Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Next


When we moved from city to city, there was only one being who could adapt more quickly than I, and that would be Heidi -- our steady succession of schnauzers, Heidi 1, Heidi 2, and Heidi 3. As in, The Heidi is dead, long live The Heidi.

To an untrained eye, the only thing that distinguished our first dog from the next and the next was size. Only now, in the relative calm after the storm of childhood Heidis, do I realize I loved H 1 much more than the reincarnations. She had moxie, leadership qualities, and a terrible temper. Lifting her meant puncture wounds to the hands, but we risked it anyway to hug and squeeze her until nothing remained but a puff of gray fury. She led her gang of neighborhood dogs onto the freeway one day and, well, that was our first taste of loss. And it tasted every bit as bad then as it does now – worse even, because we were in the single digits and didn’t drink gin.

But loss meant replacement, holes must be filled. We learned to mourn quickly, before the next Heidi took office. Sadness hurts, and we were not above distraction.

While Heidi 1 was Daddy’s girl, the second Heidi knew Mom presented her best chance for survival. Heidi2 was smart; she lasted three times longer than H1. She was smaller too; in fact, each successive Heidi shrunk a little.

Then came Heidi 3, a tiny gray tramp of the first water.

Heidi 3 loved it when we changed houses, because new houses meant carpenters and carpenters meant lunch. Heidi would troll a neighborhood, looking for construction sites and big burly men who knew their way around a Twinkie. She taught herself to sit and beg and speak and anything else that would please a group of 200-pound men. Once she hurt herself, probably leaping for a bit of candy, and a giant carried her back to our house with tears in his eyes; she lay like a sad raisin in the palm of his hand. On that day, we came this close to a Heidi 4.

My mother died when I was in my 30’s, and of course we all mourned. Personally, though, given my practice in the art of transition, I welcomed distraction. It wasn’t until my dad died that the eternal loss aspect of death raised its ugly specter. And once I entertained that thought, all the Heidis came home to roost.

38 comments:

Ken Mac said...

stop thief!

Mister Earl said...

Wonderful piece!

Especially loved:

"And it tasted every bit as bad then as it does now – worse even, because we were in the single digits and didn’t drink gin."

BANJO52 said...

I really like this approach to the whole subject of loss and mourning, and I hope there will be more episodes.

I'm with Earl on that one sentence, but it's the overall plan I especially like--dogs and people, rehearsals and the real thing. Or were they all the real thing . . . ? If so, how do we deal with that fact? Is it evil or abnormal to grieve more for a dog than a human? I bet many of us have. Or is it just different? How do we measure amounts or kinds of grief? Etc.

Also, your timing seems perfect, just long enough on one thought or topic, and so on to the end.

Petrea said...

Karin, if you don't send this one to someone who will pay you money for it I'm just going to...I don't know, I might just march up the hill with a copy of Writer's Market and smack you with it.

Now excuse me while I go hug my sweet old dog and cry my eyes out.

Cafe Observer said...

Ditto de above commentators.

I could pay KB, PDP, but I think she needs more than money. She needs a PR agent pounding the pavement for her while she continues to pound away at her typewriter keys.

I just hope the writer's market is better than the photographer's market at this digital time.

Virginia said...

I don't have words for this one, thankfully. You, have a gift and i know I keep harping on it. This piece is the proof. I"m privileged to know you my friend.
V

PS I've tried to replace my Baxter. I can't, and most likely I never will.

Amy said...

What Petrea said. And have you seen how big those Writer's Market books are? It's gonna leave a mark.

Fantastic writing Karin.

Shell Sherree said...

I'm sitting here sniffling into my soup, KB.

Shanna said...

Tears in my eyes, I must say ditto to all the above.

Julie said...

At which point did you settle upon a title?

Dirk said...

I have to echo Petrea and the others--have you published a great novel yet? Because clearly you have one, or 37 of them, in you, Karen. Please, get to it. I'll buy, sight unseen.

altadenahiker said...

Wow, thanks all, you've certainly made my morning. I'll flip thru WM today and see if it might suit.

Banjo, I tend to think there's no qualitative difference in grief, but let me think some more. Julie, as soon as I finished.

Hi again Dirk. I'm working on it, but going long is a real problem for me. But nice to know I made a sale.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

These are my favorite tales of yours. Those that deal with your transitions in childhood.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Wow.

pasadenapio said...

As one who still deeply mourns the relatively recent loss of my parents, I appreciate this.

bandit said...

'a giant carried her back to our house with tears in his eyes'

you're killin' me...

Terry B, Blue Kitchen said...

A wonderful story as always, Karin, beautifully told. I've lost both my parents too and, like you, it was the loss of the second parent, my mother, that caused the permanence of the loss to sink in. I would no longer have a parent to tell stories of my own kids to. And the family history that only they remembered was gone. But as with your Heidis, my own memories of my parents keep them close.

Virginia said...

Bandit, nailed it and has Amy ever failed to make me crack even when I'm still crying? I love your followers KB, but mostly I LURV you girlfriend.
V

Quid said...

This is one of those moments where I'm completely smitten by you.

altadenahiker said...

Thank you from all the Heidis.

Laurie said...

Oh, you know how partial I am to Heidi. (All of them.)

This is glorious. And so are you. I can't wait for the novel.

BaysideLife said...

Fantastic. You really should put some of this into novel form. I'll join Dirk and buy sight unseen.

Anonymous said...

We had shepherds, and they were royalty. Duke, Prince, King...

JJ

Desiree said...

I'm totally with Petrea on this--

Brenda's Arizona said...

I'd like to know how many times each of us has re-read this piece. Each reading surely offers a different sentiment! When you write your novel, will it be like 10 novels in one? You are awesome, Karin.
And again "WOW".

Mister Earl said...

Today would have been my dad's 90th birthday. He made it through 86 of them.

Petrea said...

I suppose many of us haven't told you all the things this piece (and other pieces of yours) have brought up for us. At least I haven't, because they feelings are so personal. But just because I hugged my dog I don't want you to think the meaning was lost on me. The piece has stuck with me for a couple of days now.

BANJO52 said...

I think you're wise to be cautious about a long work when your strengths are so frequently tied to the quick hitter. I'm not saying you shouldn't try, but a collection of short pieces like this, linked, could accomplish the same purpose AND play to strengths you KNOW you have instead of risking a lot of strengths you MIGHT have. Also, there might be less anxiety along the way about getting to an end product. Faulkner isn't the final word, but he's worth considering: "A novelist is a failed short story writer . . . ."

Petrea said...

Right, Banjo. An essay collection is what you want from a brilliant essayist.

B SQUARED said...

Strange how we learn life's lessons.

Christina said...

My favorite, allusion-rich sentence: "Personally, though, given my practice in the art of transition, I welcomed distraction." Fantastic!

Virginia said...

My I take your photograph for the back cover of that book?
V

altadenahiker said...

Yeah, Virg. Some people start with the book, I say let's start with the book jacket and work backwards.

Mister Earl said...

Well, before you do the book jacket, I'd like to set up a "Meet the Author Night" for you at Vromans Books. But yes, go ahead and have Virginia take the jacket photo.

Virginia said...

You're on SIstah!

Margaret said...

For us they were Hildies, dachsunds. Only in storybooks do I read about the times of roaming dogs. Ah, the days before leash laws and fences.

altadenahiker said...

Homeowner Association didn't allow fences; we lived along a golf course.

Paula said...

Beautifully written, Karin. But, then again, loss is such a compelling and creative force. And I think that once we lose both parents, no matter how old we are, we feel like orphans.