Sunday afternoons and eating sautéed mushrooms on toast for Sunday dinner.  My memories of Mom are almost entirely those of her working:  repeatedly cleaning house every day - it always sparkled, preparing three formal meals a day that were served at prescribed times, ironing just about everything that ever got laundered, including towels, sheets and underwear - so they'd not be stiff from hanging on the clothesline.  And, she sewed all of my clothes - I rarely had a store-bought piece of clothing until I was in high school.  When Dad retired from the Army in 1952 he became a gentleman farmer as an avocation, and bought a little chicken and fruit orchard ranch in Campbell, California.  I remember accompanying Mom to the feed store about once a month to pick out feed sacks that would provide fabric for Jimmy's and my clothing.  She kept those laundered and ironed feed sacks in an Army trunk from which we'd chose one or two to become my new Easter dress or summer play clothes, or whatever.  And, I loved to play dress up with those feed sacks, becoming whatever heroine I'd seen most recently at Saturday matinee in the Campbell theater.

Along with all the work and responsibilities of being a wife, mother, homemaker, ranch woman and seamstress, Mom was also an accountant by education and experience; so, when I was about 8 years old, she began working part-time at Clark's Drug Store in Campbell as their bookkeeper.  What fun it was on a summer afternoon, to go to work with Mom and sit at the soda fountain having a tuna fish sandwich (on white bread) and a scrumptiously grand banana split while Mom balanced their books, managed utility company payments that were routinely paid at the drug store, and prepared their taxes.  You know, I didn't appreciate all that she was and did for all - and especially me.  I took so much for granted.  But she was the best.


Happy Birthday Mom!


Favorite Music:  Ave Maria by Schubert sung by Renée Flemming