Monday, April 6, 2015

The Gezzer Worries About Gus

Gus’s story starts with his mother.  She was beautiful, young, and socially prominent in her small Border Collie family in Southern Virginia, near the North Carolina border.  Living in her neighborhood---in the kennel next door, as a matter of fact---was a gorgeous red and white Grand Champion Border Collie, for whom, apparently, Gus’s mom had the hots.  Being young and, on at least one occasion, unchaperoned,  mom managed finally to meet Champ---face to face, to be polite about it---sometime in the Fall of 2011.  Gus’s mom and the Champ met and, weeks later, Gus and his 10 sibs appeared.

Gus was the largest of the brood and the only one who looked like his dad, the Champ.  He also had dew claws which, in the culture into which Gus was born, was a scandal.  Gus and his sibs were not wanted, to say the least.  Still, they were pure Border Collie, and it was decided to let them live.  His first three months were spent being fed and watered, and that’s about it.  Sanitation in his brood’s living space was minimal.  His mother seemed not to have a maternal bone in her body.  The woman who helped his mom with the raising of the children just wanted them to grow up and get out.

So it was that I came upon Gus.  He was a very shy, retiring giant of a pup who waited until he was very sure of a situation before allowing himself to get involved.  His brothers and sisters all seemed to be pronounced extroverts, vying to be the first in the crowd, while Gus always sat alone in the back of the room and just watched.  When he came to live with us, he changed a lot and changed very fast.  He loved to play with other dogs and with me.  He loved little kids.  He welcomed the attention of strangers.

In the last year or so, Gus has changed.  He’s become very aggressive with strangers, canine and human.  He bullies Baxter, our very large black Lab.  His behavior with strangers has become so unpredictable that he often isn’t included with the other pups who live here go out of the yard to play.  Now comes the news that he won’t be welcome in the new dog park the city built about a mile from our home.  This dog playground is a great place designed so that dogs can get together and run free in a large fenced park.  There are toys and structures that promote dog play.  But not for Gus.

Our daughter, Annie, has had similar problems with my grandpuppy, Marnie.  Her vet prescribed Prozac for Marnie and her inter-puppy behavior has improved 100%.  I hate to give Gus chemicals, especially those that will affect his brain, but I am thinking that I will have to get him some Prozac so that he can play with the other pups in the city’s new canine play area.
The fact that I feel the need to write about this shows to me, at least, what a huge part of my life and my heart Gus has become.  Like any dad, I want only the best for my (not so) little guy, and, like any dad, I want him to have the same opportunities that all his peers have.  So I guess Gus is going to start taking antidepressants.  I never would have believed I would do such a thing, until Gus.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Sad Memory

This is a photo from 1978 of my mother’s Aunt Alice and Uncle Charlie, my great aunt and great uncle. They lived near us throughout my life until they died. They were really grandparents to my brother and me, giving us many experiences, many presents, and lots of love.
Aunt Alice was my grandmother’s sister, second–generation Irish from Buffalo, New York. She was a warm, loving, and very light–hearted woman who loved her life, most especially Uncle Charlie. She was a terrible cook, but Uncle Charlie thought that she was his own personal Julia Child. He loved her cooking, lumpy mashed potatoes and all. She was a good Catholic woman, but most of all she was a great lover of her family: her son, two grandchildren, my mother and her siblings, and my brother and me. One of my favorite memories of her is from a trip she, Uncle Charlie, my Mom, my brother, and I took to Texas and Colorado in 1963. We were driving from Dallas, Texas, to Boulder, Colorado, when my brother started showing her his recent issues of Mad Magazine. Aunt Alice had never seen those silly things before, and she loved them. She laughed so hard that she had the whole car laughing with her, even though only she had read the magazines. I loved her very much.
Uncle Charlie was a second–or third–generation German American, also from Buffalo. He was a hard worker who loved his work. He made small wooden models of historic sites for the National Park Service in the Department of the Interior. He was an artist. When he turned 70 years old, he was supposed to retire. 70 was the mandatory retirement age for Federal civil servants back then (around 1970). He was given a year–to–year extension and so worked for two or three more years. My memories of Uncle Charlie mostly are of him in his chair in his living room, reading the paper (he took the evening paper, The Washington Star, so he would have the most up–to–date news when he came home from work), listening to the large radio they had in their living room, or just sitting and thinking. Another memory I have is from the same Texas/Colorado trip I wrote about above. He, my mother, and I were walking apart from all the others of the family during a visit to an amusement park in Denver. We decided we were hungry and Uncle Charlie bought the three of us a hot dog with sauerkraut. I still can remember how delicious that hot dog was! About halfway through the hot dog, my mother remembered that it was Friday, when we weren’t supposed to eat meat. She mentioned this to Uncle Charlie, suggesting that we toss the remainders of our hot dogs. Uncle Charlie said that he wasn’t going to chuck his. His hot dog, he said, was so good it was worth going to hell for. All of us finished our hot dogs, enjoying them even more because they were so good they were—literally—sinful.
Aunt Alice and Uncle Charlie have been on my mind all day. Last night, when I was saying my bedtime prayers, a memory came to me from Uncle Charlie’s funeral with a very clear image of Aunt Alice, inconsolably sobbing throughout the funeral Mass. By this time, Aunt Alice was about 90 years old. She and Uncle Charlie had been married for 70 years or more. While earlier in her life she had been a generously–sized short woman, at the time of Uncle Charlie’s death she had lost so much weight that everything below her head looked like bones in a loose container of skin. She sat in the front pew at church, a very tiny woman with her son’s arm solidly around her to comfort her, and she sobbed. She didn’t say anything. She just cried. When I went to kiss her at the Kiss of Peace, I soon regretted approaching her. Seeing me, for some reason, set off a fresh round of tears. I saw her several more times that day—at the cemetery and at her son’s home—but she didn’t react to me that way again, thank God.
My memory of this funeral Mass made me very sad. It made me realize again how much these two people loved one another, how deeply dependent they were on one another in their latter years, how they faced old age and death not alone but together. Although she never explained her grief, Aunt Alice didn’t have to. I had some understanding of it at the time, but now my understanding is much deeper. With a different understanding, my memory, with its crystal–clear images, has made me tear up several times, something I didn’t do at the funeral. I wish I had hugged Aunt Alice more that day. I wish that I had known then what I think I know now about her feelings.
I’ve heard from several sources that one of the biggest components of grief is the fact that the death of a loved one makes us immediately conscious of our own mortality. I believe that’s true, at least in part. But I also believe that Aunt Alice’s grief that morning had little if anything to do with her own death, which came two years later, and everything to do with losing her life’s one and only soul mate, the man she loved in the 1910's and the man she loved even more in the 1990's.
I’m asking God again to give these two beautiful people the eternal joy that they deserve. I’m also asking God to make sure that they stay together so that the journey that they began together in Buffalo more than 100 years ago may continue together now and forever.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wherein the Geezer Learns New Tricks

In 2005, when, as we know now, real estate values were akin to fairy tales, we bought a condo in St. Petersburg, Florida. Our purpose was twofold: (1) to have a condo in the same development as my mother so we could care for her in her last years, and (2) to put our money in a place where we wouldn’t be tempted to give it to the kids.
That was 2005.
Back then, condo fees were $90 a month. Now they are $265 per month.
Back then, if we had sold the condo in the year or two after we bought it, we would have been able to pay off the mortgage and make a small profit.
Those were the days.
Now, if we were to sell the condo (and units in our development are selling, finally), we would get at most about $15,000 less than our mortgage.
Since 2005, I have completely retired and our income is a little more than half of what it was before I retired.
Last year, the condo owners voted to assume management of the development on their own. A qualified condo management specialist was hired and procedures were adapted to this new management structure. One of the procedures that had to be adapted was the way in which condo fees are paid. Specifically, we changed the organization to which the fees are paid. Old authorizations for direct debit of checking accounts were moved to the new management company, and all of us were given the option of paying the fees ourselves rather than giving the management association authorization to debit our accounts directly. I chose to end the direct debit and set up an automatic payment, which I control, in my on–line banking with Bank of America. I notified the company by email on 30 November that I wanted this change. The change was to be effective 1 January of this year.
They say they didn’t get the email. They say it probably went to spam and was deleted.
So last week the condo fee for January was taken from my checking account twice: once by the standing automatic debit, which I thought I had cancelled, and once by my automatic on–line banking payment.
Even in the best of months, I have to pay daily attention to my checking account balance. Being on a strictly fixed income makes such vigilance a must. I am thankful that I caught the double payment the morning after the automatic debit was posted in my account.
The double payment had left me close to $0 in my account. Two on–line bill payments had already left the bank for the payees, and I wasn’t able to cancel them. I wound up being in the hole plus I was charged a $35 overdraft fee. Our savings are gone. I used the last of our savings for some emergency in October, 2013. I was up a creek. In addition to being in the hole in my account, I had no money for food, gas, and other necessities for the rest of the month.
I had to ask three of my four daughters for help. I borrowed the money I needed for my checking account from the three of them, spreading the damage among them so they wouldn’t suffer. One of them graciously went to the grocery store and bought us the food we’ll need for the next few days.
The manager of the condo association was very nice and agreed immediately to send me a check for the overpayment. This was last Wednesday, a week ago. Unfortunately, she told me, she was leaving town that very afternoon and wouldn’t be back until Monday (19 January, a bank and postal holiday). She promised to send the check on Monday, 19 January. I asked if she could either Fed-Ex it or send it by USPS 2–day mail. She told me that wasn’t possible. She did mail the check on Monday, but, it being a holiday, it didn’t go anywhere until yesterday.
So I’m waiting.
This has been a huge learning experience for me. I hate to ask other people for help, especially for financial help. I especially hate to ask our kids. It is absolutely humiliating! But I did it and discovered that the kids, and even the condo manager, were very kind and understanding and, at least our kids, were willing to do what they could to help us. Once the check arrives, I’ll be able to get us through till the first of February and from there I’ll just have to continue our Spartan "lifestyle," and maintain eternal vigilance on my accounts.
Life has taught me a lot in the last week. It’s taught me some humility. It’s taught me to be more open with others, especially my family. It’s taught me—AGAIN—that I am not in control of my life. It’s taught me appreciation. And it’s taught me that I can be at peace even when we have no money.
Most of all, it’s given me a deeper appreciation of those many people I see in our town who never have any extra money, who always worry about having food, who can’t afford a car, much less the gas to make it run.
I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.