Just Go With It

blanketsIt gets so cold in January and God I mind it, warm-blooded creature that I am. It turns out we humans aren’t that good at cheerfully soldiering on when the temperatures really plunge.

It makes me think of something a nice young cardiologist told me he says to his patients.  He tells them, “Embrace the pain,” and I had to smile a little, hearing it. I mean he’s a heart doctor; most of his patients are heart patients.

“How does THAT go over?” I had to ask. I needed him to explain more. “Well,” he said, “you have to just accept your pain on some level. Not fight it, or curse it, or stiffen against it but sort of… open up to it instead. “

 Ok I thought. Maybe the way an animal does, when confronted with the wounded paw or the bitten ear, or the fear of the unknown that arises at the sight of that examining table in the vet’s office.

 It’s a compelling theory; I’ll give him that. Not sure it works with the cold though.

Cold of the kind we have known lately sets off the body’s most unignorable alarm bells. “Danger to the Organism!” it says, the direst message the body can send.

 Because cold is the enemy, plain and simple.  

These days I pity every cold thing I see out there, except maybe the dead in their cemeteries. 

I pity the cemeteries though. The little flags on the veterans’ graves shivering on their wee stalks. The headstones themselves, and the thin old ones especially, blading into those winds that seem bent on completely scouring off the names and dates their engravings seek to memorialize.

I pity the waters in ponds and rivers that got frozen – zap! – all at once, as they rippled; that were just stopped like people in some sci-fi movie, turned to stone in mid-gesture. 

I pity the birds, hopping stiffly about on their sipping-straw legs, finding who knows what to peck from soil that rings like iron under the foot. I pity the squirrel I saw last week, hanging limply from the talons of a hawk that swooped down just eight feet from me to carry him off for supper. My heart pounded at the sight. I thought for a split-second it was one of our cats he carried off.

But no, not the cats.Because the cats are smarter than all of us.  

They stay inside on days like the ones we’ve had lately, lounging around in their pj’s, and sleeping late and waking to lick their paws with all the delicacy of ballerinas smoothing the sides of their satin slippers.

As a matter of fact, the cats gave me the only smile I remember enjoying throughout all of this winter cold.

It was one night when my mate and I were curled in sleep, the only human beings in the house.

Under our pile of quilts and blankets we made a single mound, which the cats, in an uncharacteristic move, decided to scale.

I woke with an unaccustomed sense of pins-and-needles on account of their weight. And I started to shoo them off – until it came to me what we must have looked like: Two little pats of butter on a big warm stack of hotcakes.

That image in mind, I turned over again, thought “Embrace it, girl!“ then hugged my pillow tighter and went back to sleep.

Did You Say LICE?!

liceWhat’s fun about life is its many surprises.

I was certainly surprised one winter’s day when my little girl came trailing down the stairs from her nap to find me cozily reading in the kitchen.

My friend had called the week before to say she couldn’t come over, because her own little girl had developed a case of head lice.

Head lice?!” I wanted to shriek, only didn’t, since my friend was already weeping softly over the horror of it all, she who keeps a house so clean you could toss a salad in the toilet bowl.

 My little one crept up in my lap then, clutching her blanky and – scratching her head.

 “YOU DON’T SUPPOSE…?!” I thought suddenly. I lifted a length of hair – and saw a row of teensy eggs stitched like seed-pearls along each wispy strand. 

It was all I could do not to 911. 

I tried holding her at arm’s length while urging her bendy limbs into a snowsuit so we could go to the doctor’s, and there’s a task roughly equivalent to drinking a glass of water with both arms in wrist-to-shoulder casts.

“Hmmm, fascinating!,” the doctor murmured, browsing through her scalp. “I’ve seen a thousand cases of nits – the lice’s eggs, you know – but never an actual louse!” he added, beaming.

Per his orders, I bought the nuclear shampoo and that medieval torture device the fine-tooth metal comb. Once home, I washed her hair with it, only to see the bathwater turn into a small Yangtze River, bustling with the commerce – dead now – of a hundred actual and ‘fascinating’ lice.

It was some little surprise, all right. But such surprises happen to us all.

My friend’s cat Squeak got gum trouble and went in to have her teeth out.

While under the knife, she was found to have a tumor too, which the vet removed. But at home, toothless and convalescing, she kept opening her wound. Finally, the vet put her on Valium. She jumped up on things and missed; forgot how to blink; smiled a lot; and developed a weird appetite – for elastics and earrings and cigarette butts. “Never mind Squeak, give ME the Valium!” my friend said to the vet next time she saw him.

cat REALLY napping

Many surprises seem to involve the animal kingdom. 

I think of the time my sister’s cat Shadow bit her on the toe. “At 2:00 A.M. the lymph nodes in my groin had swollen,” Nan wrote me afterward. “At 6am when I got to the Emergency Room, the doctors took eleven syringes of pus out of my foot and sent me home to bed with an Rx for Darvocet. Looks like yet another allergy to painkillers for me: everything I saw was framed like a stained-glass window, and the Space Shuttle kept landing in my kitchen.”

One animal surprise in her life didn’t even come from her own animal. She came out to the garage one morning to find that a wild beast had entered her car, spent several hours whooping it up to such an extent the sight of her car brought sobs of disgust even to the pros at the car-cleaning place.

You TRY to be ready for anything but hey, you can’t be. As a teen, I used to carry safety pins,TicTacs and pencils against life’s many surprises. As the years passed and I  began catching on more, I added a pen-knife, Band-Aids, and disposable wipes. Now I’m considering a tourniquet, a pair of Depends and some feel-good pills myself.

The pills I may not need right now, but who knows? Anyway, according to Squeak, they go for ten bucks a pop on the street.

Lucky Cat

I spent a large part of my recent trip to the land of the palms with my sister Nan, her ‘much older husband Chuck’ as she likes to call him and this little creature named Duke for the John Wayne-lead-from-the-hips style of walking he has had from his baby days, when Chuck first found him hungry and mewing outside their house:

Now Nan has been a softie for stray cats all her life; this I know.  For every poisonous snake she’s beheaded on the patio there’s been a new kitten in her arms getting saved and adopted. Her big black cat only added to the fun by producing a string of kittens, one after another appearing in the standard dissolving baggies Nature favors as packaging.  (“Mom!” the child screamed on discovering this. “Shadow is falling apart!”)

Nowadays at their house, a whole section of the sofa is given over to Duke’s use, the good upholstery covered in lengths of terrycloth. (“Welcome to Towel-Town, have a seat!” Nan told me when I first entered the room. ) So all this time I thought SHE was the fool for cats.

Turns out the real softie is Chuck who is so beloved by Duke that the little cat actually comes when he hears him in the shower, hops up onto the wall of glass tiles and “asks” Chuck to wash his face. Which Chuck does, reaching up as you see in the picture above.

The cat loves it and that’s no surprise. Who doesn’t love to be groomed? It’s the great loss we the ‘civilized’ suffer: no more getting held tight between momma monkey’s legs for a thorough scrub and a good looking over. I  miss it myself.

And now for you groundlings out there who like to see a girl clad in little but her eye makeup and her undies, here’s the whole-body version of cat bathing, sweetly done on a little creature who never even mews:

The Road

Today is Sunday and I’ve just posted this week’s column which you can see here. It’s about the time my sister Nan here and our old dog Penny met a momma-bear on their way to the lake. Penny was such a silly dog: Once when the priest came to call, she came down the stairs with a mouthful of our mom’s underwear in her mouth and dropped it in the startled man’s lap. Whenever guests left the room she would tilt her head sideways and v-e-e-e-r-y carefully extend an anteater’s tongue to score bonbon after bonbon from the little dish on the coffee table, giving the neighboring bonbons a good once-over in the process.

Ah, she was a good dog and no dog do I have now, nor have had since Penny took that last trip to the vet at the end of her bouncy grateful life.

I did have three cats, all gone now, one to traffic, one to a coyote, and one to a fast-growing tumor last April. For more than ten years we brought them with us on weekends away, I with one in my lap and another at my feet but today? Today my lap is as empty as a priest’s lap.

David and I have a drive to make in a little while, two hours in the car. But instead of cradling Abraham and reassuring Charlotte I will sit in the passenger seat and snap the beans for supper, and write in my diary, and keep David company as we go, the road ribboning on before us, taking us who knows where.

when they were new, a gift from our children