Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Old Postcard Wednesday--Shiprock, New Mexico

Thirsty Boots

You've long been on the open road you've been sleepin' in the rain
From dirty words and muddy cells your

clothes are soiled and stained
But the dirty words and the mud of cells will soon be judged insane
So only stop and rest yourself and you'll be off again
Oh take off your thirsty boots
And stay for awhile
Your feet are hot and weary from a dusty mile
And maybe I can
make you laugh
And maybe I can try
Lookin' for the evenin'
And the mornin' in your eyes

Then tell me
of the ones you saw
As far as you could see
Across the plains from field to town

Marchin' to be free
And of the rusted prison gates that tumble by degree

Like laughing children one by one
They look like you and me
So take off your thirsty boots and stay for awhile
Your feet are hot and weary from a dusty mile
And maybe I can make you laugh and maybe I can try
Just lookin' for the evenin' and the mornin' in your eyes

I know you are no stranger down the crooked rainbow trail
From dancing cliff edge shattered sills to slander shackled jails
Where the voices drift up from below as walls are bein' scaled
Yes all of this and more my friend your
song shall not be failed
Oh take off your thirsty boots and stay for awhile

Your feet are hot and weary, from a dusty mile
And maybe I can make you laugh, and maybe I can try
Just lookin for the evenin' and the mornin' in your eyes

So take off your thirsty boots and stay for awhile
Your feet are hot and weary from a dusty mile

And maybe I can make you laugh and maybe I can try
Lookin' for the evenin' and the mornin' in your eyes.

Lyrics: Thirsty Boots, John Denver

A beloved family member died in the early hours of Veterans Day. Years ago we called him Boots just to identify the stray with the four huge white paws who roamed the neighborhood alone for a full five years after the family up at the corner loaded everything into a U-Haul and left him sitting on the front stoop. It was simple to feel his heartbreak; he'd been the love and solace of the t'ween girl who didn't seem to have much else to hold onto in her world. Often the first summer after we moved to our house down the street we'd walk or drive by to find her standing in her yard with her cat wrapped in her arms, providing all-consuming comfort for one another to help them survive that day together.

After the girl's horrid-looking father left with the kids (there was no mother evident) the cat stayed on the porch constantly day and night except to venture for some food. After two weeks he skulked away, grown thin from hunger and resignation. I'd never before witnessed an animal withdraw into the depths of itself, to go from pet to a critter with only survival in mind. He made no human or animal friends and was a solitary, and obviously successful, hunter grown into sleek muscle that gave him the edge on dominance in the block. When we'd see him at night in the headlights of our car as we drove to our house Mike would yell out "Bootszszs!" (he secretly admired the big scrappy tomcat and I secretly wanted to re-tame him) and, even with the windows closed, I'd beg him to keep his voice down and not scare the cat. By then I'd named him Bootsie, but lay no claim to him in the slightest. This cat showed no inclination to munch at the big communal bowl I place out in the wildlife area nightly. There stray cats start off on the food and by dark the raccoons and skunks take over.

As adventurous and amorous as the summers must have been for Bootsie, by the beginning of the fifth winter he was really worn from life on the prowl. Many fights had left his ears looking like a scrapbooker with a special tool had nicked the edges into a random outline. One fight had closed and infected his eye and when the eye healed there was a black bump of scar tissue on the lower lid. He was getting old, sickly, skinny, and haunted from years of heartbreak. Those were the first words I spoke to him -- through the wildlife yard fence -- in our backyard in October 2004. He had decided to check out that food bowl back there, finally he really needed it. I sat on the ground and told him all about his heartbreak, relaying the sad story of his little girl and how much she loved him, and I told him there was still love right here. He ran away. This pattern repeated for about three nights and then on the fourth night I put my hand through the fence and he hooked into my finger a claw that looked like an antler it was so long and tough. It hurt like hell and I calmly told him that it did. But, I said, I'm not mad at you. So we stared at one another while my hand bled and throbbed, and then he allowed me to put my other hand through the fence to loosen the hold he had on me, never losing eye contact.

Slowly, as the weeks progressed he began enjoying warm milk back there, and then his own bowl of food. Gradually, he allowed me to lightly pet him. And finally he purred when I did. After that it really was no trouble for Mike and me to trick him into the cat carrier and off he went for the full veterinary work-up, alteration, and shots.

When he came home from the vet he was ours, hands down. His tag said Boots at Mike's request because he thought it a more fitting name for the big boy, but he was my Bootsie. He never left except to walk across the street once in awhile. He came inside and slept by the fire during the day and had his own electric bed in the garage at night. Bootsie was the only cat I've ever had that I could imagine attacking someone who would try to do me harm. He was devoted to me, and he and Mike had a valued relationship.

When Boots began losing weight late this summer I had a consultation and Bootsie had an examination with the vet. The blood work up showed thyroid trouble, a miserable and too common affliction in cats. We'd had the radioactive treatment on my most precious of all cats in 2001, which cured the hyperthyroidism but eventually caused the kidney failure that ultimately caused his death. I made the decision that day to just let Bootsie's life and death take their own course. He's been doing well, even getting a tummy back that had me so encouraged for winter. Two days ago I had the biggest hugging time with him, telling him how much I love him and just soaking up the rich tones of his loud purr.

All these evenings when we walk the dogs together Boots has walked with us to the curb in front of the house, and has waited for our return. On the occasions when we are home later at night he is always the first we see running to the garage to greet us. So, with Mike on vacation this week, we spent Monday away together and when we came home early in the evening Bootsie wasn't there with the other three "garage cats" to greet us, and then when he didn't come to be put inside the garage with his food for the night, I knew something was terribly wrong. I couldn't count how many times I went outside to call for him Monday night/Tuesday morning, and I finally went to bed at 4:30 a.m.

At 10:00 a.m. Tuesday morning Mike gently woke me to tell me that Bonbon, our standard poodle, had pointed him to Boots. He was dead in our fern garden next to the house, stretched out under a giant fern. We put him on a towel in the laundry room and, because he wasn't stiff yet, I was able to stroke his fur and rub his feet. It was surreal to see him dead. There were no signs of a fight, having been hit, or poisoned. We decided to bypass the veterinary clinic altogether (no autopsy, no cremation) and bury him right here in our backyard that he loved so much. Mike asked if I wanted his tag and I couldn't have imagined removing it from Bootsie's neck. He was so proud of his tag, and he's the only of the four outside cats who adopted us to have not lost his original collar and tag.

After the course of action was decided upon I was too much a wreck to do the burial. I took a Lorazepam that I keep for emergencies along this line and went to bed for the day. Feather and Shiva slept with me, affording soft comfort. In the late afternoon Mike woke me to let me know that the t'ween girls next door had come over to do the raking job for which I'd paid one of them in advance so that she could buy something to wear for "Freaky Friday" at school. He put them to work, adding more compensation, and then the girls helped him prepare Bootsie's body after he had dug the hole. Mike lowered Bootsie down onto a bed of ferns as the girls suggested, and covered him with more ferns and roses from our garden.

Tonight I placed his ceramic bowl full of milk next to the little mound in the yard out back.



Darlene said...

Thank you for a wonderful story of compassion and love.

francessa said...

Lydia, this is such a beautiful story and poem, and I understand your grief. I am also sad now after reading this. Get some comfort by remembering how many happy moments you shared with Bootsie and how you could improve his miserable life.

Adam said...

yay, postcard wednesday :)

and great story. Striking and powerful, it reminded me of the relationships people need to have with animals...brought some perspective into my day.


jfrancis said...

Life and death
live next door
to us all___
it helps prepare
for the next,
wether high kin
or low
or those
who have worn
a familar place
in our life.

rachael said...

I wish I had words to convey how much I empathize with you. It's coming up on the one year anniversary of my dog passing away.
What you did for Bootsie was something that I'm sure he will forever remember. You gave him a second chance at life, and I hope that you'll find peace in knowing that wherever he is now, he'll never forget what you and your husband did for him.
Hang in there,

Buddha said...

Oh man! That was such a beautiful story. I have a knot in my throat.
I know how you feel. I am an animal lover and I've lost a couple in my life. It is always a heart break. I always said: You don't loose a pet you loose unconditional love.
Hang in there!

Lydia said...

Thank you for reading my lost post about Bootsie and for considering it wonderful.

I'm touched you found it both beautiful and sad, but hope you didn't remain sad for long! I do gain comfort from what you mentioned, and I hope he in some way knows how much I'm missing him.

Thanks much for stopping by on Old Postcard Wed. As my first reader you remember the beginnings of the postcard days here at my blog. Bootsie would be darned proud to know that his story brought perspective into your day. He would purr.

Your comment was poetic and comforting, and I wonder if that is your poetry - or a quote. Either way, I appreciated it immensely.

Thank you so much for commiserating with me in this loss. I know the year anniversary of your dog's passing will be difficult for you. It's just impossible to believe they've been gone from your life for only two days, let alone one whole year. I hope you're right about Bootsie feeling peace and remembering his home with us. I think the love we built goes on and on (like that song from Titanic, sappy but true).

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

I'm so sorry to hear your news about Boots - as a cat owner myself i know what Boots must have meant to you.

My two were both also adopted - from my neighbour who'd inherited them from his ex-partner. Whilst she was about they were cared for, but they came to me with no medical history for the past 3-4 years. They're both elderly and i worry about them constantly (apart from when Furry falls asleep with his face in mine!).

I'm glad you were able to give Boots such a wonderful life xx

Lydia said...

Aw, you worry about your cats constantly...they are lucky and certainly feel your love if that's how deeply you care. I guess it's best to not worry about future heartbreak over loss when they add so much to our lives in the present. Thanks for your sentiments about Bootsie (I noticed you called him Boots; it must be a "guy thing").

Lydia said...

Sorry to not respond to your dear comments in order. I think I'm kinda drifty right now. I am hanging in there and really gain strength from fellow animal lovers who know what I'm going through right now.

Bird said...

I am so glad that Boots got to know love and warmth again; because of you his story has a happy ending. I am so sorry for how you must feel right now. His story brought tears to my eyes as it mirrors the tale of my last beloved cat who died of thyroid problems. Although completely blind for a year before her death she still kept the fierce independence that wild living had brought her, while being the most loving and soppiest animal I have ever known. She died two years ago and I still miss her, though it's not quite so painful any more. Again, I am so sorry for how you must feel, but always remember that Boots had an adventurous and ultimately happy life because of you.

Lydia said...

Thank you for your understanding. It seems that you and I were going through a similar time with favorite cats some years ago. My precious one, the boy we did the radioactive thyroid treatment for and had lots more good years afterward, ultimately fought kidney failure for his last two years and died two years ago. Like you, I think about him every day and he will always live in my heart.
Enjoy a great weekend.

Lily Hydrangea said...

Lydia, I just finished reading your beautiful touching tribute to Bootsie. Thank you for sharing that.
Like Rachel, I believe they do always remember, but I also believe they will be waiting for us when it is our time to cross over. It doesn't lessen the pain, but it does give me hope when I think of my lost loved ones.
Bootsie reminds me of our Sylvia with the nicked ears & feral temperament. Only it was a good year before she let us pet her. I just kept feeding her & eventually she gave in. That's how I know she loves our dog, she could easily make mincemeat out of Priscilla if she wanted too.
I really loved what you wrote Lydia.

Lydia said...

You really do have a pair with Sylvia and Priscilla!
Thank you for your words of comfort and hope. Each day is getting a bit easier, but we're sad without Bootsie and I'm still placing the bowl of warm milk next to his little grave each night. I get a sense he knows this ..... and the stray cats who eat here and the raccoons think they hit the jackpot I'm sure!

Citizen of Earth said...

I am now reminded of every pet that I have ever loved
Has ever loved me

Especially Fred
A cat that came into my life
And then departed
In much the same way

Fred just showed up one day
I didn't choose him
Like it or not
He chose me

For a week or two
He refused invitation
But he was always around

And then it was me
Who refused him
I really didn't want a cat

Then I relented
OK I said
You can come in
And in he came

Your name is Fred I informed him

And he answered to that name from that day forward

Fred blessed our home with love
(And occasionally with fleas)
For eleven years.

Lydia said...

Citizen of Earth,
Tears in my eyes. Your Fred sounds a lot like Bootsie. I wish we'd had him for eleven years instead of just over four.
"I am now reminded of every pet that I have ever loved
Has ever loved me" - - Yes, that, too. Losing Bootsie has opened lots of memories of other pets this past week, while I hold fast to his essence.
Thank you for your beautiful poem; it meant the world to me.



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