Pet Tender

Hello, lovelies.  

Let me tell you about a dream I had years a few ago.

I found myself standing in the lush tall grass at my old homestead.  It was the first real home I made for myself.  It was just a little wooden farmhouse with a sharply pitched gable and a massive oak tree perilously close to the living room window.  Sometimes I thought the oak was going to swallow us up, or its roots unearth the house.  But it was covered in mistletoe.  It was my protector.  

This is the place where I grew into my own. I moved in with my donkey, dogs, and cats. Everything inside the house was crooked, from the doorways to the fireplaces to the wood slatted walls. I stained the living room a deep red, whitewashed my bedroom with sky blue, and replaced the pineapple wallpaper in the kitchen with a shocking shade of chartreuse and forest green beams. The woods were full of kudzu and morels, ditches full of glass, pasture overgrown with rusted farm equipment, all secrets to be discovered.

One day, I just stopped going to my law firm job. I got a roomie and we raised goats and had a fling. I went back to grad school in Women’s Studies. Got a tattoo of my dog. It was the rebellion that never happened in my teenage years. It's where I first met my beloved, my husband, who came to live with me there.

When we moved out fifteen years later, I left part of myself. My soul was lodged in that place. It felt as if that structure was my very skeleton. I wanted to live out my days and die an old woman there in that house on Rainbow Drive. But I didn’t.

But, now, the dream. I was back there, standing in the weeds, and an old woman walked out my front door with a bucket. Dogs and cats rushed around her, eager for feeding time. I realized they were my pets, my friends, the ones who died there. Her face was grizzled and surrounded by a bonnet of sorts, one with a frilly yellow flowered trim and a kerchief over it. She has on a black dress, also covered in tiny flowers, and an apron or maybe two. She wore sensible boots and all the pets gathered and anticipated her walk down to the barn. 

I see Figaro, and then Gideon and Gigi, my kitties. Then was old Duncan and devoted Pooka, dogs I “rescued.” Inky, the mysterious white cat left behind by the former owner. Goats and chickens. And my Idgie, the dog who forever marks my shoulder, but she didn’t seem to see me, just the old woman.

The woman saw me, and as if she knew what I was thinking, she said,

Well, me, I’m the pet-tender.

I was so taken in by this scene, but dumbfounded. Who was this woman taking care of my dead pets? She exclaimed,

It’s no matter that they’re dead. They still need to be cared for!

Well, of course, I thought. How could I have imagined otherwise?

She invited me inside my kitchen for tea. We sat, next to my old 70s woodstove. It all looked different, but the same. Her table was round and she had green dishes. She poured our cups and covered the pot with a tea cozy. We talked for a time, although I couldn’t tell you what we said. There was comfort to our conversation, but also a challenge.

After I woke, I thought she must have been an older me. But was she the me of a parallel universe, a previous incarnation, or me in a few decades? Or maybe just the dream-me. And it dawned on me, for the first time, that the rusty old bridge over the creek past the barn and down the hill, it was the Rainbow bridge, where the animals could cross over, and back again. 

Aunt Leaf

Needing one, I invented her – - -
the great-great-aunt dark as hickory
called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud
or The-Beauty-of-the-Night.

Dear aunt, I’d call into the leaves,
and she’d rise up, like an old log in a pool,
and whisper in a language only the two of us knew
the word that meant follow,

and we’d travel
cheerful as birds
out of the dusty town and into the trees
where she would change us both into something quicker – - -
two foxes with black feet,
two snakes green as ribbons,
two shimmering fish – - – and all day we’d travel.

At day’s end she’d leave me back at my own door with the rest of my family,
who were kind, but solid as wood
and rarely wandered. While she,
old twist of feathers and birch bark,
would walk in circles wide as rain and then
float back

scattering the rags of twilight
on fluttering moth wings;

or she’d slouch from the barn like a gray opossum;

or she’d hang in the milky moonlight
burning like a medallion,

this bone dream, this friend I had to have,
this old woman made out of leaves.
— Mary Oliver

Recently I went back to the old homeplace for the first time since we moved. The driveway was barely visible, but the old "No Trespassing" sign gave it away. The brambles were too thick to walk back to the house site, and I didn't want the little one getting scratched up.

So, I tossed flowers down onto the Rainbow bridge, along with blessings.

Posted on July 19, 2017 .