I had to work that Friday, so it was up to Red to make the pick. While I put a newspaper together in Sturgeon Bay on Oct. 4, 2013, she drove to Bonduel to meet with a breeder who had two English cream golden retriever puppies left. As was our habit, we already had the name.
The previous year a movie called John Carter had bombed at the box office and was being called the biggest flop in the history of Walt Disney Pictures. We watched it on DVD a few months after the big disaster and were flummoxed, because it was a brilliant movie. I’ve seen people say, “For all of its flaws, John Carter is much better than its reputation,” or some variation of faint praise along the lines of “It’s not that bad.” Bollocks, say I. The film is brilliant.
And so, when it was time to find a companion for Willow The Best Dog There Was, who had been our only canine companion for two or three years — rare for a couple who started with three and almost never had fewer than two dogs in our 26 years — I lobbied hard to name her Dejah.
Or, more precisely, because you’re supposed to give a purebred dog a long, fancypants name, Dejah Thoris, Princess of Mars, after the heroine of the Edgar Rice Burroughs book who was played so terrifically by Lynn Collins in the film.
Because I wanted any excuse to tell people how desperately I wanted them to watch John Carter and be as blown away as I was.
“Oh, what a cute puppy! What’s her name?”
“Dejah! We named her after Dejah Thoris, Princess of Mars, you know, from that great movie that nobody went to see last year!”
On her way home Red stopped at the Door County Advocate office — the paper had one of those then — and introduced Dejah to everybody. She was, of course, a big hit because she was and is still adorable. When I see someone from those days, the conversation inevitably turns to, “And how is Dejah?”
Dejah tormented Willow as puppies do — karma has finally come as 2-year-old Summer torments her older sibling on a regular basis — and I wrote the little dickens into the Myke Phoenix series by telling the episode The Puppy Cried ‘Murder’ from the point of view of Paul Phillips’ 4-month-old puppy named Goombah, who turns out to be the reincarnated soul of an Astor City homicide victim. That’s Dejah on the cover.
Willow and Dejah, otherwise known as Dejah and Willow, became my favorite dynamic duo among the many dogs we shared a home with. Willow’s subtle sense of humor combined with Dejah’s impish playfulness made the perfect pairing.
And much as Willow grew to be a beautiful willowy dog, Dejah also grew into her name. If ever a dog deserved to be named after a feisty alien princess, this beast is definitely otherworldly.
Why am I telling you all this? The more careful readers among you already know why: In the first paragraph I mentioned that Dejah’s adventure with us began on Oct. 4, 2013, which duh! is exactly 10 years ago today. And if dog years really do equal seven human years, then this also is that moment in time when Dejah and I are the same age.
Happy anniversary, Dejah!
Like me, she tends to limp a little around the house these days as aging joints betray her, but Dejah is still an imp. You didn’t think it was me who dropped my slipper in the middle of the living room, did you?
Everything is meaningless, some say, and still we search for meaning. To concede to meaninglessness is to yield to despair. We need a purpose. We need to be moving and preferable forward.
Ahem: You, with the “Everything is meaningless” banner. Define “meaning.”
Gotcha, didn’t I? As soon as you define meaning, you bring meaning into existence. It’s a dilemma, a conundrum, a fly in the ointment.
I took the above picture of Summer and posted it to Facebook with the caption, “And after you have flipped the corner of the area rug and rummaged underneath, you are left with the question: ‘Is that all there is?’ It must all mean something, mustn’t it?”
Summer then went to her ottoman and lay down with her head on her paw. At first I thought she might be in despair about the meaninglessness of it all, but then I thought no, she looks satisfied and content. She had dug under the rug, and that fulfilled what she was meant to do. It was all she needed.
At that, the sun came out and she sighed, and it was all good.
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UPDATE: “Write one thank-you note.” I managed three! “Write one paragraph of Jeep.” Done. “Write one paragraph of (other unannounced work in progress).” Done.
A little more about my journey through Bob Goff’s book Dream Big. As I mentioned yesterday, in response to the prompt “Are there some recurring themes in your behaviors and choices?” I wrote in all-caps, “PEACE. NONVIOLENCE. PUPPIES.”
I realized then that he may have been talking more about behaviors I want to adjust as opposed to themes that I often return to in my thoughts and writings, and so I pursued the question along the lines I pursued yesterday. But those really are three of my “passion topics.”
I really can’t think of a human activity more downright foolish than war. People — or more accurately their leaders or rulers — have a disagreement, and to resolve their differences they hurl their subjects at each other with a goal of killing as many of their opponents’ subjects as possible. That resolves nothing: Everyone still disagrees, and the only real results are resentment, grief, anger and a greater hatred than before the killing started.
My experience is that people want peace. Almost every transaction and interaction between humans is peaceful. War is an aberration and the most utter failure to preserve the peace. I started out confused by the whole concept, and I have become more virulently anti-war as time goes on.
Losing Red, the wonderful human being with whom I shared the last quarter century, has made me even more so. Hers was a peaceful death — or as peaceful a death as a horrible disease can offer — but the loss has helped me understand, in a way I hadn’t quite grasped before, just how devastating and complete death is. To cause the premature death of another human being, deliberately, is nothing short of insane.
I have written often of my admiration for Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus the Christ, with regard to their commitment to nonviolent solutions.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you,” Jesus said. “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone takes your cloak, do not withhold your tunic as well.” That’s hard advice to swallow, but it’s more likely to turn an enemy into a friend someday than killing that enemy and as many of his friends as you can.
And then there’s puppies. Do I really need to say more? There are dozens if not hundreds of writings and memes about how if you want to learn about unconditional love, pay attention to your puppy. The bond between puppy and human is one of the greatest examples to follow about how to love.
I was going to write “One of the greatest examples to follow about how to love your neighbor,” but a puppy can get pretty feisty if a neighbor or other stranger is perceived as a threat to those she loves. In the absence of a threat, though, there’s nothing like puppy love. If turning the other cheek doesn’t work, try handing your enemy a puppy.
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UPDATE: So many people were supportive yesterday that I thought I’d do this for awhile. For Tuesday: “Write one thank-you note.” Done. “Write one paragraph of Jeep.” Done. “Write one paragraph of (other unannounced work in progress).” Done. I suspect pretty soon I’ll be regularly exceeding those daily minimums.
Blackberry had always cried in the night, but the caterwauling was even more plaintiff the last few days, and when she skipped her meal Thursday night, I knew my 16-year-old cat was not long for this world. The first thing I heard Friday morning was an all-too-familiar moaning; I have lost cats before.
She was lying next to the water dish; I began to stroke her as gently as I could, and as if she had been waiting for me to wake up and say goodbye, she passed quietly a few minutes later.
Just after the Independence Day holiday in July 2007, I turned onto the Highway 41 on-ramp near our home and almost immediately a tiny black streak shot across the road.
“That was a kitten,” I said to myself, and I pulled to the side of the ramp.
“Home!” cried a little voice from the brush. “Home! Home!” The tiny cat poked her face out at me looking hopeful.
We had six cats at home, so of course I was going to rescue this one. I took her home — I was very late to work that day — and called Red to let her know we were up to seven. We agreed that we would look for a permanent home — who keeps seven cats?!?! — but the fact that Number 7 was still around until Friday morning tells you how well that worked. I almost called her E.T. because of the way she kept crying “Home!” but Red overruled me and dubbed her Blackberry.
I had had at least one cat in the house constantly since 1979, so it’s weirdly quiet around here with only two golden retrievers to keep me company. Blackberry was not the most affectionate cat ever, at least not to humans. She loved walking up to a dog and licking them around the eyes and nose. And the dogs seemed to love it, too.
I buried her next to Pumpkin, Beeker, Cody, Bam-Bam, and Boop — Hemi was cremated and I still need to deal with his ashes — and darned if Summer and Dejah went out to the new little grave as soon as I let them back in the yard, as if to pay their respects. I was keeping my emotions in check until I saw that.
Red had found the breeders, a lovely couple about 150 miles from our place. Their male dog Windsor is one of the most magnificent and friendly golden retrievers I’ve ever met, and the mom, Lady, is a sweet thing who reminded me so much of my beloved Willow, who had left us five months earlier.
On the way down we went over dozens of possible names for the new puppy. I’ve told you this story before: When we got to the name “Summer,” we paused for a few moments and I said, “I don’t know why, but ‘Summer’ has passed the ‘choke Warren up’ test.” And a few moments after that, Red replied in a quivery voice, “Me too,” and we knew we were going down to meet Summer.
The next step was picking her out of the crowd. We had made arrangements to adopt a female, we had first pick, and Lady had dutifully delivered eight girls and two boys a month earlier. Red had picked out Dejah eight years earlier, so it was my job to pick out Summer.
I decided to literally dive in: I stepped over the fence into the puppies’ play area, sat down, and let the little ones climb over me. And climb, and climb, and climb. I was in there for 45 minutes. Do you think it would be fun to let 10 puppies crawl over you for 45 minutes? You have no idea!
The only real way to tell them apart was they had 10 different-colored collars. Of course the puppy who seemed most interested in me was one of the two little boys. But we wanted a female, and so I apologized to the little guy and spent most of my time with his many sisters.
For a while I thought I was going to pick the one with the green collar, and then blue, and then purple, but slowly I started building a bond with the one in the yellow collar, whom the couple had code-named Mimosa. She was — oh, heck, I have tried to reconstruct in my mind why yellow-collar and I gravitated to each other, but I honestly can’t remember. All I know is after 45 minutes I had her wrapped in my arms, almost weeping, because I loved Willow so much and this poor little fluff ball was going to be tasked with taking Willow’s place in the family.
This was Aug. 29, 2021, so Tuesday was the second anniversary of Summer’s “Gotcha Day,” or whatever you call the day you pick a pup. Summer has adopted the classic golden retriever habits, like lying down five inches from the wheels of my desk chair or sitting down next to me with that attitude of “You may pet me now.”
We are adjusting together with life without Red, Tuesday also being the second-month anniversary of my beloved’s passing. On balance it was an anniversary full of happy memories. Red seemed to have almost as much fun watching me cavort with the puppies as I had in the cavorting.
And 2021 was a happy year on balance. We gained a grandson and a puppy who have been sources of endless delight. It was sweet to think back on Gotcha Day and the anticipation of bringing Summer home a couple of weeks later. And Summer still chokes me up from time to time.