Tag Archives: dogs

AND THE REST IS MYSTERY

Souvenir of True Friendship

I’d nicknamed her AK-57 for the year she was born, a moniker that wasn’t lost on Amanda Kyle Williams who fostered an irreverent, self-deprecating sense of humor about herself, the world at large and, oh yeah, serial killers.

We were wired (as I believe everyone is) through happenstance.

In 2012, I was asked by a mutual friend to add my name to a list of those vying for a chance to win a free copy of her recently released hit novel, The Stranger You Seek, even though I’m an irremediable romantic who avoids most media pertaining to violence. In fact, I’d never read a mystery — not even In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, whose other written works are all favorites of mine.

So, I was a tad taken aback when Amanda friended me on Facebook to say I’d won a copy of her novel and asked me to provide shipping information to Bantam Books.

I immediately confessed to my disinterest in reading mysteries — but ended up agreeing to making her the one exception to my rule after learning we had more than wordsmithing in common. Big things, like our love for animals, rescuing dogs, and the feeding of feral cats. Little things, like the linoleum of her entryway being the identical pattern to that on the kitchen floor of the first apartment I’d ever leased. And other things, like how she’d signed with the same literary agency that rejected my query, we both had a Pekingese named Bella, we’d both been private detectives, and we each had a cat that threatened us within an inch of our toes and nose on a daily basis.

She’d requested my brutally honest opinion of her book, so I gave it: No, her account of Atlanta didn’t make me want to visit . Yes, her description of the Carolina coast tempted me to move there. I’d warned her that I prided myself in using my chess expertise to predict plots ahead of endings. She humbled me by proving I hadn’t a clue as to who the killer in Stranger was until being astounded during the final pages.

But our lives were seldom similar otherwise. She had difficulty reading because of dyslexia; I am a voracious reader without afflictions. She lost a parent at a young age following her mother’s slow decline. My mom passed instantly as I turned sixty. The love of her life succumbed to a malignancy after their twenty years together. My love affair still flourishes at nearly fifty.

Yet we both understood how it felt to lose a cherished sibling after providing steadfast care during their inevitable demise, just as we both knew my combat against heart failure is pure child’s play compared to her valiant fight against cancer  — truly, life’s most insidious serial killer.

Amanda Kyle Williams lost her battle on Friday morning, August 31st, two weeks after turning 61.

And, although we never actually met face-to-face, eye-to-eye, shoulder-to-shoulder, or toe-to-toe, we existed as tongue-in-cheek and heart-to-heart kindred spirits for six remarkable years.

Losing her saddens me.

Deeply.
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist, author, and animal rescue activist.
And The Rest Is Mystery © 9.2.18
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Crying Girl and her Doll

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Happy-Dance Occurrences

Swift's Pride Soap

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I NEVER LEAVE MY FINGERPRINTS on any surface other than pants and shirts, not necessarily my own. Call it obsessive compulsive disorder (because that’s what it is), expediency is key to me cleaning my hands. If something foreign gets on one, anyone standing near me can expect a spontaneous pat on the back.
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A compulsion to keep my hands clean has been with me since kindergarten when I refused to finger-paint without a brush. Chaos erupted when all the kids wanted one. It christened ‘fastidious’ as my Star of David to bear (personally and professionally) ever since.
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As an art and antiques columnist for a string of east coast trade papers during the late 70’s and early 80’s, I was commissioned to do an article on 19th century Commonplace Books. These oversize tomes were maintained by women in lieu of journals, decorated with pressed flowers, calling cards, idioms, autographs, photographs, news clippings, and exquisite chromolithographed die-cuts of animals, birds, bouquets, angels, hands, hearts and holiday images — no doubt the forerunner to modern day scrapbooking.
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In hopes of gaining a personal perspective, I tried keeping a Commonplace Book, but failed miserably. At the time I claimed it was because I feared damaging the vintage die-cuts I’d collected. But truth be told? Elmer’s Glue-All did me in.
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After several frustrating attempts, an editor suggested I settle for substituting one daily commonplace occurrence of joy, instead. I never actually completed the assignment, but I am still keeping the book.
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These are randomly selected happy-dance (commonplace) occurrences.
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May 9, 1976
Elizabeth’s mother doesn’t drink alcohol. She said it makes her elbows weak.
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February 20, 1983
Mom recounted her search to update her wardrobe today. “I saw a dress and the tag was $700.00, and I said to Jesus — did you see that?”
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April 20, 1985
On the way home from Hartford after midnight, it was pitch black overcast and we were lost. I insisted we stop at a closed down, boarded up gas station on a tiny triangle of land in the middle of a forked road so I could locate the North Star (which, it turned out, I couldn’t find if it was sitting on my nose). But wouldn’t you know, there I was, standing on top of our VW Bus — bothering no one by the way! — when a cop car pulls up, lights flashing, sirens screaming, and an officer gets out to ask me what I was doing. “I’m looking for the north star so I can get back to New York before sunrise,” I condescended. He calmly pointed the beam of his flashlight to a sign indicating we were five feet from the entrance to I-84.
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March 30, 1991
Working as a team we simultaneously set off all the talking and musical stuffed toys on display at Walgreens tonight. (Some came running.)
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September 22, 1996
It’s Sunday and still pouring sheets of rain, as it was when we went to pick up the papers and I spotted a poor old dog lying hurt in the gutter at the edge of the Methodist church parking lot. It enraged me! The mere thought that, even though the parking lot was packed with worshiper’s cars, there wasn’t an indication anyone had stopped to help that poor dog. I loudly denounced the depraved indifference of people in general (and this group in particular) as I jumped out into the deluge, only to discover the dog was dead and drown to boot. I make no apologies for the blubbering that overcame me as I dialed 911. They promised to send an officer immediately. In the interim, we dashed home (4 blocks) to get a clean, dry burial blanket to wrap the dog in, and returned just as animal control pulled up. After conversing briefly with the officer — a kind and sympathetic man who recognized (even through the blinding rain) how distraught I was. I gave him the blanket before I kneeled down into wastewater and petted the mongrel, apologizing for the cruelty of mankind, and blessing it’s soul and spirit, asking that I might be the best of it. Between sobbing and the downpour I was pretty much waterlogged by then, making it a struggle to get up before motioning to the officer that it was time. As he leaned over to drape the blanket, the mutt jumped up and ran away.
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June 19, 2000
Before heading back to Michigan today, my mom hung a pair of her underwear on the pink room’s doorknob to dry, along with specific instructions. “Leave them there because I have plenty of panties at home and I’ll know right where to find them on my next visit.”
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December 22, 2003
Elizabeth spent an hour tonight making me a gift by putting 3 pieces of rounded wood together with staples, tape, string, nails, and no logic whatsoever. To her finished “triangle tree” she wound some gold yarn, spacing it here and there in an attempt to create goddess-only-knows-what. It was touching to watch her engaged in earnest endeavor. Tiny tributes to the endurance of love are cemented within stolen moments such as these.
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Okay, I guess there’s no sense in my trying to deny it.
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These tidbits have my fingerprints all over them.
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# # #
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist, author, and animal rescue activist.
Happy-Dance Occurrences © 6.3.18
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I value your opinion and appreciate you for sharing this essay with others. Please select LEAVE A REPLY by clicking below the headline to express your thoughts on this post.
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IMOGENE’S ELOISE : Inspired by a true story by Marguerite Quantaine is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.  PLEASE DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK before selecting the Look Inside option over the cover illustration to read the first few chapters for FREE.
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MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK by Marguerite Quantaine is due for release all of a sudden on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

 

A LOVE NOTE IN PASSING

Buzzbee Buzzcut

Buzzbee Buzzcut


From the moment she was born, everything was wrong and everything was right about Buzzbee Buzzcut.

Her mother, Yoko Oh-NO-O-O, was a Corgi chained to a stump in a neighbors backyard, left out in all kinds of weather, inclement and otherwise. On the sly, we freed Yoko of incarceration weekdays (while the owners were at work from 7 until 7) so she could accompany us in walks around the neighborhood and romps with our Schnauzer mix, Oliver, a one-time forager for Yoko that the neighbors chased out of their garbage can. Oliver led us to Yoko after we rescued him.

But on the night of January 11, 2000, the lights were bright in the neighbor’s house and the family was home, ignoring the howls of Yoko, trembling in the dark, bitter cold — pleading for mercy.

Naturally, we stole her.

We made her a bed in our garage out of a threadbare, king size, goose down comforter, arranged on an egg crate mattress near a 1500 watt, forced heat, Franklin stove heater sporting fake logs burning behind a glass window. Before retiring, we promised her we’d keep her at any cost. We left her food, water, dog biscuits, access to the outside dog run attached to the house, and a feral cat to keep her company.

The next morning she rewarded us with eight puppies.

Three of the pups hadn’t survived, but of the five that did, we found a home for Ethel after nine weeks — then cried our eyes dry and swollen for two days before deciding to keep the remaining four: Alice, Chin-Chin, Buzzbee, and Sparky.

Of the four, only Buzz was ridden with benign tumors the size of golf balls bulging out of her coat, tags hanging from every leg, perpetually leaking-crusty eyes that soon went blind, and allergies to all forms of commercial canine food, leaving her bald from the middle of her back to the tip of her tail. Her heart and ears were too big, her lungs and paws were too small, and the vet wrote her off as most likely to die before her first birthday.

But Buzz displayed a natural ability to adapt, an abundance of love, infinite devotion, and spunk. While the other puppies thrived, she endured all that plagued her with grace. She was happy, attentive, loyal and ever grateful. She never whined, cried, or barked (except at strangers walking by the house). She never growled. She never disobeyed. She never made a mistake in the house.

Counting Oliver, Yoko Oh-No-o-o, Tinkerbell (our Pekingese) and Blue 2 (our Golden Retriever), we’d grown to an eight dog household over night.

But by 2011, all except Sparky and Buzzbee had passed.

On May 1st we lost Buzz. She left us peacefully, in her sleep, at 15 years, 3 months, 19 days.

Each tear now shed is laced with immeasurable gratitude. She was a fine, fine friend that lived an exemplary life of gentle courage, providing us with purpose and genuine joy.

We bless her spirit and her soul
and ask only that we strive to always be
the best of both.

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by Marguerite Quantaine © 2015

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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.

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ONE INCOMPARABLE CHRISTMAS

There was this dog we loved and lost on Christmas morning, 1951.

The Clancy Christmas

It changed everything.

We lived in a clapboard farmhouse then, built a hundred years earlier and insulated with Civil War era newspapers layered between the rafters and floorboards. It was a rickety-rackety place that sweltered in the summer and shivered in the winter when no amount of coal heaved into the basement furnace could sufficiently heat the cast iron radiators, or warm the boiler of bath water. The windows rasped with the wind, the floors creaked with the rain and the back door flew open unexpectedly.

“It’s just a spirit visiting,” mom would say, having given up on getting my father to replace the antiquated latch.

We were born in that house; three brothers, two sisters and I. Our childhood was spent clamoring up and down its winding stairs, playing board games on its covered porch, wishing on the first seen stars in the night sky from its roof, and never suspecting life would be any different than it was each day we were living it.

Advertised as a White Elephant for three thousand dollars with nothing down, my folks bought the house because it was the only place they could afford. Ours was a life of necessities: three meals a day, twice removed hand-me-downs, a block ice icebox, a single extension phone, broomstick horses, pillowcase capes, corrugated carton sleds and summer vacations camping in a W.W.II army surplus tent at state parks where mom boiled coffee and cooked meals over an open flame while we faux-fished with safety pins tied to kite string, scouted butterflies and floated on boats made from inner tubes wrapped in clotheslines to resemble canoes.

They were wondrous years made better by the presence of a ninth member of our family adopted on the morning of my birth. Her name was Clancy. She was our family dog.

“It’s written,” said my mother, “that the original Irish setter wasn’t the pure mahogany color we see now, but a burnished red with a snow white bib and matching diamond set in the center of its head.” Clancy was born with both and – even though we boasted about the markings of her ancient pedigree – we secretly believed she possessed the heart of an angel.

Clancy was our comrade and confidante. She accompanied us on errands and watched over us when chores needed doing. She got us to school on time and waited there to greet us at the end of each day. When we ate she sat near the table. When we bathed she stood near the tub.

When we read she rested her head at our feet. When we played she kept watch over our safety. Games were intensified by her barking approval, birthdays were celebrated with her howling accompaniment, sorrows were soothed by the gentle touch of her cold nose on salt-streaked cheeks and many a bitter winter night was made warm by her body filling the cold void at the bottom of one of our beds.

But my best memory of Clancy is of the Christmas morning in 1951 when we awoke to find her gone.

• • •

A fortnight before my father made his instructions clear. “Each of you is to make a list of everything you want for Christmas.”

“Everything?” I asked, eyes wide with surprise.

“What did I just say?”

I winced. My father was a disciplinarian who expected to be obeyed without question. That wasn’t hard, since he worked eighty miles away and often forgot to check for compliance whenever he came home on alternate weekends.

“Everything,” he reiterated, “no matter how ridiculous. Is that clear?” He stood glaring at our frozen forms before taking a Chesterfield from it’s crumple-pack, lighting it, removing a stray tobacco bit from the tip of his tongue and continuing on. “In one week you’ll each give me your list in an envelope with your name on it and I’ll mail them. Dismissed.”

My mom was as affectionate as my father was aloof. It was she who encouraged us to always make amends after arguments and share our few possessions.

“You six are the only people on earth you’ll ever know your entire lifetime,” she’d remind us. “Cherish that.”

What began with cooperative glee quickly turned into the drudgery of pencil shavings, eraser residue, wadded-up paper and the sweet smell of spent crayons. Each night before bedtime we’d meet to exchange ideas, promising no duplicates would be recorded and agreeing that the first person to list an item would own it and regulate borrowing times.

“It’s the perfect plan for maximizing returns,” the eldest of us assured.

“Who’s Max?” I asked.

“Just do as you’re told!” he demanded, knowing I rarely did.

During our final review of lists I noticed my brother Kit had added a P.S. to his. “Dear Santa Claus,” he wrote, “I’m tired of sharing Clancy. Please bring me a puppy.”

Certain I was the only sibling who felt the same, I promptly drew a puppy on my list.

The next morning our signed letters in sealed envelopes were handed over. As we stood at attention accepting praise from my father for this mission accomplished, none of us knew that each of us copied the request for a puppy originated by Kit.

• • •

Every Christmas Eve Clancy accompanied us on our journey to find the sweet smelling blue spruce my father had tagged in a tree camp, chop it down with a Boy Scout axe, tie it to the roof of our maroon Ford station wagon and cart it home for trimming to the sound of carols playing on the Victrola and the comfort of Big Top peanut butter on toast dunked in mugs of Ovaltine. The trips were always cold and cramped and ripe for disagreement, but especially so that year when the predicted ‘light flurries’ became a heavier downfall. Even Clancy was agitated. She wailed with the whipping wind all the way home.

Tree trimming included hanging aluminum-hinged Shiny Brite glass ornaments, thumb thick multicolored Royalites, peppermint canes, silver tinsel and a garland of popcorn and cranberries draped under a white plastic angel with spun glass hair and a die-cut skirt of stars that glowed from a small yellow bulb tucked inside.

That angel was near and dear to my mom. Each year she watched my father teeter on a chair to place it on the treetop, signaling our time for bed. On the way upstairs we’d stop at our red brick cardboard fireplace to thumbtack our stockings to its flimsy black mantle where mom had balanced a glass of milk, molasses cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer.

Even though Clancy scratched at each of our bedroom doors, no love would jump onto our beds to guard our hearts that fateful night. We all ignored her pleas by forgetting her faithfulness, preferring the promise of a puppy.

• • •

A blizzard engulfed the house while we slept. The weight of its drifts barricaded the downstairs windows and forced open the back door.

Most mornings, the first boy up would check the fire in the furnace and shovel in more coal as needed. By the time he finished, the gas stove would be warming the kitchen and momma would have oatmeal ready to quell our chant, “Food for the inner-man!”

But that Christmas morning was different.

We six awoke and sprang from our beds as one, fueled by anticipation and oblivious to the unusual cold as we felt our way down the darkened stairs, huddling close until Kit flipped the switch turning on the overhead globe and illuminating a living room piled high with gifts.

There were bikes and baseball mitts, sleds and skates, trumpets and teddy bears, dolls and drums, trains and planes, chemistry sets and butterfly nets, kites and cowboy hats, battery operated cars and trucks, books and balls, and clothes and caps arranged around our very first television set!

It was as if all my wishes on first seen stars had been granted in one felt swoop and – by possession of them – I’d never again enjoy the luxury of wishful thinking.

My siblings sensed it, too. Somehow we knew we’d committed the crime of excess; having everything we’d ever imagined as glorious within our reach. And yet – instead of joy – we felt a collective emptiness.

“Where’s Clancy?” I wondered aloud, not noticing the absence of puppies. Twelve eyes darted in six directions.

“Here Clancy, here girl,” Kit called out, whistling for her to come. We joined him in calling her. “Come, Clancy. Come!”

“She’s gone,” my father declared, already dressed to leave the house through a second floor window, hoping to spot a sign of her from the porch rooftop. “She got out the kitchen door last night and was caught in the blizzard. She couldn’t get back.”

“It’s my fault,” I blurted, my lips curled and quivering with regret. “I asked Santa for a puppy. That’s why Clancy ran away. Oh momma,” I blubbered, burying my face in her lap, “I didn’t mean to do it.”

Kit immediately confessed to asking for a puppy, too. And then, one by one, the others exposed what proved to be our family folly.

Momma comforted us as best she could while watching the day die in our eyes. It was more hurt than she could bear.

“Kit,” she urged, “check the bin to see if we have enough coal to last. It could be days before we get dug out of here and no telling of what’s going on with the neighbors until your father returns. Take your sister along. Let her help you.”

The steps to the cellar were thick-pitted pine, worn smooth on the edges from a century of use. I slid butt-to-step down them into the pitch black, whimpering, until seized by the sound of a soft, steady thumping.

“Is that the monster you said lives down here?” I whispered to Kit as he fumbled for the lights.

“I was just teasing about that,” he hushed back.

He grabbed my hand as the lone light from a hanging, 40 watt bulb flickered on, shedding a soft glow directly below it. And there, in its corrugated remains of the television box was our tail-wagging best friend, Clancy, proudly nursing her six newborn puppies.

• • •

By the time the puppies were weaned, we’d assured my folks we were happy to share our one red setter. But it wasn’t until the last of the litter was adopted that we realized we’d been promised and given everything we’d wanted for Christmas – yet none of us could recall what we’d gotten, except for those puppies that we gave away.

Nine years later Clancy died. We buried her in the back yard, her grave shaded by a pear tree my father planted when she, the tree, and I were all the same size.

Thirty years would pass before the pang of joy replaced the pain of loss and I adopted another Irish setter. She looked a lot like Clancy. She had the same white diamond on her head and white vest on her chest. She was as loyal and as loving and as totally trusting of me as Clancy was. I adored her in every way.

But somehow, come December there’d be those bittersweet moments when she’d remind me of a Christmas tree with only old ornaments and popcorn streamers, a cardboard fireplace with Orlon socks dangling, a hard plastic angel, six little kids and the joy of a solitary present to pine over.The Clancy Christmas

The holidays are – and will always be – a beautiful time of year.

A time I remember that giving is its own reward, sharing is the truest joy, and love is the greatest gift.

A time and a spirit likened to, but never quite the same as it was – as we were – that one incomparable Christmas.

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This freshly edited essay was first published in 1976 in The Antiquarian Magazine. Copyright by Marguerite Quantaine © 1976 & 2013.

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