Monday, June 6, 2016

My Father

On December 16, 2014, at approximate 5 pm, Oscar Floyd Hooker took his last breath while sleeping.  He was 92 years old.  My mother was right where she always had been in the previous 66 years and 4 months; sitting beside him, holding his hand.  The hospice nurse had just cleaned him up and changed his bed linens; while rounding the corner of his bed, she looked back at him and noticed a slight change in his coloring.   She stepped back to his side with her stethoscope, and determined that he had slipped away quietly.  She went out to call my brother, who had gone with his wife to run an errand.   He called me.   I had been the night shift the previous night, and had been napping for about an hour.   Within half an hour, we were all again in that room with my mom and my father’s remains.   As my brother would later make note in a beautiful poem, we told stories, remembering things he had said or done - - usually funny things – half expecting him to wake up and correct the errors in our story-telling.  Maybe wishing that he would.

I am a Southern girl, and we have special relationships with our daddies - - and make no mistake, he was my daddy!   It’s somewhat hard to explain.   There are many issues that only my mother could handle, but some were particularly “daddy territory”.   Those usually related to my car.   Or money.   I remember once when I had moved back to Charleston, South Carolina from San Francisco, I had a job interview in South Augusta, SC.   Dad just had to get the map out and show me “the best route” to go, even though he had never been there.   He had driven from Charleston to Atlanta a few times, and never mind that I had found my way around San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas -Fort Worth, Kansas City, Chicago, Syracuse, NY, all over Florida and a few other places on my own, this was THE best way to go!    I just listened.   Now, of course, I just plug in the address in my GPS and head out!

Dad had shown me the best way to go in many areas of my life.  Sometimes I listened and heeded his words.   Sometimes I just listened, remembering his words after I had made a mess of things.   Always, I hated to invoke his disappointment, as I did on more than one occasion.   He always, ALWAYS forgave me.
There was one time, when I was about 18 months - - and no, I do not remember this first hand - - that we were out in the front yard, and I can only guess that he had been playing with us and stopped to have a conversation with someone who dropped by.  People were always dropping by….   Anyway, I marched right up to him with those hard soled little toddler shoes and kicked the heck out of his shin!   I am alive to tell the story because he laughed, even as he massaged his leg!

That was not the only time his laughter saved me from certain death.   When I was about four, maybe five, he had been left alone with us, and between the three of us, the den was quite cluttered with our toys.   Most of the toys were usually housed in a cedar chest that I now have in my living room; the longer ones - - the toy rifles, my baton, etc - - were stood in the corner beside the back door.   We had been playing, and cutting up with him, and he had a defiant, sarcastic sense of playfulness sometimes, when he suddenly looks at his watch and told us that “mommy would be home soon” and to “put your toys away.”  I was across the room from the corner where my baton belonged, and I started walking – albeit slowly - - toward it, twirling the baton as I went.   It wasn’t fast enough, and he interpreted my lack of speed as disobedience.   The origin of the idea in my mind for what happened next is still a mystery, but, he leaned over me with a very mean expression on his face, clapped his hands and pointed to the corner.   I set the baton down, looked directly into his face, adopted the same expression, clapped my hands and also pointed to the corner.   I heard my brother’s gasp behind me as I stared into my father’s face, instantly wishing I hadn’t done it, but somehow knowing that if I moved before my dad did, I would surely die.   We were thus frozen for what seemed like an eternity, but then I saw the twinkle come back into my dad’s eyes and his facial muscles moving into a laugh.   I jerked that baton off the floor, ran to the corner to put it away, and picked up the rest of my toys as quickly as I could!   We were still talking about that incident during his last week in the hospice, and still chuckling.   My instincts were correct; he had forced himself to laugh at me so he wouldn’t hurt me in his profound anger at my defiance!

For reasons that I’ll not share here, I spent a good part of my early life with a sense of inferiority, and a strange idea that I was not supposed to be alive.   Indeed, I had a few incidents of daredevil activity in my early childhood that could have resulted in serious injury or even death, had others not been around to prevent them.  (I did get a broken right arm in one such occasion.   It only served to assist me in nearly ambidextrous behavior for a while.  I still do a lot of things with my left hand because of it, even though I am right handed.)   I was driven to make good grades, to play music, to sing, to be the best I could be so that I could win approval, even though I knew my parents and the rest of my family loved me.   I just wanted to be kept around.   I don’t know exactly when the full on depression started, but I know it was there by my teenage years.   Folks just thought I was weird or conceited.   I’ll cop to weird; never to  conceited.  If people only knew how much I felt like a fraud.

About a month before my father’s passing, I showed him a document to which I had contributed significantly.   It was published, and is in use.   He told me he was proud of me.  Not only for that, but for all the things I had been doing, especially in the church.   He was proud of how I had handled my husband’s death a couple of years earlier (don’t think he ever read about that herein; he might not have been so proud).   I might as well have received a Nobel prize or something that monumental; my father took the time to list things for which I had made him proud.  I’m not sure my feet hit the floor or the ground for the rest of the afternoon!

On the Sunday before he passed away on that Tuesday afternoon, he called each of us individually to his side.   If we weren’t physically present, he had us telephone the missing ones.   He talked to me, to my sister-in-law, we called my brother, my niece with the great-grandkids, and my nephew.   He told each of us how much he loved us, how proud he was of his family and how much he would miss us!   Many tears were shed, most of which came when he took off his wedding ring and put it on my mother’s finger with her rings that he had given her.   We all got to tell him how much we loved him, how proud we were of him and how much we would miss him, too!   He called out to God and to the angels to please come and get him. Nothing important was left unsaid.  No regrets.  No recriminations.  Just love.  He mostly slept after that.

Once he was gone and we were planning his memorial service, I learned that when we had first moved to Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1960’s, there had been a Freedom March, in which all the local pastors had been invited to participate.   Dad went the Session of our church, told them of his intentions to march, and invited them to march with him.  Only one of them had the fortitude to do it.   They became life-long friends after that.  

My father taught me through word and deed that:

1.       Family is of paramount importance after God.
2.       People are people, regardless of skin color, nationality, creed, gender preference or identity, etc.
3.       God is Lord of all.   What we believe about God doesn’t change who God is.
4.       Doing the right thing doesn’t make one popular, but it helps one sleep at night.

Once, in 2000, when my parents had moved to Jacksonville where my brother was living, Dad had to have a catheterization procedure on his heart.   He reacted badly to the dye, and became critically ill.   I was told to, “get on a plane and get down here”.   When I arrived, my brother met me at the airport and drove me to the hospital.   As we were walking across the parking lot, he suddenly grabbed my arm and said, “Susie Q, you are going to meet some people that I work with, in all likelihood.   They are coming to see Dad, but also to see me.   When they meet you and refer to you as the ‘foster child’, just go with it!”    I laughed, saying, “the joke’s on you; I look more like Daddy than you do!”

I am proud of that fact!   And I am proud of the man that my father was on earth.  My daddy…  I miss you so much!

In 1979

Picture of him and me just before walking me down the aisle

Mom and Dad on June 24, 2006, at my niece's wedding 
On his last birthday, November 22, 2014.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

And God Made Liesl

It has been a while since I last posted here; over two years.   I was a little stunned by that the last time I looked at it, with that entry being one for the Lenten season in 2014.   Much has happened in that time.  When I wrote in March 2014, I was still stinging from a string of three horrendous losses.   First, the loss of my husband in July 2012, then the unexpected, sudden need to euthanize my beloved 11 year-old hound-pit bull mix, Opie, in May 2013 and finally the not unexpected, but devastating decision to send almost 16 year-old Lab mix, Sandy, to Rainbow Bridge in December 2013.  We had raised these two each from when they were small puppies.  In just over 20 months, I had gone from having a high stress job in Fredericksburg, a wonderful (but progressively ill) husband and two loud, rambunctious canines, to being retired, widowed and existing alone in a big, cluttered, and terribly quiet house.   “Stinging” doesn’t begin to describe it; “reeling” is more like it.  More losses were coming, I just didn’t know it yet, and, as the saying goes, they usually come in threes.   That was the case with mine.

I spent a great deal of time in 2014 traveling around, especially the early part of the year.  I jumped into a lot of projects for the church, and for the presbytery.  I spent a lot of time away from the house, away from all the projects, the cleaning out and the pain of getting rid of things that held such memories. 

Around the beginning of May, I thought I was over the worst of my grief, and realized that the house was entirely too quiet.   I started thinking about needing a companion - - one who would be by my side, who would love me unconditionally, who would cuddle with me, who would let me cry when I needed to, yet be entertaining enough to lift my spirits when I felt down; one who actually needed me as much or more than I needed him or her.  I wanted someone to be happy when I came home!  In short, I needed another dog!

I decided after having a lot of contact with the dog owned by my Crossfit trainers, that I needed a German Shepherd, and it needed to be from an eastern European bloodline.  I wanted a puppy, figuring I had time to spend with one.  I searched breeders, and found one in West Virginia that specialized in DDR (the former East Germany) bloodlines.   Many of their pups had the black sable coloring - - which I love!   I told the breeder the traits for which I was looking, that I wanted my new four-legged best friend and she told me she was preparing two of her females for breeding with her newest imported male from Germany.   My name was put on a list, and the wait began.   While waiting, it came to me that I should call her Liesl, commonly used in Germany, but which is originally from the Hebrew, Elisheba, and means “oath of God.”
The breeder and I communicated quite a bit over the next few weeks, and finally I got the word that the selected female was indeed in whelp.  (Pregnant, for all of us who don’t know the correct terminology)   Finally, on June 29, 2014, I got the word that the puppies were born - - seven males and three females, but one female had died.   I was assured that one of the two would be mine.   Approximately five weeks later, I received a photograph of the “crew”, with the one pup at the right end being the lone surviving female.  I fell in love instantly.

(See her cropped image).   Of all the pups in the photograph, she was the only one looking at the camera, and interacting with it!   I knew she was my Liesl.

Of course, it was far too early to get her; she was too little to leave her mother.   So, for five more weeks, I anxiously ticked off the days, waiting to get the word that I could come and pick her up.

On September 9th, after having been to the Lockn Music Festival in Arrington, Virginia, I went to Lexington and met with the breeder to get my girl.   I had on a brand new Widespread Panic tee shirt.   Finally, they arrived, took her little crate out of the truck, set on the ground and opened the little door.   She ran out straight to me, stood on her hind legs, with her front paws on my knees.   I picked her up.  She showered my face with puppy kisses and the front of my brand new tee shirt with puppy pee!   I didn’t care;  she was mine and the tee shirt could be washed!

I found out on that trip home that she was (and still is) a good little traveler!   She quietly lay in her crate and pooped all over it.   I stopped to clean it and her as best I could, and we began our adventure together!

We were never apart for that first month.  Wherever I went, so did she, except for worship services. About a week after I got her, I took her with me to Charlotte, NC, for the quarter- and semi-final matches for the first season of GRID.  In the lobby during our trips in and out of the hotel for potty breaks, she introduced me to the New York Rhinos GRID team! She was great, except for crying and barking a little too much the first night while I was gone.  She accompanied me to meetings, often laying in my lap (or someone else’s) and sleeping.  I took her little lightweight travel crate and sometimes she would play in there, but mostly she wanted to be out where the people were, and in that first couple of months, introduced me to the majority of Warrenton!  Our next door neighbor also has a German Shepherd, and the two of them are BFF’s now!  Aside from 2 exceptions, she has never encountered a person or creature with whom she did not want to play!   (one exception was the copperhead that bit her paw in 2015, and the other was the cable guy from a couple of months ago.)

From the beautiful, auspicious beginnings, though, she has been a handful!    Her innate friendliness and exuberance has cost me a bit of money.   German Shepherds love to chew on things.  She is no exception. She has greatly assisted me in “evaluating” things in the house about which I was previously undecided to keep or toss.  She has been a struggle to house-train, as she figured out early on how to escape her crates!   She also has figured out how to get out of the gates at my neighbor’s fenced in yard!

I had to have a fence constructed to allow her to run and expend some of her energy, as she is far too strong for me to control any other way.  Just as she had introduced me to many people in Warrenton, she has reintroduced me to my neighbors, as she will go on rounds to see them, if she manages to wriggle loose from me when exiting our gate!  I am more a part of the neighborhood now, than I ever have been before!

For all her destructiveness, her boundless energy and her stubborn unwillingness to obey commands on the first utterance, she is a loving companion.  She cuddles with me, lifts my spirits when I am feeling down, needs me and always greets me with a wagging tail and happy face!   She has grown into being a gorgeous GSD.    God saw that I was unhappy.  He saw that I needed a companion, and he made Liesl for me.  She is God’s oath to me  - - with her, I will never be alone, never need a companion, never go without affection or being needed, never go without being loved!