Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Third Culture Animals (and a small rant)

I am indeed a recovering Third Culture Kid!  Some evil miasma of a virus/bacteria/what-the-heck has had me considerably under the weather.  Thanks to a modern miracle of pharmacology, I am back amongst the living.

Feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed again!

Where were we?  Oh, yes, ANIMALS!  I suppose I have been a little rattled by the recent events in the Middle East and northern Africa, so that writing about my pets seemed a little ridiculous.  I have to say, while I try to remain apolitical on all forms of social media, those events left me feeling pretty darn frightened and more than a little dismayed and disappointed in our present administration.  To have no security at our embassies and/or consulates on the anniversary of 9-11 seems, well, almost outrageous.  And the fact that it took nearly 24 hours for our president to come forth and actually say anything?  I thought Hillary Clinton was 10x more presidential than "he" was.  Okay, rant over.

Animals ... yes.  So our puppies made it to Manila with no apparent scars.  They spent a month or so at a kennel until our household goods arrived.  They had the run of our house, and while our maids seemed to like their little furry charges, not so much our gardener Reuben.  (If you are shocked that we had "staff" please remember that this was commonplace in Manila.  They practically came with the house).  Whenever Reuben showed up, Sheba would attack his pants legs with the ferocity of a land piranha, teeth bared and a growl that came from somewhere deep in her soul.

At night our back yard would come alive with these strange frogs (that I know I have mentioned before).  Sheba didn't know that the frogs were poisonous to small animals, but somehow she was immune.  We knew she had been frog diving when she would come in the house with her beard chock full of foamy phlegm, or whatever the heck it was.  The dog had a stomach of steel.  Although one time she got hold of a church bazaar cake that had been sitting out in the sun most of the day, and she wasn't too pleased with the results.

Don't they look tasty?
On home leave one year, mom decided to give the Schnauzer Breeding Effort another try.  We found a little girl schnauzer puppy and she flew alone to Manila from New Orleans.  We named her Evangeline, after the Longfellow heroine who spent her whole life looking for her love, Gabriel.  Our Evangeline traveled to the Philippines to find her lover, Gus.  Sadly, again, Gus never seemed to master the idea of fatherhood, so our plans were abandoned yet again.  So now we had THREE dogs.

My dad and me, with puppies, Christmas 1978,  Singapore
When we found out we were moving to Singapore, the movers showed up and we decamped to the Mandarin Hotel down the block.  After a long hot day of packing, having gone back to the hotel to rest, we got a phone call from Pacita, our maid, who was bereft.  Gus was nowhere to be found.  We thought he had escaped through a door left open by one of the movers.  We jumped in our car and turned onto Buendia Avenue, only to be immediately caught in a logjam of traffic.  I actually leaped out of the car and ran down the street to Forbes Park, arriving out of breath and terrified at our house.  We looked and looked and called and called.  I thought I heard a little bark but dismissed it as imagination or wishful thinking. But wait!  There it was again.  I ran to the back of the house, and found poor Gus trapped between the door to my bedroom and a ceiling-high stack of boxes.

The quarantine station at Jurong, Singapore
Singapore, being a former British Colony, had a strict 30-day quarantine requirement.  (When you take a dog to England, there is a six month quarantine!)  The establishment where they were to spend their incarceration was outside the city, in Jurong, about a 30 minute drive.  We drove out just about every other day.  It was a pleasant place, lots of trees and flowers, with large concrete runs and a little shelter where they had a wooden platform to sleep on.  Every day a tiny Chinese woman with an enormous straw hat would clean the runs, and water & feed her charges.  There was a beautiful Boxer right next to our guys named Judge.  A perfect name for him.  He was very distinguished looking.

In 1979 mom and dad returned to the states for good.  The dogs made it home in one piece.  Gus ended up having an undescended testicle that became cancerous (which may have explained his lack of, for want of a better word, lust for life).  He lived until he was 11 years old, when he died suddenly as the result of a tumor was found near his lung.  As Gus came to us at such a grief-stricken time in our lives, I thought losing him would be another crushing blow for my mom.  As it turned out, I was the one sobbing my eyes out on the way home with his body after he died.  Dad buried him in the back yard, along with a couple of my sister's cats.

Sheba lived until she was 14, long past any quality of life.  She used to walk around in circles, deaf as a post, and half-blind.  One time mom and dad went away for an extended trip, and dad dug a hole in their "pet cemetery" just in case she died while they were gone.  Evangeline was given away to a family in Baton Rouge some time in the 80's.  We later learned that their house had burned to the ground, and we were never able to bring ourselves to ask them what happened to Vangie.  Mom and Dad had 2 more dogs after that, a wire haired terrier named Gulliver and a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier named Toby.  None of them was as well-traveled as the three Schnauzers.  I loved the breed so much that I got a black Schnauzer named Boudreaux in 2003.  He is almost 10 and still acts like a puppy, but his sleeping time seems to be getting longer than his playing time.  He loves playing with his Beanie Babies (I just knew those things would come in handy some day!)

Boudreaux the Wonder Dog
So there you have it.  Sometimes having a pet is the only constant that TCKs have, but there are times when we have to say good-bye.  Our lives are filled with loss, both human and animal, but as the old adage goes, it's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Third Culture Animals? Part I

Third Culture Kids not only have to say good bye to friends and teachers, they also sometimes have to part with beloved pets!  My history with pets involves a lot of loss and grief, even if they were "only" animals.  They were family members who were also affected by our peripatetic life.

The first dog we had was Punch, a dachshund.  Punch came to us in Shreveport, before we even started our globe trotting.  In 1965 we moved from Louisiana to Chappequa, New York, sort of a stopgap before we went to Japan.  We were there about 6 months -- my sisters had to go to school in the interim.  Right after the movers came to pack up our stuff, we checked into a motel.  One night we went out to dinner, leaving Punch in the room.  At some point after we left, the chambermaid came in to turn down the beds, or whatever it is they do at night.  Punch slipped out the door, ran into the highway and was hit by a police car.  I don't remember anything other than riding in our station wagon, at night in a driving rainstorm, the dog's dead body in a box in the back.  We were on our way to the old house to bury him.  Mom urged me not to look in the box.  I have a shady vision of Daddy digging a hole next to a tree, in the rain, as we watched through the window.  I still remember how the beads of water dripped across the glass, throwing measles-shadows across our skin.

Our third Christmas in Tokyo, Daddy arranged for a special gift for my mom.  Right in the middle of our Christmas morning melee of shredded silver paper and discarded ribbons, the doorbell rang.  It was a little Japanese man, holding a tiny little dachshund puppy in his arms.  The puppy had a huge red bow around his neck.  All our new toys were forgotten and we all swarmed around him, oohing and aahing. Oscar was a great dog ... playful and happy.  It never occurred to me how strange it was that Mom named him after a family friend.

That summer we got the news that we were going back to New York.  I don't remember much about the actual move, but we ended up staying at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan.  Oscar arrived by airplane soon after that, but he was really, really sick.  He had distemper, either contracted at the vet in Japan or on the plane, we never really new.  I just remember walking him on the streets of New York, and our hotel room floor covered in newspaper.  Mom says we spent several hundred dollars on vet bills, getting him well.  It wasn't long after we moved into a rental house in Westport, Connecticut, that Oscar, restored to health, ran out of the yard and met his end under a pickup truck.  At that point I started to think all dogs died by getting hit by a car.

After only a year in Connecticut we hit the road yet again, headed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where my dad's company had established their headquarters.  I begged and pleaded and cajoled for a pet, and somehow convinced my parents to let me have a cat.  He was Timmy, a tiny little black and white thing.  He was all mine ... and I loved him!  But the family jinx hit yet again when Timmy was hit by a car.  Fortunately for him, the car only ran over his tail, and the tip became scabby and disgusting and eventually fell off.  When we moved YET AGAIN to Brussels the next summer, I was told that Timmy would not be invited.  I don't remember who took him but that was the end of that.

In Brussels, we were friends with a family whose dog, a basset hound, had a litter of puppies.  We took one home, a tiny, wriggling black white and brown pup.  Sam was clearly the runt of the litter, with all sorts of problems like buck teeth and wonky hips.  His legs were impossibly short to support his body.    He had enormous ears that drooped into his water dish when he drank, and anyone within five feet of him after he drank was showered with slobber and water when he shook his head.  He was a pretty pathetic, sorry looking animal.  He peed all over the upstairs carpet, and it had to be replaced when we moved out.  He always seemed intrigued by trash cans, and often decorated the halls with his treasures.  Whenever we took him to the vet he got violently car sick, one time all over me.

Sadly, when we moved away, we couldn't take him, for whatever reason.  The family who had given him to us promised they would collect him from the kennel when they returned from their summer vacation.  We later learned that they never had, and we can only imagine what happened to him.  My mom still gets choked up when the subject of Sam comes up.  Sam favored my sister Lisa. She had that uncanny vibe that attracted all the animals in the family.  They were drawn to her.  I was quietly jealous of that.

Right after my sister Lisa's accident and death, we adopted a gorgeous Miniature Schnauzer puppy named Gus.  Gus was the perfect therapy dog.  When my mom was having a particularly difficult moment (were any moments less difficult than others?) the dog would literally put his snout on her knee and gaze at her as if to say, "I'm here if you need me."  He was truly an amazing animal.  Soon after he arrived, we adopted a little black kitty who was mine, all mine!  I named her Krishna and she was very much My Cat. She used to sleep on my neck as I read books in bed, and she burrowed under the covers at night.  At a point in my life when I particularly needed loving, she was just what my tormented teenaged psyche needed; something that loved only me.

This is a picture of an actual missing kitty in the UK.  She looks very much like my cat, but maybe I can help these people find their pet by posting here.  Check out http://cataholics.org.uk/blog/blog4.php
Before we moved to Manila we got the idea in our heads to adopt a female schnauzer as a consort for Gus; we had $$ in our eyes, thinking of going into the breeding business.  It did not materialize since no one ever explained the birds and the bees to Gus.  In spite of all that Sheba made herself right at home.  Like Sam the Basset, she had several "faults of the breed" .. crooked teeth, wildly shaped ears and a strange sheen to her coat.  Somehow that made her all the more lovable.  She and Gus became platonic companions for each other.  The three animals co-existed in a world where dogs don't hate cats, or vice versa.  We had quite the menagerie and they all comforted us when we needed it the most.

In the spring of 1974 Dad was asked to move to Manila to take over the company's Southeast Asian headquarters.  I distinctly remember him stating "I will take the dogs, but I am not taking That Cat."  He wasn't fond of cats; he tolerated them.  I was horrified.   I adored Krishna, but the decree had been handed down.  Luckily for us, a lady at our church was willing to take her.  I remember standing in that lady's kitchen, Krishna in her carrier.  The lady asked what her name was, and mom said, "Well, her name is Krishna, but most of the time we just call her Kitty."  At the sound of her name, Krishna started yeowling.  I think that was when she realized she was leaving us.  I cried hot tears all the way home ... sad for having to say good-bye yet again.  Sad for decisions that were made for me, without any input from me.  That happens a lot for TCKs.

Many many years later, my sister Debi came to live in Baton Rouge.  Due to one of those "small world" kismet stories, she ended up living across the street from the lady who had adopted Krishna.  One day we looked out the front of Debi's house and there was Krishna, sitting right on the roof across the street, looking at us as only cats can.  She had to be more than 20 years old at that point, but there she was.  I like to think she was trying to tell me, "Hey!  I remember YOU!"

Meanwhile, back in 1974, we loaded the two schnauzers in their carrier, and watched as the airline agent put them on the conveyor belt.  They slowly disappeared into the black hole of the luggage area, and I swallowed hard.  They were going to fly with us, but what a flight it was going to be: more than 26 hours.  After the first leg to San Francisco, we were allowed to take them out for a quick walk.  Then it was back in the cage.

In Hawaii, we inquired as to whether or not we could take them out again, and the flight attendant snapped at us.  "If those little paws touch the ground you're looking at 6 months in jail!"  Okaaaay.  Our first lesson in quarantine.  We stopped again in Guam, but again, the puppies had to stay in the box.  I had these horrible visions of finding their cold dead bodies when we arrived in Manila; it was torture for me.

Finally, finally, we touched down in Manila.  We had never felt equatorial heat before.  It was a living breathing thing, that heat, and it enveloped us like a woolly, scratchy wet blanket.  We were beyond fatigued, dirty from the trip, blinking and staggering, taking in all the strange smells and sounds of this new green planet on which we had landed.  I have a vision of another luggage carousel, the dog carrier making its way slowly towards us.  I dared to look inside, truly fearing what I would find.  Gus and Sheba sat there together, looking at us as if to say, WHAT THE &*$% HAS HAPPENED TO US?  But they were alive!  They had survived!!  Stay tuned for the REST of the story ...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

History Comes for a Visit

This summer has been filled with several visitors from the East.  My daughter Lisa flew here in June for a week, and we had a great time shopping and showing her the sights here in South Texas.  We drove out to Marble Falls and toured Longhorn Caverns, an unbelievable mini-Carlsbad right in our back yard.  If you’re ever driving around the country looking for pop culture like the Largest Ball of String or the Barn Made of Corn Cobs, or a Store Shaped Like a Duck I highly recommend Longhorn Caverns.  We also have one here in the Austin area called Inner Space Cavern, right smack dab underneath Interstate 35, but I have to say I prefer Longhorn. 

Lisa spelunking.
Daughter Melanie came in July to celebrate her 10th birthday and we spent a week at Disneyworld (no, it wasn’t 1000 degrees, 1000% humidity and there weren’t billions of people there, not my definition of hell on earth).  We had a fantastic time in spite of the less than ideal conditions, including dinner with Cinderella and a night at the Cirque du Soleil show “La Nouba”.  Melanie was thrilled.  Being the youngest in a large family, it was a treat for her to be the main attraction.   

Melanie schmoozing with da princess.

In early August my two sons Quentin (junior in college) and Christian (sophomore in high school) hit the road and DROVE here from North Carolina.  I had imagined for them a “bros hit the roads” trip of bonding and extraordinary experiences.  After a stop in Mississippi with their grandmother (and a midnight trip to the ER after Grandma sliced her hand open in the spinning blades of an antique fan) they rolled into our driveway, road-worn and weary.  With their older brother Colin (who lives in Austin) they had a day at the Schlitterbahn water park in New Braunfels, a trip which can only be summed up with the immortal words “It's all fun and games until you find a colostomy bag in the Lazy River!”  The End.

Christian is a Man After My Own Heart, in that he, like me, is a World War II fanatic.  When he was about 9 years old we visited the D-Day Museum in New Orleans.  He walked up to the docent who was decked out in authentic WWII uniform.  Little Christian looked up at him and pointed at his rifle, saying “That’s a M1 Garand, isn’t it?” The guy’s eyes flew open and after a pause he said, “Why YES!  It is!”  I would like to say he learned this all from reading history books, but it most likely came from video games.  Who says they aren’t educational?  Now he’s pondering some sort of military career.  Can you say proud mom?

Christian and the Very Large Weapon

Christian brought his copy of “The Pacific”, a companion series to HBO’s “Band of Brothers.”  We watched the entire thing while he was here.  I had no idea that the series was based on real books written by the real people who fought in the real Pacific.  Even with what I thought was pretty comprehensive knowledge about the war, I had never heard of Peleliu, Pavuvu or Cape Gloucester.  Apparently I still have a whole lot to learn.  We took a drive out to Fredericksburg and spent the day at the National Museum of the Pacific War, or the Admiral Nimitz Museum.  I could have spent a week there, it is so impressive.  And again, right in our back yard.  As I often do after learning something new, I had to snatch up all the reading material I could find about the subject.  I just finished “With The Old Breed” by Eugene Sledge and am now ensconced in “Helmet for my Pillow” by Robert Leckie.  I will never be as enthralled with a book of fiction as I am with these books.  Real life is much more interesting and impressive.  The horrors these men went through and lived with for the rest of their lives are unimaginable.  The numbers of surviving WWII vets is getting smaller and smaller these days, and the opportunities to thank these heroes are becoming more and more rare.  Don’t miss the chance to shake a hand, although most of them are as humble as humble can be.

I asked my mom why, when we lived in the Philippines, we never visited Corregidor or Bataan. I think she was miserable in Manila; the heat and the pollution did her in, and she was just biding her time until we could leave, four years later.  No energy for sightseeing.  We did live a stone’s throw from the American military cemetery at Fort Bonifacio.  We used to drive through it on the way to the airport, and I do remember being somberly impressed by the neat rows of white crosses, but their real meaning escaped the teenaged me.  I’m just glad it’s not to late for me to learn as much as I can about this important part of history; I’ll never be done.  

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness.  When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement; and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.  Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  --George Santayana