Monday, January 15, 2018

Tallulah's Sleepover

Tallulah rested on the couch after a quick foray out to our frigid yard. She was a good dog and peed and pooped in the pachysandra, then raced one quick, wild tear down to the woods and over to the naked magnolia.  Ears blown back, grin wide, her flank almost touched ground as her whippet and Jack Russell genes kicked into gear.  She practically skidded to a stop at the back door and could not be coaxed into another run around.  Her footpads are pale pink and her fur, short and sleek: minimal protection in this week’s Arctic temperatures.

Forty years ago, most mutts seemed to be a mix of beagle, some shepherd, and maybe a little collie.  Now, it’s rare that they don’t have some pit bull. Tallulah is a generous mix of breeds, pit among them, but she looks more like a delicate boxer, the whippet input having slimmed her muzzle and streamlined her body.

This was our first sleepover with our grand-dog.  Her parents, Casey and PJ, courageous souls, had headed into the city for a New Year’s Eve Phish concert.  We all wondered how this over-night initiation for grandparents and dog would go.  While Tallulah and I watched from the window as her car pulled away - without her! -  she danced anxiously, her tail wagging in jerky, hopeful movements.

Um… they’re coming back, right? They forgot me!”

PJ and Casey always provide Tallulah’s part in any dialogue in a breathy little kid’s voice, and I find myself doing it too.  With her ears perked, head cocked, and eyes round with concern, her thoughts were apparent.

“They’ll be back soon, Sweetie,” I assured her.  “Would you like some frozen banana?”

Sure.  Sure. That’d be good…” I supplied her answer and the banana, then she trotted back to the den and climbed onto the couch to keep watch at the window.

Just as our malamute, Teyo, was our first child, so it is with Casey and PJ and Tallulah. And I am grateful she found her way to our kids. They love, cuddle, and spoil her, and she should have all that.  If she had the words to tell her story, it would be a tale with too much heartache. Within her first year, four other families “gave her a try,” but she was too active, or their other dog couldn’t get along with her, or they had to move to an apartment that didn’t allow dogs, or the added expenses were too much. Tallulah is active, but she is a dear girl, and I don’t like thinking about her feelings during those repeated abandonments.

One might say I’m personifying too much, but I don’t think so.  Human denial of animal emotions is a convenience that has enabled the meat industry, animal experimentation, and puppy mills: a multitude of betrayals.

Still, I know dog-ownership’s not easy.  About 25 years ago, I burst into tears in the grocery store when an acquaintance said hello and asked how I was doing.  After years of ease with an aging dog, we’d recently gotten a new puppy, Kodiak. I’d forgotten what that was like: the chewing, the stains on the rug, the need for training.  I had a full schedule of volunteer work while the kids were at school; what had we been thinking to get a puppy?

It was more about what we were feeling, I guess. We missed Teyo’s comforting bulk, loyalty, love, and calm presence.  And of course Kodiak became the beautiful, dear friend we were looking for.

                                                      Tucker and Teyo, spring 1982

Early in the adoption adjustment phase, Tallulah was a challenge; she has all that whippet and Jack Russell dancing within… and often, spilling out.  It didn’t go well when she chewed through the couch upholstery in the first month.  But she is expressive and endearing, and PJ and Casey are crazy in love with their girl.  

She is a snuggler and has spent most of her visit with us nestled in blankets on the couch.  Yes. On the couch.  “Not in our house!” Dave had said. He was firm and very clear.  “Not gonna happen here. She’ll just have to learn.””

She has not learned… Dave has.  We don’t give animals enough credit for intuition, and Tallulah knew Dave was the one she’d have to win over.  And she did.

 Last night, the Tone family joined us for dinner and a game of Code Names to usher in the New Year.  Knowing Tallulah can get agitated and jumpy when guests arrive, we conducted a few “welcome drills.” Repeatedly, I dashed to the window and said, “Is that the Tones’ car?  Are Maggie, PJ, Cathleen, and Don here?”  Tallulah would scamper beside me, rise up on her hind legs, place front paws on the windowsill, and scan the road.  When their car pulled up, she was ready: familiar with their names and happy to greet them.  Yes, she jumped on them, but just a little.  While the kids and Cathleen were delighted with her, she sensed she’d need to make more effort to win over Don.  He got all kinds of kisses and attention… not his first choice perhaps?

Tallulah was persistent, and I think she got to him.  And she was his cozy, if not so participatory, teammate for Code Names.   


Thursday, January 11, 2018


The mood around the BINGO table changed immediately when Mack, the caller, suggested we up the ante to $.50 for the final cover-all game.  No more banter.  No more snacking on popcorn and sugar cookies. No more knitting, nudging, or rolling of eyes when Mack called out numbers.  Such high stakes required focus.

Sad to say, I needed that focus.  Until this final round, my $.25 bought two cards and I was distracted - however pleasantly – by all the in-jokes and rivalry among the players.  Several times, I realized I’d missed a number that might have cost me a win.

Dave and I were visiting his mother, and the BINGO regulars welcomed us warmly.  They are a gracious group, yes, but I think the extra quarters in the pot held even more allure than the pleasure of our company.

Mack is about 58, I’d say.  He’s a big guy, a Viet Nam vet, and usually the only man in the game; it was clear he relished Dave’s presence.  While he frowned upon conversation among the rest of us, he chattered away to Dave, filling him in on his BINGO background and the stories behind the inside jokes.

Dave, Mack, and I were by far the youngest in this circle of residents at the senior community center. One woman was on oxygen, and two had healthcare workers in attendance.  Everyone, except for Dave and me, had brought a good-luck mascot to coax the numbers their way; a motley squadron of trolls, stuffed animals, and charms stood vigil before each card. 

With a ping of a bell, the kind used by Victorian hotel receptionists, Mack called us to attention for each game. Some numbers passed without remark or drama, but many sparked a choral response, a snide or slapstick aside, or a performance. The B’s were a minefield of memories and rivalries.  If Jane - petite, spectacled, and ladylike - happened to be among us, “B-10” evinced an over-the-glasses glare from Mack.  Apparently she’d won a few too many times with that number. When “O-69” was called, Cheryl lifted an invisible trumpet and toot-toot-tooted with gusto. “B-4” required a group response of  “…and after.”  And “N-44”?  With disgust, Mack expelled air between flapping lips in a vigorous Bronx cheer.  Barbara, God rest her soul, used to win big with N-44, and one time she asked Mack to change the battery in her hearing aids.  His horror at the thought had tainted N-44 for good.

For those within reach of a BINGO win, praying for a particular number, Mack could be cruel. “B-4…” he’d intone, then add at last minute, “…teen.”  Oh, so evil! A potential $2.00 win snatched away with that extra syllable!

Mack knew most of the players “favorite” numbers and would glance meaningfully their way when those numbers came up.  Over 25 games, I’ve won only once at the center, so he hasn’t caught on to my “B-7.”  In 1965, I won $17.00 in a split BINGO win at the Weekapaug Inn, and B-7 has been my hero ever since.          

Dave and I love BINGO.  It has always been our favorite attraction at the annual Easton Fireman’s Carnival.  During the nineties, the town's agricultural heritage was reflected in the corn kernels used as markers on the BINGO cards.  Now they use thick, colored, magic markers and tear-off pages – three cards to a page!  Near impossible to manage!  At Ma’s place, they use the fancy version with the orange slide-down windows. 

A cover-all game takes time, and as I said, the four-dollar pot ended any funny business.  Mack intoned the letter-number combinations with crisp severity.  No one asked him to repeat a call; they didn’t dare ask and they didn’t need to.  The tense silence stretched on as a satisfying orange slick covered my card with five-in-a-row-straights and an early “4-corners;” they would have been thrilling developments earlier in the day, irrelevant now when the goal was a cover-all.  My chest was tight and I barely drew breath.  With only three numbers open, I was so close.

But it was not to be.  As is always the finale in this game, a spirit-crushing “BINGO!” rang out from the end of the table accompanied by a resounding chorus of disappointed, “Noooooo’s!”