Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I Want Wednesday

Today would be my uncle's 72 birthday. He was very sad and ill when he died almost three years ago. But that's not how I want to remember him.

I want to remember him happy, and his pets made him happy. So here's a "10 on Tuesday" I wrote shortly after he died.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Ted. I think of you every day.

10 on Tuesday

My uncle loved pets. So today I'm remembering him by looking back on 10 that held his heart for a time.

1) Horseface. In Chicagoland in the late 1940s, cats were allowed to wander at night. They also weren't "fixed." These two unwise practices led to my uncle's first cat being called Horseface. Quite the Lothario, he cut a wide swath through the neighborhood and got into many fights over his many girl friends. Because he came home every morning with his face looking the worse for wear, my very young uncle christened him "Horseface," and it stuck. Today no one could remember this much-loved old fellow's original first name. He was "Horseface."

2) Dumbo. The unfortunate offspring of Horseface and Snoozer (my mother's calico). Because Horseface was such a randy dude, Snoozer was forever pregnant. My grandmother was a single working mother in the 1940s and trips to the vet were simply not in her budget. So, whenever Snoozer delivered a litter, she put the wee ones in a cigar box, drowned them in the laundry tub, and disposed of the unopened box in the alley. One kitten did not die and made his way out of the cigar box and back into the yard. Snoozer reclaimed her baby and protected him fiercely. The thing of it is, the time under water and in the cigar box did quite a bit of damage to unfortunate Dumbo. He looked odd -- with incredibly over-sized ears -- and he swayed when he walked. These special traits made both Snoozer and my young uncle treasure Dumbo all the more, and he survived to live a happy life.

3) Rover. A huge St. Bernard with a heart to match. Unfortunately, he also had jaws to match. He was very protective of my uncle and this got them both in trouble. While rough-housing, my uncle found himself at the bottom of a pile of kids. He called Rover to help. Rover did, lifting one of the children up with his teeth and removing him from the pile. The big dog didn't mean to hurt the kid, but then, didn't much care if that was the outcome, either. The boy's back looked as though he'd suffered a shark attack and his angry mother went to the police station and demanded Rover be put to sleep. It took all my grandmother's powers of persuasion to bring Rover home, alive and well, but never to be let off his leash.

4) Mr. McDuff. My uncle was very fond of this German Shepard, and was sad that the dog didn't return the affection. It had something to do with my teen-aged uncle first accidentally setting McDuff's tail on fire, then accidentally squishing the poor dog's tail under a rocking chair. McDuff learned to avoid him -- which, while sad, was probably wise.

5) Countless fish. Until recently, he always kept tropical fish and loved watching their lives unfold in a big aquarium. He gave both my kid sister and me guppies which we kept for a long time. And not that long ago he set my young nephew up with a fish tank. My nephew became terribly attached to one of his fish (christened "Hungry") and was inconsolable when he died. Hungry was not flushed but was buried in the back yard. This is the cornerstone of my nephew's relationship with his great-uncle.

6) Dog. A ginormous turtle who required more care than my uncle could give him. It was with a heavy heart that my uncle donated old Dog to the Morton Arboretum. That was about 30 years ago. It occurs to me today that Dog may still be happily paddling around out there. I hope so.

7) Corky. This little old terrier already belonged to my uncle's second wife when they married. His wife kept Corky relegated to the "mud room," not understanding that pets are members of the family. Since my uncle encouraged Corky to enjoy full use of the entire house, they became fast friends. My uncle had many photos of Corky sitting proudly beside the recliner in the livingroom, wearing a variety of neckties. I don't know how this practice began, but it cracked my uncle up that Corky would sit still so patiently, submitting to having a perfect windsor tied around his neck.

8) Brandy. Corky's successor. A huge, big-hearted girl -- part golden retriever, part yellow lab. She died unexpectedly of an undiagnosed heart ailment. By this time, my uncle was already suffering from Parkinson's but he valiantly gave Brandy a proper burial beside the garage, the area she most loved to patrol.

9) Miss Kitty. A tortoiseshell cat my mother found while on vacation in Wisconsin. Since the stray looked so much like her cat, Snoozer, the one she had as a little girl, she really wanted my uncle to have her, and, since he had a great deal of fenced-in land, he was happy to take her. The thing of it is, unfortunately, Miss Kitty turned out to be pregnant. My uncle and his wife found good homes for most of Miss Kitty's offspring, except one ...

10) Bennie. So named because she's striped like a Bengal tiger. She was my uncle's most pampered companion at the end of his life. Now partly blind and a little frail (she had many surgeries related to her thyroid a few years ago and she remains tender at the incision sites), but with a very loud purr, she now lives with my mother. I wonder if, now that my uncle no longer needs her, she will decide to join him in Heaven.


To play along, just answer the following three questions …


• What are you currently reading? I'm juggling two: The Prince, The Showgirl and Me by Colin Clark, the diary that was the inspiration for the Michelle Williams movie, My Week with Marilyn, and The Accused, by Lisa Scottoline. It isn't that I'm not enjoying The Accused (a Rosato and Associates mystery), it's that it hasn't completely captured my imagination the way some in the series have. The Monroe book is fun. but it's also interesting to me from a pop cultural standpoint. Marilyn seems remarkably contemporary in problems and attitude, even though she's been gone for 50 years. Maybe that's why her allure endures.

• What did you recently finish reading? The Cat Who Smelled a Rat by Lillian Jackson Braun. I thought I'd plowed through all the Cat Who … books, and then I found this one on the shelf at the public library. It's lighter than air -- less substantial even than The Accused. But it was charming, as this series can be when it's at its best.

• What do you think you’ll read next? Still waiting on deck is The Last Word by Lisa Lutz. Rumored to be the last installment in the entertaining Spellman Family saga.

To see how others responded, click here.

He's going to be fine ... and so will I

From the Daily Mail
Last week's shooting on the South Side left me rattled. Not only because a 3-year-old was hit in the face. But also because my minister barely mentioned it during Sunday's service.

The little guy, Deonta Howard, will need plastic surgery. But there was no brain damage, and it looks like his vision will be unaffected. 13 people were hit by 16 bullets, and not a one will die. It is a miracle.

These thoughts about God bring me back to the unfortunate service last Sunday. My minister spent his whole sermon on why we need a third income source for the church -- a Capital Campaign to pay for building repairs. There was all sorts of talk about the campaign kick off in the park afterward, complete with hotdogs, ice cream and games for kids. There were two sentences about the mass shooting just miles away from our church.

My minister's behavior Sunday was the failing of a single man. A good man. A man who has helped our congregation grow and help the community. A man who screwed up.

It has not shaken my faith in God, certainly, because my minister is not God. It has not shaken my commitment to "organized religion" because my minister's one bad choice should not be an indictment of every and all church activity.

My minister should have addressed what happened last Thursday night. He should have helped those of us who were struggling with it. His talk about central air conditioning and new Sunday School classrooms and the party in the park just made it hurt worse. For all I have to do is ride the el a couple of stops and I'll find myself in a neighborhood where, when families go to the park, the kids don't get balloons, they get shot in the face.

BUT it was on his watch that our church became a founding partner in the local food pantry. In addition to delivering the canned goods collected from our congregation every week, my minister shows up on Wednesdays to serve meals, help the homeless get proper identification (try to find a job without a legal ID card), and arrange for lower income families to keep their lights on when they can't pay the power company. I am so very proud of him for that.

He has also continued many of the good works begun by our previous minister,* including mobilizing us for LGBT and women's reproductive rights.

My minister has a very important job, and last Sunday he messed up. My job is less important, and the consequences are less when I mess up, but it happens.

So I forgive him. Hell, if the mother of that little boy can forgive the thug who shot her baby, I can forgive my minister.

I am grateful to everyone who listened and commented as I worked this through. Blogging has been very, VERY therapeutic as I have wrestled with this.

*I admit I felt a greater affinity for Rev. Jay, who left in 2000 to be closer to his elderly mother out east. But many in our congregation felt that Rev. Jay kept us "standing still" and didn't focus enough on growing our Sunday School program and other things that would attract new members.

It's got me thinking ...

Writing it out, working it through, that's one of the things that makes blogging valuable for me. At the time that I post, it gives me an opportunity to examine an issue. In years to come, reading what I wrote gives me an accurate snapshot of who I was at that moment.

And who am I right now? I am a heartbroken, yet hopeful Gal.

I am so fucking sick of guns. The carnage that took place less than a half hour away from home is the latest and worst, but alas not the only, incident. As a child I was confused, frightened and hurt by the Kennedy assassinations. Since my birthday falls on 11/22, I cannot exaggerate the impact those
events had on me as a little girl. Then in 1980, John Lennon was shot. Shocking and incalculable.

In 1984, I served on a jury where a 22 year old girl shot a 41 year old bus driver. I did not believe for a second that the girl I voted to put away was an ongoing danger to society. The defendant was trying to board a bus on a day with a freak snowstorm that she wasn't prepared for. Unfortunately, her student pass was invalid because it wasn't a school day. She was 80¢ short of what she needed to pay the cash fare. The bus driver, a working mother, kept trying to get the girl to leave the bus. An argument ensued. It escalated and became physical and the bus driver responded by hitting the girl in the face with the metal fare punch. The girl lost it -- in that one tragic moment, she lost it -- pulled a loaded gun out of the waistband of her jeans and shot the driver in the chest. If we were in sunny Florida instead of snowy Chicago, perhaps the girl would have been able to plead, "I was standing my ground!" a la George Zimmerman, and walked free. As it was, we jurors deliberated for an hour and 45 minutes and found her guilty of second degree murder. She was sentenced to 30 years. As I understand it, she served 7 1/2 years for her crime.

As a juror, I know I did the right thing. I followed the law. As a society, I'm not so sure.

Then there was Blair Holt (2007), an honor student who was shot on a public bus as he tried to shield a classmate from gang gunfire. And perhaps worst of all, Yummy Sandifer (1994). This 11-year-old  was given a semi-automatic by The Black Disciples gang and used it to kill a 14-year-old. He escaped (not hard to do, I guess, when you're only about 4'8), but Yummy's crime got so much press and shined such a bright light on the gang activity that the Black Disciples decided he needed to be taken down as well. Yummy was found dead, face down, in an empty viaduct.

These cases have really got under my skin.

As the NRA continues to pressure lawmakers, influencing them away from doing the right thing, I must do more. I'm not unsophisticated about how it works. I can write letters, I can give more money, to support commonsense solutions to this scourge.

I'm so tired of being mad.