Thursday, August 30, 2007

Goodbye Shadow...

My son was about three years old when he saw the movie, Homeward Bound. After watching it countless times, he announced he wanted a “Shadow Dog.” His dad and I told him how much work a dog would be, and if we got him a dog, he would be taking care of him. He said he was ready, but we kept putting him off, thinking it was a phase, that eventually he’d stop asking. Our determined son did not forget. Two years later we took a beautiful hour and fifteen minute drive to Juniata County to a clean farm/kennel owned by an Amish family. We spent a long time examining and nuzzling the various puppies. When we saw our Shadow, we knew concurrently that he was “the one.” I can’t think of anything else to say except to use the cliché, “love at first site.” We instantly fell in love with his big brown eyes, floppy ears, and gentle nature. We eagerly signed all the adoption papers, and I carried him to the care over my shoulder like a beloved teddy bear. At the time, he was barely ten pounds. Within two years, he grew to be 120 pounds but was oblivious to his size.

That was almost eleven years ago. Today at 5:15 p.m., he was at the vet’s office to be put to sleep. Even though we were doing the right and humane thing—he was riddled with tumors and in pain though he never complained or moaned—it was hard to say goodbye.

Shadow raised his head from the gurney as I nuzzled him and said goodbye. Initially my son said he would be with his dog until the end, the way Shadow had always been there for him. But he couldn’t make it that far. He said his goodbyes at the car. We burst into tears when Shadow lifted his head in response to my son’s voice. He tried to scoot closer, but it was too painful for Shadow to move. In the end, the rest of our family and I only made it as far as the door. In tears, the vet told us it would be quick and painless, and she would be there with him. She choked, “He must have been a great dog.” All of us broke down.

Shadow was a great dog. That’s an understatement. He was gentle and loving. He lived to please us. When one of was sick, he’d lie on the floor beside the bed or sofa. Occasionally, he’d pop up his head as if to say, “How are you doing?” He knew if one of us was sad or hurting. He’d nuzzle us. To say he was a constant companion is almost cliché, but it’s true. We used to complain and laugh how he was always in the way or underfoot, but it was only because he loved our company. If only everyone could have a friend like that. The mere presence of you lit him up, made his tail wag.

It didn’t take much to please him. Freeze pops and slices of bread were treasures for him. He loved his car rides. It got to the point when we had to spell c-a-r-r-i-d-e, and even then, he knew what we meant. He’d begin dancing and talking and his thick fringed tail knocked everything near him. In the car, he’d stick his head out the window and in the mirror I’d laugh and watch his jowls flap in the wind. That teeth-baring smile of his told me he had reached doggie Nirvana.

Shadow loved the snow. He enjoyed taking walks. He loved the attention he attracted. People always stopped to pet him, to tell us he was a beautiful dog. And he played it up. Even more than taking walks, he loved rolling in the snow and catching snowballs. Once he became so rambunctious that he head-butted me and gave me a gash just below the eye that required 8 stitches and a tetanus shot. Everyone loves to the story about how I earned that now almost invisible scar.

One of my favorite memories of Shadow is when the kids were small and still had paper routes. The Sunday papers were back-breaking for the kids. Even though they used a wagon, it was hard for them to pull. Their father made a harness for the dog, so he pulled the wagon for them. It was comical seeing him trotting like a show dog—except that his tongue was always hanging out of the side of his mouth. He stopped traffic. People stopped and hung out their car windows to pet the dog. Shadow hammed it up. The kids got a real treat at the end of the paper routes. They climbed into the wagon, and Shadow cantered all the way home. And of course there was always a doggie biscuit or Freeze pop waiting for him.

Shadow was the perfect dog. He gave us 11 years of joy. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.

If you haven’t tackled the last freewriting exercise, try it now. Freewrite about a family pet. If you’ve ever lost or have had to say good-bye to a pet, freewrite about that. Write a eulogy. Write through the sadness and pain. For more starter ideas, I suggest reading Marley & Me or, if you're a cat lover, A Scattering of Cats. Both are beautifully written memoirs.

My apologies for those who had been following the free character writing workshop. As I mentioned in my last blog entry, my dad had a serious accident which caused a temporal lobe injury. He has been moved out of the hospital and is in a brain injury rehab. I appreciate all the notes and prayers. When things aren’t so hectic, I’ll start posting more notes and exercises for the character workshop. In the meantime, browse the other articles and writing exercises at the sister site: CSWritingWorkshop. Also, if you’re interested in earning some extra money, I’ve added some links to the Earn Money page. Again, I appreciate all the notes and prayers. It means so much.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

No Blog This Week

Thank you for visiting, for your emails, and notes. There will be no blog this week. My father had an accident and is in the trauma unit. I'll be back to post when everything is stable. In the meantime, browse the archives and the sister site, CS Writing Workshop.

Keep writing!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Family Pets

In addition to a dog, we always had cats when I was growing up. Most memorable was our white Persian, Frosty. He was a purebred. Both his parents were show cats but to us, he was Frosty, a member of our family. We didn’t care about his pedigree. My sister and I dressed him up in doll clothes and wheeled him around the neighborhood in a baby carriage. Ah, we loved the reaction of people when we let them take a peek inside. We ignored the strict diet prescribed by the breeder and fed him from our plates. He liked Doritos®, cheese and spaghetti. Whenever we cooked spaghetti, we always made a plate for him. He devoured it, licking his plate clean. When he finished, his beard was stained orange. It always made us laugh. Despite the violation of his dietary restrictions, he lived until he was seventeen.

Now I have a dog and five cats. Each has a distinctive personality. We have a curmudgeonly cat who is growing more affectionate with age. He snores, has only three teeth, and he has a torn ear because he has escaped death numerous times. Our dog is a beast who loves freeze pops and snowball battles. Then there’s our kitten we call “stupid cat.” My son rescued him one November night from the brink of starvation and frostbite. Stupid Cat became immediately attached to the dog. They’re both gold, so I think the cat thinks the dog is Mommy. Or Daddy. I could fill a volume with stories about these animals. They’ve given me a lot of laughter and few frustrations over the years.

Freewrite about your family pets. Write about the day you brought them home, the things they ate, the toys they played with. Write about leaving them for the first time. Or the time you had to put it to sleep.

If you’ve never owned any pets, write about the neighborhood dog the kids in the neighborhood were afraid of or the cat lady down the street. (There always seems to be one in every neighborhood.) Or maybe it was the chipmunk you fed Cheerios on your windowsill. The rabbit that nibbles your flowers. The class hamster or snake. Write about the pets you wished for. The pugs pressed against the pet store window. The bird you wanted to teach to sing show tunes. Write about the pets you’ll someday have.
I've posted week two's notes and exercises for the free Creating Memorable Characters Workshop. If you haven't been there yet, surf over to the CS Writing Workshop page. I'll be adding new notes and writing exercises each week.
As always...have fun with your writing!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Family Stories

Every time I get together with my dad, he tells the same story. I’ve heard the story a million times, and even if I say, “Dad, we’ve heard it before,” he tells the story again.
Here’s the story:

When I was two, we had a German shepherd named Winnie. My dad wanted to train her to pull me in a sled, so he began by harnessing the dog to a stroller. To add weight, he put his toolbox on the seat. The rattling tools startled the dog, so she would bolt in effort to escape whatever horrible thing was chasing her. Eventually she became used to the noise and developed a rhythm. When there was snow on the ground, my dad harnessed Winnie to the sled, again weighted by the tool box. Confident that the dog would pull me all right, my dad strapped me to the sled. Winnie pulled the sled smoothly away from the house. She trotted and wagged her tail and stayed alongside my father. However, on the way home, it was a different story. When Winnie saw the ranch house at the end of the street, she raced toward it like a thoroughbred. I screamed and hung on. My dad ran behind us shouting commands at the dog and told me to not let go.

Winnie bolted around the bend and onto the driveway. The sled overturned, dumping me into a pile of recently shoveled snow. I cried, and Dad brushed the snow off me. I don’t remember if my dad ever tried it again.

Whenever he tells the story, my dad laughs until he’s in tears. I’ve heard it so many times that I just roll my eyes. So far my kids haven’t tired of the story and encourage their PopPop to tell it.
Think about your own family stories. Do you have an annoying relative who tells the same stories over and over again? Do you listen politely or leave the room? What stories about your parents and grandparents have you heard? What stories would you like passed down through the generations? Write down these stories. Flesh out the characters. Add dialogue and action. Share them...

I've added a new section the the CS Writing Workshop page called Creating Memorable Characters. It's a course I used to teach, but now I'm offering it on my website for free. Each week I'll add new notes and exercises.