Friday, July 29, 2016

BOOKS! (The Piano Lesson)

You may already know this, but my hairy, long-eared, sometimes compliant but often oblivious book model has recently taken up permanent residence on the other side of the rainbow bridge. As such, from here on out I'll try to be creative about taking pictures of my books with her urn. I read this play during my trip up north earlier this month right before she relocated, and so below will be the first of many book-and-urn photos. I know, I know, it's not the same and it's probably a little morbid. But hey.

Also, I know I'd said that things were looking up with An Untamed State, but it's highly likely that I may not reach my reading goal for the summer, much less the year. At this very moment I have six books that I've been trying to get through since spring, and for some reason only one of them has "stuck" so far. I might actually finish that one this weekend, but long story short is that my bookworm mojo has been way off this entire year.

The Piano Lesson by August Wilson

Possibly the most popular play in the Pittsburgh/Century Cycle next to Fences, The Piano Lesson is a ghost story in which a piano and sibling rivalry anchor an exploration of generational curses, African-American legacy, and the carrots of access and equity that keep being dangled just beyond our reach.

In 1936, Berniece Charles and Boy Willie Charles are siblings whose roots are in Mississippi. While Berniece, a widow, now lives in Pittsburgh with their Uncle Doaker the railroad worker, Boy Willie has stayed in Mississippi working as a sharecropper. That is, until Boy Willie arrives at their doorstep with his friend Lymon and a truck bed full of watermelons in tow. James Sutter, the grandson of the man who owned the Charles family during slavery, has passed away and his brother is now offering Boy Willie the chance to own the land that his enslaved grandparents and great-grandparents were forced to work. In addition to selling the watermelons to afford the land, Boy Willie has his sights set on selling the family piano that Berniece has kept in her possession. But this isn't just any old piano. Their great-grandmother Berniece and her son were sold in exchange for this piano, which Master Sutter had purchased as a birthday present for his wife.

But when said mistress began to miss these two favored slaves of hers, the master made great grandpa Boy Willie carve his own wife and son's images into the piano to console her. Great grandpa Boy Willie then turned this cruel order into art, taking the liberty to also carve his family's history of marriages, births, funerals, and forced separation. However, this act of remembrance and protest did not change who owned the piano at the end of the day. Even with the abolition of slavery and entry into the 20th century, Boy Charles (present-day Berniece and Boy Willie's father) was constantly  unsettled and enraged by the symbolism: so long as the Sutters owned that piano, they owned the Charles' history, and thus maintained ownership, whim, and coercive power over the Charles family. So he stole it and hopped a train out of town! In retaliation, someone cornered him in a boxcar and set him and everyone else inside on fire, thereby extending the back-and-forth between the two families into the supernatural realm. You see, in the present day of the play it is rumored that the ghost of Boy Charles and the other victims pushed James Sutter down a well to his death. And now Berniece, Uncle Doaker, and eventually Boy Willie are haunted by the ghost of that same newly-deceased Sutter descendant.

Understandably, Berniece refuses to part with the piano because it is sacred. She and her brother battle throughout the play over who has the most say in the matter, with the major question being, who will get their way in the end?

Brother wants to move on from the past and sister wants to hold onto it, but it is my impression that both siblings are ashamed of what the piano represents to a certain extent. Berniece is ashamed of all the pain and trauma her family went through, and views the knowledge of their past as a burden that her pre-teen daughter Maretha shouldn't have to carry. Which is why, though she lets her daughter play the piano, she doesn't tell her how they got it or what all of the carvings mean. It is as if by not addressing this tragically dark part of her history, she hopes it might just shrivel away quietly. Boy Willie on the other hand isn't so much ashamed of the story behind the piano, but rather the hold that the piano still has over his family. He feels that his father's work is yet unfinished, that his sister's dual senses of obligation and avoidance toward the piano are proof of the Sutters' enduring undue control over them. Rather than letting the past hold him back or pretending that it didn't happen, he wants to turn it into something new. Exchange it for currency and then exchange that currency for the very land his family was enslaved on. Acquire land, reclaim his family history, and thereby achieve status as a property owner that's equal to any white man's, and never have to abide by anyone trying to keep him under foot again. In short, their family history is somewhat of a hindrance to both of them, but the ways in which they respond to it and approach the future are vastly different.

Writing this review has been extremely challenging for me, not only in regard to accepting the absence of my book model, but also in regard to how The Piano Lesson puts the heritage of every Black American in perspective. Or the heritage of any person of color directly or indirectly disadvantaged by colonialism, quite frankly. Having to put my understanding of the play into words three weeks after having read it, I am just now realizing what a powerfully resonant gift August Wilson has given us. Whether by lineage, shared family name, inherited social status, family heirlooms, disputed property, or legacy, descendants of former slaves and former slaveowners are more closely connected to each other and  the rollover consequences of slavery than many will admit. This was true in 1990 when The Piano Lesson first earned widespread acclaim, and it is true still in 2016. So when we find ourselves haunted by the ghosts we've inherited, what do we do?

Favorite quotes:
"You trying to tell me a woman can't be nothing without a man. But you alright, huh? You can just walk out of here without me─without a woman─and still be a man. That's alright. Ain't nobody gonna ask you, 'Avery, who you got to love you?'... Everybody got all kinds of questions for Berniece. Everybody telling me I can't be a woman unless I got a man. Well, you tell me, Avery─you know─how much woman am I?" (67).

"Got these big old hands capable of doing anything. I can take and build something with these hands. But where's the tools? All I got is these hands. Unless I go out here and kill me somebody and take what they got... it's a long row to hoe for me to get something of my own. So what I'm gonna do with these big hands? What would you do?" (91).

"Hell, the world is a better place cause of me... I got a heart that beats here and it beats just as loud as the next fellow's. Don't care if he black or white. Sometime it beats louder. When it beats louder, then everybody can hear it. Some people get scared of that. Like Berniece. Some people get scared to hear a nigger's heart beating. They think you ought to lay low with that heart. Make it beat quiet and go along with everything the way it is. But my mama ain't birthed me for nothing. So what I got to do? I got to mark my passing on the road. Just like you write on a tree, 'Boy Willie was here'" (94).

Friday, July 22, 2016

But what do you really need?

(I wrote this on July 2nd, after Ma and I biked around Mackinac Island. Posting it now because life is life and I need to remind myself that these things are true.)

God knows what you need.

You know what you want. God knows what you want. But sometimes God is the only one of you who knows what you truly need.

God knew that I was made to travel, that I needed to go somewhere this year or else I'd suffocate. He knew that I wanted to get away. But He also knew that I needed to slow down and take a more low-key approach to travelling for a change, and that I needed to develop some level of appreciation for my home state instead of only grousing about how much I want to escape from it.

I went from having no travel plans this year to taking two trips within a month of each other. He made a way for me to go to Grand Haven, a place I'd barely heard of and never thought of visiting. He knew that I needed to swim in Lake Michigan, to reconnect with my love for swimming and the peace that water gives. To wear a bathing suit again and be reminded that my body is just a body, and though it may not be ideal, it works just fine.

And then He made a way for me to go to Mackinac Island with Ma, a place that I'd figured would be unremarkable but has proven to be anything but. He knew I needed to experience and learn all that I did in Grand Haven, otherwise I would've walked around Mackinac Island listening to the waves of Lake Huron playing percussion against the shore and been unable to appreciate it. I wouldn't have surveyed the blue of its depths, the clarity of its shallows, the sun reflecting gloriously off of it all, and been able to humble myself enough to marvel, Look at all that the Lord has made. God makes every thing beautiful in its time.

He knew that I needed to walk around the entire island one day and bike around it the next, so I could appreciate how able-bodied I actually am, no matter what scales, mirrors, photographs, or even my own mind tells me. My whole life I've tormented myself for not having the perfect body or perfect soul (shoutout to Radiohead), but hey! I walked and biked the equivalent of a half-marathon this weekend, and that is phenomenal to me! I feel strong. I feel capable. My body is just a body. And it works just fine. God knew that I needed to learn these lessons this weekend and He made it so.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Bookstore Buh-Bye (NacNaw, Tuesday 7/5)

Today was the day we shipped out and bid northern Michigan buh-bye. We checked out in the morning and returned to Pancake Chef so that I could try their breakfast pasty. I'd seen it on the menu Monday morning, but in the moment I'd wanted eggs benedict more than I wanted a pasty. Like everything I'd eaten during this trip, it was delicious! It had eggs, cheese, sausage, potatoes, and some other stuff inside it, and the crust was topped with gravy. Still don't know if it was the "real thing" or have any idea what an authentic pasty is supposed to be, but it was definitely closer than what I'd had at Pastie & Cookie Co. on Friday!

Our very last stop before heading back home was The Island Bookstore. There's one on Mackinac Island too, but we forgot to look for it when we were there. I've been a bookworm practically all my life, so I couldn't resist! Ironically, working at a bookstore last year kind of jaded me from wanting to visit them as often as I used to, so I figured I'd treat myself this time. As many things in the area do, the Mackinaw City Bookstore had its own particular quirk: it doubles as an old-timey themed photography studio! Bookstore in the front, studio in the back. Admittedly it's not something that I would jump at the chance to do, but it's a cute idea, especially considering the plethora of touristy activities available in that part of town.

I walked in, noticed the used book section to my left with the "up to 70% off" sign, and that was all I needed to see. Instead of exploring the entire store like I'd planned, I spent our visit combing the used book shelves for interesting finds. And I found a few! While Ma left with a Tenzi game and a Mackinac Island-themed set of magnets that were to her liking, I left with two hardcovers and one paperback that only cost me $20.66 altogether: Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi, The Dinner by Herman Koch (which I'm currently reading), and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

And with that, we hit the road.

It's amazing how things can turn out the exact opposite of how you expect them to. When Ma mentioned going to Mackinac Island a few months ago, I put on the best face I could but was hardly excited about it. Of course I was looking forward to making memories with my mom; she doesn't get out much and she never asks for anything, so I was determined to make this experience fun for her so that she could be happy. At the same time though, I just knew that this vacation was going to be all for her while I followed along excruciatingly bored the whole time. To my delighted surprise, I actually learned so much about myself thanks to this trip and we both had a fantastic time together. I'll write more about what I learned later, but for now I'll just say that I'm glad I didn't count Ma's idea out. Here's to our next trip, whenever and wherever that'll be.

Oh wait! I almost forgot. So the one souvenir I bought from Mackinac Island is a ceramic shot glass. I don't drink at home but I just loved the joke that was printed on this cup. For those of you who were born after the 90s or aren't up on brand history, I'll explain. The WWE wrestling organization used to be called WWF (World Wrestling Federation) for the longest time until the World Wildlife Foundation/World Wide Fund for Nature sued and won the rights to use the logo exclusively in the early 2000s. Using pandas, this shot glass references both the past and present meanings of "WWF", and call me corny but I thought it hilarious enough to pay $12 for it.


NacNaw photos

Monday, July 18, 2016

Black Bears, Waterfalls, Fireworks (NacNaw, Monday 7/4)

This morning we forewent the hotel's complimentary breakfast in favor of trying Pancake Chef, a popular restaurant we'd passed by on multiple occasions. I can't remember what Ma chose, but I selected the eggs Mackinaw (just like eggs benedict, except with slices of tomato added and whitefish used in place of Canadian bacon) and a half order of their apple jack pancakes. In hindsight it was way too much food, but it was everything I needed in that moment!

Monday had us on the road again, but this time across Mackinaw Bridge to the U.P. The Upper Peninsula is obviously part of the state of Michigan, but because it's so sparsely populated and separated from the rest of most people who live in the state, you kinda forget it's there unless you're looking at a map or are already in the habit of visiting the area. Apparently "Yoopers" are very proud of their insulated way of life, and I've heard that there's some sort of friendly rivalry between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Then again, I've lived in Michigan my whole and never met anyone who really cared that much, so I assume that whoever's participating in this rivalry must not have a lot going on in their lives. But I digress.

My main motivation for going to the U.P. was to visit the "bear farm", or Oswald's Bear Ranch, in Newberry. A high school friend of mine had recommended it to me, and I wasn't about to pass up the chance to witness a randomly-placed congregation of animals! Especially not such big and fluffy ones as bears. By some chain of events, a former Marine and his family began taking in bears and eventually they repurposed most of their land into a bear reservation. They live on the same property as the bears and have made raising them their life's work.

Like the Sleeping Bear Dunes climb, Oswald's charges per vehicle, and since there were more than one of us in the car it cost us $20 to enter. The lady at the entrance welcomed us and informed us that they currently had 38 bears on the property. They keep the cubs in one area, the yearlings in another, the adult females in another, and the adult males in another. If you'd like you can pay $10 to take a picture with the cubs, but neither Ma nor I were interested.

The yearlings were all very enthusiastic in front of people because they knew people meant apples! All except for one, a larger yearling who seemed uncomfortable in the heat and wasn't in the best mood. Whenever the other yearlings got too close, he or she would make a guttural bellowing noise which almost sounded like it was laughing, but the sound was actually a warning, "Git away from me!". The females were also pretty enthusiastic, sitting up and even standing up for apples like a couple of the yearlings had. From the female enclosure we followed a trail encircling the expansive property and came back around to the male enclosure. The males were fewest in number and had the largest enclosure out of all the bears, but they were also the most disinterested in people. With all the trees and foliage, it was hard to catch sight of them as they sought refuge in the shade. I left the bear ranch having learned one very interesting fact, which was that some black bears aren't actually black at all. According to a huge placard attached to the males' habitat, though some of the bears at Oswald's have brown or even light tan coats, all of them are of the same black bear species.

From Oswald's it was only a 20-minute drive to Tahquamenon Falls, a famous waterfall in a town called Paradise. Our original plan had been to visit Sault Ste. Marie and maybe even cross the border into Canada, but there didn't seem to much to see over that way, so we made a spur of the moment decision to see Tahquamenon instead. A Michigan recreation passport is required to enter the state park, and if you don't have one they'll give you one for $11. Once you enter the park, there are two main options for viewing the falls. At one end is the brink, and the stairway to and from the platform there is 94 steps. Most people go here because the stairway is shorter and the platform sits right atop the waterfall. The other viewing platform is further downriver at the gorge, with 116 steps and not as straightforward of a path. Ma and I took our time making it to both platforms.

Though our introduction to the U.P. was rather short, we had to leave in order to give ourselves enough time to see the fireworks back in Mackinaw City. Every year, Mackinac Island hosts a Fourth of July firework show which can also be enjoyed from Mackinaw City, and we didn't want to miss it. To be quite honest, for Ma and me Independence Day is largely just another excuse to have a BBQ. Plus I'd been reading August Wilson's The Piano Lesson the whole weekend, and that combined with the sanitized Indigenous history posts I'd seen stationed around Mackinac Island and all the gift shops on both sides of the strait boasting Confederate flag items in their front windows had made a decidedly less-than-convincing case for me to be swept up in the holiday spirit. But hey, this was the main event of the day, so we figured why not go and enjoy it along with everyone else.

After resting for a bit at the hotel, Ma and I parked the car in the downtown area and walked the rest of the way to the marina, where we claimed a picnic table on the wooden deck between Shepler's Ferry and all the other boats docked there. From 7:30pm on, we watched the area around us fill up with people as the sun went down. The fireworks show started sometime between 10:30pm and 11pm, and though it didn't last as long as one would expect for such a highly-anticipated event, it was quite entertaining. When all the hubbub was over, we waited out the rush at BC Pizza and then returned to the hotel once the traffic had cleared.

NacNaw photos

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sand, Cherries, Seafood (NacNaw, Sunday 7/3)

Today was all about the Traverse City area, so after breakfast Ma and I got in the car and drove two hours south to the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Google Maps led us through country road after country road, and took us past the Grand Traverse Bay as we rode through the National Cherry Festival in downtown Traverse City (our second destination for the day) to the dune climb in Glen Arbor.

At the dune climb they charged $15 per vehicle and gave us a pass that lasted seven days. After parking we approached the dunes, took off our socks and shoes, I hiked up my pants, and we made our way up digging our feet into the scorching hot sand one step at a time. The climb can take as little or as much time as your stamina and goals will allow. Once you get up the first hill, you have three options. First, you can take in the view of the sand and Glen Lake below, and head back down once you've had your fill. Second, you can head right and take a winding, arduous, up and down trail to Lake Michigan (remember, you'll have to climb your way back). Third, you can head left and climb to the lookout. It's straight up, but then again the entire trek back to the parking lot is all downhill.

Visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes had been Ma's idea, so I tried to encourage her to keep going so she could see Lake Michigan on the other side and get the most out of this experience. We had all day; we could pace ourselves and stop to rest as many times as necessary. But Ma made it very clear that she was "tahrd" (tired), was satisfied by what she'd seen, and was read to descend. I said alright. And I almost turned to descend too. But I kept staring at the lookout and all the people getting further and further away looking like ants as they made their way up there. And I thought, Okay. Let me just see how much higher I can go. Ma sat down where we were and said she'd wait, so I kept going. I hadn't expected to make it all the way... until I did! I was so proud of myself! From my vantage point I had an even better view of Glen Lake, the surrounding scenery, and the way from which I'd come on one side. On the other side I could see the rest of the dunes and catch a glimpse of Lake Michigan. I hate posing for pictures, but I had someone take one of me at the lookout since I knew Ma would appreciate it. I brought her a sparkly rock from up there as a consolation prize too.

We took our time making it all the way down and then drove back the way we came to downtown Traverse City for the festival. I'd expected it to be a smaller town like Mackinaw City, but TC is actually a real and lively city. Not a sprawling metropolis, but large enough. I was impressed. And walking along the bay seeing all the people having fun or relaxing in and around the water made me feel nostalgic, reminiscing about the weekends in Hikone when people flocked to Matsubara beach just to take advantage of the weather and enjoy Lake Biwa.

Another misconception I'd had was that that since it was the National Cherry Festival, it would be all cherry errthing. All the food and beverages cherry-flavored, everybody and everything outfitted in various shades of red, people dressed like cherries. Turns out, while there was a mascot (his name's Super Cherry, but I only saw posters of him), and plenty of foods with cherries in them, it's not actually all cherry errthing. It's more like any other summer festival, but just so happens to also use the event to highlight its highly renowned and marketable local produce. It was spread out and well-organized, a pleasant way to spend a summer day, but nothing out of the ordinary. Once we got there we ate some food, walked around to see what was what, bought a cup of cherries (16 oz. for $5), and then dipped.

Google Maps had us take a different way back, leading us along Lake Michigan and passing through Charlevoix, where we got to stop and watch them raise the bridge so a ship could pass. For dinner back in Mackinaw City, we had Italian food at Nonna Lisa's. Think excellent Italian food inside of a hunter's lodge. Lots of wood, taxidermy, fake pine trees, and white Christmas lights. Somewhat incongruous with the cuisine, but it's actually pretty on brand as far as northern Michigan interior design goes. I ordered the seafood portofino, which was bomb! I'd just wanted to try something different, but I hadn't realized how much I actually enjoy seafood. And I tasted mussels for the first time, so that was nice too. Ma ordered spaghetti, and for someone who'd insisted she was "not that hungry", she put away more of her dish than I did mine!

NacNaw photos

Waiting to Die at Home.

Apparently at her hair appointment yesterday, Ma told our hairdresser and family friend Ms. Jennifer about Madison's passing.

According to Ma, Ms. Jennifer supposed that Madison waited until she came home to die. She purposely held out until she was with me because she loved me and knew that I'd comfort her so that she could go in peace.

I don't now if dogs think on a sophisticated enough level for that to be true. But if it is, that explains something at least. If it's not, well. It's still a nice way to think about it. I wasn't able to do much for Madison in the end, but maybe that wasn't the point.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Bike Victories and Yummy Things (NacNaw, Saturday 7/2)

Despite sitting in a bath and using my inhaler before bed Friday night, I woke up stiff, sore in most of the same places as before, and wheezy. But we'd already planned to bike Mackinac Island today and I hate to not stick to a set schedule, so back to the island we went! From breakfast at the hotel, Ma and I drove to Shepler's again with our bikes in tow, and we bought passes for them ($10 each) before boarding.

One thing I forgot to mention is that one of the biggest surprises for me since arriving on Friday was observing the substantial amount of Caribbean people working in Mackinaw City, on the ferries, and on Mackinac Island. Truth be told, I was anxious about whether going to northern Michigan would be safe for Ma and I as single black women, since I wasn't sure how homogeneously white the area would be, and since it was 4th of July weekend during this trifling election year, I worried about how aggressive or militant people's patriotism (and thus racism fueled by "patriotism") might be. Turns out that yes, the area certainly isn't the most melanated place on Earth, but it's also super chill. At the very least, people are friendly in that contrived "let's be on our best behavior and not cause trouble for each other" type of way. Like how folks are at Disney World. And there were all kinds of people of color visiting. Mostly Indian/South Asian and East Asian people, a handful of Latino people, a smattering of Black folk. It was a delight for Ma and I to see at least a few of us wherever we went. But for our Caribbean brothers and sisters, I'm curious as to how and why they ended up working in northern Michigan of all places. Need to do research on this later.

I'd wanted to go around the opposite way from Friday to get a different perspective of the island, so after arriving and getting situated we set out at around 11:50am. We made it all the way in about two hours, taking our time and only making two stops to rest and intermittent pauses for photos. I was overwhelmingly proud of both of us, especially Ma. She's not the most active or outdoorsy person, and she's not the most open to trying new things, but in the right situation and with the right encouragement, she really steps up and does her best to push her boundaries (I think we're somewhat alike in this way). Just like walking up Hyde Street in San Francisco, just like attempting to walk the island with me Friday and managing to walk back on her own, today she stuck with it and she rocked it! Hadn't been on a bike in about a decade, and she breezed along with me like it was nothing! I was so impressed!

Our next stop was lunch at Pink Pony, which is a restaurant attached to Chippewa Hotel. I picked it because it has a fun name and the online reviews were very enthusiastic. I ordered the tomato bisque, whitefish tacos, and their Famous Rum Runner (a frozen drink composed of rum mixed with a whole bunch of sweet stuff )! It made me feel a little drowsy as all alcohol does, but it was perfection. Perhaps I'm a rum person; I only seem to thoroughly enjoy Long Islands or mixed drinks that resemble them in taste.The restaurant sits right on the waterfront and has four seating areas that are each decorated differently. We got to sit in the dining room with a spectacular view of Haldimand Bay.

From there we trekked up the hill of Cadotte Street to the famed Grand Hotel. Our attention was to visit its front porch, since it's known as the longest in the world. But for some reason they weren't allowing non-guests to enter the inner premises unless they paid money. I wasn't sure if that was how it usually worked or if there was some special occasion going on that they wanted to keep the peasants away from. (I've since looked it up, and charging $10 per person for non-guests to enter the premises is indeed the Grand Hotel's policy. People have figured out ways to get around it, but it wasn't that serious for us so we left after seeing the parts we could see from where we stood). Off-limits or not, it's still a splendid building.

Back downhill on Main Street, we perused the shops for some must-haves. Ma wanted a T-shirt and some popcorn. I hadn't been interested in purchasing any souvenirs, but then I saw something in a Mackinac Mud Pottery that I found to be very clever being the 90s baby I am, so I bought it. I'll reveal what it is later. And it's almost impossible for some people to mention Mackinac Island without also mentioning fudge in the same breath. However, neither Ma nor I enjoy eating chocolate that much, so at first we weren't going to buy any. But then I remembered how the shuttle driver from Friday night recommended Ryba's as the best fudge on the island, and since we kept passing all three of Ryba's signature soft pink shops on Main Street, we gave in. Ma got her popcorn and some chocolate peanut clusters, and I got cashew turtles.

After riding the ferry back to Mackinaw City and dropping our wares off to the hotel, we had dinner at another one of the shuttle driver's recommendations. Darrow's Family Restaurant was right across the street from the hotel kitty-corner to Pastie & Cookie Co., and I hadn't thought much of it when I'd seen it before. Like most family restaurants, it has no frills or pretenses, and the menu items are deceivingly simple on paper and at first glance. But don't be fooled, the quality is excellent! No wonder there was a line out the door when we first showed up. Ma chose some sort of fried chicken dinner and I opted for the Mackinaw-style smothered chicken. They also have an extensive pie menu, but like chocolate I guess I grew out of enjoying that as much as I used to, so I passed. Plus we already had so many other snacks to enjoy! Back in the hotel room I caught the last 40 minutes of 'Suffragette' on HBO and nibbled on some popcorn and a couple turtles while Ma passed out.

NacNaw photos

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Comprise and an 8-Mile Walk (NacNaw, Friday 7/1)

In the interest of thinking about happier things and seizing the opportunity while my notes and what I actually remember are still on one accord, for the next few days I'll be writing about my recent vacation. During the long 4th of July weekend, Ma and I went on vacation "up north". Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island, Traverse City, the U.P. In that order. Ma's idea. For the longest time this year we couldn't agree on where to go or what to do there, until one day I had to drag out of Ma that she's actually always wanted to go to Mackinac Island. And I figured, Alright let's do this. Sounds dull to me, but if that'll get her interested and engaged in this trip, then let's go. And wouldn't you know it, I probably had more fun up there than she did. More on that later. For now, let's start with Day 1.

We arrived in Mackinaw (pronounced just like it's spelled) City early in the afternoon and checked into our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express. After dropping our bags off we walked across the street to Mackinaw Pastie and Cookie Co. for a quick lunch. It was aight. If you're in that part of town, need food in your stomach quickly, and want to eat a pasty (pronounced "past-y", not "paste-y") just for the sake of saying you've sampled this traditional northern Michigan staple, then go here. If you're a purist who wants "the real deal", whatever that is, you should probably go somewhere else.

The hotel receptionist had given us a map of the city and recommended Shepler's as the best way to get to and from Mackinac (pronounced just like Mackinaw) Island. So from lunch we walked through the downtown area to Shepler's Ferry, where we purchased two-day round trip passes for $41 each. You'll find that Shepler's is very much about efficiency and convenience, with boats leaving from the city and the island every 15-30 minutes depending on the time of day. The boat that Ma and I boarded and went way faster than we'd anticipated; the ride was so much fun! Flying by Mackinaw Bridge, with the boat bobbing as wind and sea spray slap you in the face; it was like being on a water ride at an amusement park! We made it to the Mackinac Island in 15 minutes or so.

For for the first day we just wanted to see and get acquainted with the island, so we'd planned to walk around the whole thing by following America's only car-free state highway, M-185. This was the best but not the brightest idea, which I'll explain shortly. Let me say first that I was somewhat put-off when we stepped onto Main Street and looked around because, well. I have this thing where places that are too clean, too quiet, too organized, just too perfect, make me nervous. For some reason those places don't feel real to me, and they give me great unease. Mackinac Island is one of those frighteningly "perfect" places. But I had to remind myself that, Hey, we're here on vacation, let's keep it moving. We walked down one way and stared at Marquette Park for a bit before getting a map from the visitors center, buying some water at Doud's Market to sustain us, and setting off on what was supposed to be our 8-mile adventure at around 5:30pm.

We didn't cover much ground within the first two hours because we were walking leisurely admiring our surroundings, and then we had an approximately 20-minute stop where Ma waited for me while I climbed up the 207 steps to see Arch Rock and nearly lost my mind at the magnificent view of Lake Huron from up there. By the time we began walking in earnest, it was already 7pm and we'd only reached mile 2. Ma insisted on turning around, which ended up being for the best. I don't know what I was on, but somehow I took her misgivings as a personal challenge to me. I thought that by saying "we" wouldn't make it around before the last boat left the island, she was underestimating me personally, and I was determined to prove her wrong. So in a huff I told her "Bye" and kept going.

And it did my soul so much good! Once you get past the areas with heavy traffic, it's just you, the road, the rocks and sand of the beach, the water, and the sun. The forest hiding dozens of towering homes on one side of you, and the clearest, bluest of blue waves of Lake Huron on the other. Some of the most stunning sights that I've ever seen. You could easily find a quiet spot to sit and stare out at the lake, be alone with God and your thoughts as people pass by on their bicycles. Of course nature was just doing what it does and I just happened to be there, but I derived so much peace from simply looking around and listening to the waves as I journeyed on. With a few stops to rest, one holdup where I was put in my place by a father goose who thought I was getting too close to his flock during feeding time, and slowing down from fatigue toward the end, I made it back to the ferry shortly after 9:30. Basically I did 8 miles in about 4 hours, though it felt a lot longer than that while I was in the act.

Seriously, though. As beautiful as everything was, I have to make this clear. That was the absolute longest walk of my life. When I was done, everything hurt. The soles of my feet, my lower back, my right hip, the backs of my calves and my knees, and my head were talking to me the most. But I regretted nothing. Just make sure you have some endurance and a good pair of walking or running shoes (mine failed me, so I know) before you try walking the island as opposed to biking it. Do some stretches or something beforehand.

Ma had been waiting for me that whole time, and we caught a boat back to the island together. From Shepler's we rode a shuttle back to the hotel, which was driven by an energetic older husband and wife team (he drives, she keeps him company) from Ohio. They'd visited Mackinac/Mackinaw so often over the years and came to love it so much that they decided to move there, and now they spend their working hours welcoming people to the area and sharing their enthusiasm with their passengers. It was more engaging than your typical shuttle ride, that's for sure. I only wish I would've remembered their names. Since neither Ma nor I had eaten in hours, once at the hotel we hopped in the car to head back downtown for some food. Oreilly's Irish Pub was one of the few establishments still open at that time, which was around 10:30pm. Google told me that the place closed at 2am, but didn't tell me that the kitchen actually closed at 11pm. So we arrived just in time to sit and rush to order something. Ma got a burger and I got their poutine topped with pulled pork. I haven't tried la poutine québécoise yet so I'm not sure that what I had measured up to the original, but it was delicious. Fries, gravy, little cheese curds, and pulled pork with a glass of ginger ale make such a satisfyingly unhealthy combination at night on a long-empty stomach!


NacNaw photos

Saturday, July 9, 2016

What to Do When Your Dog Dies in the Middle of the Night

I hope this is helpful.

1) Call a vet.
Doesn't have to be your vet. Call any veterinary facility that happens to be open at that time. Tell them that you don't know what to do, and ask them who you should call and what you should do with the body. I called Oakland Veterinary Referral Services, a 24-hour animal hospital near me, and the kind woman who answered the phone offered to arrange cremation services for me. But then I would've had to transport Madison's body there all by myself (I could take a sick day but on this particular day Ma couldn't), and there was no way I was touching that body, much less moving it. So I thanked her kindly, hung up the phone, did some quick research and opted to contact a local pet cremation service directly.

2) Call that auntie (you know which one) and ask her to pray for you. 
I called my Aunt Fay and she prayed with me over the phone. Didn't fuss at me about how early or late it was either.

3) Sit. Wait. Cry.
It was still only 5:30am by the time I'd made those first calls, so all I could do was sit on the couch adjacent to Madison's body and wait. I had to wait until 8am to call the cremation service. Ma had to wait until 9am to inform our vet (which she didn't end up doing until the next day anyway). And I knew my supervisor didn't usually make it to work until 9:30am, so as a courtesy I waited until 9am to call and tell him that I needed to not be there today.

4) Take a shower and put on clean clothes.
Especially if you're the self-neglecting type when you get really stressed out or bogged down. Give yourself a chance to have some sort of fresh start today.

5) Make a few more phone calls.
See the the aforementioned under 3).

6) Sit. Wait. Cry some more.
Sit on the couch and watch TV, scroll through Facebook, watch YouTube videos. Cry. Make some tea and pick up a book. Cry. Get one of the lawn chairs from the basement, sit outside on the front porch with your book and your phone and your tea. Cry. Look at creation. Cry. Listen to birds chirping and children playing. Cry. Just try to avoid sulking, you already know you're good at that and you don't need to revisit that right now.

7) Let cremation services do what they do.
Drivers from Faithful Companion pulled up at around 9:45am. Two very patient men. They asked me my preferences, explained that my dog would be treated with the utmost dignity, efficiency and care, explained when and how I would get her remains back. Took my credit card info, gave me my receipt, gently lifted and lowered Madison and all her blankets into a lined cardboard box just her size. (I couldn't bring myself to touch the medium-sized mass of blankets to bid farewell, but I watched them put her in the box because I felt I needed to. You might not, though. Her nose, tail, and hind paws peeked out from under her covering and I remarked silently how unnaturally still she was.) They expressed their condolences, carried her out, loaded her in the back of the car, and drove away. (I watched all of this too).

8) Cry.
Because you saw the car drive away and finally realized that you're never going to see your dog again. Call your mom to update her. Think and talk about how you don't want to feel feelings right now. Feel them anyway. Cry.

9) Cope.
Do a few things that make you feel somewhat normal. Me personally, I made announcements on Facebook and Instagram so my friends and loved ones could be informed. Then I sat down to write a eulogy and this post. Then I tried to take a break from crying because my head was killing me and I didn't want to make myself sick. (Cry too hard, head hurts too much, headache triggers nausea, nausea and headache intensify at the same time until it's nearly unbearable, vomit only once hopefully, fall asleep and feel better. That's usually how my body reacts when I'm extremely and uncontrollably upset. Wasn't trying to go through all that today.) Ate some toast and a peach. Drank more tea. Went to Panera for soup and quiet reading time, which inadvertently turned into quiet crying time so I left. Came back home.

10) Go to the movies.
Or do anything else seemingly incongruent with the time at hand to take your mind off of things. I went with Ma to see The Secret Life of Pets, which I'd at first preemptively decided not to see because I knew that there was an elderly basset hound character in that film who used wheels for hind legs. I hadn't wanted to see that and feel sad about Madison, my own basset hound, aging. But Madison's not aging anymore, so. Might as well. It was just aight.

11) Next day: go back to work.
Take a shower, maybe cry while you're in there. Then go. Engage with as many or as few people as you can handle. If you're not the office social butterfly anyway, then this may not even be a problem. No one knew about what happened besides my supervisor, my supervisor's boss, and a former high school classmate who also works at my office. Ma told me to use the work as a distraction, which I did. I managed to cry only one time, after said former classmate presented me with a token of condolences from her and her mom.

12) Call your vet and try to get some answers.
Or have someone else do it. Ma called me while I was at work to let me know she spoke to the staff members who were working over the July 4th weekend (might be worth noting that she didn't tell them that Madison had died). Apparently Madison was her usual self all weekend, was picky about when she decided to eat but hadn't in fact gone all weekend without eating. Going by what they said, her health probably deteriorated rapidly between Monday and Wednesday.

13) Go home.
Thank the Lord for the weekend and only having to put up a front for one day so far. Maybe start thinking about your dog again and dread going home because you know that no one will be there tripping over themselves to greet you at the door. Maybe cry.

 14) Clean. Wait. Cry.
Clear off one of the side tables in the living room in order to set up a simple memorial for your dog. Cry. Wait for cremation services to deliver the urn with her remains in it (or "cremains", learned a new word today). Take the urn, thank the nice people, set it in the middle of that table. Sit in front of the table, stare at the urn and the photos of your dog that you set up. Cry. Hold the urn in your arms. Cry. Put the urn back. Get up from the floor and try to do something else with your evening.

For anyone who's curious, Faithful Companion charged me $285 for private cremation of my dog. A hard plastic urn was included in this option, but I wanted to do better by Madison than that, so I ordered a gold-painted metal (steel? brass?) urn and had it engraved. That cost another $130 (no additional cost for engraving), which was actually one of the cheaper urn options. So to have my dog's body picked up, cremated, and have her remains returned to me in a nice but simple urn within 36 hours, it cost me $415. Which, if you're familiar with buying dog food or paying vet bills, isn't absurd. Way less expensive than I'd thought it would be, anyway. I would also like to add that everyone from FC with whom I spoke on the phone or encountered in person was exceptionally kind, informative, and gracious.

15) Call it a night.
Take advantage of whatever kindness that your loved ones offer. In this case, Ma uncharacteristically let me lay on her bed with her while watching a documentary that we both fell asleep on fairly quickly. Before you fall asleep, remind yourself that you did all you could. You did all you could. You did all you could. And you and your dog gave each other a really great life.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Eulogy for an Old Dog

Yesterday, sometime between midnight and 4am, I lost my oldest friend.

My dog died.

Favorite recent picture of her
Last Thursday, Ma dropped Madison off at the vet for boarding and she was as fine as could be considering her age. Not moving quite as fast as she used to, a little hard of hearing, recently acquired minor ear and eye infections that were on the mend. Friday to Tuesday we were on vacation up north. This Wednesday Ma brought Madison home, and she looked terrible. Incredibly weak, obviously had lost a significant amount of weight, ear infection still going, eye infection so bad that I had to keep gently fishing goop out of her eyelids in between administering eye drops, not eating or even drinking water, breathing really hard through her nose, refusing (or unable?) to even open her mouth. But she still insisted on moving around, though her balance was unsteady and she progressed at a snail's pace. By nightfall she still wasn't eating or drinking despite numerous attempts. At this point she couldn't even move around; she'd try to get up but her back legs wouldn't follow her front's lead, so every effort to stand up resulted in her falling over. On top of all that she was sighing, groaning, whimpering, and even slightly yelping throughout the night. Out of pain and discomfort undoubtedly, but also probably out of frustration at wanting to move but not being able to.

I did my best to slide a pillow and a couple blankets under her, hoping that this would comfort her enough to get her to rest and then I'd see about taking additional measures in the morning. I laid down on the couch that she'd settled behind so I could be close by, and she was still vocalizing her pain and discomfort when I fell asleep. I woke up to pee at round 4 in the morning, and I noticed she was silent. And still. And not breathing. I waited for Ma to get up for work to confirm it, and then she laid a blanket over Madison and I made all the calls I needed to make. Pet cremation services came later that morning to take her away.

Our last pic together
I'm realizing now that a lot of things have happened in the past week that were preparing me to let her go, though I hadn't known it. Last Tuesday June 28th was her 13th birthday. I gave her love rubs all over and fed her a special doggie bagel, and was just so delighted that we'd been able to spend more years together than I'd ever imagined. I was grateful. During a meeting this Wednesday the 6th, as a team-building exercise my department had compiled photos and descriptions for each person's pet or favorite animal and made a game of matching the co-worker to the animal. I relished sitting as someone read my submission aloud, while I silently read the presentation slide and the hard copy in front of me, beaming internally as everyone "aww"ed at my dog's cuteness. I was proud. Later that evening when I came home, I was shocked and confounded as to why Madison had been returned to us in the condition that she was in. I wondered hotly, if the staff at the vet's office noticed what bad shape she was in, why didn't they keep her for treatment instead of sending her home? But then I remembered that I'd absentmindedly forgotten to bid her my usual pre-boarding "see you later" before Ma had dropped her off. The way things worked out, Madison got to pass at home with me instead of alone at the vet. And while I didn't get to witness her last breath or say goodbye, I was able to look after her during the majority of her last few hours of life. Besides, whether someone there dropped the ball or not, she's not coming back. I won't dwell on it. Given how long she lived, it was probably just her time to go.

Additionally, the night of this Tuesday the 5th I read a Bible passage that proved eerily pertinent to what happened yesterday morning. I was reading in 2 Samuel 12 about how David dealt with the death of his lovechild with Bathsheba. The child fell ill, and for a week he spent day in and day out on the ground weeping, pleading with God, and fasting.The child died, and immediately after David found out, he got up, cleaned himself up, and worshipped the Lord. When his servants asked him why the sudden change, he replied (I'm paraphrasing greatly here), "I did what I could, but the child is gone. I know that I'll meet him again, and I recognize that God is sovereign. So for now, I'll just praise Him and do what I can to move forward" (2 Samuel 12:15-23). I read that story and felt convicted, writing in my notes to myself, Will you worship even when God takes away?

And then in the wee hours of the next night, Madison left me for good.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. In all things, God is good. That's what I told myself as I sat with her Wednesday evening, and that's what I'm telling myself now. I'm thankful to be able to say that though I am saddened and hurting beyond what words can express, there is no bitterness in my heart in regard to her absence.

Last pic of her, hours before she died
I know it may seem silly to be this upset over a dog, but you have to understand. I've had Madison from age 10 to age 23. Imagine who you were fresh out of 4th grade versus who you were fresh out of college. Then imagine having the same best friend that whole time during all those changes, always ecstatic to see you, always by your side, never letting you out of her sight. Someone who made you feel like you were worth having around. All she wanted in return was food, space outside to roam around and sunbathe, and cuddles. And then imagine that best friend suddenly not being around anymore, and you never get to see her again. Madison came into my life at a time where, despite my young age, I was going through a lot and didn't want to live anymore. And she made everything better just by being there. Even in her old age when she was snoozing most of the time and farting like it was her job, her presence was a great source of comfort and reassurance to me. She taught me what it means to be openhearted. She taught me what unwavering trust is. She taught me that love and loyalty are an old dog.

So in closing, I'll write what I've already written elsewhere. Y'all, please pray for me. To my sweet old lady pup, thank you for letting me be your person for so long. I love you, mama. Rest in peace.

(Madison. 28 June 2003 - 7 July 2016.)