Wednesday, December 26, 2012

December 26, 2012

I hope you had a good Christmas yesterday. I hope you spent time with loved ones, and ate too much turkey and had too many sweets. Christmas is, after all, a Feast day and it does only come once a year. I really hope you feasted well.

Dinner yesterday at the Ashbury household was a simple affair. It was just the two of us and our daughter—and her three Chihuahuas. Grandpa puppy enjoyed visiting with the grandbaby puppies. Yes, that is how my daughter talks to and of them and us. The puppies all adore their grandpa, of course.

Mr. Ashbury is a very soft touch when it comes to the animals.

We finished all of our running around before Christmas Eve. In a change of pace, we had breakfast out on the 24th with our son and his family. Our two oldest grandsons have schedules that keep them busy, and it’s hard finding time when they’re available to join in family gatherings. At 19 and 20 they’re becoming adults and beginning to build their own lives. Our son said it was the first time they’d had both boys join them out for breakfast (which they like to go out for quite often) in a long time.

They’ve grown up so fast!

But then, so have my own “children”, who aren’t children at all. Of course, at this time of year, I always find myself remembering those earlier times. My mind fills with images of Christmases past. I think my favorite photograph is of my pajama clad babies, sitting on the stairs, vibrating with excitement as they wait for the word to come down and see what Santa brought.

Mr. Ashbury and I would have made it to bed quite late on Christmas Eve, something I’m sure most of you can identify with. The rule for Christmas morning was that the children were to wake us up and then let us go downstairs, and make our coffee. Then we would take our places, cups in hand, first sips ingested—and only then call them down to rip into their bounty.

This was all, of course, so that we could be awake enough to fully enjoy Christmas morning through their immense and boundless joy.

It’s inevitable that as you get older, you look back on the life you’ve led with a regret or two coming to mind. One thing I absolutely don’t regret is the Christmas mornings we gave our children. Though times were tough and our means were spare, everything went into giving our children the best Christmases we could. That involved a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of post holiday bill scrambling and balancing—we never used credit cards, but we did sometimes put other things off—so that we could give our children generous Christmases.

Not for anything would I have had them understand the harsh realities of life as it was until it became their time to do so.

Now, of course, we have no small children in our immediate family. Our youngest grandchild is 10. It’s been a long time since we’ve experienced that particular kind of magic at Christmas, watching children’s eyes light up and go wide with joy.

Our Anthony once told us that the presents we gave him weren’t all that great, but Santa’s were always awesome! I didn’t mind that one bit.

These days, we content ourselves with giving quietly where we don’t get to see that joy, but we know it’s there—and that’s enough.

And we visit with family and friends, ever mindful of how lucky we’ve been, and continue to be, in the things in life that really matter the most.

Mr. Ashbury and I wish you all the very best in the coming year. We hope it will be the best year, ever!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 19, 2012

If you are a parent, or a grandparent, if you know a child, or a person who works with children, you could not help but be deeply affected by the tragic events of this past Friday.

How do we explain this sort of a tragedy? How can we possibly comprehend it? We understand, at least academically, that there are people in this world who are mentally ill.

We understand there are those whose minds do not work the same as a ‘normal’ person’s, as yours or mine. We know they are sick, and that for whatever reason, their sickness has gone uncured and untreated and perhaps even undetected.

Although I am a Canadian and my history and my precedents are different than those of my neighbors to the south, I still understand the principle behind the U. S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. I understand that this Second Amendment is sacred, and taken as literally as if it were a part of scripture by many people. I understand that and I respect that.

But as a parent, as a grandparent, I say, there has to be a way to mesh those rights with laws that will protect innocents from the illegal, immoral and lethal acts of other people. There has to be a way to protect the rights of the many while ensuring the few do not have access to weapons, especially weapons that were only designed to kill a lot of people in a few seconds.

There has to be a way to protect our children. For they are all, every single one of them, our children.

There has to be a solution to this problem so that future generations will only know of such horrific tragedies by reading about them in their history books.

Consider all that humanity has accomplished in just the last century alone. We have put a man on the moon, and even successfully conducted heart transplant surgeries, for God’s sake! We should be able to solve this—this problem of our own making.

The loss of a child, no matter how it happens, no matter the age of the child, is a loss too horrible, too hard, to bear. It is a loss from which no parent ever fully recovers. Losing your child is something you never, ever get over. There is a hole in your heart that never closes, and an entire chapter in your imagination, entitled “what might have been” that can never be written, or known—and yet it’s a chapter that can never be closed up and put away.

Such a loss is undoubtedly more tragic when the child is still small. I remember my own kids at those ages: actually my eldest was 10, my second son 5 and my daughter was 4 all in the same year.

  Those are years of wonder, years of learning to read, of making friends, of beginning to participate in sleep-overs. They are years of cartoons and best friends and singing along with your favorite songs on you tube. They are years of writing letters to Santa, and getting excited because Christmas is just around the corner.

For each parent who is now in mourning, my heart breaks. There are no words we can offer you to make it better. We can only pray. We can pray that you receive strength and hope from the Comforter, and that in time your memories will be more sweet than bitter.

We can’t do anything to heal your heart. Only God, and time, can do that, and only to a certain degree. As I said, that hole will be there, forever.

But the day will come when there is more joy in remembering than there is sorrow. And maybe, if we can all work together, if we can be open and honest and leave politics and hyperbole behind, we can find a way to prevent some of these tragedies from ever happening in the first place.

Maybe we can give you, and ourselves, and the society in which we live, the gift of hope.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 12, 2012

This has been a very sad week for my husband. Last Thursday, he awoke at his usual pre-dawn time to discover his beloved dog had suffered a stroke in the night. The poor old puppy could barely stand. He was sick and disoriented, although not really in that much pain.

There’s a twenty-four hour animal hospital in the next town, and we were able to get him in immediately. Sadly, the dog was just too ill to save.

Mr. Ashbury thought of Rochie (short for Ferocious, which this dog certainly was not) as his best friend. He’d had the animal for most of the dog’s 14 years. Rochie had been born to the golden lab our daughter had, and was a lab-border collie cross. Originally, this black furry puppy with a white star on his chest was our grandson’s. But when the family moved to the next city, the townhouse they rented only allowed them to have one dog.

Our daughter announced she would try to find a home for this not yet one-year-old pup and asked her daddy if he could keep the animal here while she “looked for a new home” for him.

Ha! I’ll never know why he didn’t see that one coming. Or maybe, he did.

You have to know it took practically no time at all for her daddy to offer to keep the dog. Our grandson was thrilled, of course. At four years old, he had been devastated to think he would never see his puppy again.

My husband and I both worked at the time, and had to employ a crate for our newest family member during the day time, until he was trained and past the chew stage. That didn’t sit well with our grandson at all, as I recall. You would be interested to know the dog himself was fine with it. He was a very easy-going dog.

Rochie grew to be a fairly big canine, and he was absolutely devoted to my husband. He loved to go on walks, and he loved to play with his “Squeaky” toy. He loved his collar and did not like to have it off, for any reason. The only thing he really hated, in fact, was bath time.

Every evening when my husband would come home from work, the dog would run around and literally cry with joy. He would pull his leash down from the coat hook in the hall, and would run around the house with the leash in his mouth—always my husband’s end of the leash, of course—until his daddy took the hint and walked him.

Rochie would mope whenever the suitcases came out, because he knew his daddy was going away. One time, he even dropped Squeaky into my husband’s open suitcase—a hint if ever I saw one.

The dog understood just about everything you said to him, and yet he could not prevent his chain from getting tangled in the back yard, around the same obstacle that had been there for all of the 12 years was chained up in that exact spot.

In the last two years we fenced the yard, so he could enjoy the great outdoors without the restriction of metal.

Rochie may have growled at the occasional passing dog or human, but he never so much as nipped at anyone. He liked some cats—in the house—but outside considered them fair game to chase, if he could. The only exception to that rule was my daughter’s cat MoJo—who of late is no longer her cat, but still comes to visit us from whichever neighborhood home he’s living in at the moment, nonetheless. MoJo and Rochie loved each other and would often nuzzle.

Every Sunday morning when I would make my beloved his big Sunday breakfast, I cooked a sausage link for the dog. If we had hamburgers for dinner, the dog got one too. Daddy would make it for him after we were done eating. If you were wondering, Rochie liked margarine, cheese and sometimes mayo on his burger.

His daddy was always Rochie’s first choice for human company, unless, of course there were fireworks being set off in the neighborhood. Then, it was mommy he wanted. When he was still capable of jumping up onto our bed, which he couldn’t do for the last couple of years, he would try to get under me, no doubt trusting me to save him from the pyrotechnics.

In the bio that’s posted at the back of my novels, I refer to Rochie as a dog with no dignity, and that was very true. But he had an endless supply of doggy grins, which he bestowed on any and all who would come to the house to visit him, and he had a heart bigger than his eighty pounds.

Our pets are truly members of our families, and when they pass, we cannot help but mourn them. And we take time to remember the love and the joy they gave us, and know that we’ve been truly blessed. I have no doubt that my beloved will meet his puppy again at the rainbow bridge.

After all, dog, spelled backwards, is God.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

December 5, 2012

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me one little bit that of all the things humans could use something as powerful and amazing as the Internet for, we quite often fall into what one might term the sewer.

After all, if you walk into a shiny new high tech grocery store, you’re still bound to find gossip magazines in a rack by the check-out. This is true even if the grocery store is in the most posh section of town.

Have y’all seen some of the headlines on Internet “news” feeds lately? Here’s one: “Friends Told Her To Do Mortifying Thing.” And, just in case the words aren’t graphic enough, it comes with a video.

I don’t want to see someone I don’t even know (or anyone I do know, for that matter), experience a mortifying moment. I mean, really, why would I? That’s something I tend to file under the heading, “TMI”. And yet, I have to acknowledge that probably enough people go for something like that so as to justify having the item available in the first place. Actually, there’s a “watch this dork make an ass of him or herself” kind of video available for your viewing pleasure every week, it seems.

How about this one: “Baby Boomers versus Generation Y. Are their whines justified?” I didn’t “click” on that one, either, but I can tell you with confidence, the answer, in my opinion, is no. Whines are never justified—that is why we call them ‘whines’ instead of ‘concerns’ or ‘challenges’ or ‘issues’.

If neither of those headlines grabs you, how about: “Kid Embarrasses Mom Trying To Get Her Attention.” Yawn. I mean, really? Kids have been embarrassing their moms to get their attention since there have been kids and moms. Move on, folks!

I’m not a snob—I’m really not. But I do guard my intellectual capital somewhat. I tend to want to use it for things that have some redeeming value. If I am going to spend time reading, I want to read something that will either entertain me, or inform me. I want that time I invest to have a purpose and to give me something—knowledge or pleasure—as my return on investment. I read news articles and I read essays on topics that snag my interest and I can promise you that the name Kim Kardashian is nowhere in sight while I do. I am newly hopeful because as I just wrote that last sentence my MS word spell checker put a red squiggly line under the surname.

All is not going to hell in a hand basket after all.

And it’s not that I don’t waste time from time to time, because I can assure you, that I do. I am as capable of being silly or frivolous as the next person. I suppose I just really hate the idea that someone somewhere does something foolish or unfortunate and the next thing you know a video goes up, that video goes viral, and that poor person’s faux pas is there for everyone to see.

Imagine being that person!

We’ve all probably had a dream at least once in our lives, of going somewhere public either in our pyjamas, or underwear, or even naked. We’ve awakened from that dream feeling horrible—embarrassed, maybe sick to our stomachs, and very, very small.

This is, I suppose one of our primal fears, translated to modern times. I think humans have a basic fear of being singled out, inadequate, the slowest, if you will, in the herd. We fear being the one who’s in danger of getting left behind to end up as food for the fast-approaching predator.

You might be laughing at that analogy, but think about it for a moment, and you’ll (hopefully) begin to see my point. And maybe that analysis is the answer to my question of why we give valuable national/international ‘space’ to a video that shows some poor schmuck being humiliated in the first place.

Maybe we do it and watch them because it gives us a false sense of security: as long as it’s happening to someone else, it isn’t happening to us.