We drive into the college town guided by the GPS, which sends us to the lovely home of Yogini Writer Teacher Mom and Architect Painter Musician and their two small sons and two old dogs and one ancient cat.
When we first met in the early 90s, I was a few years younger than Yogini Writer Teacher Mom is now, and she was a sophomore in my writing class. Through work we did on social justice issues on our campus, and our shared addiction to literature, we began a lifelong conversation that we resume every few years, as we can. The last time I saw her was at her wedding six years ago. The time before that was at mine.
She has prepared a tray of scones and coffee cakes and fresh strawberries, which we enjoy in the garden. Fresh tulips and lilies in vases, the magnolia tree out front, and the rich green grass all conspire to make me forget that it's March.
While the boys are in pre-school, we talk about teaching; writing; family; birth order and how it affects, well, everything; dogs; the eternal quest to fit writing into an extremely busy life; and my recent travels to India (where her great-grandparents fled the Nazis to practice medicine in Bangalore for ten years) and the time passes so quickly that at the end of it we wish we could just set the visit on rewind and relive those 90 minutes again.
Zoe is thrilled to be hosted by two elder statesdogs. The team captain, a basset hound, is a proud old Southerner who expects Zoe and her people to follow strict protocols. I learn this firsthand when I hug him and kiss his head, as I do so often with Zoe it's as automatic as breathing. The team captain would prefer air kisses on a first encounter, or better yet, a handshake. I apologize for my presumptuousness and he agrees to let me stay as long as I behave.
Mr. Gratitude is a black-and-white Heinz 57 that this family rescued from evil forces, which is why he and his entourage are traveling by their spy names today.
For months Mr. Gratitude and his mother, Helen Keller, were made to live on their own in a garage. Their person, who by all accounts truly loved them, had died, and her dandy son inherited the two senior pooches. Said son is a man about town who was busy running for Dogcatcher. With so much to do for the campaign, new suits to buy, shoes to keep shiny, babies to kiss, he couldn't find the time either to take his late mother's dogs in or find homes for them. I guess he thought, hey, they're old. Every few weeks or so he'd remember the dogs and bring a big trough of food for them, but he kept expecting them to be dead. How disappointing it must have been for him to discover that, despite his best non-efforts, these two were survivors--in part because of the kindness of their neighbors.
Yogini Writer Teacher Mom kept her eye on these dogs, and visited them with her children, and now Mr. Gratitude is part of their family. Two months ago, before he came home with them, he had no fur on him. Now he has a lovely thick coat. He is so sweet that it took great restraint on my part not to sneak away with him.
The vet and another neighbor are paying for Helen Keller's care. When they took her to the animal hospital she had 20 kidney stones. She is also blind and deaf, but she may have life in her yet.
Yogini Writer Teacher Mom and Architect Painter Musician work full time. YWTM teaches four courses a semester, all of them writing-intensive, and she spends her days grading endless stacks of papers when she's not looking after the two small boys, whom we picked up from their pre-school at lunchtime. Yet this busy family found the means to save these dogs.
Zoe has had a lifelong fear of peppy little boys, but after a few minutes in the company of the three-year-old, who knew just how to approach her, she felt brave enough to meet the other children at the pre-school. Under this young dog whisperer's calming influence she allowed herself to be petted by three small children at once, and as her closing act she ventured over, on her own initiative, to meet a baby. This was a major milestone in Zoe's career as an ambassador for her kind.
But when it came to the cat, Zoe made no progress. For her entire life she has hoped in vain to befriend a cat, or better yet, to find a cat who is willing to wrestle with her without using its claws, get her high on its catnip, then carry around her food and open doors for her. Zoe wagged her tail and stared, and the cat stared back, but Zoe's shadow loomed too large against the wall for the cat to dare to venture inside.