All dogs are good dogs…

My (then fiance), Dr. J woke up one day and said, “Let’s go to the pound…just to see.”  He had been pressuring me to get a dog since we had been dating and I always felt like I had a legitimate excuse to say no.  “No, we can’t – we don’t live together.”  “No, we can’t, we’re not engaged.”  “No, we can’t – my family already has a dog.”  “No, we can’t – I ate Mexican for dinner.”  I finally gave in because I really had run out of legitimate excuses and I really liked the idea of having a heartbeat to come home to that was ours and not shared amongst 3-4 households as my family pet was.
It was a beautiful September Sunday in Columbus, Ohio (9.17.06 if you’re curious) when we went to the Franklin County Animal Shelter’s “Mingle with our Mutts” open house event.  It was a pretty big event for the pound and they invited several dozen rescue groups to set up on their front lawn for good measure.  It was sunny with piercing blue skies (a rarity in the Midwest) and the green grass of the shelter lawn beckoned us to come closer.  Walking across that lawn I immediately eyed a Beagle Rescue and a *big* Beagle inside of a pop-up “jail”.  It was love at first site.  She was quiet.  She was calm.  She was super interested in her surroundings.  She had a “pink eye” where one of her eyelids is pink instead of the typical black/brown.  She was house trained and knew a whole slew of tricks.  She had short hair.  She had ridiculously soulful eyes that said, “Love me, please!”.  She was a “she”.  She was Maggie.  She was perfect!  I wanted her.  Dr. J said to me, “Wait a minute – shouldn’t we look at a few more dogs before deciding on the first one we see?!”  I didn’t care.  I was sold.  We signed the paperwork, paid the $100 adoption fee ($50 from him, $50 from me), gathered her up and brought her home.
Maggie - OSU

Our first pic of Maggie. Dr. J took her into “work” at Ohio State University. That’s the ‘Shoe behind her…

Maggie Eyes

Those eyes are what slayed me…

The Maggie head tilt

The Maggie head tilt

The information we got from the Rescue filled us in on Maggie’s already eventful life.  She was born sometime in August of 2005 and was immediately adopted by somebody who probably didn’t realize how much work a Beagle-Boxer mix was going to be.  She was energetic and quite a handful so that person eventually gave her up to a Vet’s office around 6 months of age.  The Vet took one look at her and said, “Beagle!”  So they called up a Beagle Rescue nearby in Ohio, Beagles Rrrrrr Us, and they took her in.  But she kept growing and growing and growing…Eventually, she was too much for even the Beagle handlers to handle and they sent her to the klink – no, really!  She spent about two months in Madison County Correctional Facility living with the inmates, learning tricks, being cared for and rehabilitated by the inmates and, in turn, she rehabilitated them.  They kept a daily journal for her and it is still one of our most treasured items to flip through about her time as a puppy.  After her freedom from jail, she went back to the Beagle Rescue where she was passed over for a few months simply because she was “too big” by Beagle standards.  But she was absolutely perfect for us!  Home she came!
Whoever said two months in prison would teach you nothing?:
Maggie - trick - shake

Shake

Maggie - trick up

Up!

Maggie - trick down

Down! Now gimme a B-O-N-E!

Adjusting to life with a “puppy”, even a 1 year, 1 month old house trained mutt, is always a big adjustment. Maggie had all of the usual puppy things to get over that used to drive us (mostly me) crazy. She jumped up on people all of the time when they came in the door, including us! She chewed on our furniture (but never our shoes). She barked at random things and would wake us up in the middle of the night with her “big girl bark”. She also had a tendency to “jailbreak” and try to run free – boy, did she like to run! She also loved to tug on her leash and was a powerful little fireplug – she could take down a whole city block if she wanted to! We took her to a dog park very soon after we adopted her and she clotheslined several 5 year olds. She also had a tendency to chow down her meals. I timed it once – 5 seconds flat. It took a lot of creativity to break her in and in some cases she never really grew out of everything, but she eventually grew up and out of most of those habits and became the absolute best Mascot Mutt and Co-Pilot we could ask for.
Maggie Pillow

How we found her one morning and determined that she needed a doggy bed – yes, that is our pillow:

Maggie’s travels after adoption mirror that of her parents.  She lived in three states: Ohio, Oregon and California.  She traveled with us through 14, the final list being Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and California.  She also got to see some incredible sights along the way like Yellowstone National Park, Devil’s Tower and the Badlands.  She experienced cities like Columbus, Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Salt Lake City and Reno.  She also got to kick back in smaller towns like Bend, Kennewick, Sioux Falls, Cody and the farm fields of Iowa.  She went up to peaks of about 7,000 feet like those in Lake Tahoe and Bighorn National Park and down to around sea level.  She got to see the Pacific Ocean on many occasions, both in the frigid waters off of Oregon and in beautiful sunny California.  She never really liked frolicking in the water, though a Sea Lion did intrigue her one time at the docks in Astoria, Oregon.  In California, she got to witness some amazing sunsets on the beaches of Cambria, great hikes, amazing weather and her long sought after sunbeams.  She saw snow, rain, sleet, hail, heat waves, cold snaps, blizzards and everything in between, though sunshine and warmth were her favorites.  She got to experience the highs and lows of her parents’ life as we took her everywhere we could with us that was possible.
Is this heaven?

Is this heaven? Iowa, 2008

Yellowstone National Park, 2008

Yellowstone, 2008

Goonie!

Cannon Beach, Oregon, 2009.

A San Francisco treat...

San Francisco, 2009

Cambria Beach, California, 2013

Cambria Beach, California, 2013

As much as her parents loved to travel and drag her along she really was a home body.  She enjoyed hanging out on whatever back porch/deck/patio/veranda we had just to catch some rays and work on her tan.  She lived in four different houses over the years as her parents flitted from state to state.  She loved chasing the Canada Geese at our Condo in Columbus and curling up by the fire in both of her Oregon houses.  Her California house gave her three floors to roam and she loved it when we let her out on the front porch to watch the crazy people walk by – her “big girl bark” came in handy in those instances.  Her favorite spot in all of those houses was either in a sunbeam or, in a pinch, in front of a fireplace.  She liked to stay active like her folks and she helped us with all kinds of remodeling projects around the house, big and small.  She suffered through demolition, renovation, painting (including accidentally, a few times on her – oops!), air compressors, power tools and all of the confusion it brought to her world.  She didn’t seem to mind it, but I’m sure she would’ve much preferred a quiet place to sleep with a lot of heat.
Tanning

Tanning

Supervising Dr. J

Supervising Dr. J

I'd much rather be sleeping...

I’d much rather be sleeping…

She had many rich experiences but she was always, first and foremost, a simple dog.  While we loved sitting on the beach with our dog, she just loved being close to us.  She hated car rides, but loved going places.  She wouldn’t let me touch my keys without promising to take her somewhere.  She loved sunbeams and green grass.  California was her favorite for that reason :-).  She was an insanely good catch, but a terrible retriever.  She loved to chase the laser pointer and would follow us around even if it was turned off waiting for us to turn the “dot” on.  She loved bees and hummingbirds.  She was confused by cats.  She hated the UPS man but loved the FedEx guy.  Bald people were apparently very scary.  So were long skirts, umbrellas and briefcases.  As such, her guard dog ways were both very helpful and insanely embarrassing.  Cuddling was her favorite pastime, though she never got up on the couch without first asking or “Mrf-ing” as we came to know it.  She had three doggy beds in our house so that no matter where we were she had a soft place to lie down.  We didn’t allow her to sleep in the bed, but every morning she would jump up the last 30 minutes or so before the alarm would go off and cuddle with her Daddy.  She must’ve known we were weak to her wiles at that time of day.  She loved to lick the dishwasher’s dirty dishes for us and even stole a spatula from the dishwasher at Christmas and ate it.  I couldn’t be angry.  She was too cute.
Cuddle time!

Cuddle time!

Early morning cuddles

Early morning cuddles

P1010848

Oh, please. Not another car ride!

Maggie was our dog, but she was my baby girl and she knew it.  She and I would “go to work” every morning, which was just a short shuffle down the hallway.  This was very important to her as her job was to sleep on my feet and provide me with hilarious instances over the years of her having “dog-mares” and snoring while I was in meetings on the phone.  Occasionally she would let one rip while I was on the phone for work and I had to quickly mute the phone so I wouldn’t laugh too hard while trying to remain professional.  She knew the sun schedule, too, and would often whine for me to open the blinds at the appropriate time so she could get her suntan and look out for the UPS man – God, she hated him and I don’t know why.  When I was having a rough day, I would walk away from my desk to give her a cuddle, rub her soft dog ears and calm my blood pressure.  Best medicine ever.
Maggie sleeping while I work - notice her tongue hanging out...?

Maggie sleeping while I work – notice her tongue hanging out…?

She likes to work it work it

She likes to work it work it

Maggie was a talkative soul and we talked a LOT.  Her eyes and head tilts always seemed to say, “But I really DO want to understand you!”  Her earnestness to understand was something I had never experienced in a dog before.  She had the most soulful eyes and expressive eyebrows.  It wasn’t unusual to see her tilt her head so far that it was almost upside down like a bird.  She mastered the art of cute.  She always asked to go outside by running to a door (or a window if we were in a 30 story hotel), sit, MRF.  No response.  Sit, MRF!  She would communicate this to us as opposed to the door, which I always thought was pretty incredible.  Even if she was really sick, she would rather die than make a mess indoors so she would wake us up in the middle of the night if it was an emergency…even for vomit!
We called this ear placement "Bat Dog"

We called this ear placement “Bat Dog”

Those eyes!!

Those eyes!!

It goes without saying that she was an incredible dog as all dogs are to their owners.  So it was a great shock to us when she passed away a few weeks back due to a short illness that took us completely by surprise and took her from us far too soon.  She was 8.5 years old and far too young to die when she did.  There really was nothing that could’ve been done that we didn’t do.  Had a kidney been needed, I would’ve gladly donated it.  Her last days were confusing and her final moments terrifically chaotic and traumatizing for me personally.  As difficult as it was for me to watch our beloved and adored Maggie die in our house by myself, I’m glad she felt “comfortable” enough to die in front of me.  She knew I was “there” even if I was running around like a crazy person behind her screaming to the vet on the phone begging for help.  Although her last day was not very easy for us, I’m glad she died in a place where she felt comfortable.  Familiar.  Safe.  With her Mommy by her side.  Definitely not alone…
Her last photo

Her last photo

As we try to move on and grieve, every day is a small memory of Maggie and how she would react to the simple things in our house.  Loading the dishwasher.  Watching the UPS man make a delivery.  Cooking a meal.  Watching TV with her on my feet.  “Going to work”.  Picking up my keys.  Listening to hummingbirds.  Chasing bees.  Hearing a doorbell on the radio or TV.  Picking up the laser pointer (which also happens to be our TV remote).  Seeing the leftover remnants of nose art on our windows and doors.  They all bring back so many memories and each time it hits me my breath catches and I think, “Oh, Maggie…”  I’ll be having those thoughts for years to come, I’m sure.  And someday we will get another dog and love the poop out of that creature too.  And we’ll mourn that pooch and cry as well just as we have our previous family pets and critters.  But for today, she’s the one I want to think about and mourn and remember.  She was our first dog as a couple.  She was our baby girl.  She was our Maggie…and she was very loved…
RIP, Maggie.  2005 - 2014

RIP, Maggie. 2005 – 2014

In remembrance…

Sometimes when life is headed down the line to “crazy-town” you know that it will eventually roll off the tracks and head towards “chaos-city”. Remember a few weeks back when I mentioned I was “taking a break”? Pretty much as soon as I typed that, my life turned into a full-on roller coaster when we lost my dear Grandmother at the ripe young age of 95. We had to make a quick and dirty trip back to Columbus, Ohio for the funeral and spent our third weekend in a row away from home – talk about stressful!

But enough about me, I have to tell you about my Grandmother – get your hankies ready because I just can’t help myself. I need to tell you about a truly great woman who was such an inspiration to me.

Visiting Grandma a few years ago

My Dad’s Mom passed away on October 22, just two months into her ninety-fifth year, which (if you do the math) means she was born in 1915, back before women could even vote! Can you imagine that? After my grandfather passed away in 1994, my grandmother and I formed a special bond. I really tried to invite her with me on outings. I’d go to movies with her, go shopping, drop by her house in later years when I had a license, etc. Anything to get her out of the house and “get to know her better”. You see, my grandpa was not a well man. He had his first major bypass surgery when I was just a wee one and after that he was a sad, tired, and ill man who spent his last 13 years in and out of hospitals, nursing homes and living a life in general agony – not exactly a happy time. During his convalesence, my Grandmother was consumed with taking care of Grandpa to the detriment of her own health and happiness. By the time he passed away when I was fourteen, even *I* was quick to admit that it truly was a blessing. Even though I know it was incredibly difficult for her, his passing reawakened a new woman. She got out of the house more often, was extremely active, played cards, organized parties, and had a whole slew of friends that looked up to her as this fun-loving, independent and amazingly sweet and gracious woman, which she absolutely was. This is where I came in and really got to know my grandmother fairly well over the years in a way that I was never able to with my Grandpa – something that is very sad for my parents who insist that prior to his being sick he was nothing at all like the man he later became. So with Grandma newly widowed we formed a “bond” over things like music, laughter and old movies that not only “distracted” her from her loss, but served double duty in allowing me to get close to her before things like high school, boyfriends, and ultimately adulthood got in the way.

It was this “closeness” that compelled me to give one of my Grandmother’s eulogies. Side note: in my family, my brother and I are known as the writers and the speechgivers – we got that trait from my mother. While my mom could have given a speech, it would’ve been odd if she gave one and my father didn’t. And since my father and aunt don’t do speeches, the task fell to one of her three grandchildren, which meant either my brother or myself since my sister got the speech giving trait from my father. We decided it was too much pressure for just one of us to give it, so we both did. I’m not sure if you’ve ever felt compelled to give a eulogy and I’m certain there is something in that aforementioned “trait” that compells one to do so. Much like writing, it is a catharsis of the soul that can be very difficult, yet also very beautiful to do. It’s also the ultimate ironic “goodbye” if only because, as was said in the movie The Big Chill, “Amazing tradition. They throw you a big party on the one day they know you can’t show up!”  Ironic, but so true!

Because I’m weird….and because I’m mourning and need as much catharsis as possible, I thought I would share my eulogy with you here. If it’s weird for you, you can skip it. I promise that there are some funny parts because Grandma wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. In the meantime, allow me this respite from “home and DIY” to share a little of my grandmother’s life with you…

Anna Grace McDonald Highfield. She was more than just Anna. She was also a daughter, a sister, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, an aunt, and most importantly to those who knew her best, she was simply “Annie”.

Grandma and I had a special relationship. You could even say we had a lot in common. We were both youngest children. I, the youngest child of a youngest child of a youngest child. Her, the youngest of six. We were both musicians, though Grandma was a virtuoso on trumpet and piano and I was simply a wannabe band geek. We both had an appreciation for music and classic movies. I used to drag Grandma to the movies with me all the time, including going to the Summer movie series at the Ohio Theatre downtown, where she would always remind me that “back in her day, it was a nickel to get in!”. We saw The Lion King together, The Wizard of Oz, and even a little low-budget film called Gone with the Wind. It truly is better on the big screen. She was supportive of my musical pursuits, including attending multiple band concerts all the way through college. (Yes, I was a band geek, even in college) I’ll never forget a time when she came to one of my high school band concerts and cheered and howled when her beloved trumpets were given a place in the limelight. I played clarinet. It’s a rivalry that will never die. We both carried calla lilies in our wedding – a fact that came to my attention after-the-fact, of course. Although she liked to soberingly remind me that, after her ceremony, she brought her bouquet to her parents’ gravestones in remembrance.

Grandma had more than her fair share of tragedies and losses in her lifetime, including losing most of her brothers and parents at a very young age before she was even married. But through it all she had just about the sweetest disposition you could imagine and you really couldn’t ever get her down, including her love for a good laugh. Grandma’s cackle was truly the laugh heard ’round the world. I’ll never forget a story my dad used to tell about Grandma going to see him in Arsenic and Old Lace … dressed in drag, playing a woman. Her laugh was a legendary part of that evening. Honestly, if I saw my dad dressed in drag, I’d probably laugh too, so that’s another thing we have in common.

She was born in 1915, the youngest of six. Her father owned a lumberyard, which she began working sometime when she was in high school. She began working at the lumberyard sometime around the early 1930s, and if you think back to that era, that makes her a pretty incredible woman for me to look up to – a fact that is not lost on me. She continued to work and later purchased that lumberyard for her own after her father passed away, which made her a woman business owner at a time when it was more fashionable for women to be donning aprons than dolling out assignments. She was perfectly suited to the task as well. She had a way with numbers that was downright freaky. She could remember her first phone number from her parents house, back when it was letters AND numbers. She could add, subtract, multiply, divide, do the differential equation of whatever all in her head and make you feel real dumb, real quick. Add all of that to her brilliance in music and other talents and her humility through it all and you realized just how amazing she was.

Her humility is what always got me. She really never had an ego or a selfish thought her entire life. I think that is what made me appreciate her and the life she led. It taught me that life is short, even for 95 years. After her stroke, the last 6 years were sometimes difficult, but she never allowed the sadness of living in a nursing home to take hold of her in a way that so many do. She was always quick with a joke and sharp as a tack. You could never pull one over on Grandma especially when it came to cards and numbers and I was always so proud and impressed of her intellect over the years. She had a wry way of winking at you with her sparkly blue eyes that made you smile and remember that life ain’t so bad, even for whatever ails you. We always used to joke that the only grace Grandma was ever given in her life was her middle name and while she may have tripped and fallen from time to time, I hope to live half the life she did some day – as GRACEfully as she did.

I’m sure we all have stories like this of grandparents/parents/aunts/uncles that are long gone that are near and dear to us. And while I was very sad to say goodbye, I’m also joyful that she lived such a great life and to such great length! Ninety-five years is a hard thing to sum up in a few paragraphs, but we should all be so lucky for that. And while she had a stroke in later years and spent her remaining years in a nursing home, she didn’t experience as much pain and suffering as my Grandpa ultimately did, which made her passing all the more beautiful. She sort of had the “ideal death” – the one we all hope and pray for. Warm, snuggled in bed, and in her last waking moments with her loved ones by her side. I know death is not an easy thing for people to talk about and I apologize if you’re wiping away tears and/or just eeked about by my frankness, but Ben Franklin was right. There really are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. In the end, we’re all going to the same place and I do think it is something that in the right context should be celebrated when it is “just right”. Hers was “just right”. Just as it should be.