Sunday, February 2, 2014

Enjoy Every Sandwich

Three months have passed since that memorable weekend my wife and I spent with Henry before he got sick. That Saturday we took him to one of his favorite places: Garvies Point. He was in his glory. Neither of us knew at the time it would be his swan song. Less than two weeks later, he would lose his battle with cancer. Well, with the weather so unseasonably mild, I decided to go back and retrace our steps. It was bittersweet to say the least, but it gave me the chance to do some reminiscing.

Sometimes it's the little things that stand out most.  Like the time he went right up to one of my speakers in the den, lifted his leg and pissed on it. Right in front of me! Then he just trotted off down the hall into the kitchen, like nothing happened. I was stunned and speechless. I couldn't believe my eyes.

Henry was famous for doing things that often left you dumbfounded, apparently impervious to what he had just done. The word that best described him was oblivious. No matter the circumstance, you just shook your head in disbelief. You couldn't stay mad at him, no matter how much trouble he got into or how out to lunch he was.

Like the time he had been chasing a squirrel in the backyard and after a couple of minutes of running the length of the back fence several times, with the squirrel safely scampering on the top, mind you, he finally gave up the ghost, walked to the middle of the yard and laid down. That wasn't the strange part. What was strange was that the squirrel was right behind him staring at him. You could say he was mocking him, but Henry was completely clueless. Even when I yelled at him to turn around, he just ignored me, yawned and put his head down.

Of course the mischief he got into was the stuff of legend. He had a penchant for my wife's cherry tomato garden and he always managed to get into it, no matter how many barricades she put up. One day, I ran out onto the deck to yell at him to get out of the garden. It was too late. He had plucked a couple and was proudly holding them in his mouth as he pranced about in the yard. I wish I had my camera with me as he stopped to enjoy his little feast. Adorable didn't begin to describe it.

Then there were the moments he would start digging his way to China in the backyard and my wife and I would have to scrub him down in the kitchen sink. The worst was when it was raining outside. His paws would be filled with mud. The challenge was stopping him from traipsing it all over the house. Every time he got groomed, we'd have to watch him closely to make sure he didn't undo what took two hours of pain-staking work to accomplish. Imagine a baby all dressed up eating a bowl of cereal. Yeah, that was Henry.

As I've mentioned before, our cat Puffin was not terribly fond of Henry and never let an opportunity go by without making his feelings crystal clear. But there were moments when the two of them reached a certain détente. Puffin even managed to let his fur down now and then and play with Henry. Actually, it was more like teasing him. Henry would chase Puffin behind a piece of furniture while he barked incessantly for his "pal" to come out and play, his tail wagging a mile a second. Then, all of a sudden, this ball of black fur would leap out and jump over Henry. Talk about cat and mouse. Henry was always the cat.

But sometimes, Puffin didn't jump out. Sometimes he would just wait out Henry, which only made Henry that much more determined. The Christmas before last, my wife caught the two of them in such an exchange on her iPhone. It remains one of our favorite memories of the two of them.

Sometimes, though, Henry wasn't all that crazy about Puffin, especially when Puffin was laying in my wife's lap. Henry became so jealous, he did all he could do to wiggle his way between the two of them. It was hysterical looking at my wife surrounded by two pets competing for her lap. You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried. I actually have a picture of the three of them. Out of fear for my life, I have wisely decided not to post it. Trust me, it's a doozy.

But Henry always saved his "best" for when guests came over. Every time someone sat down, our faithful companion just couldn't resist coming up to them and (I swear I'm not making this up) humping their leg. You had to see it to believe it. It would always mortify the two of us. Of course, when he wasn't humping someone's leg, he would jump up and plant a slobbering kiss right on their mouth. No matter how many times we yelled at him, he remained undeterred. Thankfully, our guests were understanding.

Dinner time was always an adventure. I can count on one hand the number of times we managed to eat a whole meal without Henry demanding his "fair" share of grub. Anyone who has a two year old already knows the futility of saying "no." Imagine having to say that for nine plus years. Every time was the same. We'd sit down to eat and Henry would sit right beside us looking up and waiting. First came a whimper, then a bark, followed by a hailstorm of barks, until, finally, the "parents" relented and threw down a morsel or two or three or four. Sometimes, we'd just put down a whole plate and let him eat right off it. Wasn't it Bill Cosby who once said that parents weren't interested in justice, they wanted quiet? Truer words were never uttered. Henry had us trained but good.

And speaking of trained, Henry always knew when it was time for us to take him out for a walk. Basically, it was anytime he felt like it. Usually right before bedtime or in the middle of the night. Timing was not his strong suit. And it usually fell to me to take him out. He was always so happy to see that leash. No matter the time of year or temperature outside, a walkie poo was a treat extraordinaire for the little guy.

Once business was concluded, both figuratively and literally, Henry would stroll into the bedroom and whimper until my wife picked him up and put him on the bed. On those nights when I stayed up late to watch some TV, I would come to bed to find Old Yeller sound asleep on my pillow. Trying to move him without waking my wife proved a herculean task. Sometimes the best I could manage was getting him to the foot of the bed. I looked like a contortionist trying to get into my own bed while Henry slept comfortably. Again, oblivious.

I miss those moments. Now that I think about it, they weren't so little after all. They defined Henry. Scarcely a meal goes by that we don't look down expecting to see him waiting for us to feed him. The leash he loved so much still hangs by the back door patiently waiting for a moment that will never come again. And it seems ages since I had to squeeze my 5 foot 6 inch frame into a 3 foot space just to go to bed. What the hell, a good night's sleep is overrated anyway, right?

Once more, Puffin is the king of his castle with no one to challenge him, chase him or egg him on. And, best of all, he gets sole dibs on my wife's lap. Our other cat, Skye, has taken to Henry's old bed. She looks good in it. It gives my wife and I some comfort knowing that something of Henry survived him.

Recently, I had a chance to see Warren Zevon's last appearance on Letterman. Zevon was dying of lung cancer and Letterman was asking him how he was dealing with it. "You learn to enjoy every sandwich," was his reply. It still amazes me that a man facing a death sentence could be that open, honest and courageous. The more I think about it, though, his words should be a warning to all of us. When you get right down to it, life is really nothing more than a bunch of sandwiches strung together for us to enjoy. Those we discard are lost to us forever. We never get the chance to go back and reclaim them.

I'm sure there were a few such sandwiches involving Henry that I passed on that are now gone forever. That is my loss. Gratefully, there are far more sandwiches which I enjoyed and will always savor. He was, and always will be, our fella. My wife and I were blessed to have him in our lives. And though we miss him terribly, we cherish each and every memory, even the embarrassing ones. We wouldn't trade any of them for all the gold in the world.

So, one last time, let me say, "Time to go sleepy bye, Henry. Go sleepy bye. Daddy loves you very much."

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