On Friday, our family (my husband, his sister, his parents and I) said goodbye to the family patriarch, our dear old dog, Duncan. A real downer, I know, but he lived a long, good life.
A long, good life, I should mention, in spite of nine long years of neglect and abuse. When his rescuers found him, his fur was so matted he couldn’t walk. His fear of humans was so fierce, they had to sedate him. His body was so malnourished, he nearly starved to death.
You would think that a dog who has dealt with that measure of brutality would be irreversibly messed up, rightfully unwilling to trust another human being ever again. Not Duncan.
His is a story of hope. As Good as Gold [a rescue organization dedicated to golden retrievers] rescued him, rehabilitated him and found him a loving home with my in-laws. Aside from his desperate begging habit and distrust of children, his past was far removed from his present peace and happiness. Duncan turned out to be a friendly, quiet, cuddly companion that our family absolutely adored.
And then, after what seemed like 6 very short years, he became very ill and we had to put his tough old body to rest.
It happened so fast. Thursday, my husband spent the morning cuddling with him and playing tug-of-war. Friday, Duncan couldn’t eat, couldn’t walk, could barely lift his head to look Mom in the eye. A tumor had developed and grown to the size of a grapefruit in the 5 short months since his last visit to the vet until his body couldn’t handle it anymore. The arthritis in his back and hips would have made healing from an extensive surgery impossible. We decided to let him rest in peace instead.
The brevity and finality of it, the ache of the unexpected goodbye, the shock of suddenly being alone really really sucks.
And he was a dog. He was a member of our family, a dear old friend, but he was a dog. Having never lost a pet before, only people, this has been a strange grief for me to comprehend.
It hurts. In a separate, but all too familiar kind of pain, it hurts. We miss him. The soft tendrils of his fur between our fingers; the enthusiastic dash to the door with his big droopy eyes and swishing tail there to greet us, to tell us he’s happy we’re here; his cool, wet nose brushing our elbows as we sat at the dinner table; the warmth of his body next to ours on the couch; even the simple sense that we have someone outside of ourselves to care for, leaves an acute sense of loss.
Yet in the wake of his death, I’m not just struck by the void of his presence, but by the palpable reminder he gave us with his life: that hope, trust and redemption are real.
Maybe innocent animals are not as emotionally, mentally and spiritually complex as us humans… But then again, humans have a spectacular capability to complicate the most simple and fundamental truths in our lives.
Now, whenever I begin to lose my faith in change, in restoration, in redemption, I’ll remember the feather-soft fur beneath my fingers as a tangible truth:
Even after we’ve experienced the most degrading, abusive, dark moments of our lives, it is possible to uncover truth, restore trust, feel joy. It is possible to find love.
Rest well, old friend.
I don’t follow recipes well when cooking.
My method usually goes as such:
1. Look up several different recipes, compare and contrast.
2. List common ingredients and steps.
3. Ask: what can I do to make it my own?
4. Give it a go.
5. Take note of the missing flavors and textures; tweak it for next time.
This is the closest thing to a scientific experiment you’ll ever find me doing. Except that it’s definitely not scientific, nor is it proven fact. It’s just me and my independent streak. Today I made beef stew from scratch, plus no-yeast biscuits from scratch. (Note: the no-yeast part is important. I try to avoid finicky ingredients at all costs.)
To make the stew I looked at nearly a dozen different recipes. Most of them were very similar, so I wrote down the basics and then gave it a shot. With the biscuits I only found one recipe that had only the ingredients I already knew I had in possession. (Flour, milk, shortening, salt, baking powder.) When I began to knead the dough I realized it was too dry and added one egg white – the perfect glue!
As I worked on my dinner, which I planned to serve not just to myself and my husband, but to our friends who were coming over (eek!), I began to get nervous. What if it doesn’t turn out? What if the stew tastes bland and brothy? Did I put too many onions in it? What if the biscuits come out hard as rocks? Did I make enough food for everyone?… Why is it that I always decide to get gutsy and experimental when company is coming for dinner? You’d think I would stick with the easy and familiar instead of risking my culinary reputation over a desire to master the art of a beef stew on my first try.
Why didn’t I just make something I already know how to make? Good question. There are plenty of soup and stew recipes from my mom, aunts, grandmas, cousins and in-laws that I could have used instead of hodge-podging my own recipe. Why am I so damn independent?!
And yet. It’s not that I don’t love or trust their recipes. They’re like old friends, and a little like the people that handed them down to me : comforting, familiar, faithful, reliable, full of family quirks and personality. But the recipes aren’t my own. If you know me, then you’re probably nodding your head (Mom, Grammy, Aunt Bev?) “Recipes, schmecipes” – that’s me. As it turns out, my instincts were not off base.
My biscuits turned out soft and crumbly, very nearly like the correct texture and the flavor was light and buttery. For next time: use buttermilk instead of 2% and a few tablespoons less flour.
The stew turned out to be a soup, but the flavor was good. For next time: make sure the base of the soup is thicker. After browning the meat, add a tablespoon of butter and two tablespoons of flour to the meat drippings in the skillet. Heat and stir until thick and golden brown. Add a cup of beef broth to the mixture and stir thoroughly until it thickens. THEN add to the rest of the broth, plus the meat, veggies and herbs in the slow cooker.
And my life?
Instincts : good.
Foundation : solid.
Flavor : delicious.
Recipe : it’s a work in progress, but it’s my own.
The best part : I’m learning.