Remembering Dad

Beth with Dad
Beth with Dad

My dad — Charles H. Richardson — passed away one year ago today. I grew up watching him every Sunday morning as he led worship in little Methodist churches in Oklahoma. Because of him, I wanted to work in the church. Dad gave me many gifts–love of nature, music and photography. When I was ordained, he was here to lay hands on me in the ordination service.

His last years were lived in the darkening stages of the disease of Alzheimer’s. Every day, his world shrank just a little bit more. When I was with him a couple of years ago, we sat and ate dinner with my brother and Anna, my step mom and Dad’s wonderful caregiver. Dad said to me, “So, tell me where you have lived.”

I answered, “Well, I was born in Norman, you know, and then we moved to Mooreland.”

Dad said, “Oh, I did a stint there in Mooreland. What’s your last name?”

“It’s Richardson,” I said. (My heart was getting heavy.)

“Well,” he exclaimed, “My last name is Richardson! Who’s your daddy?”

I said, “You’re my dad! I’m your daughter, Beth.”

He turned and looked at Anna and she nodded to him and said, “That’s Beth. She’s your daughter.” He looked a little uncertain, and then he stood up, opened his arms to me and said, “I need to give you a hug.” I stood up and we hugged — a good, long embrace.

We sat back down at the table and he listened as I told him about myself: how I had been to seminary, was ordained in the United Methodist Church, worked at The Upper Room, had written a couple of books. He was delighted to know who I had become.

Our dinner conversation turned to other things, and then he turned to me and asked, “Do you know my daughter?”  And I said, “Yeah. Isn’t she great?” As the rest of us chuckled, he looked at me closely and said, “Oh. You’re her, aren’t you?”

Over the following years, when we talked on the phone, I always ended up introducing myself to him. And he was always delighted to know me, to learn I was his daughter, to learn I was ordained in the United Methodist Church, and that I worked for The Upper Room. It was a wonderful ritual for me and such a gift of affirmation that, even if he didn’t remember me, he was excited about who I was and who I had become.

Today on this first anniversary of his death, I’m sad, but grateful for his life and for the gifts he gave to me. Thanks be to the Creator for the gift of Dad.

Jack and the Squeaky Toy Challenge

jackJack and I are taking a Level 1 Obedience class at the Nashville Dog Training Club. We are halfway through the class of eight weeks. There are about 10 people and their dogs taking the class.

Jack loves the experience — so many sights and sounds and smells, so many new things. He’s a bit crazed by all the distractions. And I’m a bit crazed by being new at this dog-handling task.

THE TASK
Here’s the deal. The class is to teach me. I’m supposed to get and keep Jack’s attention and teach him to do things. I have Jack’s treats — baked hot dog slices — in a nail apron from Home Depot.

Jack is learning to walk loosely on the leash. To stop. Sit. Stay. Lie down. Walk slow. Walk fast. Watch me.

And … Come. The “come” command is, according to Tom the instructor, one of the most important things to teach a dog. It can save his life. Say, for instance, he gets out of the back yard and is running straight towards the interstate. Or a rabid dog. Or a herd of elephants. I would yell, “Jack! Come!!” And he would stop in his tracks and run to me (thus, saving his life).

They call this exercise “Release.” I give Jack to the teacher. Taking Jack’s leash with me, I walk to the other side of the exercise ring. I yell, “Jack! Come!!” and the teacher releases Jack. Then Jack races to me.

THE EVIL SQUEAKY TOY CHALLENGE
Last week, the teacher introduced a thing called “a distraction” to this exercise. The assistant teacher stood off to the side with a squeaky toy and squeaked it while the owners were calling the dogs. Jack and I were about 7th in line for the challenge, so he got to hear the squeaking for about five minutes before it was our turn. All that time, waiting in line, I couldn’t get him to look at me, eat a treat, acknowledge my existence. Jack was focused like “Laser Lassie” on the person with the toy.

Then it was our turn. I got in position and yelled, “Jack! Come!!”

And … he ran straight to the person holding the squeaky toy. When I went to get him, I couldn’t catch him. He stayed on the other side of the person with the toy.

The teacher said, “Next time, let’s put him on the long leash …”

I was mortified. But then I realized that there are several ways to look at this challenge:

1. Jack and I failed our “Release” exercise. OR
2. Jack was totally successful in finding the squeaky toy. OR
3. I’m still trying to learn how to get and keep Jack’s attention.

Nonetheless, I can be assured that Jack is truly a Scottish Terrier, a pedigreed, vermin-hunting wonder.

P.S. We’ve had another week to practice. Snd this time at class, Jack and I did a bit better with the squeaky toy challenge. I put him on the long leash, and he mostly ran to me when he was released.

Good dog, Jack. Good girl, Beth.

Grandpa Tom Becomes a Citizen

Grandpa Tom came to the U.S. when he was ten years old. Because his family arrived in the chaos of the United State’s entry into World War I, it took several years before he was able to become a naturalized citizen. (His family had been waiting to board the Lucitania to come to the U.S. when the boat was sunk on its way into England — but that’s a story for another day …)

In 1983, Grandpa was interviewed by my brother Charlie about many things, including Grandpa’s story of becoming a citizen. Here’s the story and a few pictures. I’m honored to be the granddaughter of one who left his home, came to this country, and became a citizen.

Jack and the Irresistible Instinct

jackSometimes I have the urge to do something, but I don’t know why. Jack, my favorite Scottie, has those irresistible urges, too. There’s a rawhide bone that causes this instinctual behavior in him. When he gets one of these bones, he wanders around with it hanging out of his mouth. He paces, he whines. He searches for a place to hide it. It’s just like those TV commercials that feature the dog trying to bury the bone.

It’s the most amazing thing to see these instincts coming out in Jack from his survival brain, the voices of his wolf ancestors reminding him that he might need sustenance later on, that he should carefully plan for the future.

When the Irresistible Instinct comes over Jack, he’s liable to “bury” that bone under his dog bed, behind a chair, in the pillows of the couch. One day he “buried” it under my elbow as I was lounging on the couch watching TV.

Jack, Jack,

I love you buddy. I’m sorry I laugh at you. And then “dig up” the bone and give it back to you to watch you do it all over again. This irresistible instinct of yours makes me love you even more.

Love,
Beth

Watch Jack and the Irresistible Instinct below or on YouTube.

Jack and the Windy Day

alertjack_smJack does not like windy days. There are strange noises. Leaves start chasing you down the street for no good reason. And Very Scary Things show up where they are not supposed to be. Like Big Scary Boxes. And Branches. And Trash Containers on Their Sides.

When Jack starts out on his walks, he surveys the street to be sure that everything is ok. If something is out of place, he goes into his “I’m Alert” pose — like in the photo above.

On this particular morning, there was a box in the middle of the street. Jack said he wasn’t going down the street because there was a Big Scary Something Where It Shouldn’t Be.  I moved the box to the curb, and Jack took some time to ponder whether it was safe to go by.

We eventually made it by the box and went on, doing our business. But then we had to come back the same way. It Was Still There!! What to do? It’s time to approach the Big Scary Box … in A Very Wary Manner.

 

Jack stared at the box for a while and it seemed to be tame enough.

 

He slowly approached it from the side.

Right after this picture was taken, the box must have jumped or something, because Jack shot back about three feet and refused to approach it again.

Brave pup. Our Jack. He’s king of the street. (Even if he gets a little jumpy on a windy day.)

 

Marty’s African Violet

African VioletsMy mom (Marty) and grandma both raised African Violets. I particularly remember the little plant stand in the east window of Grandma Ida Mae’s house in Ada, Oklahoma. The stand had shelves of african violets which she fed, watered, and turned with care. When Grandma died in 1981, I took a pink violet home with me. Then, when my mom passed away in 1983, I took home one of her purple violets.

I’ve kept these plants going through the years, starting new plants from the old ones. After a move a couple of years ago, the plants got some kind of fungus and I thought I had lost all the plants from Mom’s violet. But recently, a young plant bloomed and I realized that my “Marty” violet was still alive.

These plants are special — so much more than houseplants — they’re a little bit of presence of Ida Mae and Marty … women who helped make me who I am. I’m grateful for their presence, still with me after all these years.

Do you have heirloom plants in your life?

The Keeper

Beth in the 1980s
Beth in the 1980s

This was my first-ever published writing — in the “Patterns” issue of alive now! J/F 1985. I wrote this following my mom’s last trip to Colorado before her death in 1983 from a brain tumor. This piece speaks to me today as I prepare the “Living in the Present” issue, J/F 2011.

Yesterday at the top of the Trail Ridge, I was getting really frustrated because Mom was so slow. I had to walk her to the bathroom and wait while she went and washed and dried her hands. I walked out. Dad wanted to go to the gift shop, but Mom wanted to look at the display in the visitors’ center. So I stayed with Mom.

I was so angry because I did not want to see the display — we’ve seen it so many times before — every year the very same display of stuffed tundra birds and pictures and charts. As I watched her walk around and read each display like it was the first time she had read it, it all of a sudden hit me that she might never see it again. Each trip for her could be her last.

The reading of the display, the rituals that we participate in as a family — certain things to be done (mail a postcard to Aunt Eileen from the top of Trail Ridge, read “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”), certain things to be said (“When are we gonna get there?” “Smell that cool mountain air.” “We’ll have these moments to remember.”) — all these things take on new importance as we/she lives every day as a holy one. Mom is the keeper of the ritual right now. In the participation in these family rituals, there is a combination of such pain and joy, such comfort and such vulnerability.

From Alive Now, J/F 1985. Copyright © 1984 The Upper Room.