every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


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All Creatures Great and Small and Online

As open and loving and nurturing as my parents were, we never had any pets, which is probably just as well, because we couldn’t keep goldfish alive.  My only childhood experiences with dogs were a neighbor’s biting boxer that was kept on a chain and a little mutt that one of the neighborhood boys used to sic on me when I walked past his house.  (You know, boys are soooo mean!)

In dating The Veterinarian, I hit the weird pet jackpot.  His indulgent parents not only had a sweet collie, but they allowed him to keep snakes, turtles, rats, mice (guess what they were for), a tegu lizard, and a spider monkey that had been known to swing from the dining room chandelier.  His interest in veterinary medicine began when he was unable to find a doctor who could/would treat them.  I was eager to keep them all at arm’s length.

When we’d only been married for a week, without checking with me, my bridegroom took in a stray dog, a 14-pound Shetland Sheepdog.  I was completely freaked out and convinced that she was waiting for me to fall asleep so she could rip out my throat. Instead, she would sit at my feet, looking at me with a perpetually dazed expression in her enormous brown eyes and ripped out the arms of the loveseat that my mother-in-law loaned us.

In 1973, my young husband and a friend were accepted into veterinary school.  Spouses of the new students were invited to the “New Student Spouses Tea” at the home of the dean and his wife by the wives of the other deans and faculty members, a quaint custom that surely doesn’t happen in this 21st liberated century.  Most veterinary students are now women, and I doubt if any of their spouses/significant others are comfortable, not to mention willing, to sit on little, straight-backed chairs balancing delicate china and hot tea on their laps.  Unless they’re Downton Abbey fans, of course.

Late one afternoon, our friend’s wife and I drove over to the dean’s house together.  I was barely 21, the youngest woman there.  Many of the new students were veterans of Viet Nam, and some even had multiple children.  My friend’s husband was a Navy vet vet student [great alliteration, eh?].  Knowing none of the other women, we sat together as the presentation portion of the program began.

“We are all so happy to welcome our newest families,” Mrs. Dean began in her soft, southern drawl, always a classy sound way, way north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  “We want to get to know you better, so we’re going to go around the room and introduce ourselves. Please give your name, what you do, and tell us something about you that no one will forget.”

“What should I say?”  My friend whispered.

“I don’t know,” I replied, “but I’m going to tell them that I don’t like animals.”

“What???”  My friend’s eyes widened.  “You wouldn’t, would you?”

“Well, it’s the most memorable thing about me.”  Had there been an empty chair, she would have steered clear of me.  Guilt by association is always a painful thing.

We listened as the wwivves each described their admirable jobs as teachers, nurses, researchers, librarians, and managers, citing their interests in “knitting,” “being from Ohio,” “reading,” or “camping.”  Then, it was my turn.

“My name is Suzanne, and I have been married for less than a year.  I’m a full-time English major and just finished my junior year here at the university.” I very briefly hesitated, as if I were racking my feeble brain for a thought, “And…um… the most interesting thing I can tell you about me is that I don’t really much care for animals.”  I shrugged and crinkled my face in apology.

There was dead silence, a stunned “Did she really say that?” silence.  Then, there was polite laughter, and they moved on to the remaining women.  No one else launched a missile as explosive as “Gee, animal lovers, I don’t relate to animals,” but, as we stood to say our good-byes, women rushed over to ask me if I was serious.

“I didn’t grow up with pets and am very uncomfortable around them.  We have a dog, but I’m still not sure she’s not going to attack me at any moment.”

“Does she bite?”

“So far, just shoes.  And the sofa.  Her name is Fleurie.”

“What kind of dog, dear?” A faculty wife asked.

“A Sheltie,” I replied.

A Sheltie?”  There was more laughter.  “But Shelties don’t bite.  I thought you meant a Doberman.”

I shrugged.  My friend was standing off to one side looking mortified.  In fairness, my friend has put up with my nonsense for 42 years.  In fact, she, her Veterinarian, and I are going on vacation together next month.  But, I’ll tell you what.  No one ever forgot me, and, when the class graduated, I was awarded the “Outstanding Wife Award”, given by the Auxiliary to the American Veterinary Medical Association.  It’s a pretty little silver Revere bowl with my name engraved on it. They gave it to me because I wrote the class newsletter for three years, which is more than I get for writing this crappy blog.  I bet they don’t give the “Outstanding Wife Award” any more, either.

Veterinary medicine has been very, very, very good to me.  I’ve made hundreds of friends around the world, veterinarians, spouses, clients, and countless others in the veterinary industry.  I’ve also heard and seen the most disgusting things imaginable, usually during a fine meal in an expensive restaurant, with other diners staring, open-mouthed, in the background.  Veterinarians just can’t leave their work in the office.

Ever eaten lunch with a dead a cow?  I have.  Ever seen a dog whose owners, high on God-only-knows-what, tried to cut off its tail with a kitchen knife?  I have.  Ever seen an owl puke up a pellet?  I have.  Ever seen warbles wriggle under the skin of a rabbit?  I have.  Ever had a great blue heron try to spear your eyeball with its beak?  I have.  Ever seen an eight-foot long python relieve itself and fling it all over the exam room?  I have.  Ever had to throw a deranged woman out of your clinic because she wanted the doctor to collect semen from her vicious dog, who had just bitten the doctor before said activity could take place, so she could breed it to her even more vicious bitch?  I have, AND I tacked on a huge surcharge to her bill for bringing them in for such a stupid undertaking.  As the Veterinarian (who was not present during the visit) told her when she complained, “You have no business breeding these vicious dogs, and we’re not going to help you do it.”  Hard to know who the real bitch was.

The Daughter meets Hedwig in the clinic.

The Daughter meets Hedwig in the clinic. Hedwig recovered and was later released.

I’ve also held a bald eagle more than once (they’re surprisingly heavy), helped deliver puppies by C-section in the middle of the night (frequently), watched a dog’s heart beat in its open chest (more than once), seen many a joyous family reunited with a blocked cat they thought was a goner, and watched countless parrot chicks peck their way out a shell.  And how many brownie points can you earn by letting The Daughter hold one of your patients, a (sedated) real-life version of Harry Potter’s beloved snowy owl, Hedwig?  The poor thing had flown off course and ended up, malnourished, on a pier in Baltimore Harbor…the owl, that is.  The Daughter remains on course as of this writing.

DATE UPDATE: 

I’ve had some interesting conversations with a man I met online who teaches communication.  I actually invited him to read a good chunk of this blog, and he didn’t flinch!  As far as I can tell, he doesn’t think I’m insane.  I, on the other hand, am not so sure.  Read on.

Someone emailed me that he does “informal portrait photography as a hobby” and called my really tasteful profile photo “a terrific image.”  In his profile, he says that he enjoys “photographing freaks and hipsters at local festivals.”   Can’t he see that I’m “Outstanding Wife” material? Maybe he follows the blog.

The goofiest profile photo was of a garbage can with a duffle bag arranged over one side so that an American flag decal was displayed prominently.  In the lower right-hand corner, you can see what appears to be a man’s shoulder in a fluorescent green T-shirt and a human ear. That’s it.  No face. Maybe he should meet the portrait photographer.

Then, there’s a modest-looking man with a middle-aged woman wearing matching Hawaiian print shirts.  I don’t think it’s his mother.  Maybe she’s his daughter.  Maybe she’s his sister.  Maybe she’s his ex.  Who knows?  Who cares?  Sheesh.  If I have to ask…

The creepiest profile photo appears to be an 80-year old woman in an embroidered peasant blouse and the profile name “viciousprez.”  The written profile says he is 62 and a “widow/widower,” “athletic and toned,” last read “Holy Bible,” and “For Fun” he says, “I have two sides.”  Honey, that’s what bothers me.  In “Additional Photos,” he shows a couple shots of an attractive gray-haired man with his arms around the waist of a pretty blond and two more photos of the older lady.   I wrote, “All right, I have no sense and just have to ask.  What is going on in your profile?”  No one ever answers my emails, so I will probably never find out.  If I do, you’ll be the first to know.

But my absolute favorite was the photo of a 50-year old man who looked a lot like The Veterinarian did at 50.  I was stunned and took a closer look, not because in my wildest dreams do I think a 50-year old man would be interested in me, but because, in the selfie, taken behind the wheel of a car, my late husband’s doppelgänger is wearing a gold band on the third finger of his left hand.  I kid you not.  If I was braver, I would have saved the image and posted it here for all the world to see.  Maybe it is The Veterinarian’s doppelgänger, or more accurately, his zombie, because, certainly, a man who posts a selfie of himself wearing a wedding ring on a dating site is brainless.

A friend at church asked me if online dating is safe.  I told him much the same thing that I have written here and showed him a “like” that I had just received.  It showed a slight, obviously young (20-ish) man who described himself as a “54-year old former marine.”

“You can tell he’s a fake, right?”  I asked.  My friend was incredulous.

It’s time to update my own profile, I guess.  I’m going to polish up that tarnished Revere bowl and take a selfie of myself with it to prove that I’m certifiable.  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


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How I became a killer

It’s that time of year, again.  No, I’m not talking about back-to-school or hurricane season.  It’s that time when all cold-fearing creatures seek the dangerous shelter of my home.

Living in the woods, I have more than my share of things that creep, crawl, dart, and fly.  I have spiders large and furry enough to speak, roly-poly millipedes, and centipedes big enough to use for dust mops.  Ants in the spring.  Stinkbugs in May.  Beetles in June.  Mosquitoes in July.  Flies in August.  Crickets in September.  Mice in October, and the Second Coming of stinkbugs in November.  Snakes all the time.  According to Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season…a time to be born,” and, right now, they all are headed indoors for the winter, “…a time to die…and a time to kill…”

I hate the creepy crawlies.  There is not a single one that I would call “friend.”  I understand that they serve a purpose in God’s creation and/or the Cosmic Order of Things (take your pick, depending upon your religious preferences), but they serve no purpose in mine.

My heart still skips a beat when startled by an especially fearsome bug, but I was trained by the Veterinarian to remain calm.  As a young bride, renting an apartment on a farm, I shrieked loudly, and he came running.

“What is it?  Are you ok?”  I pointed to the wall where a spider was quietly crawling to the ceiling.

“That’s it?  A spider?”  He was incredulous.  “You gave me a heart attack.”

“Well, get it.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake.  It’s just a spider.”  He gently scooped it up in his hands and placed it outside the front door.  “Don’t do that again.”

“It scared me,” I protested.

“It’s not going to hurt you.  Just call me next time, but don’t shriek.  I thought you were hurt.”

So, for 39 years, whenever I saw an insect bigger than a pencil eraser, I called him.  Now, he’s gone, and I’m armed with my central vac and a can of Raid.  I swoop in with the vacuum, suck up the interlopers, and spritz Raid into the running hose.  Vacuum vengeance.  Clean and painless — for me.

During stinkbug season, I keep the vacuum curled up in the dining room, ready and waiting.  When I suck up a stinkbug (sometimes as many as a dozen a day), its little armored shell rattles in the vacuum hose as it spins its way down to the canister in the basement.  Ahhh…  I’m safe again.

It’s a little tougher with the snakes.  Yes, I have snakes, black, garter, king, and ring-necked.  As far as I can tell, they are all outside, but, occasionally, if I go into the crawl space to fetch a bottle of wine or check on the oil tank, I find the skins that they shed as they grow.

One of my resident black snakes

One of my resident black snakes

Also thanks to the Veterinarian, I learned not to fear them.  The first time that my Mother met him, he had a boa constrictor twined around one of his biceps and a ball python around the other.  It was “Back-to-School” night of our senior year in high school, and he stood about 10 feet from us.  He opened up his letter jacket to show us his friends.  My Mother managed to smile at him from a distance and mumble something like “Nice to meet you.”  Then, she turned her head to me with a crazy look that silently asked, “Are you out of your mind?”

43 years later, my Mother and I sat in my kitchen, watching a five-foot-long black snake work its way up the enormous red oak that sits outside my window.  Maybe it was the safety of the glass between us, but we weren’t at all frightened this time.

We were fascinated for 30 minutes by its maneuvering 15 feet straight up the tree, until, apparently, the effort became pointless, as the snake made a U-turn and headed back down, manipulating itself in the bark for support until it disappeared in the brush.

About a month ago, while relaxing on my deck with my Kindle and an icy adult beverage, I was horrified to see a six-foot-long black snake zoom past me, up the electric meter and siding, and disappear into the overhang of my roof.  He’d better be up there earning his keep, awaiting the mice that will soon be nesting for the winter.

Ah, yes, mice, those adorable little creatures pulling pumpkin carriages, driving roadsters, and preparing fancy French dinners.  In reality, they destroy Christmas ornaments, chew on wiring, shred toilet paper to make nests, and aren’t housebroken.

J'accuse!

J’accuse!

We once had a cat named Buddy who was a great mouser.  He learned to chase them into our walk-in shower and play with them at five o’clock in the morning, until I could rouse the Veterinarian or the Daughter to scoop them up and toss them outside.  If Buddy couldn’t find anyone home to show the invaders the door, he eventually would dispatch them, leaving their headless carcasses for us to trip over.  Buddy, too, has gone over the Rainbow Bridge or heaven or wherever, and left me to my own devices.

At first, I baited the cheapest wooden traps that I could find with peanut butter.  (Nothing worse than hearing that cruel “snap” in the middle of the night with a momentary feeling of guilt, followed by intense satisfaction and sound sleep.)  In the morning, I would approach the trap with a pair of barbecue tongs, carry it deeper into the woods, and toss the entire contraption into the brush.  This seemed expensive, so I bought clever little reusable plastic traps that you bait and cover, so that you never see the victim.  I carry the trap and its victim into the woods without the use of tongs, pull the release lever, and drop the little corpse into the trees without ever seeing it, and, presto!  The trap is ready for the next hapless mouse.

Two years ago, I had my exterior doors and siding replaced, securing the premises against invaders of the none, two- and multi-legged kind.  So far, the snakes stay out.  I plugged up a hole between the garage and mudroom with steel wool, which has kept out the mice.   Twice a year, I reluctantly spray insecticide around the perimeter of my house to dispel the pests that long to chew on the wood siding and the wasps that build nests in my light fixtures next to the doors.

I’m still trying to figure out how the stinkbugs get in, but the vacuum is at the ready.  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!