Monthly Archives: August 2013

If a Tree Falls in the Forest……

….and no one is around to hear Desperate Hubby scream as he sprints out of its path, can you still get an upgraded cabin from the rental agency?

The answer, my friends, is happily yes.

A Bucolic Beginning

Our short “Last Days of Summer” vacation started out benignly enough.  We loaded up the truck with fishing poles, swim suits, food provisions and band gear and made the hour-long drive to the nearby mountain hamlet of Crouch on a Thursday afternoon.  DH had been invited by a Boise band to fill-in for their guitar player during a Saturday afternoon gig, and we decided to take the opportunity for a family getaway before school started the following Monday.

In anticipation of days spent fishing for his beloved rainbow trout, Batman had spent hours with DH learning to tie fishing flies, a task he had taken to with aplomb.  The products of his labor were carefully packed into their own tackle box, and Batman checked and double-checked that they were loaded before our mid-afternoon departure.

Batman Ties

Pretty impressive for a five-year old, no?

Batman's Flies

A Storm Brews…..

We arrived at the little cabin we had rented around 5 p.m.  There was a mountain thunderstorm beginning, and Annabelle grew anxious and jumpy as she sat with her dad and brother on the back deck watching the tall lodge pole pines sway in the wind.  She came running in the house where I was unpacking our food in the tiny kitchen area after the first few raindrops fell.  She wailed that she was afraid there would be lightning, and WHAT IF ONE OF THOSE BIG TREES FELL OVER?!

I assured her that those trees had been there forever, and they were not going to fall during a storm as mild as the one starting outside.  At that precise moment the power went out.  And stayed out.  I wandered out back to see what DH thought.  I knew the kids were getting hungry, and we had planned to grill burgers on the little barbecue on the front deck that evening.  With no electricity and no lights, maybe it would be better to head into town to try to find a restaurant with a generator.

DH agreed, but just as we walked down the steps to get in the truck, he stopped and said “I’d better move this band gear back away from the porch in case it starts to rain harder.”  I shrugged and went ahead to the pickup with the kids.  We got in and buckled up.  I picked up my phone to see if we had cell service, and as I looked down I caught a blur out of the corner of my eye.  It as DH, and he was bolting across the front deck of the house, moving with a speed unprecedented since I had known him.

I was puzzled for a second or two, as I saw my husband of thirteen years fly off the end of the deck and stand next to a small shed on the far edge of the property.  My puzzlement didn’t last long though.  I heard a huge pop that sounded very similar to gunfire, then a cracking noise and a crash, all in very short sequence.  The kids screamed, and I turned my head to see one of the huge trees from the front yard laying directly behind the pickup truck where we sat strapped in for safety.  The tree had exploded into many smaller pieces, and the green branches quivered from the wind and their impact with the hard ground.

I jumped from the truck to find my beloved husband practically shaking with adrenaline and shock.  He kept saying “I was just standing there…….”

“How did you know to move?” I asked him.  He looked ashen.  “I don’t know….I just looked at the tree and thought if that thing fell right now I would be so dead.  Then I ran.”

Wow.

I grabbed my camera and started to record the damage.

018

It was impressive from any angle.

He Was Right There!

Batman got out of the truck and carefully surveyed the area.  Annabelle, on the other hand, was completely hysterical, screaming and carrying on, refusing to leave the relative safety of the cab.

Pieces of Cabin

The inside of the little cabin showed the extent of the structural damage.  Though the porch beams mostly supported the tree, which had broken into thirds in the fall, the weight of the branches had punctured the roofline and gone through the ceiling in the front corner.  There was shattered glass everywhere from light fixtures that had fallen from the impact.

We knew we couldn’t stay at the cabin, so we raced around quickly trying to get everything reloaded before it got dark, or (our bigger fear) the front of the cabin collapsed under the weight of the tree.

Besides getting all of our gear rounded up, we had a maneuvering challenge.  The tree had narrowly missed our truck, and the huge broken trunk now lay behind us, blocking the driveway and our way back to the road.

How we gonna get out

We also had to avoid the electrical line that the tree had brought almost to the ground, but which still remained attached to the power pole and stretched to its limit.  Luckily the power was still out or we could have had an even bigger problem on our hands.

Power Line

Now Where?

We eventually got everything re-loaded to go.  DH drove forward and back, turning in a tight little radius that finally took us out through a narrow gap in the trees to the road, and headed into town.  As we wound our way through the drizzle toward the bottom of the hill we were completely astounded to come around a corner and find a young bull elk standing right in the middle of the road, his velvety horns shaking from side to side as he contemplated something unseen in the bushes.  He stood there for several seconds, then slowly walked away.  We were awed.

With no cell phone service available to contact the cabin management, we stopped at the clubhouse of the little golf course at the bottom of the hill.  DH tried to call the rental agents to no avail, so we wearily continued on to the town to try to find accommodations for our family.  Annabelle had calmed somewhat, but she still sobbed intermittently, and kept saying “We need to find a place that has NO TREES AROUND IT!”  That was a tall order in this mountainous little town.

We drove to the management company (closed); to the tiny Crouch hotel (sold out) and by the other cabin rental agency we knew in town.  All were deserted and dark.  The power was still out.

Annabelle lobbied hard to just go home.  She was strongly opposed by Batman, who was intent on fishing with the flies he had tied for just this occasion, and by DH, who was going to have to be in the little mountain town two days later for his gig anyway.   We finally drove to the nearby town of Garden Valley, and approached the one little hotel it had.

Found a Place

My overwrought daughter was thrilled by the notable absence of trees around the building.  Batman was hungry and really wanted to get out of the truck.  I went into the office and was greeted by the clerk/cleaning person who told me they had one room left.  It was a their “suite,” offering two bedrooms and an in-room kitchenette (perfect!) but with one caveat:  they too had no power.

I said no problem.  Because of the power outage, the hotel office had no ability to run credit cards.  Hmmm.  Lucky for me, I had enough cash in my wallet to cover the cost of one night. We were in!

By this point the power had been out for well over an hour.  We were all past our dinnertime and ready for eat.  We unloaded our gear and hauled it upstairs to our new accommodations, where to my surprise (I don’t know why I was surprised, exactly) and delight, I discovered the room was spacious and clean, with a well-equipped little kitchen area that would have served us well had there been electricity to run any of the appliances.

As we walked down to get the last of our bags from the car, we passed a couple of young construction-workerish men carrying plates of food toward a large barbecue grill on the spacious wrap-around porch.  The men were friendly and offered to share the grill with our hungry group. I brought up our burgers from the cooler (beef for three of us; “pig meat” for picky Batman) and DH cooked us dinner.

Cooking Some Dinner

We ate sitting on the porch, overlooking the scenic valley.  DH was still shaken by his close call, but he recovered enough to enjoy the evening.  The power never did come back on before bedtime, and we heard later that a tree had fallen (!!) across a power line way down along the highway we had driven in on, taking out power for a fifty-mile or so range for over four hours.  Batman and I went to bed early, snuggled in the double-bed in the extra room reading by the soft glow of our flashlight.

Paradise Awaits

The next morning we awoke to find the power back on.  A call from the cabin management agency sent us on our way to a replacement cabin.  We stopped for breakfast at the same clubhouse we had visited the previous evening and then headed back up the mountainside to our new accommodations.

It was nirvana.

Our replacement cabin was at least triple the size of the original.  It had beautifully furnished double decks completely surrounding the glassed front of the home, which looked out over the second hole of the golf course.  There were lounge chairs for reading and laying about, as well as multiple outdoor dining sets to choose from. Around the corner there was a covered porch with yet another dining area and a barbecue grill.

Our New View

Inside, there was a full basement complete with bar, large TV, bed and bath, fireplace and well-equipped game table.  The main floor was equally well-appointed, with another bed and bath, beautifully designed and fully equipped kitchen, boasting enough room, cooking appurtenances and dishes for a small army, completed by a lovely sitting area and another fireplace.  Upstairs there was a loft area with a bed and a fold-out futon along with another full bath.  We had hit the jackpot.

Batman and Annabelle were beside themselves.  Batman’s idea of true luxury is stairs, and to have a whole three days with double sets of stairs to climb set him into a frenzy of delight.  Annabelle immediately chose the futon-bed as her own, and dived into the accompanying armoire to outfit her choice with sheets, pillows and blankets.  She was so happy that she only asked a couple of questions about the tall trees surrounding the cabin, then apparently decided to leave well-enough alone and didn’t mention it again.

Once we were settled and unpacked, DH loaded the kids up for their long-awaited fishing trip and I settled myself into a lounge chair on the deck with a book. After a few minutes of reading I realized that I was really, really tired, so I headed inside, chose the main floor bedroom and crawled under the covers for a two-hour nap.  It was heavenly.

Batman’s Mussels

Not long after I woke up, the crew returned home from their fishing trip.  There were no fish, Batman explained sadly, not even a bite.  BUT, they did manage to catch a whole bunch of clams.  Clams?  From the river?  Interesting.

The said clams were happily delivered to the kitchen, with Batman demanding they be immediately prepared for his snack.  Desperate Hubby rinsed the (as it turned out) mussels in the sink and set them up to steam in a double-broiler.  Each mussel opened beautifully, and they looked just like the ones I can remember oft ordering in San Francisco’s famous North Beach area.

They Look Normal

Batman was so excited about his catch that he declined to even discuss sharing any of the delicacy.  He sat at the table in anticipation, took a mussel out of the shell and popped it into his mouth.

He's Not Scared

He started chewing.  And chewing.  “These are really good!”  he proffered.  And he kept chewing.  I asked Desperate Hubby if he had tasted the mussels himself before serving his five-year old son.  DH looked sort of offended.  “No, I don’t know what they are supposed to taste like anyway.”

Well, this just didn’t seem right.  Batman still chewed, but with considerably less enthusiasm than he had previously exhibited.  I took the fork from his un-protesting hand and grabbed one of the rubbery little mollusks from the bowl, popping it right into my mouth.

Then I gagged.

It was horrible.  I mean really, really, really, horrible.  I ran to the garbage can and spit the offending gristle out, grabbing a bottle of water as I did to rinse the taste of river water and what tasted like old socks out of my mouth.

Batman watched me carefully.  I knew that he could not be enjoying the piece of mussel he was still chewing any more than I had.  Annabelle sat with her fork poised, hoping for a taste of what surely must be a delicious snack, watching my reaction and then her brother’s.

Fresh Water Mussels

With obvious difficulty, Batman swallowed his bite.  He sat his fork down carefully.  Being the resolute boy he is, he was not willing to admit that his prized shellfish was not edible.

Instead he just said “I guess I’m not that hungry after all.  You can have the rest if you want them, mom.”

I removed the meat from the shells, and the kids threw it over the edge of the deck, hoping to attract a bear (their plan, not mine).  Batman carefully packed the empty shells in a Ziploc bag to bring home.  I wouldn’t let him leave them in the house, so he put them outside the back door on the stairs that led to the garage.  Thank god he forgot them when we left.

The rest of the day was spent swimming in the club pool.  I had forgotten to bring my swimsuit, so I was planning on sitting out the event from the comfort of a lounge chair with my book.  DH had planned to swim, but was almost immediately called away for  work conference call that forced him to drive up the mountainside in order to have reliable cell service.

The children were so disappointed that they had to swim alone I finally gave in and “rented” (for $1) a swimsuit from the pool attendant.  The rental suits were all jumbled in a big plastic tote (where they no doubt had been placed after being abandoned by their former owners in the locker room), and Annabelle carefully considered each one before settling on a matronly blue and white one-piece for me.

I will say this for the suit – it definitely offered full coverage.  I tugged it on, leaving my clothes folded on the bench in the empty locker area.  When I walked out to the pool Annabelle appraised me carefully, then said “MOM!  That suit looks really, really pretty on you!”  Gotta love kids.

Band, Bees and a New Batman Cape

Saturday’s activities centered around the band gig.  We got up and had breakfast and the kids and I drove Desperate Hubby to the event location; a large campground just outside the little town of Crouch.  DH had been asked to fill in for the guitar player of a band that played a very similar genre of music as his long-time group, but he had had to learn a daunting amount of new music in the preceding three weeks to prepare for the gig.  Though he has played music in a band for over twenty years and is an excellent musician, he had never played with a band outside of his original core group of buddies.

DH had approached preparation for the event with the dedication that he devotes to anything he is interested in.  I had seen the same level of commitment from him while studying for his private pilot’s license or watching golf training videos.  He was proud that he had learned almost forty new songs in the past weeks, but I could tell he was nervous about playing with new people.  The event turned out to be a motorcycle rally called the Mountain Rendezvous.  The participants were just starting to either arrive or emerge from their tents while the band set up at 11 a.m..  The kids thought the set-up was pretty boring, so we headed downtown to find some lunch.

After lunch we wandered to a little store across the street to try to find an ATM.  The store, called The Crouch Mercantile, had formerly been the town’s main grocery outlet.  When it relocated to a new building a block or so up the street the building had been converted to a venue for locals to sell their goods, and a few dozen stalls had been set up selling a wide variety of handmade or unique items.

By the time we left the store we had supported the local economy in a generous fashion.  I had found a (correctly sized, fairly stylish) swimsuit on sale for half-price, Annabelle had chosen for herself a couple of strings of beaded bells that were made to be woven into a horse’s mane, as well as a small jar of local huckleberry jam.

As for Batman……well, just look below.

Batman Martial Arts

Zach had gravitated to a small booth in the corner that sold handmade cape sets.  They had a variety available, including Superman, Wonder Woman (too small for me, sadly) and Disney Princess models, to name a few.  And of course, Batman.

Our shopping completed, we returned to the musical venue and got out of the truck, carrying our camp chairs along with us.  We sat the chairs up right in front of the band.  The small crowd that was there was congregated in front of the portable bar which was set up a dozen yards away or lingered in their own chairs in front of a wide variety of tents.  No sooner than we had unfolded our chairs and gotten comfortable than we were approached by the band’s roadie (?).  Actually I’m not sure who she was, but she wore a t-shirt with STAFF emblazoned across the back in large yellow letters.  She apologetically informed us that children were not supposed to be at the rally at all, but they would make a brief exception for the band members’ kids.  Could we, however, move over under the trees to a less visible position?

The kids and I picked up our chairs and obliged, moving to an area near a picnic table and some large bushy tree things.  No sooner had we re-opened our chairs and settled in than Batman started screaming bloody murder.  He had been stung by a bee.  Poor Batman is one of those kids who seems targeted by bees and wasps.  Fortunately, though he seems to be a victim on a regular basis, he suffers no ill-effects from the poison other than an occasional brief period of laryngitis from all the screaming.  Nonetheless, his loud inconsolable shrieks brought quite a bit of attention to our small entourage, as well as considerably dampening the enthusiasm of our little team.

We managed to stay and watched a set of music, noting proudly that DH was doing a remarkable job on his guitar leads as well as vocals.  He really did sound good.

And looked good.

DH Sings

It was hot though, the kids were getting tired, and I was getting weary of wielding the can of Deep Woods Off that Annabelle insisted I spray on her legs every thirty seconds or so as an imagined protection from the bees, so I loaded the kids up and we headed back to the cabin for a while.

When we picked Desperate Hubby up after his three-hour gig was over, he was more than ready to be done.  We drove back to the cabin and changed into our swim attire.  I put on my new suit though I really didn’t plan to get in the water, and down the hill to the pool we went.

It was a nice way to end the day.

Jumping in Pool

When the kids had jumped off the side of the pool approximately seventy-three times and retrieved a set of colored plastic rings from the bottom an equal number, we headed back to the cabin for a low-key dinner, cooking the last of our beef and pig burgers along with the corn on the cob and baked beans we had left in the pantry.  The next morning we got up and headed back down the hill toward home.

Despite its dramatic beginning our short trip had been perfect; restful and relaxing and providing true family quality time before we all embarked on a new school year.

I’ve decided that this trip is to be a family tradition that will stick around for years to come.

Maybe without the falling timber next time.

Categories: Life in the Country, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

A Day of Firsts

Yesterday was a big day around our household. It heralded many Firsts, including…..

First day of School for both kids.

First day of Kindergarten for Batman.

First day of me working for reals in our office with Desperate Hubby.

First day of me sitting at my new office desk.  (Which was my BIRTHDAY PRESENT from Desperate Hubby, by the way.  Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to yell.  It’s just that…..really hon?  A DESK. Why not an IRON.  Or a VACUUM CLEANER?!).  But it really is a pretty nice desk.

We had spent quite a bit of time preparing for this day of Firsts.

In the past few weeks we went shopping for polo shirts and khaki skorts and pants.  We took the polos to be embroidered with our school logo at the uniform shop.  We bought new backpacks and got those embroidered too.  We made two or three more trips to get all the school supplies listed on the class lists.

Oh, and Desperate Hubby went shopping for a desk.  Did I mention that it was my birthday present?

The night before school started, both kids got to choose their dinner meal.

Annabelle predictably chose chicken and noodles, (hold the chicken) served over mashed potatoes (if you are wondering what that looks like, it is basically wide egg noodles cooked in chicken broth, served over well-buttered mashed potatoes.)

Batman, also predictably, chose Rainbow Trout.  Of course, Rainbow Trout is not always easy to find in the grocery store around here, so he had pan-seared Swai, a type of catfish which is very easy to find in stores around here, and which he believes is another name for Rainbow Trout.

I’m gonna be in big trouble when that kid learns how to read.

The dawning of the day of Firsts came all too early, especially for Batman who customarily stays up later than me and Annabelle and then usually sleeps until 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning.  Despite getting to bed at an early hour, it took my little boy a bit to wake up for his 7:00 am breakfast call.  That is until he came to this realization: “I can’t believe it is my FIRST DAY of kindergarten!! I am SO EXCITED!!”

We got ourselves dressed and headed down the road to the nearby school.  DH even accompanied us, another first.  Before going inside, we paused for a couple of photos.

Batman appeared cool as a cucumber on the outside, but his face in this picture told the truth.  I think he was just a little bit nervous about his First day.

Here We Go

DH took this picture of the three of us together.  Yes, I am fully aware that my midriff is showing in this picture.  And yes, I am also (all too) aware that…..40…. is too old to be showing your midriff in pictures.  Or really anywhere else for that matter.

Unfortunately, I cannot figure out how to digitally erase the pale white area peeking out below my sweater, so there you go.

I really need to learn how to use Photoshop,

First Day Smiles

Once we were inside the hallowed hallways, the kids’ personality differences manifested themselves immediately.  Batman walked confidently, albeit quietly, into the classroom and greeted his teacher.  Annabelle clung to my arm and pleaded with me to stay with her as long as possible.

Batman sat right down in the reading circle with his teacher and listened attentively as she began to explain the daily routine to all of the children.  He is in the very back of the picture, sitting underneath the blue board.

Batman Contemplates

I stayed with Annabelle until the final bell rang, and she at last let go of my arm and agreed to sit in her assigned seat and stay there.

Annabelle is Fine

As I left the school, I couldn’t help but reflect on how different this drop-off was from the previous year, when Annabelle tried to pull away, sobbing, from the kindergarten teacher’s hold and I cried all the way home.  Another First.

I went to the office for a few hours to get acclimated to my new list of duties, rode my horse, went to the store, then headed back to the pick up the kids.

They were all smiles.  Batman talked non-stop about a new friend he had made, a girl no less, named Claire.  He said he loved school and had learned a bunch of new stuff, though he could not remember what it was.  Annabelle had enjoyed her first day too, getting caught up with friends from last year and marveling that  her new teachers were so very nice.

The kids had a snack and we filled out the paperwork that had been sent home in their backpacks.  It was a perfectly peaceful ending to the day of Firsts.  Then the afternoon suddenly got more interesting with a call from Grandpa Vernon.

Apparently our neighbor had spotted an injured crow out in the pasture earlier in the day.  He said the crow was unable to fly, and if we wanted to the kids and I could retrieve it and try for a better outcome than we had enjoyed with Perry the Pigeon (my very first blog, in March or so of last year).

The kids had been hounding me to take them swimming at the ‘Y’ like “All the kids in the after-school program get to!” so I thought a half-dead crow would be an excellent distraction.

Annabelle was out in the front yard giving her a cat a bath (yeah, it was as funny as it sounds, but probably not to the cat) so Batman and I grabbed a large bucket and headed down to meet Vernon.

Grandpa Vernon just hates it when I take his picture.   But I don’t care.

Grandpa Vernon

We walked to where the bird had wedged himself up against the fence, and Grandpa Vernon picked him up.

Lifelike but Dead

Unfortunately, Charlie the Crow (as I had already mentally dubbed him) had already passed on to that big tree in the sky.  Although he looked remarkably intact, he was deader than a doornail.  Whatever that is.

Initial Exam

Batman was intrigued with Charlie.  He held him in his gloved hands and examined him at length.

Then he asked if we could keep him.  He was very disappointed when I said no.  Grandpa Vernon told Batman to go and put the dead bird in the dumpster.  Batman eventually complied, but not before taking Charlie down to show his dad, who had just arrived home from work.

After the viewing, Batman took Charlie on his last flight toward the bird’s rusty metal grave.  Charlie swooped and soared once more, though probably in a way he could not have managed in real life.

Flying to Dumpster

Then Batman put Charlie on the ground and further replicated the flying pose.  He was pretty fascinated with the dead bird’s wings.

Flying on Ground

When he was finished playing with the corpse, Batman unceremoniously tossed Charlie in the dumpster, sparing nary a glance over his shoulder as he ran back toward the house.

After dinner, baths and more stories (Annabelle read to me this time, since she’s back in school now) I tucked the kids into bed and contemplated the day of Firsts.   It had been a successful day all around (unless you consider the point of view of Charlie the Crow and possibly Annabelle’s cat).  While I wouldn’t consider it a wildly exciting day by any means, it nonetheless was a positive, measurable and smooth passage to a slightly different stage of life.

Here’s to a lifetime of happy Firsts.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Anatomy of the Forced Family Vacation: McCall 2013

We got the notice early.  It was around February of this year that we were advised Desperate Hubby’s mom, Becki, was planning a family vacation.  Not just any family vacation either.

A family vacation starring The Entire Family.

In One Big Cabin.  All Together.  For Over A Week.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love my husband’s family.  I truly do.  But our experience together over the past thirteen and a half years has been in small, manageable bits.  We love to spend holidays with them when we can; DH’s mom is a wonderful cook and a gracious hostess, and his step-dad Elliott is one of the kindest, funniest and smartest men I’ve ever met.  I’ve always gotten along fine with his siblings, Shelley and her husband John, Mike, and on the not-oft occasions we get to see him, step-brother Scott.

Also joining us, I soon came to find out, was a friend from Arizona, a very nice man whom my in-laws call Duckett (his last name, actually) that had served in the military with father-in-law Elliott some many years ago.  Duckett had become acquainted with our branch of the family through my blog.  He is a wonderful painter and has honored our household with four original pieces of his work, including a stunning Batman picture that our family Batman just adores.  In fact, my Batman, entirely of his own accord calls Duckett “The Artist.”  We had never before met The Artist in person, and we were all looking forward to it.

The kids were over the moon about the impending vacation. Zachary spoke of it weekly, if not daily.  He referred to the planned family holiday as “Our Field Trip with Grandma Becki,” and he could not have been more excited about it.

DH and I were looking forward to it as well, with the normal amount of trepidation that one would expect from adults who would rather not share a hotel room with another person (we make an exception for each other), let alone spend several days In One House with people who, as sister Shelley described it, have not all been under one roof overnight together for over 35 years.

Hence Shelley’s name for the trip:  The Forced Family Vacation.

Forced Family Togetherness Looms Large……

The planned vacation landed at a good time for us.  Annabelle and I would be on a brief respite from horse shows, and after weeks of pretty much non-stop equine events I knew I’d be ready for a break.  DH’s office assistant was going on vacation the following week, so he would be covered at work while he was gone, giving him as much peace-of-mind as could be expected from someone leaving their small business for several days.

As the date of the vacation inched nearer, normal life events started to take their toll on the vacation roster.  Although the cabin was rented starting on a Friday, Annabelle had a horse show that Saturday, so we wouldn’t be free to drive up until Sunday.  Because of DH’s assistant’s vacation, we would have to return by Thursday at the latest because she was going to be gone from Friday on.

In keeping with his general policy of setting reasonable expectations, DH told his mom we’d promise to stay through Tuesday, maybe Wednesday at the latest.  Although the cabin was rented through the following Monday, sister Shelley’s family had to leave about same time as us for a prior engagement.  Brother Mike would stay as long as we did, but had to get home to his yard and dogs.  You get the picture.

The weekend we were slated to leave was hectic. Annabelle and I were up at five a.m. Saturday to travel to Ontario, Oregon for her Gem State Stock Horse show.  Fresh off the heels of four full days of horse showing in 100-plus degree temperatures the previous weekend, I was already exhausted.  Put on top of the general busyness of daily life, planning pet care, horse management and getting the family packed for our trip seemed like a Herculean task to me.  The one thing I knew I could not forget was my wine stash, packed after a rushed trip to Costco after the horse show.  Nothing eases the stress of forced cohabitation like a little tipple, I thought.

Day One:  We Start With a Really Long Three Hour Drive

We headed toward the mountains early-ish Sunday morning.  DH was somewhat ill-tempered from the get-go because it took me so long to get everyone packed up and ready to walk out the door.  We were meeting his brother Mike in Eagle to caravan up together, and the seemingly small task of coordinating meeting place and time put him in a tailspin.  I was snappish with the kids and had to force myself to speak pleasantly to my beloved husband by the time we finally left the house.  Or maybe I didn’t force myself.  I can’t remember.

As I had mentioned before, the kids were excited.  Batman is considerable less well-traveled than his sister, and kept up a constant drone of “When will we be there?  When will be there?  When will we be there?” for pretty much the entire drive.  My already precarious sense of humor was in mortal danger by the time we pulled into the McCall city limits and turned down the road toward our destination.

We pulled up to the cabin, which was in a newish, partially-developed subdivision and didn’t look as big as I had expected.  We unloaded the kids, who bounded happily up the pine-needle strewn front yard to the door.  DH and I trudged along behind, carrying a few bags and trying to instantly decompress after three hours of captivity in the truck with our five-year old chatterbox.

One of the first people I met once inside was, at long last, The Artist.  He was just as I’d expected, giving me a big hug and acting like we’d known each other for years.  We greeted all of the other characters as well, including sister-in-law Shelley’s kids; Lucas, a College of Idaho student, and Grayson, soon to be a junior in high school, an avid golfer and the recognized family clown.

The cabin was well laid-out for a big gathering.  There was a large family room open to a kitchen and dining area downstairs, along with a laundry room, powder room and the master suite occupied by in-laws Becki and Elliott and their tiny Bichon dog, Sugar.  The back porch was carved into the surrounding hillside, and featured a large fire-pit and barbecue, with several patio chairs scattered around for seating.

Upstairs there was a loft area overlooking the family room, then a hallway that led to another master suite (already claimed by sister-in-law Shelley and her hubby John – dammit) and smaller bedroom with a queen sized bed that The Artist was vacating on our behalf so that we would have our own space (thanks again Artist.  Really).  Past a hallway bath there was a large game/bunk room that featured a pool table, bar (not stocked – dammit), and a separate seating area with a big TV.

This looked like it might be OK after all.  I went about situating our goods in the bedroom, changing the sheets and re-making the bed with the plush down comforter and matching pillows (who said all I took away from my two summers in Jackson Hole being a maid during college was a fake ID that worked at the ‘Million Dollar Cowboy Bar’?).  When our things were settled in I walked downstairs to hear myself being paged…..DH had made me a Bloody Mary!  Now things were definitely looking up.

It wasn’t long before DH and the rest of the boys headed upstairs to get started on the first of many pool tournaments.  The Artist suggested that the kids and I accompany him on a walk around the neighborhood to pick some wildflowers for the dining room table.

Batman, Annabelle and I thought that sounded like a grand idea, so the four of us set out, The Artist packing a plastic bag to carry our finds.

McCall Flower Huntin

We found many lovely flowers, most of which The Artist clipped neatly with the scissors he had had the foresight to bring along……

McCall The Artist Cuts Flowers

and many of which Batman forcefully and inelegantly pulled out of the ground and stuffed in the bag, roots and all.

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When we deemed that we had enough flowers for our arrangement, we headed back to the house under the hot afternoon sun, Batman carelessly swinging the bag along beside him almost as an afterthought.

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That evening we had a delicious taco dinner prepared by Aunt Shelley and Grandma Becki.  After dinner was over, a few of us headed out to the back porch for what the children viewed as the most exciting culinary event of their lives:  S’mores preparation over the fire pit.

Of course, first we needed a fire.

Enter brother-in-law John (who might more aptly be named “The Firebug.”)  The Firebug is really just an overgrown kid, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, whose genius-level IQ is sometimes camouflaged by the highly entertaining stories he tells of the many ‘situations’ he has been in and out of over his years.

He also makes a mean fire.

MC John Firebug

Which greatly impressed my children.  And encouraged them to follow suit.  It wasn’t long before they were on a mission to find the biggest pieces of wood they could carry and drag them to, and place them in, the fire.

Batman in particular was very interested in succeeding at this endeavor.  He thought the fire was “so cool!”

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The rest of us sat around, having an after-dinner glass of wine (oh wait, I guess that was just me) and observing the festivities.  Grandma Becki and Sugar expressed occasional concern over the breadth of the fire as well as the fire-making protocol.

McCall Fire Watch

The Firebug and Batman kept right at it though.  They loved that fire.

After the kids had eaten about a half-dozen s’mores and were completely covered in marshmallow and chocolate, I herded them upstairs to go to bed.

Since the game/bunk room was occupied by the bachelors, being Brothers Mike and Scott and Nephews Grayson and Lucas, Batman and Annabelle were slated to sleep on the floor of our room on piles of blankets that Grandma Becki had gleaned from all the closets throughout the house.

The kids were pretty tired, but Batman was so excited about his day he couldn’t stop talking.  “Mom, this is the best vacation ever!” he told me.  The next statement he made showed me the real value of contiguous time spent with family members too rarely seen.

“These people are sooooo nice, Mom!” my son said enthusiastically.  “How do we know them again?”  Ah, I cringed.  Bad mom, bad mom.  Obviously the occasional tidbit of time spent with DH’s family was not adequate.

Me: “Remember son, Shelley is your daddy’s sister?  She’s your aunt?”

Batman: “Oh that’s right.  I knew that.  She is really, really nice!  Now, how about that guy John?”

Me:  “That guy John is Aunt Shelley’s husband.  He’s your uncle.”

Batman:  “Oh, that’s right momma.  I am SO glad I got to spend time with him up here! He is so cool.”

Eventually I got the kids to calm down enough to consider drifting off.  Just before he fell asleep though, Batman had another piece of information.  “I am going to sleep so good here mom.  I LOVE this place.  I am gonna sleep like a rock in this bed!” (he meant floor, of course, but you get the drift)..

Day Two:  Bare Handed Fishing and Bear Watching

After a restful night’s sleep, the kids and I arose and slowly got around.  I got up and showered, dressed in comfy clothes and made the bed, carefully arranging the pillows on top just like it would have looked in a catalog picture.  After the wee ones got dressed I picked up the room and put all the clothes in the closet neatly.  I folded the puffy yellow blankets they had slept on and arranged them on the closet shelves where they would be easy to access that evening.

We all headed downstairs, where DH was already started on cooking a big family style breakfast of bacon, eggs and hash browns.  I do love a man not afraid to cook for his family.  All fourteen of them.

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The group was all atwitter (and all agrumble) after the first night of full-house slumber.  Uncle Mike’s snoring is a thing of legend, which many of us knew personally after a few years of camping with him (let’s just say he always had plenty of open space around his tent, if you know what I mean).  Apparently the bunk bed room had been pretty much cleared out by the impressive crescendo of Mike’s snores.

As the previous evening had progressed, Scott vacated the room completely, getting up and moving  to the loft area, where he grabbed a nice soft chunk of floor to try to get some sleep.  Lucas and Grayson tossed and turned all night long, both of them saying in the end they basically got no sleep at all.  Mike even kept The Artist awake, his log-sawing echoing down the long hallway, through the loft and down to the couch where poor Duckett slept, after giving up his comfy room for our family (did I say thank you, Artist?)

After about an hour of discussion, it was determined that Aunt Shelley and The Firebug would move into the bunk bed room henceforth, giving Uncle Mike (The Snorer) his own room with a door to shut.  Being a practical (and somewhat opportunistic) person, I briefly floated the idea of having US move into the large second master, giving the kids more room to sleep without being stepped on and providing us with our own in-suite bathroom.  Uncle Mike could take our smaller room instead.

Grandma Becki summarily shut down my suggestion, saying (correctly) that it was just too much moving around.  I didn’t push the issue.

With a little time to kill before the mass exodus of male golfers left to catch an 11 a.m. tee time, DH and Scott, who also is a rock band musician, put on a little impromptu jam session in the family room.

MC Musicians

Half of menfolk were heading out on the golfing expedition, led by Cousin Grayson, who was certainly the most well-dressed golfer in the group.

Look how professional he looks!

McCall Pro Golfer

That left Uncle Mike, The Artist, Scott and Batman home to hold down the fort with us women.  At the very last second, though, just as the two golf-cars were loaded,  Batman couldn’t stand it and raced out the front door yelling “Stop, stop!”  DH was delighted that Batman had decided to join him, and they loaded up his little orange golf bag and went on their way.

Aunt Shelley and Scott headed out to do some hiking, so that left me, The Artist, Grandma Becki, Annabelle and Uncle Mike to amuse ourselves.

The Artist continued his quest of taking non-stop pictures of all of us, which earned him another nickname (sometimes you just can’t encompass a person with just one description), and that was “Picture Freddy.”  Picture Freddy was ever-present, and I am waiting for blackmail photos to arrive via cyber space at any time.

McCall Picture Freddy

Annabelle and Grandma Becki spent some time playing on Grandma Becki’s iPad, which Annabelle found just fascinating.  I don’t know if she showed Grandma Becki how to use ‘Dreamhorse’ or not, but I’m positive the thought occurred to her.

McCall iPad Fascination

After my first morning in the cool mountain air, when I realized that I had totally forgotten to bring a jacket of any kind, I was itching to go for a little shopping trip and find myself a sweatshirt.  Grandma Becki was game, so was Annabelle, and Uncle Mike agreed to tag along.  Picture Freddy said he’d rather stay home and take a nap.  Did I mention before that he gave up his comfy room for the couch so that our family would have a quiet place to sleep?  It bears mentioning again.  What a trooper.

The four shoppers loaded up into Grandma Becki’s car and headed into town, where we girls dragged poor Mike up and down the main street and in and out of every store that looked remotely interesting.  Part of Uncle Mike’s job in real life is to deliver Idaho-themed souvenirs to shops in the McCall area, so at least he did have some fun checking out the placement and sales of his wares in the shops.  After the purchase of several t-shirts and a sweatshirt, a sign for DH that said “Daddy Drinks Because You Cry,” and a little backpack carrying a bear that Annabelle picked out for Batman, we finished out the trip with a cup of ice cream and went on our way.

Not before, though, I saw a really cute sign in one shop that I wish now I had purchased.  I did take a picture of it though:

My Motto

We got home just shortly before the golfers, who reported much adventure on the course.  Batman apparently had done very well, though it was generally concluded that Grayson was by far the best golfer.

The main point of our trip for Batman was to go fishing. We had no sooner gotten settled back in the cabin than he demanded we go in search of the best angling location.  DH loaded me, Annabelle, Batman and Uncle Mike into the pickup, and we headed off to the North Shore of the lake to do some fishing.

The men seemed to know right where they were going, and after a few miles down a dusty forest trail we arrived at a State Park area, where we parked and headed down the longish-trail to the water.

The group looked so cute traipsing over the bridges toward the lake.

McCall Bridge to Beach

We found a sandy beach with one prime area open.  The men set up the fishing poles and the kids set about playing in the water.  Batman had worn his fishing vest, over which he strapped his brand new Bear Backpack.   He carried his “walking stick” which he had selected after much searching along the trail as we hiked in toward the lake.  It was really quite the outfit.

McCall Batman and his Bear

He is the cutest thing, I must say.

McCall Walking Stick

After a short while, the kids got tired of waiting for a fish to bite, and started clamoring to swim. The water in the beautiful mountain lake was quite cold, but they got used to that pretty quickly.

Batman took his walking stick out into the lake, to help him walk, I guess.  Beary the Bear held tightly to the little velcro backpack, hoping to avoid being submerged in the chilly water.

McCall Testing Water

At first the big boys just sat on the log and enjoyed watching the kids play in the water.

MC Brothers Two

But of course they couldn’t take it for long, and headed in themselves.  DH dived into the water and swam a few dozen yards from shore.  He stood up and shook himself like a dog, then suddenly went on point.

He saw something in the water!

It was a fish, and he proceeded to catch it.  With His Bare Hands!

McCall Daddy Caught a Fish

We were all completely amazed.  Especially, of course, Batman, who demanded to hold the fish and then examined it carefully.

McCall Awestruck by Fish

Daddy told Batman that the fish was not well (otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to grab it) and that he should put it back in the water right away.  Batman took him seriously.

He put the fish back in the water, but then caught it again and wasn’t satisfied until Daddy carried the fish far out into the lake and released it.

McCall Live Fishy Live

After the excitement of bare-handed fishing wore down, Batman needed something else to do. He was whiny because of the lack of bites on the poles, so I talked him into swapping his bear backpack for a life jacket (worn over the top of his fishing vest, just in case) and doing some more swimming.  That didn’t last terribly long, so I suggested that he build a sand castle.

He got right to work.

McCall Working at It

Just as he was really getting in his builder on, DH announced that it was time to go home.  After a full day of golf, swimming in an ice-cold lake, and irregular meals, Batman was already on the edge.  The information that we had to leave pushed him promptly over the cliff of unhappiness.

My happy little boy dissolved into tears, then wails.  He was beside himself.

McCall We Have to Leave

As a mom, you learn quickly that even though your kids are from exactly the same breeding, upbringing, and nurturing environments, they may respond totally differently to situations in life.  With Batman, anytime after about 4:00, especially if he is getting hungry, can quickly turn into a witching hour to beat all witching hours.  I thought quickly, and suggested this:  why don’t you fill your cups up with sand and water and bring them back to the cabin….then you can build a sand castle on the porch where EVERYONE can see it.

Batman thought a minute, he sniffed and wiped his tears with the back of his hand.  Then he smiled.

We loaded up the cups with a mixture of sand and water (proportions carefully overseen by the sand engineer) and headed back to the truck. Batman left the cups of heavy sand, the tackle and bait boxes and Beary in his backpack to be carried by me and his sister.

He did carry his new walking stick.

McCall Little Man Walkin

When we got back to the cabin Batman went inside only to quickly change into dry clothes.  Then he sprawled out on the front walk with his cups of sand and proceeded to build a sand masterpiece, using some locally acquired materials to augment the soggy soil.

McCall Sand Castle at Home

I went into the house and sliced up some hard salami and cheese and served it with some crackers to some of my cabin mates who were lounging around regaling us and each other with tales of their rock diving at the lake.  It was a peaceful scene.

McCall Cabin Lounging

Everybody was tired.

McCall and More Lounging

I looked around after a while and noticed that I didn’t see Batman anywhere.  I was pretty sure he had finished his construction project outside, but I took a look anyway.  Sure enough, no sight of him.

I asked the room in general……anyone seen Batman? Grandpa Elliott said he thought maybe Batman was out back with the Artist.

I peeked through the back blinds facing the porch.  What I saw made my grab my camera and hurry back through the house, out the front door and sneak quietly around to where I could get a shot of the goings on.

Batman and The Artist were having a chat.  It was just the two of them, and Batman was enthralled.

McCall The Artist and Batman

As I walked around the corner I could hear just snippets of the talk.  “Well how long did it take you to paint the cow picture?” my little son said.  The Artist answered that question (four or five days as best he could remember) and each ensuing one thoughtfully and thoroughly.  It was really something to see.  It would be hard to imagine more disparate conversation partners, but there was something about the quiet patience of our coffee-sipping Arizona friend that intrigued Batman.

Naturally, I ruined the whole thing.  About six minutes in Annabelle came hunting for me and barged out through the French doors onto the patio.  Then she sat for a while and chatted too.

McCall The Artist Holds Court

About that time Grandma Becki and Grandpa Elliott arrived at the house with pizza for everyone.  We were all hungry and wolfed down our dinner.  Then it was time for more s’mores.

A fire was started and the kids got busy stoking it with every stray branch they could find.  Batman and Annabelle had just demanded that I go inside to find “That Guy John” to come and make the fire bigger when we heard yelling.  Really loud yelling.

It was coming from inside the house.  It sounded almost like “There’s a bear!”

Right.  A bear.  Suuuuure.  Real funny guys.

The kids raced into the house and I followed at a more dignified pace, stopping along the way to grab my camera off the charger in the living room.  I followed a mass of hurrying people out onto the front, only to see A GIGANTIC FREAKING BEAR walking sedately across the road from our front yard toward the open space across the way.  He stopped once he was across the road to look back at us over his massive furry right shoulder, then slowly wandered away.

I was so surprised that I didn’t get my camera up until he was almost out of sight and there was no chance of a picture at all.  That was a bummer.

I am ever the adventurist, so I grabbed my five-year old son’s hand and trotted down the road to see if we could head the bear off and get a picture of him.  It didn’t occur to me until quite a bit later that that was a really stupid thing to do.

Nonetheless, we saw no further sign of the bear, greatly disappointing my son and all the rest of the people back in the cabin.

We finished up the evening around the fire once again.  Uncle Mike was recruited for fire duties, and though he did an adequate job in my estimation the children pronounced his efforts quite inferior to the masterpiece created by the Firebug.

Day Three: Slippery Rocks, Mosquitoes and Finally The Perfect Beach

Day Three started a little later than usual.  Fueled by excitement over the bear sighting and the sugar of approximately thirteen s’mores, Batman kept me awake most of the night with spontaneous crying jags until I finally gave up and got out of bed and lay down with him on the floor, snuggling him close until he dozed off.  As I tried to get comfortable enough to fall asleep myself I could hear a strange noise.  Was that……snoring?  I carefully extricated myself from my barely sleeping son and peeked out the bedroom door.

Sure enough.  Though he had gained prime real estate under the guise of soundproofing his slumber, Uncle Mike  was sleeping in his new room with the door wide open, and the sounds of his breathing echoed through the upstairs hallway.  I shook my head and folded myself back beside Batman, eventually falling back to sleep myself.

Morning was tough.  The kids and I were all still tired, but they had planned another fishing trip with Daddy and Uncle Mike and they were raring to go.  I got up and pulled on some shorts and a shirt, stuffed the kids’ blankets on the shelf in the closet without folding them and threw the covers back up on the bed, leaving the duvet folded at the bottom.  Everyone else was already downstairs drinking coffee and planning their day.

I trudged down the steps and, yawning, got a cup of coffee.  Sister-in-law Shelley was trying to get breakfast organized.  She proffered to DH the information that pancakes were a really easy thing to cook for a big group of people.  My beloved quipped back “Oh really Shell?  Well why don’t you just go in and whip about 60 of them out and show me!”

Of course, he did eventually cook up breakfast for everyone.

I had a secret plan in my mind: I’d stay at the cabin while the kids were fishing.  Maybe I’d take a nap; read my new book; go for a hike.  Desperate Hubby thought that was a great idea.  “I can handle them,” he said.  “Take some time to relax.”  The cabin would be mostly empty again, with the majority of the boys heading out for more cliff jumping at the lake.  It was so tempting.

The sweet voices of my little children, though, convinced me otherwise, begging me to go along on their fishing trip.  We all went upstairs to get dressed for the day.  Batman had packed his own backpack (camo, of course) with all the clothes he needed for the trip.  Desperate Hubby had worked with him on this process, and I had not thought to double-check their work.  When we got upstairs I rummaged around on the floor, kicking shoes, wet towels and pillows out of the way to find the backpack.  It was mostly empty.  “Zach, where are your other clothes?”  I asked.  “That’s all there is mom,” he answered.  I pulled out one of the single pair of clean underwear I saw and grabbed a pair of mostly dry shorts that I had draped over the foot of the bed the night before and tried to hand them to him.

He recoiled.  “No mom! I can’t wear those,” he said pushing the Spider Man underwear away.  “It is my last clean pair.  I don’t want to waste them!”

“That can’t be son,” I told him.  You had to have packed more than three pair of clean underwear.”  “Nope,” he told me. “I just packed three of everything because we were going to be here for three days.”

Perfect.

Note to self: Always double-check the children’s packing, especially if DH is the one doing the supervising.

Since Batman had changed clothes twice the day before he was completely out of clean shirts and shorts.  I solved the problem by convincing him to wear a swim suit (no underwear required) and sorted through the mess of sandy clothes on the floor, shaking and smoothing shorts and t-shirts and hanging them over the foot of the bed to be recycled for the next days.  Finally dressed and ready to go, we headed out the door, catching up with Mike as we went.

I took the opportunity to ask my brother-in-law why he felt compelled to sleep with the door to his room wide open, completely nullifying the whole attempt to contain his nighttime noise level.  He looked at me as though I were daft.  “I’m not gonna close the door at night when I’m sleeping in a strange bedroom!  What if there were some sort of emergency and I woke up and couldn’t figure out how to get out of the room!”  Ah. OK.

We headed off in the pickup, stopping by the local Paul’s market to get snacks and pick up some camp chairs to join the other dozen we owned at home and had forgotten to bring with us.  There was (to my estimation) and inordinate amount of time spent considering the color of the chairs, how many, what kind of snacks and whether we needed to get big or little bottles of water.  I was already tired and feeling a little crabby by the time we got back in the truck to head to the river.  I really wished I’d stayed home for a quiet day at the cabin.

We drove for quite a ways on a paved road, past a lake crowded with fallen trees all along the bank.  The kids were anxious to get to fishing, and kept asking when we would stop.  Pretty soon the road began to climb, and it was my least favorite type of drive.  A one and a half lane dusty washboard with sharp curves, a mountainside on one side and a steep fall down the other.  I was really not having fun now.  DH kept driving, getting increasingly grumpy and short with the children and their  “Are we there yet” refrain.

Finally we stopped at a nice little clearing and got out to prepare our gear.  Immediately it became clear that we were not alone.  No sooner than our bare skin was exposed to the air than it was literally covered with mosquitoes.  I grabbed the spray and sprayed me and the kids down liberally.  This slowed down the onslaught but didn’t totally stop it.

DH and Mike worked diligently on getting the tackle ready to go under the watchful eye of Batman.

Getting Tackle Ready

We slowly traversed the steep bank down to the river.  Notice how I sent Annabelle on ahead just in case there were any bears or anything.

Navigating the Hillside

Once we got to the water’s edge I could see that it was a fast-moving and very cold waterway we were on.  DH had it in his mind that the best place to set up the fishing poles was across the river.  The kids set one foot in the icy water, felt the slippery stones underneath and said “No way am I walking across that.”  I soundly agreed with them.

So DH had no choice but to ferry them, one by one, across the water.  I don’t know if it was any safer, but it did make good watching.  Batman went first.

Portage Batman

Then it was his sister’s turn.

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Once the team members had assembled on the small sandy shore, DH set up fishing camp and we all settled in.

All Set Up

You may notice that I am absent from the fishing camp scene.  That is because for some reason Desperate Hubby would not carry me across the water, and I did not desire to try to traverse the stream in my flip-flops.

So I settled my (new Paul’s Market) chair at the edge of the river in the shallow water and started to read my book.  The mosquitoes didn’t seem quite as bad once I was set up, and I was just starting to get comfortable when I looked over to see fishing camp being disassembled.

“What’s going on?” I yelled once DH was back in earshot.  “No fish are biting but the mosquitoes are!”

Ah.

The entire scene was reversed, with children being re-ferried to our original starting point and all us climbing back up the hill, swatting at mosquitoes all the way.

Back in the truck we went, with me grumbling about driving all the way up the mountain to become bait rather than to use bait and DH saying that it was just too warm for the fish to be biting.  Uncle Mike had a theory that made sense to me:  with so many mosquitoes available to eat, the fish didn’t need to bite at anything else.

We would down the mountainside again and took a different road that started back around the lake.  It was only a few minutes before we arrived at…….

NIRVANA.

The Perfect Beach

We came upon an expansive sandy beach, completely deserted, with parking right at the water’s edge.  The kids got out and just started running.

Annabelle had room to “ride her horse” for the first time since we arrived, and promptly started running up and down the bank whinnying and prancing as she went.

Horsey in the Surf

The fishing poles were assembled by DH and Uncle Mike under the critical eye of Batman.

It wasn’t long before the first (and only) fish of the day was on the line.

Batman Caught a Fishie

As if the beach couldn’t get any more perfect, we were soon joined by a few other people.  There was plenty of room to park and lots of beach area, so we didn’t mind that one bit.

In fact, Batman made a new friend.  It does appear that Batman is trying to drown his new friend, but (I believe that) he was just petting him as they swam along together.

MC Z's Buddy

The dog’s owners threw a ball out for the dog to catch over and over.  Batman accompanied his new friend each and every time.

MC Swimming with Buddy

The dog and his people didn’t stay too long, but Batman wasn’t very disappointed when they left.

He had a new game to play now.

Puppy.

MC Fetch Z Puppy

Batman tried to put the stick of wood in his mouth, but fortunately it didn’t fit, so he just carried it in the general proximity in a very good facsimile of a dog fetching in the lake.

MC Z Puppy Now

We had found the perfect beach at last.

Nice Sand

We wound down our beach day late in the afternoon.  DH, Uncle Mike and Cousin Grayson drove to town for steak and fixings.  When they got home DH grilled up perfect tri-tips with baked potatoes and blue cheese lettuce wedges.  The family was in awe.  I realized how spoiled I am because my wonderful husband cooks at home like that on a regular basis.

After we finished up the steak we headed outside for (surprise) more s’mores.

The kids sat out front on Bear Spotting Watch with Grandma Becki and Grandpa Elliott.  No bears were seen by dark, and the kids were exhausted, so we headed to bed early.

Day Four: Swimming, Sushi and (a Little Too Much) Saki

Without even really discussing it, we had decided to stay in McCall until the last possible minute before we absolutely had to head home.  We were having so much fun with the family that we didn’t want the trip to end.

We were losing a couple of our family members, however, on Wednesday.  The Firebug and Cousin Lucas had to head back to the valley for work, so cousin Grayson was at loose ends without anyone to go exploring or cliff jumping with.  We took advantage of his aimlessness to persuade him to accompany us to our new favorite beach.  The kids were beyond thrilled that he was coming with us.  They thought he was the coolest kid in the cabin.

As we loaded the pickup to head toward the lake, Grayson climbed in back and settled himself in the bed of the truck.

McCall Grayson in Back

Batman was horrified.  “MOM!!! That is not safe!” he expounded.  His sister took it a step further “Mom, I don’t think it is legal to ride in the back of a pickup.  If a policeman sees us daddy is going to jail.”  Being ever the peacemaker, DH pulled out his smart phone and checked it out.  There is no law in Idaho that forbids children from riding in the back of a pickup truck.

Oh, my home state makes me so proud sometimes.

So there he was.

Once we got closer to the lake, Grayson perched on the edge of the truck bed (which totally sent Batman over the edge) to scout for some photos of his own.

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Once we arrived at our beach with all attendees unscathed, the kids  tumbled out and started to play.  Grayson dived right in the water and swam out a few dozen yards.  I believe that he was a little surprised at just how cold the water was.

McCall Cold Water

The cold water didn’t bother Batman.  He picked out a nice rock and resumed his game of fetch from the day before.

McCall And Again

He threw the rock out into the water over and over again, dunking under to pick it up each time.  It was pretty hilarious.

McCall Batman Plays Fetch

Then the kids started playing in the sand.

McCall And They Dig

Grayson and Batman dug and dug, Batman watching his older cousin with concentration and appreciation for his work.

That Grayson is a funny kid!

McCall Grayson Buried

Sandy much Grayson?

McCall and the Head Rinse

Everyone checked in on the fishing.

MC Hows the Fishin

Annabelle danced in the surf.

McCall Dancin in the Surf

Grayson played with Batman in the water.  Their hair is almost the same color no?

McCall Boys Play

Grayson amazed us with his sandy physique.

McCall Sandy Muscle Man

Although it was sunny, the day was really somewhat chilly with a pretty strong breeze.  The kids never complained about being cold at all.  (Yeah sure they didn’t).

MC Pretty Cold out Here

After awhile we were joined by Aunt Shelly and Scott.  Traveling along with them were Grandpa and Grandma and The Artist.

I believe this is my favorite picture of Picture Freddy.

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There was lounging.

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Aunt Shelley and Sugar soaked in the bright sunshine.

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Everyone just enjoyed the beautiful day and lovely beach.

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Aunt Shelly took a couple of photos of our family all together.  She said we might use it for a Christmas card.

Maybe if I’d had a shower first.

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Before too long Grayson and Scott were itching to go a little further up the road for a last day of cliff diving.  The group piled into the cars and headed out, leaving just me, DH and Mike with the kids on our beach.

The kids were tired and ready to settle down a little bit.  They moved their chairs out into the shallow waves of the lake and trailed their toes in the water.

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After a time we all headed back to the cabin.  DH and I snuck out and headed into town for a sushi date, leaving the kids in the capable hands of Grandma Becki.  DH plied me with saki, and we were in fine spirits (ha!) by the time we got back to the cabin.

The family was enjoying the last night of the family vacation.  Grandpa Elliott and Grayson played card games at the kitchen table, but I was too tipsy sleepy to really understand what they were doing.  So I went to bed.

Day Five:  A Sad Farewell to Our Family Vacation

We were up early on Thursday morning to pack up and head back down the mountain.  DH was anxious to get back to work so he’d have a little overlap time before his assistant left for vacation that afternoon.  I was rested and relaxed, and a tiny bit hung over too.

It was time to go home.

But not before The Artist surprised the kids with a special gift.

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All week long our friend had been talking to the kids about saving money, and how if you save your money it will grow.  He and Grandma Becki had both given the kids an ample amount of change, which they had carefully placed in a baggie and packed with their most important stuff.

To finish out his lesson on saving, Duckett presented each child with a solid silver “dollar” which was actually worth much more than that.  They were completely impressed with this generous gift.

When we got in the truck to drive home, Batman said “Mom, I just really like The Artist.  He is such a nice guy.”

Agreed.

We had a wonderful time on our family vacation.  As we left, Grandma Becki was already talking to us about next year.  It will be hard to top the fun and family camaraderie we experienced this summer, but we are sure looking forward to trying.

Thanks to Grandma Becki and Grandpa Elliott for organizing and sponsoring such a nice family getaway.

This is how memories are made.

Categories: Cast of Characters, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Travel | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Fourteen Years Wasn’t Long Enough. Farewell For Now, Old Friend

We first met Toby when he was a tiny little ball of chocolate fur.  Desperate Hubby and I were not yet married, but engaged and living together.  DH saw an ad in the paper for a litter of six-week old puppies – half Chesapeake Bay Retriever, one-quarter lab and one-quarter golden retriever.

He just had to have one.

Although we already had a motley assortment of dogs around the place, I was newly in love and disinclined to deny my future husband even his smallest wish.  We drove to rural Meridian on a cool October day and were escorted to a pen out back of a country-ish looking residence.  The pen featured a big wooden dog house and was filled with about a foot of fluffy yellow straw.  And puppies.  Lots of puppies.  They barked and leaped on the chain link in excitement, greeting us as though we were long-lost friends.

I don’t remember how DH chose Toby out of the nine candidates, but it wasn’t long before we paid the owners our $150 cash (kind of expensive for a mutt, don’t you think?  I remember saying).  Toby rode home in the back of our Suburban, small enough to fit in a plastic cat carrier.

Our new pup had an idyllic life out there on Flicker Lane.  We were a mile or so from a paved road and he had easy access to an irrigation pond that offered delightful swimming in the hot months.  He learned to follow the four-wheeler and trail ride with the horses, and to hunt for pheasants and quail in the potato and wheat fields around the house.

He grew quickly into a big, strong, completely unmanageable dog.

Our beautiful mutt was great with humans of all ages, but as he got a little older it was evident that he did not play well with other dogs.  I begged DH to get him neutered, but that subject never got far.  I finally talked my new husband into sending Toby for some formal training.  The dog was strong both physically and mentally, and it was difficult for me to handle him, particularly around other canines.

DH reluctantly agreed, and made arrangements to send Toby to a trainer in the Payette area for a two month hunting and obedience stint.  The training was expensive (again….for a mutt?) but I was at my wit’s end trying to contain the thinly veiled aggression that Toby showed to any strange dog.

I remember clearly the day I delivered Toby to the trainer.  I had him on a leash with a choke collar, and he dragged me from the car into the office area where I was to sign the paperwork and pay for his lessons.  Once I got him in the enclosed room I let go of his tether, and he ran around sniffing everything like crazy.  The trainer grabbed the leash as Toby waltzed by and jerked him to a halt.  I can still see the look of surprise in the poor dog’s eyes when he realized that things were a-changing in his circle of influence.

When we got Toby back two months later he truly was a changed dog.  He walked quietly on a leash beside you and sat instantly on command.  He was also a pretty good hunter, though that was a skill that he never did get much formal practice on.

One thing that didn’t change, though, was Toby’s aggression to other dogs.  DH had just enough good old boy redneckness that he steadfastly refused to neuter his pet, and as Toby matured his aggressive Chesapeake nature really started to assert itself.  The dog loved to go for a ride in the back of the pickup, anytime and anywhere.  One day as the duo left our house to head out somewhere, a couple of the neighbor dogs ran up beside the pickup barking as DH slowly cruised past on the dusty gravel road.  Toby immediately went on attack,  jumping out of the back of the pickup and landing on his right hind leg in such a way that he broke his knee completely through.

After rushing Toby to the emergency clinic, DH was informed that there was only one veterinarian in the state who could do the type of reconstructive surgery required for Toby to maintain mobility.  The vet was in Sun Valley, and the surgery was extremely expensive (once again –  for a mutt?), but DH loaded Toby up the next Tuesday afternoon, taking him on the long drive to get his leg repaired.

After the knee episode I did talk DH into getting Toby neutered, and that calmed him down somewhat, though he never did lose his tendency to want to fight with other dogs.  About six months after Toby fractured his knee, he was bounding through the  tall grass to the irrigation pond and somehow landed on a piece of rebar sticking up out of the ground.  The metal pipe punctured his abdomen, resulting in yet another costly surgery and hospital stay.  This was one expensive mutt!

Toby went through lots of changes with us over the course of his life.  When we sold the house on Flicker Lane he moved with us to a rental with a tiny fenced courtyard while we built our next house out in Caldwell.  I was sure he would go crazy in the little space, but he accepted the confinement with equanimity.

When we moved to the new house, Toby became a born again hunter.  The problem was that he was hunting the neighbor’s chickens.  He adapted quickly, though, to the electric dog fence that we installed, and became a reasonably behaved canine citizen once again.

I freely admit that I really only tolerated Toby for the first several years of his life.  He was a beautiful dog and a good family pet, but it was obvious that he did not regard me as a being who was superior to himself.  He respected and obeyed one person and one person only, and that was Desperate Hubby.

It wasn’t until I gave birth to Annabelle that Toby and I really started to bond.  We had spent plenty of time together over the years, sure, and it wasn’t that I disliked him exactly, but I never saw the merit in a dog that completely ignored every command I issued.  Once I had baby Annabelle I started walking her daily in her stroller down the labyrinth of dirt ditch banks that surrounded our country home.

Suddenly Toby found me much more interesting.

He and I walked for miles and miles every week, me pushing the stroller through the powdery dust and him running up and down the road beside me, stopping every few yards to jump in the ditch for a swim.  We spent hours together, me and that big brown mutt, and a real relationship started to develop.

Toby was one of the first to welcome Baby Batman home, and he accompanied us on Batman’s first stroll when he was just a four-day old baby nestled in a sling across my chest.

Pics to June 15 2008 126

Toby was getting older and more mature, and he soon started to develop a quality that I never thought I’d see in him.

He became an awesome kid’s companion.

He Loved His Kids

For a dog that viciously attacked any other canine that encroached upon his space, Toby was amazingly tolerant of our young children.  The kids climbed on him, took his ball, rode him, and sometimes used him for a couch.

He went out of his way to just hang out with them.

Hanging with Annie

He patiently refrained from biting eighteen-month old Batman’s hand off when he teased him with a ball.

Play Ball

And allowed himself to be hooked to a sled, then happily pulled the kids all around the neighborhood in the snow.

Sled Dog

When we had to move from our large horse property in the country into the small subdivision where we owned a rental home, I was worried that Toby wouldn’t adapt.  He had enjoyed the freedom of running in acreage for almost his entire life.

But he didn’t mind at all.  He was just happy to be where we were.

Sleeping in Sunshine

From the time he was just tiny, Batman had a special affinity for Toby, and I think the furry brown mutt felt the same.  My little boy hugged the dog whenever he got the chance, and no matter what was going on Toby sat as still as a stuffed animal until he was released.

A Special Bond

When we moved back to a house in the country about three years back, Toby once again had room to run.  He made it a daily ritual to travel the few hundred yards down the gravel lane to our neighbor’s house for a visit.  Grandpa Vernon would feed him a biscuit or two and give him a pat on the head, and eventually Toby would meander back toward home.

It was obvious that the old brown dog was slowing down.  He trotted rather than ran from place to place.  Even when he really wanted to keep up he was often behind the fun.

Trying to Catch Up

Even though it took him a little longer to get somewhere, he was always there in the end.  He supervised Batman doing chores.

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And he definitely never, ever lost his ability to catch an errant scrap of food.

You Gonna Eat That

Pizza or chips, he wasn’t picky.

Always About the Food

He still loved to play fetch, though it was a very sad day when Winston actually began to beat him to the ball.

Still Loved to Fetch

Through every occasion life offered up over the past fourteen years, Toby was there.  He shared Christmas excitement.

One of the Kids

And always loved to accompany us down the road for a jaunt.

Down Life's Road

He happily welcomed new horses to the family.

Grumpy's First Days

And begrudgingly accepted new puppies.

A Puppy Really

Over the past year or so it became apparent that Toby was beginning to fail.  He slept more than he used to, and completely lost his hearing.  He sometimes appeared to be confused.

Kind of Confused

The reconstructed knee started to give out, and some days it was hard for our friend to get up and around.  Somehow though, he still managed to participate in all of our family events.

Whatcha Doin

Toby maintained his habit of walking to Grandpa Vernon’s every day while we were outside feeding the horses.  His hind feet dragged when he walked, and it started to take him longer and longer to make the round trip.  But he still went.

Hanging Out During Chores

Toby always walked beside us down the gravel road toward the canal when we took the horses around the field, and it was just last fall that he stopped trying to get into the canal for a swim.  I think he realized that he couldn’t get back out.   I felt awful for him.  But he kept going.

The big brown mutt enjoyed a last hunting trip with DH and his best friend Batman in November of last year.  Although he required help to get in and out of the SUV and couldn’t hear a single command that my husband gave him, he still managed to retrieve a pheasant and bring the live and furiously fighting bird back to the hunters.

Batman was so proud of him.

Hunting Sandwich

As his time got shorter, Toby became much more loving to me, and I guess I was to him as well.  We shared a few moments every evening after feeding time; he would lean his head on my leg and I’d pat him and talk about the old days.  Toby’s relationship with Batman also grew stronger.

Zach's Best Bud

I grew up in a rural agrarian community, and as a child I learned pretty quickly not to become too attached to any single animal, a trait that is not-uncommon for children raised on a farm.  My somewhat cavalier attitude toward animals did not mean that I didn’t love them, on the contrary.  I was known in our community as an animal collector.  Any stray (or unattended, for that matter) dog, cat, chicken, or even the occasional horse within my range would usually find its way to our house.  Animals came and went at a regular pace, and I learned to deal with it.  I buried more than one dog in the lot behind our house, engaging my best buddy Tami to join me in singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” as I threw dirt over the blanket wrapped corpse.  Then I’d head off in search of a replacement.

It has only been in my later years that I have come to really appreciate the lasting value of a long-time relationship between animal and human.  I have loved lots of animals in my life; dogs and horses that died too young; others that I sold out of necessity or convenience.  But it has only been recently that I actively mourned the loss of an animal friend.  I wrote recently of the sadness I felt after selling my horse Spice.  It has taken me weeks to get to the point where I don’t tear up when I think about her.

My beautiful and oh-so-similar-to-me daughter Annabelle views things the way that I always had before.  About two hours after delivering Spice to her new owners, she broached this question:  “Mom, do you think we might start looking for another horse now that Spice’s pen is empty?  Maybe a nice gelding that Zach and Daddy can ride?  Or a barrel racing horse for me?”  She sees loss not as an empty space, but an opportunity for a new relationship.

Batman is the complete opposite.  He, with his tender heart and mature-beyond-his-years understanding of life is certainly an old soul.  He tolerates the addition of new animals to the family, but makes it clear that he cherishes the ones he already has.  I almost did not respond to the first email about selling Spice because of Batman.  He went crazy every time I mentioned the possibility of her leaving us.  “Nooooo, mama!  Not Spice!  I LOVE Spicey.  You can’t sell her.  I would be so sad!”

He resigned himself to the loss of his horse friend only after I explained about Spice’s new owner, a little girl who so very badly wanted a horse of her very own, who would love Spice just as much as we did.  Batman’s empathetic nature won out in the end, and he grudgingly admitted that it would be a nice thing for Spice and her new owner if they could be together.

Best Friends

It was last Thursday night that Annabelle came rushing into the house to tell me that Toby was laying down and couldn’t get up.  This was not the first time that had happened.  There is a slick, bare patch of concrete on the back porch where the old brown dog liked to lay when it was hot.  With his compromised balance and bum back leg he sometimes could not get the purchase to push himself upright from the slippery surface.  “Is he on the concrete?” I asked her.  I was crazy busy, trying to get ready to leave town the next morning for a horse show in Eastern Idaho.  I was taking both Batman and Annabelle on the trip with me and to say I was already a little stressed would be an understatement.

“No, mom!  He is in the yard.”  I walked out the back door with dread.  Toby was lying on the edge of the grass, his hips on a slight downhill slant from the rest of his body and resting in the slender ditch that runs along the edge of the porch.  “Hey buddy” I said softly, tears already welling in my eyes.  “What’s going on?  Do you want to get up?”  Toby just looked at me with sad liquid brown eyes.  I put my arms under his chest and tried to lift him to his feet.  Even with the weight loss he had suffered over the past months he was hard for me to move.  I finally succeeded in getting him to his feet, but he tottered a few steps and then fell again.

Now I was really crying.  Annabelle looked at me with a bemused look on her face.  She didn’t understand the severity of the situation, and I think she was sure I was losing it completely.

I lifted Toby again, and he walked drunkenly around the yard in a circuitous path, stumbling as he tried to step up on the concrete porch and landing in a heap on the hard surface just a few feet from where he started.

I was not prepared to deal with what was happening.  Denial ran strong and true through my veins as I sat on the ground and cradled the Toby’s gray muzzle on my lap.  “You just need to rest a minute, then you’ll be all right,” I told him.  I got a plastic bowl and filled it with water, sure he must be thirsty in the heat of the oppressive summer evening.  The old dog didn’t even try to take a sip of the cool drink.  He rested his head on my lap sadly for a minute before pulling away to lay flat on the ground again.

Now I really was losing it.  I took Annabelle inside and told her to get herself and Batman ready for bed.  The wind was picking up outside and rain was beginning to pelt the outside porch area where Toby lay.  I wracked my brain trying to think how I could get him under shelter.  I was afraid I would hurt him if I tried to pick him up with my arms, but I couldn’t bear to leave him out in the storm.  In a sudden flash of inspiration I picked up one of the kids’ discarded beach towels and took it outside.  I worked it carefully under the old dog’s limp torso and around his belly.  Then I talked to him some more.  “We’re going to get you up, Toby.  We’re going to walk right up to your bed so you can lay down by the door.”

I lifted gently on both sides of the towel, slowly helping the old brown dog to his feet.  Then I half-carried him to the covered area of the porch, laying him on the bed that Annabelle had carefully fluffed.  No sooner had I released him then he staggered off again, walking straight off the edge of the porch to fall hard on the small brick surface outside of the porch railing.  Again I picked him up.  Again I carried him to his bed.  This time he stayed.

I went back in the house.  Desperate Hubby was gone setting up for a band gig in Kuna, and I knew he wouldn’t be back for a few hours.  I had to leave in the morning no matter what, so I texted our friend Dr. Danny.  I knew I should have called, but as hard as I was crying I was sure he would not be able to understand me anyway.  My text was brief; I told him that Toby was down and couldn’t get up, and we needed his help the next day.  I finished with the information that I was leaving town and I’d call before I left.

When DH got home I tried to control myself as I explained the situation, but tears streamed down my face.  We walked outside to check on Toby, and I was happy to see that he had moved a little, to a more comfortable position on the bed.  Maybe he was improving!  DH was pretty practical about the situation.  All he would say was not to worry, he’d take care of Toby while we were gone.

When I got up early the next morning to go and work my horse, Toby still lay on his bed.  He seemed to be in a more comfortable position and appeared to be sleeping peacefully.  I arrived back to the house mid-morning to pick up the kids and leave for Arco.  Toby had moved off of his bed and lay just beside the back door.  I encouraged the kids to go and spend some time with him before we left “since he wasn’t feeling well,” and they did.  Annabelle kept asking when Dr. Danny was going to arrive to look at him, and I said soon.

Batman crouched down beside his friend and Toby lifted his grizzled head.  Batman gave him a big hug and petted him for a moment, then asked if he could come back inside.  Clearly he didn’t grasp the significance of the moment.  I told the kids they could feed their friend some hot dogs, which they did.  “He about bit my hand off mom!”  Annabelle said.  “He must not be feeling that bad.”

I stopped and patted the old dog for a minute as we left.  I told him goodbye and that I’d be with him again one day.  Tears streamed down my face as I loaded the truck and drove away.  I knew I’d never see him again.

The horse show activity didn’t seem very important to me after all that had transpired in the last 24 hours.  I went through the motions of getting my horse shown, but tears were never far from my eyes.  The kids were having fun, but Annabelle kept worrying about Toby and asking if I had heard from Dr. Danny.  I told her I’d let her know as soon as I did.  I also reinforced to her each time she mentioned it that we needed to remember Toby was really, really old, and sometimes there is just nothing you can do for an old dog like that.  She shrugged me off.  “He’ll probably put him on Previcox,” she told me. “That’ll fix him up.”   Previcox is an NSAID for animals that we give to Grumpy when he gets a little ouchy.  I just said maybe so.

That night Batman, Annabelle and I slept crowded in a queen sized bed in a grungy hotel room.  I cried most of the night as I lay awake thinking about writing this blog. DH and I had only texted during the day, but in his last text he had told me that Toby was gone.  Danny had examined him and said he was declining fast.  The only humane thing was to help him go to sleep.

I decided to wait until we were driving home to tell the kids.  That way they would have a few hours to process the information before we got there, but they wouldn’t ruin their whole weekend thinking about it.

Saturday was a busy day, a blur of activity and emotion.  Annabelle was getting more persistent about the status of our beloved family pet, and I kept up my mantra.  Horse shows are distracting, so it wasn’t too hard to divert her attention from the status of our brown dog by letting her ride Grumpy or watch other contestants show.

We got back to the hotel late Saturday night.  I was exhausted from too many nights running on little sleep and overwhelming emotion.   I needed to go to bed.  As we got ready to slide under the covers, Annabelle asked again if I had heard from Daddy.  “What did Danny say?!” she was adamant to know.  I sighed, and took the explanation a step further this time. I said that Daddy had finally texted me and he said that Toby was not doing well.  Danny had said that most likely one day soon the old brown dog would go to sleep at night and then not wake up in the morning.

Batman was flipping through the Bible on the nightstand looking for horse pictures and he suddenly snapped to attention.  “What?  What did you say mom?”  I repeated what I had said to his sister, and the meltdown happened.  I crawled up on the bed and snuggled him against me.  He sobbed and sobbed, and he had a million questions.

“Why do dogs have to get old?  Why can’t we make them better?  Why doesn’t Danny just give him some medicine?  What happens to him after he dies?  Is Toby’s mama was already in heaven?  Would he know her when he saw her?  What do you do in heaven anyway?”

Then the discussion took an even more difficult turn.  Batman was crying so hard I could hardly understand him.

“Well mom!  What if YOU die and we are still little kids?  Who will take care of us?”   I told him that I wasn’t planning on dying anytime soon, and he paused for a moment.  “Because you eat healthy and don’t get around lots of chemicals, right?”  I didn’t grasp the chemical part at first, but then he started to cry again.  “But why did the company Uncle Lonnie worked for make him work with chemicals that made him sick and he couldn’t get better so HE had to die?” It was a discussion we had had countless times during he past year.

Batman finally switched back to concern about me again.  I repeated to my little boy that I planned to be around for a long, long time,  but if for some reason something did happen to me there were lots of people who would take care of him.  Annabelle spoke up and said that probably Grandma Kay and Grandpa Vernon would take care of them.  “But what if THEY died too!?” he wailed.

I answered all of Batman’s questions as best I could, crying so hard at times that it was difficult to keep going.  What finally calmed my young son was a change in the direction of the discussion.  I told him that even though we would be really, really sad to not have Toby with us, we needed to realize that Toby would be much happier in heaven.  He could swim in the river again, and run faster than all the other dogs.  He could hunt and go camping and all the other things that he loved to do before he got too old.

Batman got thoughtful.  “Mom, do you think that Uncle Lonnie will take Toby hunting up in heaven?”  I said definitely.  Uncle Lonnie would be so happy to see Toby, and they could go hunting together and Toby could ride around in Uncle Lonnie’s truck.

Finally my little boy got calm enough to go to sleep.  It was just before 2:00 am. I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night thinking about the next day, and what would happen when I had to tell him that Toby was already gone.  I finally got out of bed at 6:00 and took my journal and a magazine into the anteroom next to where the kids slept.  After awhile I showered and sneaked out to go check on my horse and pick up what I need from the fairgrounds to head back home. I left the kids sleeping soundly in one bed, our good friend and adopted big sissie Kristi dozing in the other.

I came back from the fairgrounds to find everyone finally awake.  We got loaded up and headed to a convenience store on the way out of town to grab a quick breakfast.  Annabelle asked me on the way if I had heard yet from Daddy that morning, but I pretended not to hear her.  I was physically and emotionally exhausted from the past few days, and I steeled myself for what was to come.

It wasn’t until the kids had finished their donuts and chocolate milk and we had been on the road for about fifteen minutes that I told them I had spoken to Daddy while I was at the fairgrounds.  He had gotten up that morning to check on Toby, and just like Dr. Danny had said would happen, Toby didn’t wake up.

Batman was quiet for a few seconds.  “Was he breathing?” he asked.  “No, son,” I said with a quavering voice, “he wasn’t breathing.  Toby has gone to heaven.”  I glanced over to the back passenger-side seat where Batman rode.  He was looking out the window quietly, an enigmatic look on his face.

“Well,”  he said after a full three minutes of silence.  “I guess he’s hunting now.”  I answered “Yes, I guess he’s hunting.”  There were another few seconds of silence, and Batman grinned.  “I bet he’s trying to kill Perry the Pigeon again!”  We all cracked up, and the discussion was over.  For the rest of the drive the kids asked intermittent questions about what had happened.  They wondered if Daddy had buried Toby yet, and where he would be buried.  Annabelle lasted almost an hour before she asked if this meant we could get a new dog.

When we got home Batman went outside immediately to see where Toby was buried.  He stood over the grave for a minute, then came inside, where he told me that he was sure Toby was really happy in heaven, and that he was probably with Uncle Lonnie and Bid now. (Bid is a horse that died 18 months before Batman was born, but that has heard me speak of often.  He knows how much I loved that horse and he always talks about him as though he knew him).

Over the past week he had checked the grave often, and speaks daily of Toby in a happy and nostalgic way.  He has processed the event more quickly than I thought he would.

My strong reaction to the loss of Toby surprised me.  I had known he was failing for months now, and losing him shouldn’t have been a big shock, yet I was still not at all ready to say goodbye to our loyal friend.

What didn’t surprise me was the despondent grieving period of my five-year old son.  At his young age my baby has already figured out that relationships in this lifetime are precious.  Whether losing his first pet fish, contemplating a new home for a favorite horse, or dealing with the untimely passing of a beloved uncle, Batman has always fully grasped the magnitude of loss in life.  As I said earlier, he is an old soul.

On behalf of Batman, do me this favor. If you have a good dog, a good horse, a good friend…..hold them close.  Appreciate every minute you have with them.  You never know when that last minute will arrive, and it will always be too soon.

Wisdom in Those Eyes

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | 1 Comment

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