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Tag: woestendiek

Dozens of cousins, and several hams

This segment of Travels With Ace contains no Ace. For this jaunt, to Asheboro, N.C., for a family reunion, mom — not dog — was my co-pilot.

It was one of those rare times I made the call to leave Ace at home, for several reasons: We, temporarily, have one — a home, that is. He’s continuing to recuperate from a herniated disc. The reunion was being held inside a church that — while it’s one of those all-are-welcome Quaker ones — I didn’t want to surprise with an uninvited canine. (He’d have assaulted the buffet table, anyway.) On top of that, the back of my Jeep was fairly full, with a wheelchair my mother didn’t need, her walker, Ace’s new ramp, two dozen Krispy Kreme donuts (our donation to the lunch buffet) and a box of my books left over from an appearance last week.

Then too, I was picking up a microwave oven — a really big one — that cousin Laura from Charlotte was loaning me for use during my stay in the basement mansion.

All in all, the outing — and my mother’s outings have grown more rare of late – went quite smoothly. She didn’t offer a single commentary on my wardrobe choices, or my driving. And only a few times, such as when we were passing trucks, did she grab the door handle that way she does. At her insistence, we alloted two hours to make the one-hour trip, thus getting to town, as basic math would suggest, an hour early.

So we stopped by the family business — a funeral home now run by her brother’s sons. As my mother explains it, her father worked for his father-in-law, who owned a furniture business that started selling caskets, seeing them as a more Depression-proof product line. When my mother’s father inherited the business, he opened the first of what’s now several Pugh Funeral Homes.

From there, we drove by her old family home, then headed to the Bethel Friends Meeting, just outside of the town limits, which, on this particular Sunday had more Pughs than pews.

About 80 people were there — all descendants of Doe (short for Theodore) and Mary Pugh. For the first hour, people greeted each other and positioned food they had brought on the tables. For the second hour, we ate it.

My mother only got mad at me once, and it wasn’t my fault. Cousin Tommy Pugh, hearing I was going to be there, brought along his copy of my new book, “Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend” for me to sign. As I was doing so, he and some other cousins said I should set up a little table — one not taken up by food — to sell and sign books.

I’d already pondered and ruled out that possibility, which struck me as a little too self-promotional and tasteless — hammy, you might say — especially considering this was my first time attending the reunion. I knew my mother would feel the same way, only more strongly.

Once I signed his book, Tommy set it in the upright position on table, so it could be better seen. When my mother saw it she objected to it being so blatantly displayed, and sent Lori, the wife of cousin Glenn, over to remove it and bring it to her. She placed it face down on the table.

Tommy continued quietly promoting it though, persuading John Pugh, a second cousin who’d traveled from Indiana for the reunion, that he should buy a copy.

After discussing the transaction in hushed tones, we snuck out to my car. Feeling a bit guilty that I’m not in a financial position to give all cousins free copies, and feeling a bit like a purveyor of street drugs, I quietly sealed the deal. I signed the book and gave him the second cousin discount, which, of course, is less than the first cousin discount.

There was one opportunity during the reunion to tout my book — when they asked anyone in the crowd to talk about anything new — but I was outside when that happened, spending some time with this dog who had wandered over from a nearby home.

He said hello, consented to an ear scratch, then wandered through a small playground, zig-zagged his way, at an adjoining cemetery, through the graves of Pughs past, then went back home.

(Should you be a Pugh family member, or if you want to peruse some Pughs, my photos of the reunion are in an album on my Facebook page.)

Despite any irreverence you might be sensing — (it’s hereditary) — I had an excellent time, even without my dog. It was great to meet relatives previously unknown to me, to reconnect with most of my cousins and to revisit the history of my mother’s side of the family, as we did earlier in New York with my dad’s.

After a few hours, with my loaned microwave and my mom back in car, we made the hour drive back to Winston-Salem. Before dropping her off, I asked her to show me the apartment she and my father lived in when I was born.

Her directions were perfect, and as I slowed down in front of a line of modest, look-alike one-story apartment units, in a little neighborhood known as College Village, she called out the address. It was the one with the “for rent” sign in the window.

Hmmmmm.

How circular would that be — to end up after what will soon be a year on the road, and after 57 years on life’s crazy slide — back in the place I was, presumably, conceived and first lived?

Trash talk: Bonding with Oscar

My sister (not a big dog person) and her husband (a big dog person) don’t have a dog, but they do have Oscar.

Oscar is a trash can, with a mind, it seems, of his own.

Walk by Oscar, as they’ve named him, and (thanks to motion-detecting technology) he opens wide, accepting whatever you toss in his mouth. A second or two later he closes his lid and sits quietly until feeding time comes again.

Ace, though he bonded quickly with my sister Kathryn and her husband John, was a little wary of Oscar, who he made the mistake of thinking was an inanimate object.

As Ace’s nose, drawn by Oscar’s multitude of odors, would inch closer to Oscar’s electric eye, Oscar’s lid would open wide and Ace would jump back. He’d watch warily until Oscar closed his mouth. Then Ace would slowly approach and sniff again, and Oscar again would snap at him again.

Eventually, they became friends.

But I think Ace was a little jealous that Oscar was getting more treats than he was.

Oscar is one of several devices at my sister’s home aimed at making day to day chores easier for her and her husband, both of whom have multiple sclerosis.

The last thing people with MS want in their home is a new obstacle, so it’s understandable that they’d have some conditions when it came to me and my 130-pound dog taking up temporary residence. On top of that, my sister is allergic to some dogs.

So the decision was made that Ace would stay on the porch. I decided I would sleep out there with him, and set up my camping cot.

As it turned out, while we slept on the porch, both Ace and I have spent most of our time inside, where, in addition to treats from my sister, Ace enjoyed much snuggle time with John, cozying up alongside him while we watched a 1960s science fiction movie on TV.

What happened during my days at my sister’s house was that everybody adapted — me, them and, probably better any of us humans, Ace, who, with only minor coaxing, showed a calm and quiet presence when in the house, staying put and, for the most part, out of the way.

It was yet another case of doggie intuition — that ability he has to sense that he’s in a setting with different rules, and then follow them.

Something Oscar — dependable as he is — will never be able to do.

Grandpa’s house is for sale

 

You can repaint a house, remodel a house, update a house, but there’s one thing that no amount of changes can erase — the memories.

Some of them came back to me the minute I pulled into the driveway of my grandparent’s old house in Saugerties, N.Y., triggered by the crunch of gravel; more yet when I climbed the wooden stairs where the “Kingston Dairy” milkbox used to be; and even more when I rounded the corner on the vast front porch and was hit with the slight smell of mildew — the same one that was there 50 years ago.

That’s exactly what I came here for — not the mildew odor, but the memories, grown fuzzy over time, covered up by the subsequent layers of paint of my life.

Being there, I found them reinstilled by the sight, smell and sounds of what used to be my grandparent’s house: The hollow thud of my own footsteps on the wooden porch, the giant, climbable sheaths of slate near the back of the property, the sounds of highway traffic darting by — more now than when I fell asleep upstairs, waiting for the next passing car.

Standing outside the home, memories whizzed by as quickly as the cars — of my highly tidy grandmother, of my jokester of a grandfather, of my great grandmother who lived in the backroom, of pinochle and pot roast, of hot tea in the afternoon with tons of cream and sugar, of morning eggs and toast popped from a toaster that, when not in use, was always neatly blanketed with a cover that said “Hot Toast Makes the Butterfly,” of a certain cookie, a raisin-filled wafer whose name eludes me, but that we enjoyed before bed with ginger ale.

My grandparents are long gone, and the last time I saw the house was in 1999, when the Woestendiek family reunion was held in Saugerties and we descended on its current owner, a New York City lawyer, begging for a peek inside.

She kindly obliged back then, so I figured she wouldn’t mind — especially since she no longer lives there full-time — if I dropped by for another look. The house, once white with green trim, is now cream colored with burgundy trim. The old windows have been replaced with modern ones.

I peeked in a window and saw the kitchen, much modernized since the days my apron-clad grandmother would whip up the best dinners I’d ever tasted. And there was one more difference — a “for sale” sign in the front yard.

I called Amy Lonis, the real estate agent listed on the sign, and explained to her I wasn’t a potential buyer — much as I would like to be — but was interested because it had been my grandfather’s house.

She agreed to meet me the next day and let me inside.

Inside, it was a far different place than it used to be — lots of old furniture still, but filled with modern art, painted by the current owner.

The arms of the sofas and chairs were no longer neatly draped with the lace doilies that my grandmother was quick to set back in proper position whenever they got rumpled, as they inevitably did.

Even though it has been majorly revamped, with some new walls put up and some new windows added to let the sun in, with what used to be great grandma’s room turned into the laundry nook, there were still plenty of reminders of the past. While the bathroom has been equipped with a jacuzzi, I’m pretty sure I saw the old claw-footed bathtub — the one I used to watch Ivory soap float in — stored underneath the house.

Seeing the old house rekindled enough sweet memories that I wanted to buy it.

It would be the perfect place to write another book, even with the whizzing traffic, I thought. And how wonderful would it be to hold the family reunion of all family reunions — back at the place where the family got started?

Why didn’t I snap it up? For about 268,000 reasons.

With about 5.7 acres, it’s listed at a pretty reasonable price. Unfortunately, I’ve never been as frugal and money-wise as my grandparents (he was the village tax collector, and grandma did the books at the family laundry in Newark.)

They moved to Saugerties when doctors told him country living would be better for his health.

Apparently, it was. There, they would have three boys, starting with my father.

My father remembers, when he was but a toddler, going into my grandfather’s car, somehow releasing the parking brake and rolling down the driveway, across the highway into the field of apple trees across the street.

If traffic then — on the road from Saugerties to Woodstock — had been what it is now, I probably never would have happened.

After visiting the house, and dropping in on the town of Woodstock, I was headed back to the campground thinking about dinner. I stopped at the only grocery between Woodstock and Saugerties, a place run by an Englishman and featuring mostly goods imported from England.

I did find a can of Spam, though — the last one — and what I thought were those raisin cookies we used to eat at grandma’s. I bought them, too, and opened them up the next day for breakfast.

They weren’t the same thing. These were filled with currants, and had a crunchy wafer instead of a golden soft one. These were called Garibaldis.

When I opened them, even though they were a year from expiring, they crumbled in the package. When I tasted them, I made a face. I threw them away at the next garbage can.

The moral of all this is that — oftentimes at least – you can go home again. You can — at least in your mind — relive your past. You can even find the obscure cookies of your childhood, or at least what you think are the obscure cookies of your childhood.

Just don’t expect them to taste exactly the same.

From all of us …

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

From ohmidog!

 (with apologies to my brother and sister)

 Photo: John (with guitar), Kathryn (with Santa), and Ted (with bobblehead dog), circa 1965