Friday, September 4, 2009

Trixie's Mom

I'd like to devote today's entry to some thoughts I have about my fifteen year old Jack Russell Terrier. Did you hear that noise? That was the sound of the collective groan of every one of my friends and family who are reading this right now. They are in shock that it has taken me three whole entries before I actually brought up Trixie's name in my writing! I don't blame them for being exasperated, I do talk about Trixie a lot. When we first got her as a six week old puppy, my co-workers at Disney made secret wagers as to how long it would take each morning before I mentioned her name. Those that bet "a minute or less" became exceedingly wealthy and were able to retire early.

I'm also fully aware of the "Marley and Me" saturation that's going on in the literary world. Ever since "Marley's" success, everybody wants to tell you about "Max, the Heroic Shitsu," or "Moose, the Ill-Mannered Great Dane." Although I DO have great plans for the entry that will be completely devoted to Trixie's intense obsession with the flushing of a toilet (trust me on this, you WILL be entertained!), that's not what I have in mind for today.

In truth, when I started sifting through my mental "Trixie file" today as I was driving, I had a bit of an epiphany. My dog hasn't really done anything "above and beyond." She's never rescued a kid from a well or dragged anyone from a burning building. On the other hand, she's not of the "Fun Bad Dog" variety either. Our furniture was never chewed to pieces and my shoes all remain intact and slobber-free. But here's what I DID realize:

Several years back I decided I wanted to volunteer visiting nursing homes. I have a deep affection for little old ladies and we had no shortage of nursing homes in the state of Florida. I figured it was a no-brainer. I applied with an organization, passed the background check and was assigned to a lovely woman named Mildred at Guardian Care Nursing Home. Mildred was in the late stages of dementia, and she kind of "came and went" mentally during our visits together. She never seemed overly excited to see me, and certainly never remembered me from one visit to the next. I tried everything to engage her in conversation. She didn't remember much, she said, and apparently didn't feel very comfortable sharing stories about herself with a complete stranger. Our visits deteriorated into long, boring chats about her wardrobe ("Are those new slippers? Nice!!") I felt like a supreme failure.

Then I read an article about the Orlando Humane Society. They were starting a "Pet Therapy" program where volunteers and their pets would visit local nursing homes every Saturday. I lowered the paper and looked at Trixie. "Ready?" I asked her. She gave me one of her audible, scale-descending sighs. We were off! Walking into that nursing home with Trixie was like tossing a ball of pure sunshine into the room! Residents that initially sat hunched-over in their wheelchairs, staring blankly at the wall, now reached-out to pat Trixie's head and scratch her chin. They'd smile and break into long, detailed stories about the pet dog they used to have. One woman kept a box of Milkbones in her nightstand drawer, she wanted to have treats on-hand when Trixie arrived.

Trixie's small stature and high energy made her an immediate hit with all children. NONE of them feared her. When we moved into our first new home in Orlando, we soon learned we had become "That Couple" on the block, the one with no kids. I was worried none
of the parents would allow their children to trick-or-treat at our house. So one day I set up the sprinkler in the front yard, Trixie's second favorite thing ever (see earlier toilet reference for number one favorite thing!). Within minutes, there was an enormous crowd of children lined-up on our driveway, all laughing and pointing at our silly dog in full sprint, back and forth, through the tall fan of water. One five year old looked at me and stated incredulously, "Your dog is CRAZY!!" They all showed up on Halloween. Each of them cheerfully accepted their Three Musketeers Bars, patted Trixie on the head, and told her they really liked her pumpkin costume.

The same was true of our nieces and nephews through the years. Living in Florida, Alan and I were hundreds of miles from our siblings and we saw their children only once a year, if we were lucky. They were always terribly shy when they first arrived, hands in mouths and faces pressed against their mothers' thighs. Then Trixie would come bounding out of the house to greet them. Squeals of delight immediately followed. Aunt Joan and Uncle Alan's soon became "Trixie's House; Also Occupied By Those Other Two People." We showed them the entirety of Orlando's majesty: Disney, Universal, Gatorland, all of the above. As they were leaving, we'd ask them, "What was your favorite thing you did this week?" Their reply? "Swimming with Trixie in the pool. Oh, and also, when I threw the ball 9,000 times and she brought it back." Sorry Magic Kingdom, you don't stand a chance against my awesome terrier, a body of water, and her ball.

One year, Alan's five year old nephew, Harlan, was visiting and refusing to take a bath. How can I put this delicately? The kid STANK!! We'd been at Disney all day in 90 degree weather and Harlan was a dirty, sweaty mess. Still, he resisted. He finally agreed when we said that Trixie could join him in the tub (her third favorite thing in the world). We checked back in the bathroom fifteen minutes later and found water soaking the walls, floors, rugs and light fixtures, along with two faces so filled with pure joy and happiness, it was impossible to be upset!

When I needed my headshots re-done, I decided to have a few taken holding Trixie. I thought it would be something different to help my photo stand-out when it was viewed alongside all the others. What I didn't count on, was what would happen when I arrived at the audition in person. I would hand them my headshot, proceed to my mark to begin, and then hear, "Oh, my gosh, is this your dog? What's his name?" So, I spend a few seconds telling them about Trixie, sometimes they'd give me a quick tale about their own dog, and we'd share a nice moment. Then they'd ask me to begin again, and I would, infinitely more relaxed than when I first entered the room.

Now in her golden years, Trixie's work continues. When I've got her in the car with me, stopped at a red light, she always stands up on her back paws and scratches at the passenger window, wanting me to roll it down. I love watching as the car next to us slowly notices Trixie panting at them. They usually point, they sometimes wave at her, they ALWAYS smile. I recently purchased a trailer for her that I attach to the back of my bike. We ride together for miles and miles on this wonderful wooded trail near my house. I smile every time other bikers pass me, coming from the other direction. I wait for the inevitable surprise and laughter, followed by, "Did you see that? There was a DOG in there!"

So, as I was going over all this today, something occurred to me I hadn't thought of the entire fifteen years we've been together: Trixie makes me special. It's true. It's like hanging out with a rock star. All these years, she's allowed me to believe it was HER that was the lucky one to have had Alan and me for "parents." (That's right, we call ourselves Mommy and Daddy with her. Got a problem with that?) Turns out, it's MY life that has been enriched. Just because she was THERE.

I grew up as the middle kid of five children, four of us were girls. We were very close in age, our mom cut our hair similarly, and she often dressed us identically. I am being COMPLETELY serious here when I tell you that I had great-aunts approach me at our FREQUENT family gatherings and loudly ask, "So, which one are YOU?" I always hated being referred to as "Laura's sister" or "One of the Donnelly girls." "I'M JOAN," I would scream, "I am individual!!" But shortly after we began our gig at the nursing home, I had a baseball cap made. I wore it every week. It simply read, "Trixie's Mom." All the elderly residents were in agreement, I totally rocked.

Thanks for reading!!


Anonymous said...

Wow...brought a tear to my eye. My family has always had dogs for pets and yes they are your children. My father passed away in a nursing home last August. He had dementia as well as other problems. My mom and I would go and visit him and I would bring my two youngest sons. My mom would bring her 10 year old toy poodle, Sassy. The boys were little and at that "cute" age but they couldn't get the same response that Sassy could get. The residents` faces just lit-up. They really do "rule".

Kathy B said...

I am crying. Oh my goodness. First, you know I love that precious dog but even more I love the way YOU love her. And your writing skill - man, Joan. I am going to love reading this. You totally rock all by yourself!!!!!! LOVE YOU.

Anonymous said...

Hey I thought the turning point was when we were dressed like elves in that detention center. I would love to say that your stories make me smile but I inevitably start crying.You have a gift for touching one's heart so consider me a fan.I ran into Sadler at the stores and we constructed our favorite cast and even with all those political differences, you were and always will be our favorite Kimberly!!!Kiana, Dave Me,Brian and Dave TIE.I would love to do 1 day of 45s with that cast.

Jen said...

Somehow you always make me cry and then laugh heartily through my tears. I can count the number of times on one hand that Aunt Helen got my name right. Ironically, now with 26 fourth graders, I would kill for a day when I don't hear my name called out repeatedly. Funny how life throws you curves like that!

Erin said...

I lost my doggie of 15 years 2 years ago and it still feels like yesterday. Our little buddies DO make us special and bring unending joy to our lives and those around us. This story rules :)

Shan said...

Aww, I love this story. Your Trixie looks like our Maisy (ahem... when we brought her home at about three months old... we knew she was Jack Russell and "something"... turns out it was something LARGE).

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