Gone to the dogs

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Doggy day care. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.

Thursday, February 14, 2019. Valentine’s Day. Yesterday was one of those sort of-winter days in New York. Some Sun, some clouds, temps reaching up to 40, then later down to freezing.

It feels like the Winter That Never Was to this born and bred North Easterner. Although when I lived in sunny L.A. where they do have their “winter,” ideally, you could see the snow-covered peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains fifty miles from Los Angeles. You could be driving along Santa Monica Boulevard heading east through Beverly Hills, with the top down, and off in the distance are the majestic San Gabriels wearing their winter whites.

This must have been a school dance, age 11 or 12. We both were Saturday afternoon students at Mr. Ryder’s dancing class held in the big meetings room in the back of the First Congregational Church. Although boys wore jackets, so this wasn’t Mr. Ryder’s.

Valentine’s was a very special day for this kid growing up. In the first grade we made a mailbox for our valentine cards in the classroom and it was opened on this day, with the “mail” distributed. All very exciting to this six or seven year old. I was especially hoping to see the valentine from Ann Colton who was a classmate. She first took my fancy (the only way to describe a young boy’s crush) on the first day in first grade, and the interest continued into our teenage years until we went away to college and off on our separate life paths. She, like me, coincidentally went into her adult life living here in New York and the suburbs). By then we lost track and never saw nor spoke to each other until many years later.

In the early 90s Ann happened on an issue of Quest wheremy NewYorkSocialDiary originated. Wondering if I were the same DPC she grew up with, she looked me up in the phone book and called. I wasn’t home but her discovery and interest flattered me on hearing her message, like it flattered the six year old still in me. All those years later, she had been married, a mother three or four times, and by the time we reunited, a grandmother and re-married.

It was in those later years that I “confided” I knew that she was never interested in me the way I was interested in her (in teenager land). She insisted that wasn’t true but the confession was good for a laugh for both of us. (I still think I was right).

Our friendship resumed at a distance but our familiarity with each other and each other’s lives growing up, was a very strong bond. She was a very intelligent woman, (a much better student than I). She was an avid reader, and after her first marriage she even opened a bookstore. It was there that she met her second husband who was a regular customer, and with whom she had a very happy marriage. In our resumed friendship, she and I talked about our lives at our age. Those growing up years were the glue to our confidences.

Ann’s yearbook photo, age 17, graduating from The MacDuffie School for Girls in Springfield. She went on to Smith College.

One night when she was in town, we had dinner at Swifty’s. She and I were reminiscing about the first time we had a “drink” – which was illegal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – in Northampton, Mass if you were a teen-ager, at a rickety old inn called Rahar’s. It was a favorite of the Smith, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke college kids. It was also where high school students hungry to be young and sophisticated (and passing themselves off as “grown-ups”) went on Friday and Saturday nights, hoping they wouldn’t get “carded.” We didn’t. Coincidentally, that night at Swifty’s many years later, the couple seated at the next table to ours was Sydney and Stan Shuman. The word “Rahar’s” resonated. They’d been there in those years of their lives. The pleasure of the memories.

Ann died of cancer a few years ago. We hardly communicated after she’d got ill and was under treatment. I never heard a complaint or a regret. That lightness in her voice, her eyes, her humor, was accompanied by a realistic endurance of reality. In her final hours, I was told, her lips were in a smile, that same smile that came with the voice (kindness), and the laughter – a cross between a soft chortle and a giggle. I keep that graduation photograph of her, from 12th grade at the MacDuffie School in Springfield, going on to Smith (and Rahar’s), as she did. Looking at that smile, I can hear her laughter. My first valentine.

Also valentines: Blair Sabol sent me this Dog Calendar at the beginning of the year. Her adored poodle Sunshine (her first dog) is one of the June dogs. A picture worth a thousand barks, a million sniffs and king of the hill. For anyone who loves dogs (or animals! — or people/same thing), you’d love this calendar. Every picture has a story. We’re including yesterday’s because I love those little faces and have “rescued” several over the years. This guy has a story, like so many of these beautiful creatures who are subjected to the stupidity, carelessness and vicious cruelty of dopes. But he found love, as you’ll see. These guys are sweet valentines year round. They grace us with the chance to feel unconditional love (for them). Happy Valentines to all.

The Calendar, a pad on a small plastic holder, 365 pages of dogs who’ve made (and always would and could, given the chance) the difference in our lives.

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