Back in January, we went to Washington, DC to celebrate my great aunt’s 97th birthday, a month late. She’s a very young 97, still my Grandpa’s feisty baby sister.
Mom visits her cousin and her aunt once or twice a year, and they’ve become very close. This is the cousin who lent us her NYC pied a terre after the hurricane when our power was out on Long Island. She and Mom are both painfully empathetic, and feel like they should have done more with their lives, even as they continue to choose to put their energy into other people instead.
A few years ago I gave Mom a list of questions and a tape recorder to bring with her on her visit to see her aunt. I’d been reading my grandfather’s unfinished memoir, and finding a lot of holes in the story, and I realized I had a potential treasure trove of information in my great aunt. I transcribed the tapes, listening over and over to get every word down, and I became very familiar with her voice and rhythm and the stories of her life. But I was looking forward to hearing from her in person. I was also eager to see her daughter and to meet her grand dog, Zoe.
We had to drive to D.C., because any other method of transportation, with both dogs, would have been untenable. I can’t even imagine the damage Cricket could do on a train.
We put the dogs in their harnesses, in their doggy beds, in the back seat of the car. Butterfly sat on her bed and drooled, but within seconds, Cricket was out of her harness and behind my neck in the front passenger seat. She moved around, as she usually does, between my neck, my lap, and her favorite spot, behind my back with her nose stuck behind Grandma’s shoulder. Her answer to anxiety is to stay as close to her people as possible.
The longest Butterfly had been in a car before, with us, was the half hour back from the animal shelter in November, so I didn’t know what to expect. She started out panting and drooling, but after half an hour she moved on to vomiting white foam.
We stopped the car, to clean and dry her bed, and to take both dogs for a walk to get some fresh air, but once Butterfly was back in the car the vomiting continued. Two and a half hours into the trip, I’d used up a whole roll of paper towels and half a box of tissues, and we had to stop at a super market for more.
Overall Butterfly vomited seven times.
We arrived in the Capitol Hill neighborhood at around four thirty in the afternoon and Zoë and her Mom came out to greet us. Butterfly was happy to have her paws on solid ground again. And even Cricket kept her volume at a low bark for the first meeting. We walked over to Zoe’s local dog park down the block, and met a lot of friendly and talkative Washingtonians.
Zoe demonstrated her unique poopie dance for us. She walked in second position plie, on her tippy toes, in a very large circle, before she finally felt ready to poop. Butterfly was fascinated by this variation. Where was the hopping and twirling? Why one big circle when you could do ten circles and a spiral?
Zoe is a Cockapoo, like Cricket, but Cricket is fourteen pounds and mostly white with apricot markings, and Zoe is 27 pounds, with red hair and a Golden Retriever-like personality. She loves everyone.
Once inside her house, Zoe galloped across the floor and leapt onto her seeing chair to watch the neighborhood through the window. I’ve been told that she barks, but I’m not sure I believe it of her. She has only one flaw, like Butterfly, occasionally she still poops and pees in the house. Her trainer taught her to respond to the words “potty outside” to help her differentiate between doing her business on the dining room carpet and out in the backyard. But that sounds too much like “party outside” to me. I’m afraid Zoe does her business in the house to get ready for the big party outside. She’s a very social girl.
Mom’s cousin is a devotee of take out menus. There is a precious folder in the kitchen with a menu from every restaurant in Washington DC. We ordered in and the dogs had Chicken Satay, Zoe’s choice.
After a night’s sleep, or collapse, at the hotel, we went back to the Capitol Hill neighborhood and walked around town with the three dogs. Everyone knew Zoë. We stopped in one store after another where the owners offered her and the girls special treats. There was the kitchen supply store and the children’s book store and the furniture and chotchkes store. You could tell it was a dog friendly neighborhood because there were silver dog bowls full of water at regular intervals along the street. Eventually, we sat at an outdoor café and fed the dogs pieces of our grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.
Zoe and her mom were approached on the street to volunteer in a program where kids learn to read by reading to dogs. Zoe would be perfect for the job. There’s just nothing indifferent or mean about her, and she would love the attention.
We were a funny looking group: Mom’s cousin in her ankle boot from a recent foot injury, me with my awkward stomping walk, and the dogs pulling in three different directions. But we had a good time and wore ourselves out completely.
After a nap, though, we were ready for the big event, dinner with my great aunt at her apartment. Zoe is an experienced elevator rider, but my girls were still struggling with the moving wall that tried to catch their tails. As soon as the elevator door opened on her grandma’s floor, Zoe raced down the hall to get to the apartment as fast as possible. She was clearly her Grandma’s girl. She slathered on the kisses and then ran inside to find the living room rug with the raised squares that was clearly designed for doggy back scratching.
The girls followed Zoe into the apartment and sniffed every corner. Cricket started to bark, but her new people barked back, and she was shocked into silence, for a little while anyway. When we started to eat dinner, cooked entirely by my 97 year old great aunt, the dogs spread out on the floor of the dining room to rest. There were two different types of chicken on the table, which eventually led to whimpering that, surprisingly, did not come from either of my dogs. It was Zoe.
Zoe’s whimpering woke the other dogs and they started begging for chicken and searching through the bowls of dog food in the kitchen for other hidden treasures. Meanwhile, the humans listened to stories about the Carp that lived in the Bathtub, for years, and had to be shifted out of the tub whenever one of the humans actually needed a bath. I could hear my Grandpa in his little sister’s voice, his sense of humor, his magical glee about the absurdities of life.
I wish I could show you the raised eyebrow she adds to every story, but I’m not allowed to take pictures of her. She does exist though, I promise.
On our last morning in DC, Mom’s cousin took us on a driving tour of the city with Cricket barking her commentary on the Capitol building, the White House, the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial and everything in between.
We were there before the inauguration, so we got to see the porta-potties being lined up along the mall. Cricket barked at them too.
When it was time to leave, I gave Zoe a big hug and soaked up as much love as I could. The whole time we were there, Cricket never had a bad moment with her cousin. They ate together and slept together and walked together and Cricket, who growls at every dog she meets, couldn’t think of anything growly to say.
Butterfly took a few drops of Pepto Bismal for the trip home, and Cricket was dosed with the doggy version of an anti-anxiety medication, so the seven hour ride home was largely uneventful, which gave me time to think about the trip. Zoe and her Mom and her Grandma were wonderful. The city was fascinating. Butterfly made a great impression with her little pink tongue. But Cricket was still struggling.
Except, there was one moment in the car during the drive around the city that morning. Butterfly was on my lap in the back seat, with Cricket stretched out next to me, temporarily quiet. Somewhere along the way, Butterfly rested her head on Cricket’s back, and Cricket let her stay there.
It’s a place to start.