Sheba

October 18, 2021

It’s been a sad few days here in the longitudes household.  Our beloved dog, Sheba, trotted over the Rainbow Bridge on November 1.

I’ve done obituaries here in the past, for both animal and human loved ones.  Sharing their photos and stories helps me deal with grief…and I’m really grieving now…so I appreciate your indulgence.

Sheba was 16 years old.  She was with us for 12 years and 7 months.  We always identified her as a “Border Collie mix,” but Lynn did a canine DNA test a few years ago which surprisingly revealed German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, Chow Chow, and unknown herding breed!  But other than herder, I’m not convinced of this finding, as her photos might show. 

Sheba’s first photo, probably the day we got her. She was very malnourished. We still have her pink bandana.

We found her at the Franklin County (Ohio) Dog Shelter in March 2009 as Lynn and I approached “empty nest” status.  They have a “Mingle with Our Mutts” event every other Sunday from 12-2, a veritable flea market of dogs from shelters in central Ohio.  We arrived at 12 p.m. sharp, and it couldn’t have been more than 30 seconds before we spied Sheba amongst maybe a hundred canines.  She was up for adoption along with another dog through Saving Pets One at a Time (S.P.O.T.), a humane society recently formed in nearby Morgan County. 

With her fluffy ears, curlicue tail, and striking coat of white fur, Sheba (her original name) stood out immediately.  She also had a distinctive dark, moist scar running from her left eye that looked like dripping mascara. S.P.O.T. told us she’d been scratched by a “weed.”

November 2009. Starlet Sheba, with our daughter Holly

Her personality was sweet as sugar, too.   Unlike our previous dog, Brownie, Sheba appeared sociable with strangers as well as other dogs.  At the pound, Lynn and I took turns guarding her—so she wouldn’t get swooped away—while each of us checked out the other “wares.”  But from the moment I met her I was convinced she was the dog for us.

I’ll never understand how her original owners could have given Sheba up.  For us, she was a fur angel, the proverbial plum pulled from the pie.

November 2010. Sheba loved laying on the couch.

Sheba’s favorite activities were joining me on runs and walks, chasing squirrels in the backyard, and playing fetch and tug-of-war.  Her favorite human foods were Lynn’s homemade pizza (crust) and my Sunday morning “au jus”—sausage drippings mixed with dry dog food.  Whenever we had company, she always inserted herself in the middle of the action.  She also followed me around the yard when I did yardwork, and often from room to room.  And at night she slept on a pad on the floor, next to me, shifting position throughout the night.

October 2011, front yard of new house

Sheba loved people and strolled right up to both neighbors and strangers alike, ears pinned back and tail wagging.  She also enjoyed meeting other dogs, although she sometimes displayed a mild “alpha female” tendency with certain females.  She rarely barked, and when she did it was muffled.  Her barking moments occurred when flying out the back door toward her neighbor dogs, or whenever I encouraged her with mock growls (or, after she jumped on the bed with us weekend mornings, when I teased her with “How-deee PARD-A-NER!”).

Sheba’s only faults—if they can be called that—were a morbid fear of loud noises; thunderstorms and the Fourth of July had her trembling and crawling under furniture. And she was an expert fur shedder.  In fact, we’ll be vacuuming clumps of white hair for the next several months!

May 2012, while visiting “Gram”

Walks and runs were her favorite times, even more so than eating.  If she heard the words “run,” “walk,” or “walk-ey,” she became glued to me, often inserting her head under my legs while I tried to tie my running shows at the foot of the stairs.  Walks could be difficult for Lynn, because Sheba was strong and had never been trained to heel, and she loved to sniff more than any dog we’ve ever known.  As time progressed and her stamina and rear legs began to fail, the runs were eliminated.  Then the walks became shorter and shorter.

February 2014, with cats Chloe and Alex in my music/computer room

I could go on and on about this beautiful animal.  Everyone adored her.  She gave us a ton of love, and we did our best to do the same, although we could never equal what she gave to us. She was not just a pet, she was a living and breathing symbol of home, warmth, comfort, family, and unqualified love.  All the things that make living worthwhile.

Sheba, you will be in our hearts forever.

January 2017
January 2019. Caught in the act, in my muddy garden!
October 19, 2021. Sheba on her “pad” in my music/computer room. She followed me in whenever I was on the computer or was reading. She also had two pads in our bedroom.
Last photo. Together at the fire pit, October 23, 2021

Dénouement

white rose2

Apologies for being so quiet of late. In the first hour of November 10, 2019, my beloved and seemingly invincible Mom died, and I just haven’t felt like writing. Or reading or commenting.

Mom was 94 and had recently undergone emergency surgery for scar tissue blockage in her intestine. During tests before surgery, the doctor also diagnosed severe liver cirrhosis. (Seventy years of hybrid martinis can cause that. But my parents did cherish their evening cocktail time.)

Anyway, although the surgery was successful, her failing liver and age-related fragility couldn’t handle the surgical trauma, and Mom decided it was time to join Dad in that mysterious ether on the other side. “I’ve had a good life. Dad’s waiting for me,” she told me in the hospital. So our family placed her in hospice care until her peaceful end.

Unlike with Dad, who died suddenly in his sleep 13 years ago, I had opportunity to repeatedly tell Mom that I love her. I was able to apologize for the times I got angry with her, and for forgetting cards and flowers on her birthday and Mother’s Day. I also thanked her, albeit clumsily, for everything she’d done for me, and for us as a family. So despite her feeling “like hell…H-E-L-L” (a direct quote), for me there was some of that merciful closure which we all value, yet which many of us are sadly deprived of.

Therefore, I’m hoping I won’t need individual and group therapy like I did with Dad’s death. We’ll see…there’s still time. (You know me, Mom.)

“Writing for yourself is self-serving. Writing for others is pandering. You write for the thing that needs said”—Unknown

Speaking of time, now is a good time to take stock. I began longitudes seven years and 170-odd posts ago (and I do mean “odd”). It was originally called Latitudes, and I launched it to promote my blubber book. But like rock ‘n’ roll, it soon grew out of control. If you’re interested in seeing how quickly innocence can evaporate in an Age of Treason, here’s my very first WordPress article: a rather insipid story about Lynn and me visiting Ohio Amish country in October 2012. If I recall, we bought some award-winning Guggisberg baby Swiss cheese for Mom on that visit.

I discovered not long ago, during my never-ending quest for an uncomplicated life (which the Amish also strive for, though for slightly different reasons), that—while I will always have an urge to write—social media platforms are not as imperative as one might think. I also plan to expend my writing energies on another Pulitzer Longitudes Prize-winning book, rather than WordPress. So my activities here are going on hiatus with those on Facebook and LinkedIn, up there in the barn loft.

It’s a bittersweet moment.  I love writing these miniature “mind blasts.”  While some are spontaneous, most I labor over for days, occasionally weeks.  I’ll be driving to work, or running on the bike trail, and one word will spring to mind to replace another that I’m unhappy with.  Or something will sound too sour, and I’ll return to add some sweetener (getting harder to do these days).

I’ve saved all of these diverse essays in hopes maybe my grandkids will one day pore over them, just to see how weird, and maybe prophetic, their Grandpa was.  That is, assuming humans still read things longer than 280 characters, and our atmosphere is intact, and our puerile leaders haven’t, in their ever-increasing hissy fits, pushed any red buttons.

But since I haven’t packed up email communication (yet), I would love to stay in touch with fellow readers and WordPressers. So please drop me an email, if not old-fashioned letter, once in a while, and I’ll do the same.

Thanks for reading and for all the great conversations, everyone. Like Paul or Ringo, longitudes may threaten to do yet another tour. It depends on the amount of pressure in my shrinking brain matter, and how compelled I am to release it. Or whether I need to shamelessly plug my next Pulitzer Longitudes Prize-winning book.

***

Me, after Dad’s death: “Mom, I think we’ll all be reunited somewhere, in some way.”

Mom: “Maybe. I don’t know. My father always said ‘When you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s it.’”

Well, assuming your father’s wrong…save some vodka for me, Mom.

Crossing the Finish Line: Nick Greco, 1940-2014

Nick Greco photo

Once in a while you cross paths with someone who makes you wish you’d known them better. This happened to me with Nick Greco.

I met Nick last June while doing some yard work for a friend. I was poking around in a bed of ornamentals, and I suddenly felt somebody near me. Looking up, I saw a tanned, wiry man looking down at me. He had a bright smile.

“Hi, I’m Nick,” he said.

“Hello. I’m Pete.”

“I live over there,” he said, pointing to the house next door. “Do you do small landscape jobs?”

I followed him to his house, a tidy-looking ranch with a very nice landscape. He introduced me to his attractive wife, Judie. He then showed me a cluster of overgrown knockout roses that had evidently suffered from severe winter kill. I told him I’d be happy to clean them up a little, and we made arrangements for me to stop by the following week.

Later on, I learned a little bit about Nick from my friend. She said that, like me, Nick was an avid runner (and being in his ‘70s, he certainly had the lean look of a distance runner). She also said he’d had a bout with prostate cancer. His marathon running and struggle with cancer had caught the attention of the U.S. Olympic Committee, who offered him the opportunity to carry the Olympic torch through Cincinnati, Ohio. Which he did, in 2001.

Then I recalled the license plate on his sports car. It said “Torch 1.”

Although Nick had beaten the prostate cancer, his fight wasn’t over yet. He was now battling another foe: lung cancer. His doctors claimed the two were unrelated. Talk about lousy luck.

Well, I spent about two hours pruning Nick’s roses. Later, he told me he liked my work, and asked if I could trim up the rest of his shrubs. I agreed, and stopped by a few days later. It was a gorgeous sunny day. A few wispy clouds floated in the sky, and some mallards were skimming across the pond in his backyard. Then I caught a familiar odor. A local “lawn doctor” was treating the public spaces in Nick’s neighborhood, and the smell of 2, 4-D weed killer filled the air. The unnatural, clinical odor was a dark cloud that ruined an otherwise beautiful day. I hopped in my truck, rolled up the windows, and left.

But I returned later, and Nick and I got to know each other. I told him I liked the Mediterranean ring of his name, and that my son was also named Nick. He said he was originally from the East Coast and his running had taken him as far as the granddaddy of all races, the Boston Marathon, which he ran an impressive five times. He’d also run the New York Marathon twice. This was after he’d made a decision to change his lifestyle. Before his first New York race, he’d quit a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit and lost over 50 pounds.

rosesNick also invited me into his home (something that doesn’t often happen to dirty, clammy-skinned landscapers). He showed me some running photos, as well as his marathon finisher’s medals. I also noticed a boxed set of Rolling Stones CDs in the den.

“Nick, looks like you and I have a few things in common!” I gushed. He flashed a smile.

Over the next few weeks I made several visits to Nick’s home to putter around his yard. He always came out to meet and talk with me, and a couple times he opened up about his sickness. He showed me the medicine patch on his chest, which he said helped reduce the pain. Occasionally, the pain in his back was so bad that it forced him back inside his house.

We also talked about running. When I drove to Duluth, Minnesota in June to run Grandma’s Marathon, he promised to follow my running progress on the race website. I thought this was really nice of him, and I occasionally thought about this while I was up in Duluth. It was nice to know that someone from back home was keeping tabs on me. When I returned home, I gave him my souvenir race t-shirt in appreciation of his support… though I’m sure yet another marathon shirt was the last thing he needed.

In August, my friend told me that Nick wasn’t doing so well. The cancer had spread throughout his body. I saw Nick one more time after that. He was leaning against the side of the garage. He was waiting for Judie to help him into the car to take him to the hospital. I walked over and put my hand on his frail shoulder.

I didn’t know what to say, other than the lame “Hang in there.” His own voice was but a whisper. All I could make out was “Pete, I’m in a bad way.”

He died just a few weeks later. His family was at his side. At his funeral, his friends wore running shoes in tribute to him.

***

Yes, Nick and I shared a few of the same interests. But even if we hadn’t, he impressed me with his charm and friendliness. He’s another one of those people who, though I didn’t know very long, I wish I’d have known better. His passing was another dark cloud on an otherwise beautiful day.

I’m not real religious. But I’m sure one day we’ll see each other at some marathon finish line somewhere. We’ll talk about our latest race. Maybe we can listen to one of those Rolling Stones CDs from that boxed set in the den. That’ll be cool.

running shoes