About Belle Songer

Some of you will know my cousin, Blanche Lyon. Others of you may know my aunt, Libby Doe. If you know either of them, you know pretty much what to expect.As you can see, I come from a long line of women with stories to tell and observations to make. About me there's not all that much to say. I'm an overeducated cockeyed optimist. I have a mind of my own and am not afraid to use it but I am afraid to lose it. In youth, I harbored hopes and time took its time. Now, with time in overdrive, I just want to write it all down.

Boy Friends

He carried the burden of his crime for 55 years. Then he did a search on Facebook and found me.

“Are you the Katy that used to live on Ransdell Avenue?” he messaged me. I recognized his name. He was the red-headed boy who moved into our Louisville neighborhood one summer when I was about ten, and soon became a steady part of our group.

There were Severe and Tommy and Charlie and me. I was the only girl, which didn’t bother anybody except the adults. Our mailman opined — to my horror — that if all my friends were boys, then, by reason of deduction, that made them my boyfriends. My grandmother smocked me dresses and gave me dolls and urged my mother to find me some little girl friends. And my sister, ten years my senior, couldn’t understand why I had a flock of boys hanging around me but she couldn’t get a date.

Bill segued uneasily into our little ménage of neighborhood urchins. I say ‘uneasily’ because any new kid inevitably disrupts the dynamic of an established set of friends. Indeed, he landed among us like an alien. He’d moved to our street from out of town and so from a school we’d never heard of. He was taller and a year older and he had that head of wild red hair. His father was a professor at the University of Louisville, so that meant he himself must be smart, didn’t it? We all thought so.

A network of alleys crisscross many of Louisville’s old neighborhoods, including the Highlands where we all lived. These were originally used for the delivery of goods and services — and servants — to the well-to-do homeowners whose houses fronted on the tree-lined avenues of Old Louisville. To us these alleys were a network of bike paths that channeled us all over town. Our gang would meet early most summer mornings and ride all day, caroming down one back byway after another, our tires pop-popping on the bricks as we raced along. It was a ritual of our lives. But before long it was just Bill and me meeting for long bike rides across town, leaving Charlie, Severe and Tommy to wonder why.

This must have been hardest on Charlie. Before Bill came to our neighborhood, I spent long hours on the basketball court with him. Charlie was my next-door neighbor and oldest friend. He’d been kind to me when we moved to Louisville in the middle of my first grade year, taking chivalrous pride in introducing me to my new teacher and classmates. I rode to school every day — every day — with Charlie. It was he who told me about sex and to him I actually uttered the words, “Maybe your parents do but my parents DON’T!”

But most of all, it was Charlie who taught me the game of basketball. It was he who showed me how to dribble and shoot; how to cut in and lay up; how to shoot hook shots and foul shots; how to guard and rebound; and, crucial to successful life among hoops fans in Kentucky, he schooled me in the rivalry between the University of Louisville Cardinals and the University of Kentucky Wildcats. When we weren’t on our bikes, we were on the court, spending hours practicing, playing H-O-R-S-E or pretending we were playing for U of L’s Peck Hickman. And, of course, there were pickup games, including Severe and Tommy and any other kids who happened by, and now Bill too.

That’s when I ditched Charlie. No, it was not so deliberate or heartless as that. I merely turned my attention from Charlie to Bill on the basketball court. Here was this new kid. He was fast and quick-footed. He played well, and challenged me. Was I trying to impress him or was I just unrepentantly competitive? All I remember is that I badly wanted to beat him.

Although I would never have admitted it, I had a crush, my first real crush, on this boy. Because I was still very much vested in my tomboy status, I did not understand why being around him agitated me so and why, at the same time, I couldn’t get enough of his company. Or why Charlie and Tommy and Severe floated like ghosts on the periphery of my consciousness, their voices muted by the highly charged static in my head that was Bill’s name. They seemed to be flailing at me to get my attention but all I could think hear or feel was the pull of this strange boy’s magnetism.

Over the years, memories of that summer dimmed. I had no idea what happened to him after that. As I said, I was vested in my tomboy-dom when I was ten. If I’d had to say, I’d have said Bill just vanished. Poof. He just wasn’t there anymore.

The old group re-formed like the concentric circles on a pond disturbed briefly by a random rock. We held on until the end of elementary school, I guess. Eventually, Severe moved out of town with his family, never to be heard from again. Tommy went on to Catholic high school, a philosophical parting of the ways. Charlie and I lasted as long as his father drove the two of us to school. The last I heard, after he graduated from high school, he too vanished but to valet school in Switzerland. Or at least, that was the rumor. If there even is such a thing as valet school.

As for Bill, it was 55 years before I gave him another thought.

“Is this the Katy that used to live on Ransdell Avenue?”

I couldn’t help but smile. Hey, it’s that red-headed kid. Haven’t thought of him in eons! That childhood summer rose before me, colored by time and roseate memory. Well, I’ll be darned, I thought. Small world. Thank you, Facebook.

“Sure is,” I messaged back. Then came the shocker.

“Good to have found you. Ever since that summer, I’ve wanted to apologize for what I did to you. I’m just so ashamed.”

What he did to me? Really? What did he do to me?

“Rest easy, Bill,” I replied. “I have no memory of anything having happened.” I let it go at that at first. But curiosity got the best of me. Awhile later I messaged him back.

“I don’t want to stir up bad memories but, if you don’t mind, I’d be really interested to know what it is you did.” By then I was more than interested. I was dying to know. Here was this blast from the past and a mystery to boot.

His reply was instantaneous. “I punched you in the face. And you ran off home, hurt. Not so much from the punch, I think, as from the shock. I don’t think I ever saw you again.”

This confession jarred memories. Vague memories. Not of the assault. But of the location: Charlie’s basketball court. What he’d done decades ago had haunted him ever since, nagged at his conscience. A whole lifetime nurturing this nugget of regret. And I, the victim, only remembered a red-headed boy who came and went one summer when I was ten.

There are many reason to find fault with social media, beginning with the countless opportunities for abuse and annoyance. On so many occasions, though, Facebook has served me as an unexpected conduit to the past, especially the phoenix-like resurrection of old boyfriends who just wanted to reconnect in Facebook’s casual ‘like’ it or not fashion. The first time it happened, I thought This is weird. But I’m older now and more sanguine. These guys were a part of my life, helped direct the person I became, in however major or minor a way. But here was something different. Here was an example of how Facebook made it possible for a man to right a wrong, seek forgiveness and vanquish a lifelong regret.

It bothered me for Bill that I did not remember being punched because it clearly was a nettle he’d worn in his sock for half a century. It seemed equally disconcerting that indeed the only thing I actually recalled about him was the color of his hair and that I liked him. A lot. Then it dawned on me. I had the explanation for why Bill couldn’t let go of this childhood transgression and, as the recipient of that contravention, why I had no memory of it at all. I messaged him one last time.

“Bill, there is nothing to forgive. One thing that is pretty clear to me is that you were not the sort of boy to go around punching girls in the face. If you really did that, the only thing I can conclude is that I provoked you. That’s got to be it.”

That made sense to me. I must have been asking for it. Why else would a nice boy lose control like that and then let his conscience rule? Why else would a nice girl, who didn’t know how to recognize the signals from her heart, want to remember what she’d done to so enrage the boy she was crazy about? It must have seemed to me at the time like my just reward. I didn’t want to remember what I’d done; Bill couldn’t let go of what he’d done. He allowed shame to cement memory; I allowed shame to swallow it whole.

And the crazy thing is, after all those years, this Facebook exchange brought home what never crossed my mind as a child. The crush thing went both ways. It wasn’t just me. He must have liked me too. Otherwise, why care so much and carry it for so long?

Bill and I remain Facebook friends but I never hear from him anymore. He said his peace and found some peace in the doing. For me, it was another kind of reckoning: not only was Bill a boy and a friend, he was also, quite likely, my first boyfriend after all. I just didn’t know it at the time.

The first in a series of memoirs, to become a book by the same name, believing as I do that the people one has loved and lost ( or discarded) are, nonetheless, instrumental in forming the person we become.

Silver anniversary

I’ve spent the last ten days with a geologist trekking around Iceland who managed to cross glaciers and lava fields and climb one difficult path after another up and down volcanos — all with a bad limp and a walking stick. This guy, who is a college professor now and spends his summers leading geology-based tours for Smithsonian in Iceland and the Galapagos, I learned, had had a stroke at the age of 27. He was in northern Maine when it happened, at the threshold of a career that was 100% field-oriented. OK, well, not entirely field- oriented — he would become a professor, so there was all that classroom time — but geology is about rocks. And rocks, well, they’re out there. In the field. Or on the mountain. Or under the volcano. So, as he was poised to climb the highest mountain, cross the widest valley, forge the Mid-Atlantic rift, he was struck down. Today, twice his lifetime later, he is dauntless, physically. He is out there, doing his geologist thing, every day. He could have curled up and withered away, that day in Maine when the earth shifted beneath his hopes and dreams. Or not. He chose the later course.

Twenty-five years ago today, the earth shifted beneath my own feet, and my life was re-arranged accordingly. It was a sultry summer night at the Sconset softball field. I loved playing that game, as an adult, as a business owner, as a woman. I felt empowered all the way around. I saw that game as social license to run around, scream, throw and hit things, a release of all things adult, an embrace of all things dream-bound. I was pitching that night. It fed my starved female athlete’s psyche to take the pitcher’s mound. I’d played first. I’d played center field. But pitching was my dream. As a kid, learning how to ‘throw like a boy’ in my father’s backyard tutorial, I wanted to grow up to be the first female Whitey Ford (a lefty like me) in the game. No matter what my father or anyone else every told me, I couldn’t understand why it was not possible. Even though it wasn’t. Still isn’t.

That night in Sconset, conditions were peerless. A dark summer blue night. No clouds. No moon. Under the lights. The hum of cicadas off in the distance. I was chuffed, as the British would say, to have been tapped to pitch. Pitching is like quarterbacking: it’s the position of champions. My night was going well. No screaming errors nor humiliating gaffs. This was women’s softball, after all. On Nantucket. So expectations weren’t low so much as geared toward the obvious: having fun.

The pitch went dead over the plate and the batter connected. The next thing I knew, I’d been hit, knocked not only down but off the mound. I remember how pissed I was and how I got her out at first, in spite of it all. The referees and ump all flew to my side, as if they knew something I didn’t and maybe they did. I limped off that field. And would limp forever more.

Eight hours later I was in the ER. As dawn broke, I was flown off Nantucket in a plane the seats of which had been removed to accommodate my stretcher. A nurse flew up to Boston with me, marking my back like a whiskey bottle, to see if the paralysis would rise high enough to take my diaphragm.

Turns out, the best guess as to what happened is this: the batted ball hit me in the thigh so hard that it sent a fatty embolism coursing through my body. First through my heart, then my lungs, then my brain before finally spending a little too much time in my spinal cord. By the time I got to Boston, the clot had dissolved but I was paralyzed on my right side.

I’ve walked with a limp ever since. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not aware of each step I take, of fighting for my mobility. For a quarter of a century. But I’m not so different from the geologist in Iceland. When you’re life gets rearranged, when your dreams and aspirations and self-image get drastically redirected, you have two choices: feel sorry for yourself or get up and gimp across life’s lava field,

I was not as young as my kindred spirit, the geologist, when I got hurt. But I was young enough. When shit happens, you are always too young. That goes without saying. Because it’s not your chronology that gets upended but your self-image. And self-images are perennially youth-based. The real curiosity, though, is the much scoffed at, inevitable silver lining.

A friend challenged me the year after my event to compete in the New York City marathon.  I would never have run a marathon. I may have been an athlete but I was not a runner. Twenty-six point two miles and eight-and-a- half hours later, I crossed the finish line. Humbled. Mightily humbled. I competed with the the blind, the infirm, those wearing prosthetic limbs or riding in wheelchairs. I rose, like a phoenix, from my self-pity because I was oh-so-lucky compared to many of the people who fought their way through five boroughs. Indeed, I was honored to be among them. And ever since, I have looked at my fellow humans with greater compassion. That was the very first, and only the very first, silver lining.

And on this, the silver anniversary of losing the full use of one leg, I can say I remain humbled. And determined. And up and running.

— Belle Songer

 

 

Crazy bird

Oh, of all the madness in the world — and there does seem to be a plethora of it — I find myself compelled to share a bit more. But there’s a difference. I care not to waste more emotional energy on the chaotic state of our democracy nor on our loose-cannon president; I wish not to dwell another second on the butchery in the world masquerading as religious integrity. For a change, I wish to tell the story of another form of nuttiness, much maligned and so rarely given any press time, and that is the kind of craziness that first astonishes, then exasperates and finally, inevitably, amuses. This is the tale of a crazy bird.

The first thing we noticed was the odd, oily smudge on the living room window. As if a painter had dabbed his brush in bacon grease and then swirled it on the glass in vaguely concentric circles. A little Windex, and it was cleaned off. Done. We thought. We were wrong. For virtually the next moment, there was kamikaze robin diving repeatedly into the window. Amazing to watch. He flew into the window from a nearby yew time and after time.

One sage naturalist opined that the bird was defending its nest — it is, after all springtime and it was completely within the realm of possibility that he had a nest in aforementioned yew. Seeing his own reflection in our window, he was fighting off a rival. OK. That was one idea. But, let’s face it, a mullioned old Nantucket window does not lend itself to reflection.

First, we cut back the yew branches that were brushing against the house. The idea was to make it harder for him to see his reflection, if he actually did. No joy. He just flew a little farther to bang in to the window. Not once but over and over. Like a robin on a suicide mission. Then, we wondered if what he saw and worried was a potential nest disturber was the carved wooden shorebird on the windowsill of said window. We removed the carving. That did it! Well, that did it for a day or so. And then the bang, bang, banging began again.

The robin and his busy disturbance began at first light, so the thumping is what woke us up. But we were wrong again to surmise that his knocking at our window was confined to the dawn hours. Later on, perhaps as he became more emboldened or perhaps more desperate or perhaps when his brain was even further scrambled by repeated self-concussing, he could show up and begin flying into the window at any old time. What we did not take into consideration was that our crazy robin might be taking pleasure in disturbing our peace.

That idea crossed my mind when he stopped flying into the living room window and shifted his deranged attention to our first-floor bedroom window — of course, beginning his assaults as morning light broke — on the opposite side of the house. Tap, tap, pause, taptaptap. More effective than any alarm clock.

This morning, we had the bright idea to cut a piece of aluminum foil into vertical strips and hang one from each of the two windows downstairs. Peace achieved! We thought we’d outfoxed the foxy bird. Until the taptaptapping started up again — this time, at the upstairs bedroom window.

We know our robin. He hops around the front and backyard, fat and happy and seemingly sane, if sanity is something that can every actually be applied to a bird. He does not look mad. He looks like a robin going about his robin-like activities. But we clever humans with big brains are held curiously hostage by this nutty bird.

Must go. He’s at it again. Ramming his handsome head into the window. If only one of these times he’d knock some sense into himself!

— Belle Songer

A walk in the woods

At a time when America seems all topsy turvy, our democratic values redefined in terms of ‘alternative facts’ and the things that matter most to me — women’s reproductive rights, the environment, the American welcome mat — in serious jeopardy of marginalization, I decided to embrace a climate change of my own: from the sour political climate to a sweet winter one. Reminded of the words of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness,” I went in search of my own personal refuge from all the madness I perceive in Washington. I took a walk in a snowstorm.

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Now, I realize this makes me a refugee at a time when refugees are getting the cold shoulder in the land of the ‘huddled masses yearning to breath free”; and on my walk, I had plenty of time to think about what good company that puts me in. But I also had time to let go of all that, to merely — if something so profound can ever be ‘mere’ — let this winter wonderland wash over me, bathe me in its serenity and inescapable beauty. Thank heaven this is a sanctuary OS-CP (our so-called president) can’t meddle with. No federal funding is required to find a haven in a winter woods walk.

The peace that this sanctuary provides me needs no accord, no treaty; nor can any executive order spoil it. It is a gift, Mother Nature’s very own to me personally, to break free of: the Sean Spicer’s and the Melissa McCarthy’s; the endless stream of discontented  and enraged Facebook posts, most of which I agree with; the talking heads; the latest outrages out of a White House led by a 7th-grade bully with an inferiority complex and a very very big stick.

Out here in the woods, all that evaporates. The silence sings to me; the snow clears my mind of all that swirling nonsense; and the breath of wind pinks up my cheeks and perks up my spirits, and bodes nothing more threatening than a blob of snow falling from a tree branch.

If I could bottle this contentment, I’d be a rich person — and Nordstrom’s would carry my product.

— Belle Songer

In the Midst of the March — NYC 1.21.17

When I learned about the Women’s March in New York City, an echo of the one in Washington and, as it turns out, others around the world, I knew I had to be a part of it. It was a visceral response, not an intellectual one. I simply had to march.

I’ve never participated in any overt political activism before — as a Kentucky girl I was too naive about Vietnam to get involved (except for tagging along on a protest march to the American Embassy in Rome in 1969); I didn’t connect with the feminist movement since I have always moved on an entrepreneurial plane, never saw myself as oppressed and have always thought of myself first not as a woman but as a person; even the Civil Rights Movement, from the refracted lens of Louisville, Kentucky, was hazy, although I do recall climbing up a light pole to get a better glimpse of Martin Luther King at a rally there.

The Women’s March was different. When there are 400,000 people — that’s the estimate for the number of marchers in New York City — it’s not as if I were there to beef up the ranks of protestors or have my individual voice heard.

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I went because I feel my nation is on the brink of its darkest period since the Civil War, and I am terrified for it, for everyone with a darker skin or a sketchy hold on residency, for issues of social justice and climate change, but particularly for the fate of women and their right to have dominion over their bodies in an era of a serial sexual predator as President. Doing something, anything eased my profound unease at the direction this country has taken.

The march was to start at the United Nations and proceed to Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. We never got anywhere close to the U.N. Every avenue was clogged with marchers. Indeed, crammed onto Second Avenue, it took us 1 hr and 45 min to proceed 2/3rd of a city block. No one, not the organizers nor the City nor the marchers themselves, anticipated the turnout. Eventually we, like thousands of others, spilled over the barricades and made rivulets of spontaneous marchers headed toward Fifth Avenue coursing up every available crosstown street, stopping traffic dead on Madison. No angry horns blew and I heard not a single siren the entire afternoon. Instead, everyone sensed history in the making. And it was. Because never before in America has the election of a president sparked such an immediate public upwelling of discontent. The Women March in Washington outstripped the inauguration for attendance. That is a statement. That is hope.

Everyone came — the elderly with canes and walking sticks and the very young perched on the shoulders of their fathers; the well-to-do, starving artists, students, homemakers, parents, people of all colors and creeds; the disabled struggled in that throng in wheelchairs;  groups like the ACLU,  Jews for Humanitarian Action and LGBTQ activists and myriad others that were not immediately identifiable to me were there.  And with them came a sea of signs — most were handmade and too small to be seen or read by anybody not standing in closest proximity. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to say what was on your mind. As my friend Bob astutely pointed out, the signs seemed to reflect each marchers individual tipping point as they confronted a Trump presidency. Because it was the Women’s March there was much said about the reproduction rights of women, many with a message and also a sense of humor, including this ‘Biblical’ one from the Book of Fallopians 19:73:

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Indeed humor in the form of mockery (Trump does lend himself so handily to that) was employed to get similar feelings across:

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Some penned their raw rage on any available piece of cardboard, desperate to speak out:

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While others expressed what they saw as the clear and present danger of our new Washington:

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But in this astonishing sea of signs very very few were crude, pussy hats not withstanding.

As we marched, chants and songs rang out — men, who made up about 20% of the crowd would echo women chanting Our Bodies Our Choice by chanting back, Her Body Her Choice. Some men hoisted their young daughters high off their shoulders while shouting HER Body, HER choice! with an urgency they had probably not known before fatherhood.

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While vintage hippy protest folksongs popped up off and on throughout the afternoon, sung by pockets of older women who vocally complained that they couldn’t believe they were still marching for the same things they had as students 40/50 years ago now.

Many chanted This is What Democracy Looks Like, meaning the scope and urgency of hundreds of thousands of Americans converging in camaraderie to protest what is and to stand ready to effect change. Chuck Shumer, U.S Senator from New York, popped in from the sidelines, leaning into the crowds and encouraging the marchers to “Keep Going” and the crowd called back to him “Don’t Give Up.” And we can’t give up. Won’t give up. This little girl, standing on a bus stop bench, held the sign that says exactly why:

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I am honored, heartened and ready to go work as part of that robust WE that fueled my heart and hope last Saturday. And rebooted my pride in America.

—Belle Songer

 

Best kept secret

Some secrets you know are safe because virtually no one will believe it enough to act on it. So here it is—Nantucket’s Best Kept Secret: January.

Sitting by my south-facing window, the sun is pouring in warming my lap and my spirits. The wind is whistling, true, but it’s also 55° out. Yesterday, the day before and the day before that, Cajun and I took long walks on the beach. She put herself in the shallows to hunt for sea monsters, coming up with some fine, if ancient and empty conch shells. You could tell by the pinwheeling tail that she was very proud of herself.

Five days ago we had a full-out blizzard. The wind howled, the snow blew horizontal and dropped about a foot of the white stuff on the four-or-so inches already on the ground. We hunkered down around the wood stove in our little antique cottage and felt very cozy. And lucky. There is nothing like a good snow storm on Nantucket. The Little Grey Lady is suddenly outlined in white. The moors look like fields of cotton. Snow rises up tree trunks indicating the direction the wind blew during the worst of the storm. Branches hold out their arms to catch the snow like supplicants in the church of Mother Nature.

Downtown is serene. A perfect stillness settles over Main Street. What house lights there are this time of year brighten windows and speak to others sitting out the storm by their own hearths. Watching the first flakes stick to roads gives way to astonishment at the snow that keeps on coming. Hedges and woodpiles and parked cars disappear under white blankets. We follow the weather reports of accumulation amounts with a mix of awe and glee. And as soon as we can, we bundle ourselves in all our winter gear and go out for a walk.

Since childhood it has been both a particular pleasure and a ritual to make the first tracks in new fallen snow. On Nantucket, it is possible to walk throughout the old historic district, right up or down the middle of Main Street, with nothing but silence, the crunching of boots and that clean snow smell to fill the air. After a blizzard, of course, this can feel like a trudge but it is a glorious trudge down memory lane. Of being folded into snowsuits and galoshes, mitten pulled over tiny fingers, hat tugged down over head and ears by a vigilant mother. To venture out into the snow. To leave the first footprints. To make a perfect snow angel. To be gifted a day or days out of school by Old Man Winter.

That’s not to say that there can’t be rude awakenings. Especially for the adults. Power outages come to mind. Ours, this last blow, lasted about 30 seconds, if that. But just long enough to knock out all the clocks. Other places on the island suffered longer ones which can lead to very cold nights. (We felt very smug with our woodturning stove and propane range). And there’s the trouble the plows inevitably make. Snow is rare enough on the island that it’s not just the DPW out clearing the roads. There are plenty of boys with their toys, and if you happen to be off-island or at work, say, you can return home to find yourself plowed out of your driveway. One year, it would have taken dynamite to break through the mound pushed right into our drive.

But all in all, the pluses of January far outweigh the negatives. Take this balmy weather we’re enjoying today. That’s the thing about January in Nantucket. It can be frigid but it’s a clear, dry cold, and when there’s a blue sky, as there often is, the light raking across the moors or the beach is exquisite. Sunsets are unparalleled. Old squaw draw graphite lines  across the southern sky at dusk as they fly back to take refuge nearer the island. Then just as suddenly—you know the saying: wait 20 minutes and the weather here will change—it warms enough to throw off coats and stroll the beaches for miles.

And if there’s snow, even lots and lots of snow, it rarely lasts more than a couple of days. Our blizzard was Saturday. By Wednesday all that remained was the greying piles of plowed road snow. We got to enjoy the drama, the beauty, the exciting sense of being in the midst of Mother Nature’s fury — and about the time one os on the verge of being fed up with it all, poof!, it’s gone!

From my window, I watch Cajun rolling in the green green grass, luxuriating in the hint of spring in January.

— Belle Songer

 

Kids Ask the Darndest Questions

The alternate title for this piece could have been Belle Loses Her Footing on the Slippery Slope of Sex Education.

Last week Cajun and I had a therapy dog visit at the children’s unit of a local facility. An energetic group of boys, seven to ten-ish, gathered in a circle around a very compliant canine. We talked about labrador retrievers, how a dog uses her tail to communicate, the purpose of whiskers. Then one boy asked how many puppies Cajun had had. The rest of the conversation, getting slipperier and slipperier as it progressed, went like this:

Me: “She’s never had puppies.”

Boy #1: “Why not?”

Me: “Because she she can’t have them.”

Boy #1: “Why not?”

Me: “Because she’s been spayed.”

Boy #2: “What’s ‘spayed’?”

Me : “Well, because there are so many unwanted puppies, veterinarians perform a kind of surgery on female dogs so they can’t have puppies. Male dogs are neutered. (TMI! TMI!)

Boy #3: “What’s ‘neutered’?”

Me (uh oh): “That’s when the doctor removes a dog’s testicles.” (Did I just say ‘testicles’ in a room full of little boys???)

Boy#2: “What are testicles?”

Me (oh no! oh no!):”Well . . .well . . .testicles are your balls.”

Suddenly the room is very very silent. About ten seconds elapse in group contemplation of this information. Then, finally:

Boy #2: “Does it hurt?”

I assure him it is painless and hurryhurryhurry on to a new topic.

One doesn’t get briefed on sex ed issues in therapy dog school, a fact I plan to bring up with the administrators as soon as I stop blushing.

— Belle Songer