Just before my father turned 80, he decided to sell his ocean-front condo in Florida. Dad was living in an over-55 community, and he was getting depressed seeing so many of his friends and neighbors become infirm or die. His kids expected him to move to a smaller condo in an independent living residence. To everyone’s surprise, Dad opted to buy a big house instead. My brothers and sisters expressed skepticism at this turn of events, but a social-worker friend was overjoyed when I told her the news. “He’s embracing life!” she proclaimed. “It’s wonderful!” As if to underscore her point, Dad bought a puppy. Ever since he had moved to Florida, Dad wanted a dog, and now he finally had his own back yard.
When my step-mom passed away a few months after Dad, I inherited their 13-year-old shitzu. For the next couple of years, I had sweet puppy cuddles as a daily reminder of my father’s love. That little guy was a joy and blessing.
I’m thinking of my father’s affirmation of life now, after receiving the news of the death of one of my childhood friends. Jan and I drifted apart when we were 14. The last time I saw her was in 2007 at a class reunion. In the 1960’s, we both enjoyed folk music and had some shared adventures. Our parents had no problem with two 13-year-old girls catching the bus in our suburban neighborhood, riding to the Howard Street station, transferring to the Chicago “L,” then venturing downtown on the train to Wells Street. Jan’s bold spirit lifted me from my timidity. Together, we discovered John Denver, when he was at the beginning of his career. He was singing as the front man in the Mitchell Trio at Mother Blues in Chicago’s Old Town. We went to the same club a couple of other times, to catch performances by Jose Feliciano. It was a small venue, and we always managed to get a table very close to the stage.
It’s getting easier for me to understand what my father was going through, as he watched his friends decline. Maybe I’m not always aware of the trickling sands in the hour glass, but the passage of time is not something we can avoid. Less than three months ago, my dear friend Ruth died. She had recently retired and moved out of state to be near her sisters. One of our shared interests was opera. Pre-lockdown, Ruth and I would go to the local cinema together, to see the live-streamed Metropolitan Opera HD performances. Four years ago, we took a road trip to attend a Los Angeles Opera production of El Gato Montés starring Plácido Domingo.
Ten months after my Dad’s dog passed away, I decided it was time to try to fill the void. To my delight, the local county animal shelter had a six-year-old miniature poodle mix that was ready for adoption. Before I could take him home, he had to be neutered. As it happened, I picked him up the day after Ruth died. She had loved my Dad and was very fond of his little dog. I had been looking forward to texting her a photo of my new canine buddy. Instead I found myself with a bigger hole in my heart to fill. My fluffy new pup couldn’t have arrived at a better time. The truth is, Dad is always in my heart, and Ruth remains close to me in my prayers. I may not have ever told Jan that I hold dear the memories that the two of us made together, but I hope that somehow she knows it now.