Remembering My Father… and the lessons he taught us.

18 06 2016

My Father died June 3, 2016. He was 79 years old. My sister and I were privileged to be able to speak at his funeral. I think he would have really liked the services and especially the American flag and the Coast Guardsmen who came to ceremoniously fold it and present it to my Mother. Below is what I wrote and read to the family and friends gathered. 

Lyle FishterLast Thursday the doctor said Dad had 2-3 weeks left, but not more than 4. In true Lyle fashion… he had other plans. My Dad had always been one to do things his way, on his terms, for good or bad. After battling cancer for 15 months, he decided enough was enough. So Thursday afternoon he signed papers to go into hospice, talked coherently with my mother and sister, asked for some files, and after not eating for three days, enjoyed a cheese danish. All typical, right? Sometime during the night he slipped into a comfortable sleep. In the morning, the nurse called Mom and told her to come right away because she couldn’t wake Dad. He never went into hospice. He died a few hours later.

While we knew time was short, we thought there was still time. And while it’s hard to understand the dramatic difference 12 hours made, it almost makes sense to me. My father was a man who worked on schedules. To me, he even died on his own schedule. There are a lot of things like this that we all know about him. For instance, the man loved to talk. Just the other day we went into the Tunnell Cancer Center to say thank you to the doctor who treated him. After talking to her, the physician’s assistant, and the nurse practitioner, one nurse came out. Then another. Then another. It was unreal actually, but a steady stream of nurses and others who had cared for him appeared to talk to us. Some of them had tears in their eyes. All commented how they had cared about him.

For the people closest to him, sometimes the talking got out of control. I mean come on… does the server at the Cracker Barrel really need to know when I graduated, and what kind of car I drive? But this ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, is part of what made him who he was. And because of it, he made friends wherever he went.

There are things like his gift of gab that we all know about. There are other parts of his personality that some have seen. But I’d bet there are other things most people don’t know.

We all know my Father worked hard for his possessions and took great pride in keeping them clean and neat. I mean anyone who got too close to the car with a zippered jacket on knows what I’m talking about. But what you may not know is this. When I was in ninth grade the pitcher on the softball team was not that good. Ok, she was bad. I decided I could do a much better job. One problem… I’d never pitched before. Somehow he discovered my plan and took me to the driveway next to the garage at the house in Davidsonville. For those who haven’t been there, there was a very tall brick wall surrounding two sides of the driveway. He took a piece of white chalk and drew a rectangular box on the wall. Then we counted out the right distance and he told me to pitch at it. I remember looking at him in disbelief! The first ball I threw relatively softly, thinking I must be misunderstanding. He told me to throw it as hard as I could. And that I did… for almost a year. Soon bricks began to crack, and then fall off, but he never cared. And then one day, the next season, he showed up at practice, which was highly unusual. He told the coach what I’d been doing. Next thing I know, I was called to the mound, and that is where I stayed until I graduated.

I’d also like to tell you something about driving. No, not his driving! Anyone who’s been in a car with him knows how that goes! Back when I was learning to drive, Mom tried to take me out a few times. But to be honest, while normally cool and collected, this task just made her too nervous, which made me a nervous wreck! So Dad decided to take me. Talk about a nervous wreck! In those few times, I learned the man had patience when it was needed. In this instance, he never once yelled or showed any fear. He acted like he knew I could do it… even teaching me to parallel-park between cones he set up at the end of the driveway. I tell you what, he’d be proud of the way I can now whip into a spot in one fluid motion.

While he made his career inside an office, Dad also liked to do physical labor. He could work with tools like someone who spent his whole life in construction, and he thought we should know how to as well, even though we were girls. We can hammer and drill with the best of them. We know a flathead screwdriver from a Phillips. We can use a caulking gun better then most… as many in our family also can do, thanks to him. We also know how to properly shovel a blizzard off the driveway, and cut a lawn so it grows best… of course hosing down the lawnmower after every single cut. None of these tasks were fun as children. But they all serve us well as adults.

Dad was passionate about certain things. He loved politics and had to express his opinion to everyone he met. If you’re in this room I’m guessing you got the “republican” talk. If you’ve been in a room with a TV with him for more than two hours, you’ve watched FoxNews. While we didn’t always appreciate that, we must have learned it by osmosis, because my sister and I both learned to have opinions and not to fear voicing them… for better or worse.

While he did not like to spend money foolishly and was always cognizant of the bank accounts, he was a generous man. Many of you in this room have been taken out to dinner by him. He really loved taking my sister and I out to dinner, even now. I mean it had gotten kind of embarrassing to be my age and your Daddy is still paying for your dinner. But that’s what made him happy.

IMG_0132_cropAs we’ve started going through things at the house, we’ve also found some things that surprised us. Just the other day we told Pastor Barnes that Dad wasn’t a very sentimental man. But then we told him this. While my sister and I were going through his office closet, we found a large expandable file. That of course is no surprise, as everything is kept date-stamped in a file. I mean that’s how you do it, right? Anyway, we opened this one we had not seen before and found a huge stack of pictures we had drawn and given him… as children. The next day I went into his office only to find two large stacks of greeting cards… birthday, Father’s Day, get well soon, and more, all from us and the people closest to him.

He was a financially successful man who took his career as a Senior Account Agent with Allstate Insurance very seriously for 37 years. He started with nothing and ended up with the biggest book of business in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area. This meant he spent a lot of time at work. But it also meant we ended up with many things that made life better. My sister and I both came out of college without any school loans, a huge benefit not to be saddled with debt like that when starting a life. Even before that, he was adamant that we went to private grade school, as well as junior and senior high. We also got things like braces that not every family was able to do for children.

It’s true, things were important to him. And that’s OK, he worked hard for them. But as you can tell from my stories, it turns out so were people. Just a few years ago I found out about a phone call he had been making once a month for a long time. After his brother died, my father made it his privilege to call his brother’s wife every month just to talk. And he was serious about it! I don’t believe he missed many of those calls. Now for a man who a few times forgot to pick us up at school, that’s saying something!

And I think that commitment was a sign of things to come. Just the other day, I realized something from watching him these last weeks. In the end, things don’t matter. Even to someone to whom they’ve been important. These last weeks we never heard comments from him about the house, the cars, his stuff at home. If he mentioned them at all, it’s because we brought it up and he was trying to teach us something… tell us how he did it so we could carry on, doing it the “right way.” Instead, he asked how we were? How was work? Did you all eat dinner yet? When I wasn’t there on weekdays, he asked if I was coming again on the weekend? And at the very end, we found out this. On Memorial Day, Rehab sent him back to the ER because he had some bleeding issues. As things got worse, he asked the nurse a question one morning. He said, “What day is this?” She told him it was May 31, but thinking it a strange question coming from a man in his condition, she asked why he needed to know? And he said this, “I can’t die today. I have to wait until June 1 so my wife will get another Social Security check.” Thankfully the nurse realized how important this comment would be to us, and she privately told my mother.

We didn’t always see feelings like this from my father. But in the end, he realized what was important. And I think it’s a lesson he can leave with all of us. Maybe we should try to live our lives more like he did toward the end, instead of focusing on the hustle and bustle of what has become this world. Because in the end, all that’s going to matter are the people around you.

Dad died with all of us understanding a little more than before, how much he truly cared.

What Shelby Taught Me

1 09 2015

Today marks three years. It has been three whole years, yet when I think of that morning I still feel the same break in my heart and the tears automatically spring to my eyes. Three years ago today I set my sweet Shelby free.IMG_0447

Shelby was my heart kitty. I guess that’s why it has taken me three years to be able to write about losing her. It’s not that I didn’t try before. But it just wouldn’t come together. The other day driving home from work, the words I have needed to say began forming in my mind. That’s how I knew it was time.

This sweet calico came to me as a tiny kitten with her darker calico sister Molly. Those two were a trip as babies… chasing each other around the house, sleeping cuddled up in the cutest positions, eating from each other’s bowls, and in a hundred other ways. Because they were actual siblings they had a bond that was stronger than any I have seen. It’s why when I lost Molly in March of 2007 I was worried I would lose Shelby soon after. But that little girl had other plans.

Don’t get me wrong, Shelby grieved the loss of her sister and best friend along with me. But she also came out of her shell. Molly was always the more outspoken, outgoing and dominant kitty, and I think Shelby was happy to let her have the limelight. But when it was all hers, wow did she take it! Watching her enjoy her new position in the household helped me heal that first loss.

She was always a small kitty, only nine pounds at her heaviest. But that didn’t stop her from taking the role of alpha kitty when two other much larger cats, and their dad, joined our home. To be honest, I was proud of my tiny girl.

I believe Shelby enjoyed life. That’s one of the lessons I’m trying to learn from her. I think even in those last years when her body began to fail, she still had a strong will to live… and to love.

She had many medical issues at the end. But she took on each one with vigor that many grown humans wouldn’t have been able to muster. About mid-way through our life together, Shelby developed a heart murmur. A cardiologist monitored it closely, and medication controlled it effectively for a long time. A few years later, blood work revealed her kidney numbers might be a little off. As time went by, the numbers didn’t lie. Shelby had chronic renal failure. She was now a “kidney kitty.”

That meant starting fluids. A small amount was all that could be administered because of her heart condition. And at first it was only a couple times a week. I tried to learn. I really did. But sticking a needle in the the neck of what you consider your child is extremely difficult. I watched the vet techs many times and could do it with them next to me. But doing it at home with no supervision was a whole other thing. Many tears were shed and many follow up visits to the vet were made. All of the vet techs were wonderful, but one took extra time to work with us and we found a way to make it happen. Finally we were able to do the fluids at home, and it was so much better for all of us.

photo4For 13 months we did fluids. First a couple times a week, then every other day, then every day. And Shelby never complained, never fussed. I think she knew that process was helping her stay with us longer. And stay she did. Much longer than anyone expected. We had many scares over those months. I can’t count how many times we thought she was at the end. I’d hear the vet say, “If she doesn’t start eating by Monday then we’ll have to start talking about the options.” And again we would spend hours a day on the floor with her, trying to get her to lick baby food off a finger, or off a spoon. And always it would work. She’d rebound. She did this so many times that everyone at the vet hospital began calling her “Miracle Kitty.” And that she was.

Through that year, Shelby acquired other medical issues, including thyroid problems. There were also appetite and nausea issues because of the medications… nine in all. And while I know she couldn’t have liked having those pills shot down her throat every single day, she accepted it as necessary. She accepted it because it meant she stayed with us longer.

During those months, she was hardly ever alone. For 13 months someone was home every day to take care of her. I came home from work daily at lunch to check on her and try to feed her. There were no trips taken, save for one day. And I only left for those 24 hours to spend Christmas with my grandmother because I feared it might be her last. Yes, it was hard having my whole world revolve around one little kitty. But it was totally worth it.

During one of our low times when I thought it might be the end, a friend gave me advice. She said, “Don’t grieve her while she’s still here. You’ll end up grieving her twice. And you’ll miss all the amazing moments you have left together.” You don’t know how hard that is to do until you’re in the situation. But you also don’t know how right that advice is until you’re there either. I have never forgotten that statement, and sadly I’m sure I will use it many more times. I’ve shared it too often with friends, who also found it to be true. The months, weeks, days and hours you spend at the end with a loyal furry companion are moments you will remember forever.

shelby bday cakeAt this point, Shelby was 18 years old. I could see her slowing down, saw that tired look in her adorable senior face. I saw it in her body as she continued to get smaller and as she limped with arthritis. When she passed her 19th birthday, it was a true celebration. But in my heart, I knew it would be her last.

A couple months later, on one of my lunch visits, Shelby had a seizure. I sat there on the floor watching my best friend of 19 years, struggle. It was terrifying.

I rushed Shelby to the vet and they took her straight to the back to monitor her while I sat alone in a small room. In addition to everything else, the poor girl was terribly constipated because of all the meds. The vet said she would normally never give an enema to a cat that just had a seizure, but she felt it was truly life threatening. I had grown to trust these people completely. We were there every week for something. They loved Shelby and they cared about me. So, I sat in that room and prayed God please not let this little warrior kitten, who had survived so much, die getting an enema.

As always, my girl was strong. She accepted what was given to her and survived. But I knew in my heart it was the beginning of the end. They always say “you’ll know when it’s time.” And you do. From that point on Shelby had a different look in her face. She was tired. I knew it. I just didn’t want to accept it. I didn’t want to act too quickly because she had rebounded so many times before. But more than that, I didn’t want to act too late.

She and I talked a lot that next week. Well, I did most of the verbal talking. Shelby replied with her heart through her eyes. My other two kitties, Q and Aggie, knew it was time as well. Dear sweet Q kept telling me it would be soon. In all their years together, the three of them had never laid side-by-side. That week, they did.

IMG_0063Precious Q had always been Shelby’s protector. It was amazing to watch. The smaller and sicker she became, the more gentle he grew. The two of them used to play “boxing.” And though twice her size at that point, he always let her win. He followed her everywhere that last week. And then one day, he let her be. And I knew it was time.

It was a Saturday morning, and through hours of tears the options were weighed. Finally, I called the vet. Could we come in just to talk about it… have you look at her again? My favorite vet tech talked with us for over an hour. I knew what I needed to do. I just needed help getting there. And eventually, I did. I will never forget the last minutes I spent with this girl who had been my heart for so long. I held her and we talked some more. She let me know it was OK. That she was ready. And I made a promise to her. I promised Shelby that I would help other kitties in her name. With my whole heart, it’s a promise I intend to keep.

When we were ready, the vet who had cared for her most often in those last few months knelt in front of us, and we set her free to run at the Rainbow Bridge with so many of her friends who had gone before her. I saw the tears run down the vet’s cheek as she checked Shelby’s heartbeat. She was gone. And even as I cried, I felt relief. Relief that this less than five-pound kitten that had fought so hard, was finally whole again.

We stayed together for quite a while, and then I watched as my most trusted vet tech cuddled her in a blanket and carried her away, assuring me she would not leave her for one minute. Walking out of the office that day holding an empty carrier was the hardest thing I have ever done. But as I passed each person I had become friends with over the last year and saw the tears in their eyes, I knew how special this one little kitty had been. Her life mattered. And I would make sure it was never forgotten.

The huge grief set in as soon as I got home. My entire life for the past 13 months had revolved around Shelby. Now what was I supposed to do? I didn’t know how to survive the emptiness. What happened next was something I never expected. The little gray fluffball named Q made it his business to love me through it. He grieved for Shelby like I never could have imagined. It was obvious in his demeanor and in the hours, days and weeks he spent laying in front of her empty bed. Every other moment was spent making sure I was okay.

IMG_0564Q had never slept with me before. That night he started. He laid right up against me and let me hold him like a teddy bear. When I cried, he only snuggled in closer. Together, we made it through. Then one day, many months later, he quietly walked into her bed and laid down. At first I was upset. But then he looked at me and I knew it was okay. It was what was supposed to happen. He was telling me we had to start moving forward. And we did. We gathered up Shelby’s medicines and donated them to a senior rescue. When I heard later which medicines had helped certain cats, I knew I had done the right thing.

But that wasn’t the only sign. In the weeks following her death there were many others. IMG_0334A huge rainbow appeared in the sky and streaks of white clouds were seen often. In my mind these were Shelby and Molly racing around together once again. The day after she left, I opened my car door to find a quarter on the ground. And I cried. Like pennies from heaven, I felt Shelby left me a quarter because she loved me that much more. Still today I have that quarter prominently displayed in my car’s cup holder, always right next to me. There was also the daydream I had about Shelby playing in the weeds with our Facebook friend Gemini, who had gone to the bridge only days before her.

And now, I see signs from her in a different way. Almost two years to the day after she left, my angel kitties sent me another to love. While unemployed, I filled my time not used searching for a job, to volunteer with an animal charity that was helping build a new county shelter where I lived. Once it was built, I volunteered with the animals. One day I walked up to a cage and the smallest little girl with the biggest blue eyes looked out at me, and I knew she was the one. She has now been with me a year, and every one of those days has been a joy.

IMG_1367Holly is Shelby, Molly and Q all rolled up in one. I know you’ll think I’m biased, but she is quite possibly the best cat ever. Her virtues are for another story on another day. But the one thing I will say now is that soon after I brought her home, she laid in front of Shelby’s picture and just stared at it. I knew it was no coincidence I had found her. Holly needed me, and I needed her. And many will think I’m silly, but I believe Shelby helped orchestrate it.

IMG_0305The one person who loved and cared for all of these kitties as much as I did, once said to me, “Molly taught you how to love Shelby like she needed when she was sick. But Shelby taught you how to love all other kitties that will need your help in the future.” And he was right.

A Difference of 23 Minutes

25 11 2013

I think we’ve all had that moment… a moment in which you realize how very fragile life is. Two weeks ago was one of those moments for me. Well, it was actually just 23 minutes that made all the difference.

First, here is a little background. Since mid-August I have worked in Tysons Corner, VA. However, I live in northern Montgomery County, MD. It’s a drive of about 52 miles round-trip on two very large highways. For those of you not from the metro Washington DC area, let me explain. I-270 is a massive roadway running north to south where it joins I-495, also known as “the beltway.” It’s 12 lanes at most points, some termed express, some local. The beltway is slightly smaller. But what’s the same on both is the number of vehicles. Let’s just say we’re talking thousands.

Typically I work from 7am-3pm in an effort to avoid as much of said traffic as possible. However, twice a month at work there are board of directors meetings. And I am the board liaison. That means on those nights I have to stay in VA for a 7:30pm meeting that can last… well, it lasts until it’s done. On this night that was 11:30pm. And believe me, I was frustrated when I got in my car to head home. Twenty-three minutes later, all that changed.

On the eve of the first meeting since my experience, it is all coming back to me. You see, we go into the meeting with an agenda, which includes an estimated time of adjournment. That time was 10:30pm. On this night, 10:30pm came and went as I listened to questions, complaints, confusions, and opinions, every one even more frustrating as I watched the minutes tick by. Keep in mind, I still had a 35-minute drive ahead of me, even at that hour of the night. Can’t we all just get along and make a decision, I quietly wondered in my head?

Finally, the gavel sounded and the meeting ended. After cleaning up, two others and I walked to the elevator, went up to the first floor, and out to our cars. As I got in mine I looked at the clock. It was 11:25pm. That meant I wouldn’t be home until after midnight. Ugh.

What I didn’t know was that two minutes later, as I was pulling out of the parking lot, two other people’s lives were changing forever.

I headed out, reached the beltway and set my cruise control to 65 mph so as not to attract any cops who might be out at that time of night. Another thing you should know about these major highways we live with is that the department of transportation has periodically placed information signs over the roadways. They remind of toll costs, announce new laws, and report when accidents have occurred so drivers can try to avoid them. You see on a highway like this, one accident can back up traffic for miles, even at night.

It was one such messages I saw on this night two weeks ago: Crash after Exit 8, All Lanes Closed. Oh geez. Just what I needed. But, I kept going hoping it was already cleared and they just hadn’t changed the sign yet. As I drove, the open road continued. Then I saw another sign with the same message. Hmm? Still, I kept going. For several more miles there was nothing except the occasional other car. I approached the first sign for Exit 8, and still there was nothing. Another half mile… nothing.

An image used in a teaser for the story on the ABC 7 WJLA website.

An image used in a teaser for the story on the ABC 7 WJLA website.

And then… then I came around a large curve in the terrain and there it was. Red and blue lights lit up the night sky like I have never seen before. Flares spanned four lanes of black asphalt. As I and the other cars approached, we slowed and moved to the right. It appeared the local lanes were open and that’s where we were headed. As I arrived at the scene I saw at least three huge FedEx piggyback tractor trailer trucks, and numerous other vehicles that hadn’t known to move over. I saw the huge trucks begin to navigate the flares, driving right so they could swing back left and make the turn. You see the crash was so bad they had opened up the solid concrete barricades that separate the north and south lanes. They were putting the trucks back to the south lanes. I’ve never seen that happen before…ever.

As I continued forward I noticed people had stopped on the side of the road to watch. It was a scene like no other. There had to have been at least 30 cop cars, two huge rescue trucks, numerous fire trucks and ambulances. And every one had lights rotating. But I still hadn’t seen the cars involved. A few more feet forward, and there they were. On the right side of the road, just to the left of where I was creeping by, crashed so badly I couldn’t even recognize what type of vehicle I was looking at. I took it all in… the stretcher, still empty, waiting behind the vehicle… the fire fighters and rescue personnel in full gear climbing all over the car… the metal that had already been cut jagged by the enormous saws they must have used.

I’ve seen bad wrecks before. I’ve taken pictures at crashes set up for training purposes. I’ve seen the jaws of life in action for those practice runs. But this was no practice run. And, then it hit me. While I still didn’t know exactly what happened on that stretch of road, I knew for sure there was a chance someone wasn’t going to make it. And that someone could have been me.

Was it not for the extra questions long after I thought they had already been answered, or for the commentary that didn’t seem to be needed, I could have been in that very spot when whatever happened, happened. I prayed for the people involved. I said a prayer of thanks. And I felt the hand of God on me like I haven’t in a very long time… maybe since a day many years ago when I was the one in the vehicle on the side of the road.

I know I am not unique. Many people have been saved by a difference of 23 minutes… or even less. But the next day when I read a short story relating the details of the night before, I knew this was one of those times I would never forget. You see that night at 11:27pm, just after I had gotten into my car, a 25-year-old Germantown woman was driving south on the northbound lanes of I-270. How or why this occurred, I can’t even imagine. But in doing so, her car struck a north-bound SUV with a 38-year-old woman at the wheel. The 25-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene. The other woman was taken to a local hospital in critical condition. No other information was given. But I know in my heart that woman could have been me.

What if everyone loved the presentation that was given at the meeting and there were no follow-up questions? What if the ensuing discussions had been shorter? What if I had gotten in my car to go home 23 minutes sooner?

I remember the day following the accident was hard driving home from work. Of course the roadway at 3:30pm was much more full than at 11:45pm the night before. But that afternoon I knew something I hadn’t known the prior night. I knew that in a few short miles I would pass the spot where a woman died and another was seriously injured. As each exit approached and passed, I remember feeling the tension rise in my stomach. And I felt the tears brimming at my eyes. Then I drove by Exit 8. The remains from the burned out flares that lit the sky not even 24 hours prior could still be seen, somehow undisturbed by the passing motorists.

For me, it was a reminder that life is fragile. There’s no question about it. And I have to wonder, what is it all really about? The woman who got hit through no fault of her own… was she driving home from a meeting as well? Or had she just spent a pleasant evening with her boyfriend, or mother, or sister? Maybe she had a fight with the person she last spoke to? Was she making a difference in her life? If she survives, will she make a difference now? Will I?

Making a difference is something I struggle with often. Am I doing enough? Am I doing the right thing? What does it all mean? What I know is that I must be meant for something. Because that night two weeks ago when it could have been my time, the mouths of others were opened to keep me in that seat in Building 1, Activity Room 1. In my heart I know a difference of 23 minutes may have saved my life. Now the question is… what will I do with all the minutes that are still to come?

In the words of Jeremy Schwartz, “Live every day as if it were your last, because one of these days, it will be.”

Remember Grammy… and the cookies!

28 07 2013

My grandmother died last Monday. She was 96 years old. My sister, Donna, and I were privileged to give the eulogy at her funeral mass on Friday morning. Below is what I wrote and read to the family gathered to mourn the passing of one of the most amazing women we have known.

I like cookies. I don’t think it’s any secret. Nor is the way this love affair started. It started with Gramms.

Grammy, at age 92, with her eight grandchildren, (back row, from left) DJ, John, Greg, (middle row, from left) Casey, Colleen, Donna, (front row, from left) Erica and Laurie

Grammy, at age 92, with her eight grandchildren, (back, from left) DJ, John, Greg, (middle, from left) Casey, Colleen, Donna, (front, from left) Erica and Laurie.

At some point during those Sunday dinners at Edgemere Court in Maryland, she would call John, Donna, Greg and myself into the kitchen. We’d gather around her in the corner over between the sink and the stove. And then she’d pull the lid off the cookie jar. Four little heads would peer inside to see what variety we had that day. And then four little hands went in.

The cookies were always good. I mean, we were kids right. Even Chips Ahoy are good when you’re 8. I’m sure DJ, Erica, Laurie and Casey each have a similar cookie memory of Gramms from their youth. Doesn’t everyone?

But as an adult, I know a cookie is sometimes so much more than chocolate chips and dough. Sometimes a cookie is love. And maybe that’s why I like them so much even now. The sweetness. The good feeling when I eat one. It’s not about the cookie. It’s about the love that once accompanied it. Gramms’ love, her caring way, the strength she always exhibited, and her nurturing spirit were a huge part of my life… of all our lives.

Many of my best memories include Grammy. There was nothing like sleeping over at her house. Fish sticks for dinner and Pop Tarts for breakfast… oh yeah! Nothing like the feeling of being warm and safe in her comfy bed. She laughed at me because I liked running around in her tiny shower and she didn’t even care how much water I used. How many pictures did we knock over playing in the basement?

We all remember those piles of spaghetti. I mean, come on, who could eat that much? The special cakes she let us decorate on our birthdays… and then years later how we all decorated them for her. The slurpees after visiting Pops’ grave after our Saturday afternoon shopping trips. How many people had a grandmother who climbed out on the roof of her own house to clean the gutters? Probably just us!

The way I will remember Grammy. Pictured here at Beth and DJ's wedding at age 91.

The way I will remember Grammy. Pictured here at Beth and DJ’s wedding at age 91.

And then there was church. We didn’t know when to kneel or stand, but we watched her and did the same. And then she would hand us each a quarter for the collection plate. Lessons learned about the right way to live when we didn’t even know we were being taught. That’s who Grammy was. A leader. A teacher. A comforter.

She worked hard in many different positions over a lot of years, including her final position at the FBI. But she worked many others prior to that, not necessarily because she wanted to do all those jobs, but because she had people depending on her. She formed the lives of three children, helped raise eight grandchildren, and welcomed three great-grandchildren. And now, all of us carry a piece of her in our hearts. Forever.

These are the things we should hold onto. The memories from days gone by. Remember Grammy like that. Remember the cookies.

My First Transport

30 03 2013

I did my first transport this morning. Five hours up and back, 231 miles round trip, two states, half a tank of gas, a few tolls, and one beautiful, sweet, sleeping kitty named Khingee on her way to a new life… priceless.

When I opened her carrier door, this beautiful fuzzy head popped out.

When I opened her carrier door, this beautiful fuzzy head popped out.

I became aware of the idea of transport a couple years ago when I was involved in helping to organize a rather large one. For a while after that, I’d watch the transports happening in different groups through posts on Facebook. And often, I’d cry. Not because they are a sad thing, but because they’re so unbelievably wonderful. A group puts together a route with appropriate length legs often through multiple states. Then people along the route sign up to drive their vehicles and transport a cat home… as if through an assembly line.

At the beginning you have a cat that needs rescue. At the other end, there is a home. And in between, these amazing people who make it all possible. I wanted to be one of those people. So I signed up with two different groups to drive. And then, I waited. The transports always seemed to be in another part of the country, or on a day when I wasn’t available. Then, earlier this week, an email came from Teresa at Imagine Home. “We have a transport in your area! Khingee is scheduled to go to a new foster on Saturday, March 30th. I was wondering if you would be interested in driving a leg to get this sweetie to a safe place?”

“Yes,” I replied. Then I looked at the map. Uh oh. The entire trip encompassed three legs from Derwood, MD to Middletown, NY. I would be the first leg, driving her as far as Newport, DE. It was a route I had taken last weekend to attend a rescue event in Pennsylvania. I knew the drive was long, almost two hours, and I knew there were three or four tolls along the way, depending which roads I traveled. I panicked. A change in my job situation last December has forced me to be much more cautious with my funds. Could I afford this? I wasn’t sure. I went so far as to have Teresa and Kelly, the coordinator for this transport, look for a back-up.

Khingee peeked her head up every once in a while to check out the sites.

Khingee peeked her head up every once in a while to check out the sights.

The Imagine Home description of Khingee explained she was the product of a broken home. Mike and Jennifer saw her on a visit to that home, and found her enduring a horrible skin irritation from a terrible case of fleas. They took her to the vet, and then into their home. The fleas are long since gone, her skin is healthy, and her fur is as beautiful as it was meant to be. She is a sweet, happy and playful kitty, but had consigned herself to the basement due to the territorial male Bengal cat that already lived in the house. Mike and Jennifer cared for her well being and happiness, and in the end, they felt this very affectionate beauty would be happier and more content in a home where she did not have to fight the reigning male. They cared enough to give her up, so she would have a chance at a home better suited to her needs. The transport would deliver Khingee to a foster home of the Helping Animals Rescue Team (HART).

When I re-read this, and had time to think, I realized the cost to me didn’t matter. I wanted to help this cat. I needed to do this transport. Tears come to my eyes every time I read the posts about them for a reason. Maybe transport is where my heart lies? I needed to know the answer to that question because of a promise I made. As we sat in the vet’s office September 1, 2012, holding Shelby for the last time, I promised her I would do something to help others in her name. It is a promise I intend to keep, although I’m still figuring out the form it will take.

So Friday mid-day, I emailed Kelly and Teresa and told them I wanted to do the transport. I had already communicated with Ed, who would be the next leg of the trip north, and set up a meeting place, so that was done. Next I spoke with Mike, who had Khingee, and set up the perfect place for me to pick her up. I was nervous. Nervous about getting to the right place at the right time (I’m not great with directions). And nervous about how I might react to the whole process.

Carrier all buckled up and ready to go.

Carrier all buckled up safely and ready to go.

When Mike opened his car door this morning just before 9am and Khingee stuck her gorgeous little head up to the door of her crate and slowly blinked to say hi to me, I knew it was all going to be OK. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. I talked to Mike for a few minutes regarding the supplies he was sending, when she had eaten breakfast, and how she had been while in their care. And then, it was time to go. I buckled her carrier to the front passenger seat of my car, texted Dionne at Imagine Home to say I had picked up the precious cargo and we were on our way. I also was able to snap a quick picture of the darling girl before she put her fuzzy head down on her pink bed… and drifted off to sleep.

Khingee was the perfect passenger… she slept most of the time. Every once in a while picking her head up to look at the trees going by. I talked to her often, just in case she wasn’t really asleep. I told her about my kitties and how I’d sing to them on the way to vet. I also admitted I’m not a very good singer, so she might prefer I just skip that all together. I let her know this was my first time on the new Inter County Connector in Maryland, so it was special that she was with me. When we passed Baltimore, I gave her my take on the city. I told her about years gone by when my family would drive this exact route north to New Jersey to visit family. However, she was going even farther then that… she was going to New York, where I have visited twice. When we came to the first toll booth there was a huge semi truck in the lane next to me and I worried it might scare her. As I put the window down, I looked over and she had raised her head in a bit of a panic. She looked at me. I said, “It’s OK, you’re safe.” I turned to give the money to the teller, and when I looked back, she was already on her way to dream land. Guess she believed me. And that made me feel good.

Khingee rested her head and paw outside the carrier as I talked to her while we waited.

Khingee rested her head and paw near me as I talked to her while we waited.

Before I knew it, we were in Delaware and at our meeting place. I found a nice quiet spot away from everyone else to park so we could wait for Ed. He had texted to say he was in a bit of traffic and would be another 15 minutes or so. I’m sorry he had the traffic. But I’m so glad I had those minutes with Khingee. I unbuckled her carrier and turned it to face me. When I opened the metal door, the most beautiful little fuzzy head popped out. She reached her small paw out to me and then rested it on the console between us. I scratched behind her ears, rubbed her head and her nose, and pet the gorgeous fur on her back. And of course, we talked some more. Well, I did most of the talking as she’s a quiet kitty.

I told her how special she was because she’s my first transport. I assured her I would save her pictures and remember her always. I told her about my promise to Shelby and that she was now a part of it. I showed her the pocket stone containing fur from Shelby and her sister Molly, which I had brought with me. It all just felt right and I promised Khingee there would be many more after her. I think she was pleased… or maybe she just liked all the petting? Either way, I will remember that conversation for many years to come.

Me with Khingee right before I passed her over to Ed.

Me with Khingee right before I handed her over to Ed for the next leg of her journey.

When Ed arrived, I asked him to take my picture with Khingee. Next I passed over all the supplies and explained everything Mike had told me. And then I handed over Khingee. He remarked how beautiful she was, and I of course agreed, as he placed her gently in the back seat of his SUV. I got back into my car and texted Dionne my final update. But really, I just wanted to wait until Khingee pulled away on the next leg of her journey to meet Stacey, who would take her the rest of the way home. Unfortunately, that extra time in the car made me desperate to find a bathroom and I had to walk inside. When I returned, she was gone.

And that was probably for the best. There were no tears on my part, which surprised me. Well… no tears until now. And I think that means I was supposed to be on that journey with her. I am many things. But now I am also a transporter. And Khingee was my first.

“To the world you are just one more rescue person. To a rescued pet, you are the world.” – Author Unknown

A Spring Day. Really?

25 03 2013

Ahhh Spring. That long-awaited warm and sunny time of the year that features rebirth all around us, officially arrived a few days ago. So today I decided I’d go outside and enjoy this new season with a walk around the community in which I live in the metro Washington DC area. And maybe I’d even take my camera with me. After all, it is spring, right? I mean that’s what the calendar says. And that’s what that little furry Punxsutawney Phil groundhog told us.

So, after taking a peek out the window, I got ready. For some reason I felt like I was 10 years old again. Why? Because getting ready on THIS spring day meant… jeans, a heavy sweatshirt, socks halfway up my calf, waterproof boots that hit just below my knee, gloves, a heavy down coat with the collar zipped up around my chin, and last but not least, my hood… up! There, that should do it. Perfect attire for a nice spring day…NOT!

What I walked outside to was more like the winter wonderland I wished we’d had three months ago. Even still, I had a nice stroll around and took some photos to mark this unusual day in late March. Of course I had to do it while carrying a thick towel to cover my camera between shots so the snowflakes that continued to fall didn’t harm my equipment. I mean, I’d like it still to work should we ever get a real spring day.

(Click on the first photo for a full size slideshow view.)

After The Fire

7 03 2013

I heard them again. The sirens. Not an uncommon sound where I live. Yet still unnerving to someone who in sixth grade watched a house burn down two lots from where she made her home. Living in a condo building makes this fear even more real, especially when the fire systems often seem to scream for no apparent reason. But this time… this time it seemed different.

Aerial fire truck poised for duty.

Aerial fire truck poised for duty.

Typically two fire trucks show. But on this Sunday, I counted five trucks, including two aerial units. There were also two ambulances, the SUV carrying the fire chief, and a few police cars. The building they were pulling up to was blocked to us by another. But as we moved outside to our balcony, I saw something I had not viewed ever before. I turned to Sean and said, “I’ve never seen people standing that far from a building before… they’re way back on the grass.” And then my gaze moved slightly left as I saw two fire fighters dismount their truck in full gear. And, they were carrying hoses. That had certainly never happened before.

Immediately I felt it. Fear, yes. But also, as a former newspaper reporter, the indisputable desire to grab my camera and run to the scene. Through my mind shot differing arguments. Was it horrible to want to take pictures of what possibly could be someone’s apartment on fire? But maybe it was nothing and I could at least get some shots of the trucks and equipment? In a matter of a moment I knew I had to go.

It took me all of maybe 10 minutes to grab my camera with the right lens, put on shoes and a jacket, and walk from two buildings over. In that short amount of time, the men and women of the Montgomery County Maryland Fire Department had doused the flames and the rest of the tenants in the building could breathe easy. Now that’s good work!

But there had been a fire in that second floor apartment. And as I began to shoot photos of the clean up, I thanked God for a team of professionals that saved 31 other condos from their own scorching. And seeing that makes me feel a little bit safer living here, in a situation where I daily put my home, everything in it, and my life in the hands of neighbors I don’t even know. In my accompanying photos you can see the story unfold… after the fire.

(Click on the first photo for a full size slideshow view.)