When we think of standing guard over someone or something, we think of a security guard, police officer, or even a guard dog, but seldom do we think about a family pet, such as a dog or even a cat, but that doesn’t mean that pets can’t stand guard, because many do, and in ways beyond being a watch dog at the house. When I was little, and truly, all my life, I loved cats. Now I know that a cat would have a hard time doing anything to protect or help it’s owner, or as I have always thought…it’s pet, it still stands guard. It’s not about it’s ability to do anything, but rather, it’s loyalty. That’s how it was with my cats. And how it was with my mom’s cats too. I suppose mostly it was because they liked being near us, but when my mom fell at home, her cat Quincy was right there standing guard over her. He refused to leave her side until someone got there to get her up and safely in her chair. I don’t know what my cats did to protect me exactly, but they liked to sleep in my crib, and watch over me while I slept too. They liked being with me, and I loved being with them too. I guess we were like best friends, and while they couldn’t do anything to protect me, maybe they kept me out of mischief, because as every cat lover knows, they demand lots of attention.
I know that lots of dogs are trained to be guard dogs, drug sniffing dogs, and police dogs, and I know that they are very loyal to their owners, even to the point of killing for their owner. It could be their training, but I think it’s also their love for their master. Pets are that way. They get very attached to their owners, and they will do whatever it takes to keep them safe. Their training helps them protect their master, of course, and they are very good at what they do. When they are on duty, they are working…no messing around, but when they are home with their master, they are as loving as they can be, because that person is family to them. That is when the love of their master kicks in…that and anytime that their master is in trouble on the job. In reality, they are always standing guard.
Sometimes the guard dog is on duty for a different reason. Such was the case with my in-laws dog, Brownie. My sister-in-law, Marlyce Schulenberg was developmentally disabled, and sometimes it was hard for my mother-in-law to watch her all the time. In the house, she was relatively safe, but outside there were more perils to consider. Still, they never worried really, because when Marlyce went outside, Brownie went with her. Brownie made it his job to stand guard over Marlyce to keep her safe. No one had to tell him, he just understood that Marlyce needed special care. When Brownie was on duty…standing guard…the family knew she was safe. Aren’t pets amazing?
Through the years, people have taken in boarders to help make ends meet. These days, people might have a roommate to share the financial load when buying a house or renting an apartment, but that didn’t happen often in years gone by. When it became necessary to find a way to make ends meet, people took in boarders…usually people they didn’t know. They might be people who were working in the area, or in college towns, maybe students. For my grandmother, I think it must have been men working in the area. I’m sure she didn’t know the men prior to renting them a room, but they quickly became like family. She wanted to get a picture that included the boarders, and one of the men even held my Uncle Bill on his shoulder. Times were just different then, and most people were decent and trustworthy. There was, for the most part, a moral code that was followed.
I’m sure the men helped out with things around the place while they lived at my grandmother’s home, and I’m also sure they ate some of their meals with the family. I also seriously doubt that the rent charged was very much, because in the 1930’s, times were hard and people couldn’t afford to pay very much. These men were grateful, I’m sure, for the opportunity to have a place to live, and a nice family to live with. Many of those men were far from home, trying to make a living for their families who were waiting for their return. It was quite a lonely way to support your family, but you did what you had to do.
I’m not sure how long or how many times my grandmother had boarders living in her home, but I know she was a kindhearted woman who would have had a hard time thinking about some man sleeping in the freezing cold winter weather when her home had a spare room that he could have. And having a little help around the place wasn’t a bad thing either, because my grandfather worked on the railroad, and my dad and Uncle Bill were just little boys, so they couldn’t help much. The reasons that people take in boarders or roommates vary, but it usually boils down to need, either the need of the family to have an extra income, or the need of the boarder to have a place to live. It’s as simple as that.
Today would have been my mother-in-law’s 65th anniversary, and in her mind it would still be so. She has no idea she is a widow. She has no idea that the love of her life…the man she has known since she was just a little baby, and with whom she shared a crib sometimes…has been gone for over a year now. That is the side of Alzheimer’s Disease that I think is merciful. While she doesn’t remember the things that happened a few minutes ago, or even a few years ago, and she doesn’t always remember our names, she also doesn’t remember that my father-in-law passed away on May 5, 2013. To her, he is visiting the neighbors, working, or out in the garage. I’m glad that is the case. She feels no grief and she doesn’t miss him…because to her, he is still here. She sees him everywhere. When she sees a man in a plaid shirt, she thinks it’s Dad, because he loved those plaid flannel shirts. I wouldn’t wish for her to remember Dad’s passing…it’s just too hard. We can play along. When she asks where Dad is, I tell her that he is in the garage, at Walmart, or at the neighbors. It satisfies her. She also sees Dad in her sons, Bob and Ron, her grandsons, and even in some of the men in the nursing home. We play along. At first it was hard, but the guys are used to it now.
This anniversary, that would have been a landmark anniversary for them, had Dad still been with us, is a bit sad for us…the children, in-laws, and grandchildren left behind, after Dad’s passing. It is always such a cool thing, especially these days, when someone makes one of these landmark anniversaries, because so many marriages don’t last. But theirs beat the odds. They had the real thing…love, and that made all the difference. It’s what keeps a marriage together through good times and bad.
Dad was always the bread winner, and Mom was always the homemaker. Together, they raised six children. She cooked, baked, canned, and kept the home and kids in order. He took care of the outdoor things like shoveling the walk, mowing the lawn, working on the cars, and any building that needed to be done. They were a team…and then half of the team was suddenly gone after a little under 64 years of marriage. To us, their family, it seemed too impossible to be true, but to Mom, it simply wasn’t true. To her…he is still here, and will be for as long as she is. It’s the merciful part of Alzheimer’s Disease.
When my grandson, Caalab was 5 years old, he came up to me when we were getting ready to leave to take him, his sister, and his cousins to school, and said, “Good news Grandma!! I just got my driver’s license!! So…I’ll drive!!” I laughed and told him, “I don’t think so.” Of course, he was joking, because that was what Caalab did, and still does. I have thought about that funny little statement many times in the years that have followed, and it has always put a smile on my face. Today, that statement will no longer be a funny little joke, because today, Caalab is 16 years old, and will be going this morning to get his driver’s license. I can’t believe that the years have gone by so fast.
There are those who wish this day hadn’t arrived, and the one I never would have expected is Caalab’s sister, Shai. For so many years, she had wished that she wouldn’t have had a brother, and would gladly have sold him to the highest bidder, or even the best offer, but in the last couple of years. The opinion Shai has of her brother has softened tremendously. She has been taking him to school and other places since she started driving, and while that hasn’t always been wonderful, mostly it was good. Now she is feeling a little bit sad that she won’t be doing that anymore. It feels a little bit lonely, I’m sure. Shai wishes her brother wasn’t going to be driving, because with both of them working and getting out of school at different times next year, they just won’t get to see each other as much as they had when Shai was taking Caalab to school. Nothing will be the same again, probably not for the rest of their lives. Life moves so fast, and sometimes we just don’t notice until the moments have passed us by. Yes, they will always be sister and brother, but they will be busy with their own lives.
I know how she feels. As life changes, it always seems like there is a little twinge of sadness. When they come into my office to show me their license, and then I watch them leave, it feels like you have just turned that little 5 years old loose on the street…in a car…alone!!! It just doesn’t seem possible that they have grown up so quickly, but they have, and will continue to grow up, because non of us can stop the hands of time. Time marches on, and old things are left behind.
So, today when my grandson, Caalab comes into my office to show me his license, I’ll do my best to smile and not shed a tear. We’ll take his picture, like we did his sister and his cousin when they got their licenses. We will all be excited that he is beginning this new phase in his life. No one will have to go pick him up anymore, or plan things around the time he gets off work, because he can take himself now. Still, in the memory files of my mind, I will always see that little 5 year old boy saying, “Good news Grandma!! I just got my driver’s license!! So…I’ll drive!!” Today is Caalab’s 16th birthday. Happy birthday Caalab!! Have a great day!! We love you very much!!
In a time where it seems like it is every man for himself, I like to look back into the family history and see how things were done back then. People in the towns banded together. If someone needed to build a barn, they had a barn raising. All the neighbors came over…and brought pot luck dinners to feed the workers. These days you have to buy your friends a case of beer and a steak dinner just to help you move! Now, I know that doesn’t apply to every situation, but think about the number of times you or someone you know couldn’t get anyone to help them move without bribing them.
If we look back a few years though, we see that harvests were often brought in with the help of neighbors. They would start at one farm, and move to the next and the next, until the harvests were done. Harvesting can be a huge job, and one family really can’t harvest a big farm alone. Their neighbors had the same problem, so by working together, they could all get the job done, and everyone made a profit. Farming was and is a tough life, and when money is scarce and equipment was expensive, it was a real struggle. Many people couldn’t make it just because of weather alone, much less the inability to get the harvest in, in time to save it from the elements.
These days, so many people are struggling to make it on their own, because there is no one to help them. I don’t mean lots of government help. I mean good old fashioned elbow grease and muscle. Most people can do most things on their own, but sometimes it is easier or more fun with the help of friends and neighbors. That is how things were back then, and the best part was that it gave these neighbors who often lived miles apart, a chance to get together and enjoy each other’s company. So many people miss out on the camaraderie of friends, because they don’t allow themselves to be willing to help out a friend. It’s something we should all think about.