Feathering Our Nest

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It has everything to do with childhood memories before everything went south. Before Daddy died when I was 13. Before spider webs wrapped themselves around Mother’s synapses and short-circuited her mind. I freeze that “before” time by making a sweet domestic nest with my beloved. By immersing in the aromas of that happy, earlier time of childhood. Buck and my traditions are different. No longer bound by replica menus. Even the superstitious among us realize they brought no good luck. So: no heavy dressings or gravy or Crisco shortening pies. The meal will be simple: dry-brined and roasted turkey breasts, a cranberry sauce with cherries and bourbon, small baked sweet potatoes in their jackets, green beans redolent with shallots and lemon zest, mashed potatoes, and various sides brought by Buck’s daughter (my dear friend) and granddaughters (my dear friends, too).

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Two turkey breasts are happily dry brining in the fridge tonight, and the messiest part of Thanksgiving dinner prep is done. I’m celebrating with a tot of sherry.

Cheap Mystery Romance Novel

Dr. Claire Peterson liked to read mind candy mystery romance novels when she traveled. They were a relief from her steady diet of fine print medical journals. What’s more, she could download twenty at a time onto her Kindle and not take up any additional packing space.

Claire leaned on the riverboat’s railing , basking in the late afternoon sun. She sipped a glass of Sancerre and watched waiters setting up an outdoor restaurant for dinner as the boat slipped by a quaint little town.

Maybe a tall, handsome stranger with a lovely European accent, eyes clear blue as an Alpine lake and long, elegant fingers, will suddenly appear and sweep me off my sensible shoes, she thought.

Another person joined her at the rail. There was plenty of room, but the person leaned in, uncomfortably close. She saw his hands first, clearly those of a man. Not long at all, but stubby and rough, the nails chewed. Claire instinctively drew back. The man’s short brown hair looked chewed as well, and his eyes as he made close contact with hers, were not blue. Not clear. Rather, they looked like shallow round pits of sludge.

A Particular Kind of S.O.B.

Lou has been with us for almost two years. At 3 1/2, she is a beautiful chocolate Labrador retriever on the smallish side of medium, about fifty pounds. Her coat is soft, deep bronze.

The pedigree we were emailed was enticing. Lots of champions; an Irish bloodline. The posed photo was what one would expect and didn’t raise any flags. Our previous Lab, Maggie, had been gone for more than three years and we needed a pup in our home again.

What we found was a hyperactive, 36-pound, underweight girl with an aging fat mountain of a man and a wife at best indifferent to the dog. I could see Buck hesitate. We’re not young people anymore and this would be our last dog, with a commitment of more than a decade.

The little dog obeyed the man’s commands and huddled on a mat in the kitchen while we sat in the living room furnished by Lazy Boy. The man wanted to make small talk about what a great deal we were getting with this fine trained hunting dog. I could see Buck making up his mind and growing less friendly by the minute. The man had told us on the phone to bring cash, but Buck wanted to hear him say it face to face, so he took out a personal check and started to uncap his pen.

“I said it would be cash.”

“You’re going to make me give you three thousand dollars in cash?”

I could feel the friction between the two men. It was clear that Buck felt only a particular sort of son of a bitch would slur his own honor by demanding cash in a business deal over a high-bred Labrador retriever. It just isn’t done.

I could hear the big man breathing and imagine sweat popping. He had the look of a man accustomed to bulling his way through with bulk, bluster and the flat of his hand.

“Yes. I told you that on the phone.”

Buck looked at him hard, then folded the check and stuck it back in his shirt pocket and pulled his billfold from his pants pocket in what seemed like slow motion. He took out the money, and counted it onto a table top.

“Bring me her papers,” Buck said.

The man tried to get all hail fellow well met with Buck, then, but it didn’t cut any ice. When he saw it wasn’t working, he turned on his heel, went to a back room for Lou’s pedigree and vet records and returned with them.

After examining a deep cut on the pup’s neck, Buck grew dangerously still. He looked at me, searching, pupil’s wide.

“Let’s take our girl and go home,” I said.

“Yes,” he agreed. “Our business is done here.”

Lou bore the scars of a difficult puppyhood:

  • fear of stepping on the tile floor of a bathroom
  • fear of entering a small room
  • fear of plastic bags
  • fear of humans touching her ears
  • fear of humans reaching out toward her face
  • fear of entering the house when a human is right at the door
  • fear of storms (happens with many well-treated pups, but being left alone in a small metal crate on an open porch when a young pup as she was most likely exacerbated it)
  • fear of humans making sudden movements towards her

And a gash on her neck that happened between the time we heard that the owner of a fine, trained duck retriever might be willing to part with her and we struck a deal to drive to Alabama and see her. We were told it was an accident caused by the dog leaping into water to retrieve a bird and being caught and lacerated by vines, but we came to believe it came from a metal choke collar being jerked hard by a big man. We remembered him bragging on how obedient she was because “if she’s bad, she knows all hell will rain down on her head.” I had hoped that was just a figure of speech.

Today, there is no place in the house Lou is afraid to go and no movement of ours that makes her flinch. She is the happy, loving dog we hoped she would become. She’s still not crazy about plastic bags or storms, and her retrieving is limited to throwing dummies and a purple football toy. She wanders the longleaf woods with us and doesn’t think the pickup truck can go anywhere without her in the passenger seat, nose out the window, sniffing the wind, ears flying.

Lou new arrival 2015
Lou when she first came to live with us. She kept her ears close to her head. They seemed to tighten and shrink if you tried to stroke them.


Queen of her domain, a calm, confident dog, loving and loved, this is Lou now.

Back When I Was a Writer

It was more than ten minutes, but less than ten years. And when did that time, that sweet time, end? I don’t know. Maybe two years ago. Maybe three.

I hear whispers now, but is there a voice or is it only nostalgia or disappointment in myself? Why does my head, that hard boulder on top of my shoulders, say “No?” Where did my “Yes” go?

Be quiet now. It’s okay. This is not writing.

Sunday Morning on Labrador Time

6:20 a.m. Lou started bumping the side of the bed twenty minutes earlier. Six. Six. Six. Time to get up. I’m excited it’s finally morning. Aren’t you? Time for my breakfast.Time for you to rub my belly. Time for you to throw my football toy. Time to walk to the gate and fetch the newspaper for Buck.

When my legs swing to the floor they are met instantly by fifty pounds of solid chocolate Labrador retriever. She rubs, catlike, waiting for me to retrieve my cell phone and water thermos from the bedside table.

We slip out the bedroom door. Buck’s deep breathing never changes cadence. Good.

When I slide open a door to the backyard, Lou’s ears blow back in the stiff northerly breeze and she looks up at me, like, “Why didn’t you tell me a cold front was coming?” Then she’s out the door to say her hellos to the deer feeding just over the fence.

Me? I go grind some coffee beans and suit up for a game of football and a walk to the gate.