After a valiant, three year, battle with cancer, Millard my loving husband and father to my two children from a previous marriage, who was also a wise lawyer and judge, a beloved human to each of his hunting dogs, and a man of sterling character to all who knew him, died in April. This essay is an example of how Millard knew when and how to quietly and lovingly deal with what might otherwise be a major problem.
About six months after Debbie, my daughter and David, my son in law, (actually, my fun in law because he always makes me laugh) lost their beloved Portuguese Water Dog, Stella, they realized that no rendition of Marlon Brando, yelling from the top of their stairs, would bring her back and that the only solution seemed to be to think about another fur baby.
The trouble was that those thoughts began to merge into “just looking at” pictures of puppies. The day Debbie called to tell me that they were “just going to look, but definitely aren’t going to get one”, I suggested that they might want to be careful about “just looking at” internet ads of beautiful oceanfront property in the Mohave Desert, for an amazingly low price.
Waterfront property brings to mind my own puppy story, which entails Millard’s quiet wisdom and the sagacious advice of a dear friend who helped me to make puppy peace in my marriage.
When I was much younger, raising my two babies, I allowed an adorable Samoyed puppy into my heart and then…yes….into the house. That sweet ball of fur eventually went to a doggie divorce division. Because my heart ached about that loss, among other lost dreams for my children, my thoughts of another furry bond were put off for several years, until the children were in elementary school.
Being a sucker for, “PLEASE MOMMY!!” and “WE PROMISE We’LL TAKE CARE OF IT!!”, I softened again. Then, because two elementary school aged children multiplied by one puppy leads to more puppy love than should be legal – I allowed two sweet beagles to join our family.
At the time, we lived on three acres and so although I foolishly thought the two pups could live nicely outside, with full shelter from the elements under the house, plenty of food and water, “PLEASE MOMMY!” morphed into sometimes letting eight more lovable feet into the house.
A decade and then some years later, after the children left the nest for young adulthood, those two fur babies had grown into great dogs and then went over the Rainbow Bridge. Millard and I decided to move to a coastal city (water was to be in lots of places in my life) to continue our careers there.
With premature visions of freedom from having to be home at specific times to add to various dooties to my already full load….sorry for those two puns.. sometimes I can’t help myself….I began to foolishly think, “WE’RE PET FREE!!” I know that sounds like the people on the Dave Ramsey show that yell, “WE’RE DEBT FREE!!” But that’s honestly how I felt after so many years of being bound by re-pup-sibility.
Although Millard played every card he could, for a Wire Haired Pointing Griffon puppy, promising me, with his liquid brown eyes (Millard’s, not the puppy’s……yet) to feed it, to walk it, and to teach it to bark in seven languages, I knew that if I gave in, I would be the pup’s (and grown dog’s) chief cook and bowl washer, all weather walker, and play date social director.
I balked each time the subject arose:
“We don’t have the same kind of yard we had before”…..
“There’s no way to keep a puppy safely outside”……
“We’re at work all day, which would mean getting two puppies, so that the one won’t be lonely” (to which Millard smiled….a red flag of what was to come)
“Blah, blah, blah…..”, the upshot of which meant, while Millard was “just looking”, I was “just losing” the battle faster than you can say, “Pup-Pee!”
That said, I was determined to not lose the spoils of the war, which was to be my clean house, through the puppy water torture method….which I’ll get to.
So, I announced (to no one in particular, it turned out) that if any puppy was going to inhabit our home, he or she would have to live in the carport. Congratulating myself, I thought that would put an end to the subject.
The first hour after Millard and the puppy arrived from the airport (yes, Millard won the battle of getting the puppy, but I was still determined to win the war) I, from my bully pup-let, emphatically stated:
“Now let me make this perfectly clear!!” (and we all know how well that worked for Nixon) “there is no way a puppy is coming into this house!”
My husband was always a man of few words, who took the long view in every situation. And, so he said nothing in reply, leading me to, smugly and self righteously, feel sure that the long view, in this case, was that I was right and that by some miracle the puppy would……. truth to tell, I’m not sure what I had in mind, as my long view, but I now know what Millard had in mind, as to his.
Instead of starting any kind of argument which I was to lose, in response, to my very pup-lic announcement, Millard sighed and, in a soft voice, and looking like a very forlorn puppy, he slowly shook his head, and answered,
“Then, I guess…..” he continued slowly, as if making one of his studied decisions, “that the puppy and I will just have to live in the carport together”.
He then, methodically, made a bed of sorts for both of them, in the truck’s cab and, without another word, he started to play with the puppy. My heart leaped with glee that I had won the argument and that the situation had been settled once and for all!!
But, as I climbed up the stairs, stood on the back deck, slowly opened the door and stepped into the kitchen, my glee turned to the realization of the ridiculousness of the situation.
Torn between my determination to win the war, and my love for Millard, it began to dawn on me (sort of like when you realize you’ve stepped in puppy poop) that, to preserve my perfectly puppy-less house, I was either going to have to win the battle I’d set up in the carport and join Millard and the puppy in the cab of the truck or lose the war (and concede the battle as well) for a pee-fectly puppy variety house.
As the evening sky darkened, I did my utmost to feel self congratulatory, warm and cozy while the two of them were “living” in the cab of the truck. But my guilt that they might be getting cold, took hold and threw me against the wall to the telephone.
This situation was in the days before cell phones. For those of you who are under fifty, know that those of us over fifty were each tethered to a straight or coiled cord, whenever we needed to make a call. We did have electricity, when we rubbed two sticks together, as well as pens and paper, so that we didn’t have to write on cave walls with rocks, but -although better than two oatmeal boxes and a sting- we were imprisoned to a cord at the other end of the wall if we wanted to make a call or answer one.
So, up against the wall, literally and figuratively, I called my wonderful friend, Mother Marija, a true lover of sweet doggies, who possesses the wisdom of Solomon. I told her that Millard and the puppy were out in the carport for the duration of our marriage, and that I didn’t know what to do. I lamented that “I probably have to give in, but I desperately want to save (a puppy licked wet) face”.
Without telling me her plan, Mother Marija sweetly suggested that I “Just allow the puppy to come in for some water”, while she could ponder a solution and would call me back with it.
I thanked her and looking forward to a lifetime resolution, from my very wise friend, which I thought might involve Millard and the puppy living out our vows, happily ever after, with the puppy taking his water from a bowl in the garage and Millard drinking his water from the hose. I then set out a water bowl and went back downstairs to the carport.
If you believe that Mother Marija was busy “pondering a solution” and had not already solved the pup-lem, you might be interested in the waterfront property in the Mohave Desert that my daughter and fun in law are hoping to sell.
While I was waiting for Mother Marija’s call back, with her absolutely flawless answer (that would obviously make Millard see the light and absolve me of all guilt), I peered around the carport’s corner and saw Millard and the fur ball both “sleeping”, in the cab of the truck, cozily set up to live together for the rest of our marriage.
I ventured towards the cab of the truck and softly knocked on the window.
Millard rolled the window down to innocently inquire – as if this predicament were as natural as a puppy peeing on your kitchen floor,
I announced (in as business like a voice as I could find):
“I called Mother Marija for advice on this situation. She said for me to allow you to bring the puppy in….JUST FOR WATER!!”
Then I added my own twist on the “invitation” (as if my addition would definitely finalize the lifetime marital adjustment, once and for all):
“But JUST for water, when he needs it! And only for a minute each time!”
Millard quietly answered, “Thank you”.
He then rolled up the window, opened the cab door, stepped out, gathered the puppy up, placed the furry face on his shoulder (facing backwards, of course) and without a word, got in front of me to climb the back stairs into the kitchen. I followed, trying not to look at the puppy’s adorable soft wet eyes, pointed directly at me (and blinking as innocently as Millard had obviously trained him to do in the span of seven -ok, fourteen- seconds), lest they water down my already puddling resolve.
Millard opened the kitchen door and walked to the water bowl, which I silently pointed to….as if my silence would show my strength. He put the puppy down in front of it. My determined silence turned into something like a soft murmur of surrender. Millard put his arm around me, softly, but said nothing. His silence and loving touch allowed me to melt, like an ice cube into water.
The bowl was twice the puppy’s size and he had trouble not going for a swim in it…all of which made the situation quite slippery for me not to be swimming in love for his sweetness, Millard’s wisdom, and for the friendship of Mother Marija.
Mother Marija didn’t call back. I think she wisely knew that I would be hooked and she didn’t want to break the spell. I called her about an hour after my water torture surrender, gushing about the puppy, Millard’s tales of their airport rendezvous, warm lap travel home, and carport to kitchen resolution.
Four puppies and over four decades later, I have had waterfront property in my kitchen every time each puppy would lap up water from the bowl, dripping it across the floor, as he or she made his or her way to wet my toes and warm my heart.
Millard never wet my toes. But in his, judicially quiet, soft, gentle manner, he always knew how to warm my heart.