"…for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her." (Proverbs 8:11)
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Creature Comforts

Amazing Gracie the wonder pup

This is Amazing Gracie. She is a Jack Russell Terrorist (not a typo) and the first dog I have ever owned. She is fickle with her affections, pees in the upstairs hall whenever she feels like it, and has breath like a back-alley bar on a Sunday morning. I adore her.

Gracie was originally Craig’s dog, although we picked her out together. I grew up with cats and always considered myself a cat person. But Craig claimed that he wasn’t a dog person, just a Jack Russell person. He fell in love with the breed after seeing Gene Hackman’s fictitious pup in the film “Crimson Tide” and owned several Jacks before we were married. He always named them after famous Rat Pack-era performers, starting with Francis Albert Sinatra (who went by Frankie), and then Louis and Keely, after the legendary lounge vocal duo.

A few months into our nascent marriage, Craig suggested adding a Jack Russell to our home. Knowing the desires of my heart, he had already blessed me with two kittens—Junior and Miss Kitty—and it was only fair that I return the favor. We visited a friend whose momma Jack recently had birthed a litter and there fell in love with a roly poly puppy, whom we affectionately dubbed Fat Elvis. Although tempted to take him home, we recognized during our visit that the responsibilities of a dog would be taxing as we were learning to navigate life as newlyweds. So, we postponed the decision for another day.

That day came several months later, when Craig drove us out to a mobile home in the country. The owners were breeding Jack Russells to earn extra income and had advertised the pups for sale on Craigslist. (I have since repented of buying purebreds and am a strong advocate of always adopting from a shelter.) We sat on the floor of their double-wide as a bevy of wire-haired puppies pranced around in our midst. After a bit of verbal wrangling with a young gentleman picking out a pup for his mother-in-law, we called dibs on Amazing Gracie—Craig came up with the name—and brought home the most lovable little terror I’ve ever known.

I learned much about parenting through raising Grace. Dogs are not the same as kids, of course, but the effort, joy, and heartache of teaching a youngster to behave bear striking similarities. Gracie also helped Craig and me to bond in our marriage. We lived in an apartment back then and would take her for early morning walks around the neighboring golf course as we talked about our plans and dreams as a couple. We let her romp and play (and pee) in the sand traps, and I would carry her home for the last half-mile when she was still little and couldn’t keep up with her humans. When we moved to a house and transitioned career paths, I took over walking duties, enjoying brief windows of solitude while shepherding Gracie around the block. I had become a Jack Russell person, too.

We tried to get Gracie a brother once. That did not go well. His name was Bing—after the “White Christmas” crooner—and we acquired him on a whim from a parking lot pet adoption fair. The shelter staff knew that his momma was a Jack, and at the tender age of ten weeks, he looked every bit the breed. But the father’s heritage was unknown. Turns out, daddy was a big boy—maybe a spaniel, a pointer, or even a pit bull. And whereas Gracie and Bing played gleefully while he was still young, the bigger he grew, the more ornery she became. Ultimately, she lived up to the etymology of the word and was a real bitch, picking fights with Bing to demonstrate her dominance in light of the fact that she was greatly outsized. After nine months and 9000 tears, we found Bing a new home with a family that owned 70 acres out in Tioga. For once, it was true that our dog “went to live on a farm.”

That was more than a decade ago, and Gracie has been the only canine in the house ever since. She is feisty and funny, and sheds enough fur for a dog ten times her size. She has tolerated the comings and goings of other cats in the house—Jackson and Miss Kitty being her current feline siblings—and has somewhat mellowed with age. In the wake of Craig’s passing, she also has provided unbridled emotional support. Although the cats give me comfort, a dog offers a unique kind of companionship that in many ways defies description. And some days, she was my only reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Gracie brings out my codependent side, demanding that I take her for daily walks, loving on me at her leisure, and requiring me to prepare her meals. Lots of meals. Craig used to say, “In every relationship, somebody gets trained.” I am quite confident who runs the show in our house. But, this far into our association, why rock the boat?

Gracie is 15 now, and although still spry, her remaining days are limited. I’ll have her another year or two or three, and then the grief will return. After hundreds of walks and thousands of nights sleeping side-by-side will come the hard goodbye. But for now, I will savor every day we have together. And when the wonder-pup eventually heads to doggie heaven, I will cherish the memories—just like I do of her daddy, the one who gave me Amazing Grace.

© 2020 Leslie J. Thompson. All Rights Reserved.

March 4, 2020   No Comments

Breath of Life

Earlier this week, I discovered an unusual video that my husband left behind. He was testing a new camera gimbal and recorded jerky footage of our living room furniture as he fiddled with various settings on the remote control. I watched eagerly, waiting for a greater narrative to unfold, but Craig had switched off the camera after less than a minute. Others may have found the footage unremarkable. To me, it was priceless.

I could hear him breathing.

The sound of Craig’s breath gripped my heart as if he were reading me a love poem. Every inhalation, every sigh, had been imprinted in my soul during our 14 years of marriage. I recognized the slight huff as he lifted the camera and the way his breathing changed when he was problem-solving. I listened to the air flow from his lungs as he went about his work and pictured the way he pursed his lips while deep in thought. The tears came.

We take so much for granted with the people we hold dear. Their mannerisms. Their gait. The sound and cadence of their voice. We tacitly cherish those qualities, yet rarely give them any thought. For 14 years, I laid next to my husband in bed at night, quietly comforted by the sound of his breathing. Those times that he would snore, I preferred to forego sleep rather than have him move to the couch. Even when we fought, I wanted him near. Next to me. Sighing deeply.

In the creation story, God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the very breath of life. Whereas God had spoken the rest of creation into existence, man was different. God’s divine breath made Adam a living being.

I could hear the breath of life in that video—the wind from Craig’s mouth carrying the melody of his spirit. That haphazard scene of the living room couch reveals how his presence once filled our home, even when no words were spoken. I will listen to it again someday and cherish a sound I hadn’t much considered before. It’s a sound we should never take lightly, as each breath holds the essence of someone we love.

© 2019 Leslie J. Thompson. All rights reserved.

The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.

JOB 33:4 (ESV)

September 26, 2019   No Comments