The Importance of Family and Reassurance that Life Does Goes On…

The Importance of Family and Reassurance that Life Does Goes On…

This past Saturday, the family celebrated Mom’s birthday by doing one of her favorite things.

We headed out for a day at the lake.
Independence Lake is one of those places that we would go to regularly over the years. Sometimes it was a Memorial Day or Labor Day. Other times it was for a birthday.
Last weekend was her birthday weekend. Dad and I planned the event, and my wife planned and prepared the meal (although I do admit that it was a bit strange not having Mom’s input as to the food or a strong reminder to keep it healthy). My Brother and Sister were there with their families, as was my own.
We are determined to stay close as a family. Mom had always wanted it that way, and even in her absence, it’s the one thing that we all work on maintaining. This picnic at the lake is a testament to that desire.
My wife Jean (as she’s referred to in Mom’s book) took on the bulk of the food prep and grilling and even made sure to have coleslaw the way Mom used to make it. Jean had been up to one or two the night before making delicious food, like her special hamburgers that were so big and juicy, they resembled meatloaf in a hamburger bun, but not as healthy as Mom would have liked (although no one complained). She even made sure to get Doctor D (My nephew’s gaming handle) some of those spicy sausages he likes, but I stole one of them. ;D

The kids spent a lot of time hunting around the shoreline looking for rocks and snails. Izzy even got herself a crayfish from under a rock. Dad brought some really nice fishing nets the kids used to sift through sand and pebbles to find the snails.
Dad and my sister took a long walk out on the boardwalk and around the perimeter of the park, just as he and Mom used to do.

We ate, laughed and had a great time, just as it was when Mom was there with us, and even though she wasn’t with us, it didn’t really feel like she was gone. It’s really interesting that even when someone is gone, there can be times when it still feels like they’re there, even when you can’t see them.
For us, the day was about having some fun, doing something that Mom really liked doing as a family, and creating new memories for all of us.

The Year The Trees Didn’t Die [Last Blog Post]

The Year The Trees Didn’t Die [Last Blog Post]

Minh was over the moon. “She knows how to cook Korean food!” We were standing in the kitchen as I put the kettle on for tea.
“She seems like a nice person.” Ken said, level headed as usual.
”Just don’t jump into anything too soon.” I of course had this worry. Wasn’t he going too fast? He’d just met Jean and they were already cooking together! Id seen him go though unimaginable heartache and pain, and I was scared that he was just like a moth to a buglight.
“It’ll be OK, mom.” He said as he ran out the door to pick her up. That was his usual answer. The one that turned on all the alarms in my mind. I watched out the window as he jogged out to his little back Honda Civic.
That car was the car of his dreams. It didn’t thump like the last one, and was fully paid off, unlike the Red Cavilier that had been repossessed. This one was fast. It was low to the ground, and it was his baby. “I guess that he’s doing better these days…” I said to Ken as he pulled down the driveway.
”Yup.” Ken wasn’t mincing words over this one. Where did all the time go? Minh had grown up, and as much as I tried, I could not protect him from pain or the harsh cruelness of this world. Even living here in Ann Arbor had not protected him from the evil that lurks in the shadow.
It was about 12:30 AM when I heard his civic pulling into the drive. “He’s home, love.” Mumbled Ken, barely cracking an eye open.
“I wonder if he’s ok…” I said. Ken sighed and got up. “Ill check.” He said and wearily went down the steps.
“Hi Dad!” It certainly didn’t sound like he was any worse for the wear. I nodded back off to sleep, relatively certain things were going to be alright.
“So, apparently Minh and Jean were out having a late meal.” Ken had brought me tea in bed the next morning. I glanced at the clock. Sunlight was streaming in the bedroom window. “Is he here?” I said, taking a sip. “Hah… can you believe it? He said he was leaving to go to church with Jean!” I looked over at Ken. He was chuckling as he got back into bed and picked up the paper.
“We’ve bed trying to get him to go to church for years!” I laughed sleepily, rolling over. I lay there for a while thinking about our life. Chandler, Broadway, our lives and our children, Minh, Anita and Sung. I remembered the first time Ken and I met Minh. Getting off that plane in the social worker’s arms, smiling at us. Laughing. Accepting us for who we were in that year the trees didn’t die.
I closed my eyes, and for once, I felt like everything was right with the world.

Ken, Roo and the Groundhog

Ken, Roo and the Groundhog

Ken is a gentle person. He rarely yells.
He expects decency from people and tries to reciprocate, but he does have his quirks. He CAN get angry.
Let him see a groundhog in our yard and he goes berserk. He’ll run out of the house, waving his arms and shouting. He’ll chase it until it scuttles under the fence.
“There,” Ken says to me. I stare at him. I don’t know what to make of this. Surely he knows he can’t win?

Ken Battles the Groundhog

Now I do understand that planting collards and kale only to have them eaten by the groundhog is frustrating. Yesterday we went out to get collards and most of them were gone, gone, gone. Then, later in the day my sister who was visiting looked out the kitchen window and said, “What is that trying to jump up your tomato cage?” I knew only too well what it was.
Fortunately (both for me and the groundhog), Ken was at the University of Michigan football game. So my sister and I shooed it away. But what was the point? I knew it would be back. And, it was.
It’s a waddling slow kind of creature at times. Eating the grass, which is fine, looking around. But then it gets greedy and heads for the garden and it eats whatever it wants. It can climb up the tomato cage, dig under the fenced-in collards, and decimate the lettuce. Whatever is there, it eats.
“I’m going to throw a rock at it, “ said Ken one day in a fury. All his kale, the second new planting had been chewed to the ground. “You can’t, “ I said. “That’s cruel. And it’s bad for the grandkids if they know about it.”
“Don’t tell them.”
“You can’t throw a rock at any living thing!” (I sounded obnoxiously righteous.) He didn’t throw a rock. But he went out to the yard and started hauling big stones from the back woody area. He searched for every entrance point he could find.
He enlisted our young grandson Roo when the Mid-Michigan Korals came. Ken and Roo walked around the fence that separates our yard from out neighbors. They prowled the back woody area, lugging stones and using them to block entry points.
Roo is just a little kid, only nine, but he hustled to be with his Grand Ken. Bella and Lex turned out to help too. Lex is eleven now and Bella is seven.
I refrained from pointing out that it was hopeless. Or at least, not very hopeful. If you block one entry point, the groundhog will seek another. We would have to cement the entire back yard to keep that groundhog out.
Well they got enough stones to line the fence, about fifteen feet or so. Ken heaved a sigh of satisfaction. He and Roo and his siblings downed ice cream and discussed how great it would be to not have all the tomatoes eaten. They could make BLT’s with a combination of those summer-ripe tomatoes, the crisp lettuce from the garden combined with the crunch of bacon (turkey bacon in our family) that makes it good. Roo and his siblings nodded and planned to go out and pick the biggest tomatoes, the ones that needed only a few more days to ripen.
Once they brought the tomatoes inside, we’d toast the bread and we’d have those sandwiches with ice cream for dessert. Drumsticks are the current favorite, the vanilla ones with chocolate topping.
The Mid-Michigan Korals left for home after hugs and kisses and Ken congratulating the kids on a job well done. “ See you this weekend,” he said. “I’ll make sure everything’s ready.
We read late that night. I was engrossed in a book by Asne Seirestad, a Norwegian journalist. It’s a book about the Bosnian war, With Their Backs to the World. Ken was finishing his Henry James, a dark one where the main character suicides at the end of the novel.
You might remember that another grandson of ours is staying with us while he attends Washtenaw Community College. He gets up early to make class and he took the this photo one morning.
We will get our tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market.

The Free Library

The Free Library

The Free Library is up at 1643 Broadway.

People are taking books, magazines and DVD’s.  They are leaving books and magazines and an occasional DVD. So, I am excited and happy. I have wanted to do this for at least two years since I first heard about it but I dawdled.  I checked online for prices. Not so cheap.
This year, Ken said, “Do it.”  We are living  with gratitude. I am still here and pretty healthy for Stage Four Cancer.  Ken hired our great neighbor (who will be moving) Jan to dig the post hole and our grandson, a great guy who is living with us and going to college, made and painted the post. We picked out our library on line.  One summer day Dante, the live-in grandson, and Ken put it up. I was thrilled. I thought we should be dancing in the street.

It’s in the photo above.

I sent out a notice to our neighborhood group and hoped for the best.  These are books after all., not audiobooks, not on a tablet. Would anyone want one?  I waited. I looked out the window the next morning and the little library was there alright, green with a gray roof and a sky-blue post.
Ken came into the bedroom with a cup of tea and said,  “I just saw the greatest thing.  I was heading out to get the paper” ( Another fading icon. But it IS the New York Times.) “and saw a little girl opening the door to the library. She put in a book and took out the Golden Books you had there. She ran to the car where he mom was waiting with blinkers on and calling out what she had. I didn’t want to scare her, so I stayed back”. ( He was wearing his orange robe, a sunhat and pajama bottoms, a site alright!

I took the girl as a good sign.  And it seems to be true.

There are numerous free libraries  in Ann Arbor. For them to work best, they should beon a street with lots of foot traffic. Fortunately, Broadway has lots of foot traffic. What do you find of you look in one?
Well, it’s like of like hunting around at a thrift store. You never know. It changes from week to week.  There is literature, Erdrich, Ondatjee,… murder mysteries, always popular, commercial lit, Ann Tyler, kids lit, and picture books from time to time.

Why do it?

I grew up with a mom who gave meter readers ( which we had then) coffee and home made bread with apple butter.
I was one of seven kids, four uncles and my parents living in a three bedroom- one bath house. I had plenty of people who would stop to listen to what I had to say. ( Being verbal I always had a LOT to say.)  It wasn’t perfect, but it WAS connected. I had no idea when I went off with Ken far from St. Mary’s in a place where I knew almost  no one that I would not have community. How could I know and it would not have made a difference anyway.
I made my choice, likety split.  Only afterward did I realize that Ken and I had different views of what connection is. He is happy with a few people and his science.  He doesn’t need to talk all that much.  (He is a super guy. Don’t get the wrong idea! He brings me tea EVERY morning. I am crazy about this guy who almost never needs to talk that much)

I crave neighborhood.  I love connection.

Free libraries allow for people to stop in front of your house. Maybe you will get to exchange a few words. Maybe the person will just pull a book out and go on.  But it’s opportunity for connection through the books you offer and the chance to stop a while and be part of a group.
So, I put notes on some books, telling people what the book is about. I consider leaving treats, but my Grandson says that’s over-the-top.  I think I am going to do it anyway. Wrapped hard candies maybe, something that will allow people to feel safe eating them and not melt.Hershey Kisses would be best but I have to wait for cooler weather.

So I write a blog.  I have a free library.

I, in the words of Joseph Campbell, learned to let go of the life I imagined ( Did I think a research physicist would find a job in a small factory carbon town.?
Probably. How naïve. Did I think I would live without hassle? ) I am making room for the life I have. Yeah for readers and neighbors and strangers who stop and become neighbors.

Yay for Free libraries. For life.

The Koral Kids in Uncle John’s Pond

The Koral Kids in Uncle John’s Pond

I’m going to tell you the story of the Koral Kids and John’s pond. But you need a little background to take the story in. The first thing that helps to know is that the pond is in the back of the Cleveland house. (the same house I refer to in my book)

 It was designed and crafted by John, my husband’s brother. It is not big. It’s just a very small pond where the local frogs and deer take a drink. It’s rimmed by rocks. There is an owl sculpture off to the side. The setting is perfect. If you watch long enough, you will see the local wildlife: deer or chipmunks, birds taking a drink. At night, the raccoons appear and drink. John and his family have lived in the house with the pond for over twenty-five years. The beloved center of our Cleveland famil

y life, is on Falling Leaves road. You can see the backyard view to the right.

It’s a tranquil setting, the kind of setting you read about in Better Homes and Gardens while you wait your turn in the dentist’s office. I don’t quite know how to describe the feeling of the place. Maybe ordered? I think the place is both welcoming and ordered. You do not expect the unexpected to happen in the house with the pond.

Okay, that is one part of the setting. Now there’s another part.

My oldest, his wife and three kids, Lex, Drew and Bella often come to Ann Arbor to visit us. Our house can best be described as eclectic.
The unexpected does happen here: Somebody locks their keys in the car. The milk from the grocery store is going to spoil! Somebody else puts too much popcorn in the corn popper and popcorn explodes all over the kitchen. In the end, the keys are retrieved with help from a locksmith and the popcorn is swept up.
But, we surely do not have a Better Homes and Garden kind of place. Although, we do have deer who stop by to eat all our tulips in the spring. It’s a different kind of place from John’s, not better or worse, but different.

One other thing before we get to the pond story.

Jean, my son’s wife, is meticulous. Their kids are her joy and she raises them with care. They are wonderful kids, very easy to have around.
John loves to have them come visit him. He creates forts out of boxes, draws faces on oranges, and buys Malley’s chocolates for them.

So, two years ago my oldest and his family went to visit John.

The kids were told they could run out into the woods to play. This was a huge treat because they are city children, unused to running free. It was a warm summer day. And, although I was not there, I can almost hear them, hooting and hollering, running free in the woods.

They were living a kid’s dream.

They raced down the hill through the tall trees and back uphill to the house. Up and down, up and down. Sweat streamed down their faces. They ran out of breath. But just then, they spied the pond and began the tricky maneuver of leaning over the edge to see what was in the pond. All three of them stood on the edge, peering, balancing on the rocks.

One of them lost his balance.

The oldest, Lex, appeared at the back door, dripping. Jean and Minh cleaned Lex up and I suppose sort of reprimanded him for not being more careful. That’s an important value for Jean. Be careful!

That value was going to be tested.

They were not even done with putting Lex’s clothes in the dryer, when Drew appeared in the same wet condition. John was kept busy coming up with towels. They dried Drew off and put his clothes in the dryer along with Lex’s
I bet you know what happened next. Yes, of course you do. Bella appeared dripping wet.
Since she was smaller, she was wet up to her chest and crying indignant tears. Her parents toweled her off and added her clothes to the pile. I have no idea what was said at this point. What could anybody say? You could laugh or cry, and I know that John was laughing because when he called me later, he was still lauging.
Eventually everybody’s clothes come out warm, dry and ready to wear.

Are we done with the story? Not yet.

Bella, determined soul, went outside, walked around the pond again, slipped on the mossy stones and went in.
By now John was stunned. Things like that did not happen at his house. “Twenty-five years,” he said when he called me. “Nobody even got a foot wet in twenty-five years, and in one day, three kids fall into the pond, one of them twice.”

We are going to move ahead two years. There’s still more of the pond story.

The kids and their parents go back to visit John for the Lunar New Year. It’s February, and there’s snow in the woods. The snow covers everything. Drew, Lex and Bella and run up and down the hill. They are oblivious to the cold and snow. Drew follows the tracks of a chipmunk which lead toward the house.
He is only thinking about the tracks. I am pretty sure he is not thinking about the pond at all. He certainly can’t see it because the pond is covered with a screen so that leaves will be caught as they fall. The screen is covered by the snow. Drew trudges closer and closer to the house his eyes are chipmunk tracks. His older brother is behind him.

Oh, it’s coming! He is about to…

Step on the thin snow-covered screen, fall through the thin ice and into the pond. Lex lets out a shout. He knows he was minutes away from doing the same thing.
Drew knocks on the glass door. His shoes are soaked. His jeans are wet. John and his parents are caught between the past and present, between laughter and amazement.

How is it possible?

My son stops to see us on their way home. Drew is carried in. I can see he has no shoes. They tell the story. “Is it this a tradition now?” I ask.
Drew looked at me and shrugged his shoulders, sheepish. I hugged him, said it could happen to anyone. ( Maybe). There’s something about the story I love. It is the unexpectedness. How many more times will this happen?
Plus there’s the drawing that Lex made when he sent off a thank you note to John for the visit. This is the best part, I think.
“Caution”, he wrote. “Falling Persons on Falling Leaves”. Then he drew a picture of a person flat on his back in the pond. Who could not love that?

Calcutta Sandals

Calcutta Sandals

Anita came in early spring.
Snow still splotched on the ground. It was April.
She had had a long flight from Calcutta to Frankfurt to Detroit. She’d been travel sick and the aid that was with her changed her from a ruffled dress (a dress to impress) to the yellow and brown outfit you see in the photo. She is being handed over to us in the one picture. The worker isn’t visible, the picture not sharp or cropped well, but there she is, almost catatonic with bewilderment.
She must have been thinking: Who ARE these people? Where am I? Wow! Her courage takes me aback even now. Well, the courage of all the kids still jolts me at times. Most of us can’t imagine being picked up and put on a plane and set down half a world away. This is your family now. Bye Bye.

See the sandals on her feet?

She LOVED those sandals. She wore the yellow and brown outfit as often as I could get it out of the washer and into the dryer. But the sandals she wore every minute: In bed. Outside in the snow that still held. I wondered what people must have thought, this mite of a thing standing in the middle of the front yard while I tried luring her into the stroller for a walk. She was often tear streaked, refusing the stroller and wearing her sandals, It was the usual Michigan April. Cold. Snow flurries some of the time. She did allow socks. The same white socks that came with her from India. Thin white socks. So there was this tiny girl, afraid of almost everything, waving the first robins away if they came to near her, wearing her brown and yellow outfit most days and her brown sandals with white socks.
I don’t know how we managed to do it, but we lost Anita’s sandals. We had carried her out to the car, barefoot. It was a Sunday and we wanted to get out, try for a little fun. It was hard to get anywhere with two kids. (When we got to three kids it proved to be even harder, of course.)
We got her into her car seat. No small feat since she resisted every step of the way and could, because she was so small, actually worm herself out of her seat.
Ken got her in the car seat. I strapped Minh in his and we were ready to go for some family relief time, which is what we called it then, to Gallup Park. We’d look at the ducks and walk around and maybe try a paddle boat. The weather was finally turning milder and Anita had moved from silence to an echo. Water, Anita. Water. She was so quick, so smart. We got to the par and looked for Anita’s sandals in the back seat. Nothing. In the trunk of the car? Nothing. In my purse? No. Where?
Oh, no! I knew where! I had put them on the roof of the car while I strapped Minh in his seat. I had meant to get them and put them on her.

I’d lost her sandals.

We could retrace our route and look, but what were the chances? Horrible! It sounds ridiculous to be so distressed by a pair of sandals that probably cost next to nothing. But they were a small piece of home comfort for her. We turned around to search. The chances were exactly what we thought they would be, zero.
We looked at Anita. She looked at us. Silent tears. We’d been careless with her precious Indian sandals.
Now what? Would she go barefoot? Refuse to wear any shoes? Who knew? Not me. Anything could have happened.

Well, we went back to Gallup Park and Ken carried her around.

She liked that. We rented a paddle boat; she tried to get her feet into the water. She laughed when she sat on Ken’s lap and her toes barely touched the water. Whew.
On the way back home, we rerouted to a Meijer’s where they already had sandals on display and she picked out a pair, brown, like her Indian sandals. These new sandals became her Sunday-when-we-drove-off- with her Indian sandals on top of the car sandals.
Her “new Indian sandals.” Such a small thing in the big picture. But not really.

Every parent knows the feeling of losing something precious that their child loves.

A blanket that gets shrunk in the drier. A stuffed animal eaten by a dog, or left in a restaurant. It’s the part of parenting that moment when you feel, “Oh, no! I could not have done that! What am I going to do? ” Well you haven’t left the child behind, so there’s that.
Turns out Anita fell in love with her new brown sandals and wore them every day from spring to late fall when we finally persuaded her to try some new red sneakers. But she kept the sandals. Some mornings, I’d find them under her pillow, along with the crackers she took to bed with her.

The sandals are in her box of treasures.

Now she wears six inch heels with rhinestones down the back of the heels. She has shoes stacked up everywhere in her house. The rhinestone heels, leopard print heels, multicolored sneakers, and yes, a pair of brown sandals, with gold studs on them.
She is a shoe freak and her daughter follows along. Her daughter begs to try Anita’s shoes on. Her mother protests. “You’ll fall. And besides, your foot is already longer than mine.” True. Anita is a size six. Her daughter is six and a half, already taller than her mother. But her daughter is still a young kid, who sneaks the shoes anyway and walks around imagining the day she will wear, not brown sandals, but rhinestone heels. She is wearing black leggings, a top with a cute fuzzy cat imprinted on it, and the rhinestone heels. She walks from the living room to the kitchen, carefully balancing.
The dog barks at her, young girl teetering in her shoes and Anita laughs.

The Korean Tiger and the Green Mask

The Korean Tiger and the Green Mask

Sung was eagerly anticipated by his siblings, Minh and Anita. They asked many times a day when he would come, what they could do with him, would he play with them?

Well, he came and he was not what they anticipated, of course. He roared around the clock until he exhausted himself into sleep. Minh and especially Anita were dumbfounded. I think they felt if I had promised them double dips at the Washtenaw Dairy and then pawned yogurt off on them. But. Sung came to life. He caught hold and held on, laughing and playing. He’d do almost anything if it meant that Anita and Minh would play with him. And they mostly did. He was so much fun, much of the time.
But underneath all that playing was an element of “Gotcha.” Sung drove them nuts when he went into one of his flooded-with-fear-and-anger tantrums. So they had some submerged or not so submerged resentment and they knew what he was afraid of. They were capable of collusion. In this way, they managed a big “Gotcha.” Sung hated one particular green Halloween mask that Minh owned, an ugly thing that Minh was proud to own since it proved that he could be scary if he wanted to be. (The least scary kid around.)
It was hideous, rubber, green, bulging eyes, and fanged teeth. Minh had used it for Halloween and kept it in the bedroom, despite Sung’s pleas for him not to. But Minh did keep it in a drawer, out of sight.

On the night of the big “Gotcha” Minh and Ken and Anita were in the living room while I read to Sung in the kids’ bedroom. Sung had two favorite stuffed animals at that point, a raccoon given to him by Ken’s brother, John, and a bear, Winnie the Pooh. The raccoon had a big belly, so Sung called him Potsee. Pooh was Pooh, not as important as Potsee, but there.

You can see the two of them in the picture above.

I heard muffled voices in the living room, laughter. We continued reading, Bedtime for Francis, the perfect book for Sung who resisted bedtime fiercely. We finished the story and went out to the living room. He passed around kisses and begged for a snack. Well, why not?
More laughter from the living room. We were in the kitchen now, Sung and I. Something seemed a little weird, but I dismissed it, spread peanut butter on a graham cracker and poured some milk. Sung ate the snack, went off to brush his teeth and get into bed. “I’ll tuck you in, “ I called, “as soon as I put the milk in the fridge.”
Screams. Yells. Pounding feet. More laughter, louder this time, from the living room. Out of control laughter. We-got-you-this-time laughter.

“Potsee, “ screamed Sung. “Potsee!”

What could have happened to Potsee? Did those two older ones, take him? I went into the bedroom. Potsee was in bed under the covers, just his face showing. But it wasn’t his face. He had a green mask on his face, the very one Sung feared.
I reared in anger. “Not funny,” I called. “You two are in trouble.”
“Oh, Mary,” said Ken. “ It’s not that bad.”
I gave him the evil eye and took the mask out to the garage. Far enough away that Sung would calm down.
I frowned at the two older ones, who were still laughing, although, by now, they looked a little contrite seeing their younger brother so upset. Still I was sure they thought it was worth it. They had claimed the upper hand. If Sung bugged them too much, they’d come up with something to retaliate.
I huffed at Ken. How could he have allowed the kids to do that? I told him he was going to be the one to comfort Sung if he woke with nightmares.

Sung didn’t wake with nightmares. Oh no. He had his own plan.

It was the middle of the night, the usual time when one of the kids would often awake and cry out. One of us would stumble into the room to offer comfort. But this time, there was no crying. There was a fierce sound.
Yelps and astonishment from Minh and Anita. “Sung, you’re crazy!’
Laughter from Sung who stood in the middle of the room, holding Potsee and roaring for all he was worth. He was pretty good at it.
“Wow, Sung,” said Ken who had come into the room with me. “ You’re not a raccoon. You’re a Korean Tiger! You sure roar like one.” Minh and Anita were wide eyed. Their little brother had managed his own, “Gotcha.”
Everybody went back to sleep, the Korean Tiger held both Pooh and Potsee, wholly content. The three of them bonded together by crazy things, a bear, a mask and a fat raccoon.
They still talk about Potsee and the mask and the revenge of the Korean Tiger. They laugh and think it’s one of their best stories.
Ken did get Sung a stuffed tiger and now, Sung has a toddler son. He and his son and Ken play the roaring game over and over until his son, falls to the floor laughing helplessly.
Then one more time… RRRRRRRRR.

The Bear and the Dog

The Bear and the Dog

My oldest son asked me to blog about the time he lost his bear

And, like most kids, he thinks he lost the bear he now has. Maybe he thinks I retrieved it for him. I didn’t though. Here’s how it was. He was young, maybe two or three. We were out walking in the neighborhood. I was pushing him in the stroller, nothing cool like they have now. As I remember it was plaid and did have an undercarriage where things could be stored. We were walking up Barton Drive past Northside School. It a reasonable hill and I was moving along, kind of gloating that I could move up the hill at a fair clip pushing a child in a stroller. Never gloat.

The Dog Snatches The Bear

Out of nowhere that I could see, a big German Sheppard comes bolting toward us and snatches the bear (a brown one) that my son was holding. I was stunned. He cried. Should I leave him in the stroller and run after the dog? How could I? I’d never catch the dog and if I somehow did, how was I going to get it out of his mouth? The dog bounded across the schoolyard, bear in his mouth.

My son stopped crying to turn and look at me. I was still standing there trying to process what had happened? Tears were on my son’s face. Oh God! I failed him. I allowed a dog, a dog! to take his bear away. His beloved bear that we got for him when he came, the one that played Braham’s Lullaby. Misery.
We pushed on to home, the green house near the river. I held my son and assured him that somehow we would make this okay. I had no idea how. So, Ken came home from work and the first thing I said was, “We have to replace the bear. He can’t sleep without it. We need to go out now and find the same bear.” Why do we parents think we can do that? We couldn’t replace the bear. There was one toy store in Ann Arbor at that time and they did not have a brown bear that played Braham’s Lullaby.

Our son looked at the bears we offered him and shook his head, no. More misery.

But wait. There WAS a bear that played Braham’s Lullaby. The thing was, it was orange. Whoever heard of an orange bear? But that was the bear he wanted. That’s the bear he took for his. He kept it for years.

And, the weird thing is another dog came on the scene

Sugar, a dog from the humane society that was part German Sheppard, a real love of a dog. But. Sigh. She got hold of the bear and chewed its face. She somehow damaged the music box. What is it about dogs and bears, anyway? Our son was long past carrying bears around but he wasn’t one bit happy about the mess.
I kept the bear. Years and years later, he is a father now, I found a woman who made repairs and sent the bear off to her (Doll Hospital & Toy Soldier Shop, Berkley, MI). She worked hard. She even found Braham’s Lullaby for the music box. We gave it to our son for Christmas. The orange bear sits in his house and I imagine that sometimes he plays the tune for his kids. They do not have a dog.
(A note from Minh: Mom, the bear sits in my home office, on a shelf with so many other stuffed animals that I’ve collected over the years, and like The Velveteen Rabbit, or how Pooh was to Christopher Robbins, “Red Bear” along with the others have all had rich lives and still do come out from time to time when my children need a friend. When I read this, I immediately grabbed Red Bear and took the picture you see in the photo above. He’s still in one piece, but showing obvious scars from his near death experience. Thanks for holding on to him for all those years and restoring him so he could be “real” for my children as well.)