Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Love Letter to Sheba

Dear Sheba,

I remember the day my mother brought you home in 1992, a long-legged, totally disoriented puppy with curly black hair and bright button eyes. She was completely head-over-heels in love with you. You peed in her car on the way home that day, and she fiercely defended you against our father and little sister (upon whose lap you had peed). You barfed in her lap and she felt bad for giving you the wrong food. When your spectacular levels of un-coordination became obvious, Mom spent hours and hours for days and days teaching you to climb stairs. One foot up, two feet up, three feet up, four! Good girl! Then it was time to teach you to go downstairs, which proved altogether impossible. I still remember you hovering uncertainly at the top, gathering your courage for the journey down. And inevitably, you'd get one step, two steps, three, then your legs would tie themselves in a pretzel and you'd tumble tip over tail to the bottom of the stairs, crashing head-first into the front door. Every day for months. I don't remember the first time you did it right, all I remember is eventually I became totally desensitized to the sound of whomp-whomp-whomp-whomp-CRASH. But you never gave up, cause upstairs was where Mom was, and where Mom was, you were. Always.

You were really lucky to find my Mom, you know that? Where other people saw a goofy, clumsy, less-than-intelligent, and overbred standard poodle, Mom saw elegance, grace, and charm. When the kids wanted to name you "Dumbo" or "Poofball," our mother told us we were overbred and less-than-intelligent, and named you The Queen of Sheba. For the next 16 years you did you best to live up to her fantasy life, and she steadfastly ignored your imperfections.

When we discovered your food allergies and unfortunate tendency to projectile vomit, Mom cleaned up your messes without a word. When your intestines started spontaneously herniating, Mom took you to the vet and sat with you, petting your head when you were feeling miserable. When you got chronic ear infections, Mom was there for you, pulling hair out of your hairy poodle ears, treating you with drops and pills and other forms of medical torture. You rewarded this care with slavish devotion. Mom, as far as you were concerned, was the only thing in the world that mattered. Kids? Who cared. Dad? Oh, are you still there? Other dogs? Occasionally fun to play with, but only if you were in the mood. Mom was your alpha and omega. Your Person. You'd sit at the window for hours every day, waiting for her to come screaming down the driveway in whatever danger-mobile she was driving at the time. When she went to work, you often went with her and sat by her side in the church office. Thank you for that, Sheba. In some of the neighborhoods she worked in, I was glad she had you there to protect her.

It's kind of funny, actually, that you turned out to be, if not a guard dog, at least an effective alarm bell, because for two years, you never made a noise. I think Dad was happy with this, but we kids tried with admirable determination to make you bark. When one day somebody rang the front doorbell (a rare day, indeed, in our house of open doors) and you, wriggling, and jumping, and spazzing out finally, FINALLY let loose your first wimpy "woof!" you'd have thought you'd just published your first novel for all the fuss we made over you. This was a moment we would come to regret, because it turns out that once you got used to the idea, you found barking to be quite a lot of fun. And holy shitballs, were you loud. In our home, there were three things that topped the "Most Frequently Said" list. Those three things were 1) Who turned the freaking [AC/heat] on again?! 2) Because I said so, that's why. And 3) SHEBA! SHUT! UP!

As a young dog, you were frantically energetic, and sadly, supremely unaware of how your body moved through space. I've actually never seen a dog capable of such athletic feats -- you could, from a complete stand-still, leap a solid 4 feet straight up in the air. I never would've believed it if I hadn't seen it. ( I ought to pause and thank you here, Sheba, for providing me the opportunity to pull off one of the finest practical jokes I've ever managed -- the day I convinced my admittedly gullible cousin that you weren't just an ordinary poodle, you were an unusual hybrid from Australia called a Kanga-Poo.) Sadly, this athletic talent did not translate into trainability, or even reliable spatial recognition of your immediate environment. You routinely walked into walls and coffeetables, and I don't think you ever learned a trick beyond "sit," but we loved you anyway.

As you got older your eyes clouded over and your joints got arthritic, and gradually you found it harder and harder to move around. You spend most days sitting on the porch just kind of hanging out and waiting for Mom to show up. When you wanted to be petted you'd deploy your patented "breathe stanky dog breath heavily in the face of the person you want to pet you" technique and generously allow us to rub your head or massage your achy back for a while.

But yesterday morning your wonderful creaky old body finally wore itself out. Your kidneys stopped working and you laid there, unable to move, waiting for my mom to get home from running errands. When she found you like that, you lifted your head a little and thumped your tail once, as if to say, "hey, I'm sorry I peed on the floor, Mom, but I'm really glad you're here now." I'm glad you went fast, and without any pain, Sheba, but I'm really sad that you had to go. I hope you knew that Mom and brother were there with you the whole time, and that Umulu, Crasey, and I were thinking about you and crying for you from hundreds of miles away. I can't believe you won't be there the next time I go home. I can't even believe I'm writing this, and I'm crying so that I can't really see the keyboard that well. I want you to know that we'll miss you so much, all of us will. But especially my mom, so you stay close by, ok?

Thanks for 16 years of loving my Mom. She'll never have another dog like you. Play like a puppy again, wherever you are.

Love you so much.
Cheasty

13 comments:

Alison said...

What a wonderful ode to both your mother and your Sheba.

H-SPO said...

crying here. CRYING. tears. sniffle, sniffle.

love you.

Supna said...

I agree with Alison. I'm crying too, I know how it feels, so I feel for your family.

Hugs to you and your family too.

tracey said...

Found you off LOTD - I have that same dog in the cocker spaniel version. : ) I have the relationship with Sophie your Mom had with Sheba and I flashed forward to the total wreck I will be when it's our turn. Made me appreciate going home to her today. Sorry for your loss.

Cheasty said...

thanks for your kind words, everybody. sorry if i made you cry!

Cheasty said...

oh, and welcome, Tracey! nice of you to pop in and say hello. give Sophie a special treat for me and my mom tonight, ok?

Ash Kaul said...

That was a really beautiful ode to Sheba. Your story brought memories of when my dog passed away. Sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

I dont even know what to say, but i wanted you to know that i read this while sobbing my eyes out... sorry i couldnt find any good pictures of her to send to you for this post, i tried to look on Friday, but it was too hard. You are right though, that she did everything to remain The Queen of Sheba, right up to her last moment on this earth. She was carried into the vets office on her down filled, oversized doggie bed, and layed on it comfortably until the end, with mom and i petting her constantly. And yes, her famously bad, knock you over with one wiff dog breath, was there too.

Judy said...

Thinking of you, Sheba, and your family today! So sorry about your loss, Cheasty.

Anonymous said...

My wonderful girl, just when I thought there couldn't possibly be any more tears, I read your blog . . . thanks sweetheart. Love, Mom (and Sheba - you know, in doggie heaven, the Queen of Sheba has mastered the ability to read your blog!! She says thanks too.)
PS -- Zoe seems to know how sad I am because she won't leave my side. She keeps looking up at me, breathing her extraordinary breath in my face (and burping from time to time . . .oh well, it's a dog's life!)

Sam Marie said...

crying in the office... slightly embarrassing... anywho, i'm so sorry to hear about your family's loss, but so glad that sheba and your mom were able to share so much love and time with one another, and with the rest of your family. i'm sure her bright spirit is happily bumping into something somewhere right now...

Cheasty said...

oh, man, you guys are making me cry again. hard at work now on a far more cheerful post.

Matter Of Fact Mommy said...

sorry, new to your blog and catching up...

this is an awesome post and an excellent tribute to your family's beloved animal. they are the greatest. when i was a kid, mommy and daddy always handled the putting down of the old dogs. it wasn't until i was in my twenties that i had to put down our 14yo boston terrier myself (had him since i was 12!) and that was, by far the hardest experience ever. watching him enter into "the big sleep." i bawled uncontrollably in my mother's arms...