Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Good Bye Sweet Dog Muffin

In my last weigh-in post I said that the next posts were going to be of a jollier funner kind. Then wouldn't ya know it two sad ones right in a row. Well, that's the way it goes sometimes. This should clear the decks for only good stuff from here on out. One can hope.

This is kind of a follow up to the post I did 16 months ago when Crickett had her last day. There is where you will find the story of when the two small dogs entered our lives and some pictures of them as pups. I was living with mom and dad their last few years. My sisters were off having their own lives. So me, Mom, Dad and the girls made a kind of family unit. After today when I took Muffin to the vet for euthanasia I am the only one left out of that unit. Just Stacey and me remain from the original set. 

Of the two dogs, Muffin was the quiet one. Crickett could stand out in the back yard and bark all day. Muffin would bark but after a short time would rather sleep or snuffle in the grass. When I moved to the house I live in now they both discovered the joy of the hunt. The hill that is the back third of my back yard is wild and overgrown. Covered in ivy and shrubs. Muffin especially loved to hunt and duck around the foliage chasing after the elusive rats that populate our neighborhood. They never had a need to hunt for food but a few times they would turn up with a wound from battle or a sour stomach I assumed was from eating wild game. A couple of times I found a dead rat they left for me to find at the back door. Or just a rat's tail. Gross I know, but kind a cool too. 

The one thing that was most remarkable about Muffin was the way she would climb trees. In the picture above she is down to about 10 pounds on her last day. At times she go up to as much as 15 or more. Still, in the world of dogs pretty tiny and long and low to the ground. The hill behind my house comes about half way up the wall at the back of the garage. A big tree grows there. I never saw her do it but I imagined her jumping up the trunk onto the roof then I would find her 20 feet up in the tree just looking around. One time that this happened I got mad at her and told her that if she was so smart she could find her own way down. She did. Another time I caught her in mid air as she jumped into my arms circus style. I had this fear in the back of my mind that this would not end well. I think I remember one day hearing a thump and a dog yelping. She didn't do it any more.

I always have done open feeding. This is not the thing to do with certain breeds like Dalnation or if they have had to fight for food when they were pups. Luckily it worked for them and the pair of Dachshunds before them Thor and Apollo.  So their weight would go up in the winter and down in the summer. All in all they were fabulously healthy little beasts. Except the time about 5 years ago when one of them found a way into a cupboard where I had forgotten all about mouse poison I had put there the year before. It was a close one especially for Muffin. The vet told me that the poison removes all the vitamin K from their bodies but luckily there was a treatment. A scary week or so but it worked. 

Where Crickett was an attention whore when visitors came around. Muffin would be friendly and get pets all around then disappear into a back room or outside. The noise and big feet of a bunch of humans was not what she liked. In fact unless it was the cold of winter a minute or two of petting each day and she was good. Snuggle in front of the TV if it's cold, otherwise hands off. While not as affectionate as other dogs I've had she was very sweet and even tempered. Never bit anyone that I know of or even snapped. Okay, she and Crickett would get into it in a big way from time to time but otherwise no. 

After Crickett died I never heard Muffin bark or see her wag her tail. She didn't seem sad really, just lost. She lost her alpha. Last winter moving her back legs got difficult. She didn't do anything and I got into the habit of offering treats several times a day just to get a rise out of her. This became the only focus of her little life. In March I got a puppy from a friend that took in a mama dog over the winter. The puppy didn't let her just lounge and attacked her off and on all day, the way puppies do. She would wail and carry on. At first she would run off. Over time it turned into wrestling most of the time but she got tired quickly. The old dog perked up for a few months more. The last couple of months pee and poop where everywhere she was. Between old age, failing sight and hearing and the meds I got from her vet she never seemed to know where she was. When the winter finally got cold last week she didn't know enough to burrow under the pile of old towels and blankets like she always did before. It was time for a curtain call. 17 years and a couple of months was a good run.

I went to the vet yesterday to arrange everything in advance. I even paid in advance so I could drop her off, say good bye and leave. It was a different person behind the desk today. She was doing three things at once not very well. Her office mates knew why I was there and what the plan was, they did nothing to help as I agonized holding back emotion until the desk person handed us off to a tech.  I handed her off and whispered "Bye sweetie".

I got home and proceded to clean off the first layer of dog smell in the dog bed area. Lit'll is not a fan of orange pine-sol or the vacuum but once I give her a bath the stench will subside and on with our new life. I have dropped in on the pet adoption place a couple of times. Soon Lit'll will have a playmate and the cycle will start all over again. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sandy ~ Part 2

The is a continuation of "Sandy ~ 66 years less 5"
Written and posted 12/9/2017. Placed here to be after part one posted in 2012.

I was going for a level of plain truth in the original piece. There's a harder part of her life that deserves a few paragraphs also. When I hear the song below it takes me back to that time.
After rereading the original post 5 years later there were so many details I left out. A deeper level of honesty is called for or those memories could be lost altogether if I don't type them out.

As tragic as her last 15 years or so were, I can't help thinking of the first years (or was it middle years?) of her time with Richard. Every couple of weeks, at regular intervals, she'd show up at my door or a window. She'd have an elaborate story of half truths with just enough desperation to ply me. This-n-that happened and this-and-that was said and I owe this other person and then there's the car that needs gas and... What ever the story was it ended with her needing $12.50. The price of a dime bag and a pack of smokes. Other times that much money or property would go missing. So many elephants in the room. The too often used phrase/refrain "I'm your sister" filled with equal parts guilting me, guilting herself and pure rage, anger at life. I wanted to help them but she knew and I knew; that if she admitted it was for junk I couldn't help them. I was just one in a string of schemes and enablers so it's not like me cutting them some slack 2 or 3 times a month prevented the AA/NA hitting bottom so you can pull yourself up. Besides that doesn't always work and the person dies. It was getting caught and jailed a couple of times that had them changing course.

They got caught shoplifting cigarettes from a supermarket. Easy to resell. A misadventure in her twenties left her with seizures. I think it was. This is where the timeline is not clear to me. She was prescribed something called dilantin. One of the side effects, she told me, was that you had to ramp up the dose slowly and ramp it down if you want to stop. Heroin also prevents these seizures or she stopped caring. Either way, when she got to the jail she hadn't taken the anti-seizure med for a very long time. At intake they asked about medical conditions and they gave her a full dose. This caused a seizure and a stroke. She hit her head on the jail cell toilet. They took her to Kern Medical Center where the prognosis was grim. I guess since junkies are throw away people they didn't want the expense of care on the county's dime. I got a call at 2 in the morning from a deputy telling me to pick her up at the jail downtown. That is not the usual protocol for the release of prisoners. There was no paperwork. All records of her stay there were deleted. I found Sandy stumbling blind behind the jail next to the train tracks. This is when she lost her sight or was about to. I didn't know this, she insisted that I just leave her where they had stashed their car behind our parent's house. It occurs to me now that she was probably in bad need of a fix along with everything else. I watched her speed away swerving.

The next thing I remember is she ended up in Mercy hospital. Scans showed damage to her visual center. She was paralyzed on her right side. Our mother Bertha hadn't spoken to Sandy in years but came to visit. This biker looking woman came to visit at the same time just as I was leaving. Nice about it in a streetwise way, but pretty much pushed mother out of the room. Mom didn't know why and I wasn't going to tell her. I heard about it later and figured out that the woman was Sandy's supplier there to fix her. After that the slow speed crime spree continued with stealing metal that they could sell as scrap from a construction site. This lead to a year or so in prison. For Richard this was his 3rd strike.

Caring for Sandy gave Richard purpose. He got a job and she got disability. They lived in an old 4 story hotel downtown called 'the Tegler' that had been converted to low income housing. They had a sweet studio on the first floor. It was large for a studio, outfitted for the disabled and had a very high ceiling. It had originally been the lobby waiting area. After a year she was able to walk fairly well. use of her right side returned to some degree. After a couple of years they moved into a single wide mobile home on the south end of town they got from Sandy's first mother-in-law Mrs. Cheek. Sandy always said her name as one word MizCheek. Their life was much calmer. For a couple of years I drove her every week to the methadone clinic. Talk about a scam, don't get me started on what a scam methadone is. Richard got cirrhosis, never was drinker. That got him on disability also. He got very sick from it and died. Richard was a dear person, wild and mean as a young man I was told. The token white guy in a latino biker gang or something like that. There was a crash or something where his leg was trapped under the bike's hot exhaust long enough to cook a big chunk out of it. He had been a good looking guy and had a terrible scar across his right jaw. The whole time I knew him he had a long mountain man beard to cover it. There was a head injury too that left him a brain damaged, simpler, but sweetened guy. Drugs and crime notwithstanding. His brothers were much worse. She liked the intensity they brought when they arbitrarily moved in with her. Soon they made Sandy's life miserable taking advantage of the blind widow at every turn. The mobile home still belonged to MizCheek, I think she was still alive then. At any rate things fell apart and she needed a place to live. Her daughter Sonya and her husband Ron rescued Sandy and gave her a room in their quiet suburban home to live out her last couple of years.

Here are bits of remembered data, some throw my whole timeline out of whack. I'll list them anyway for the record, as it were.

They also lived in the most notorious part of town known for gang activity in the 70s and 80s. Behind Kern Medical Center and Jefferson park. The juvenile hall was there also. Sometimes with his mother. A mean and angry woman that must have had a very hard life. Then for a while in an apartment nearby. Sometimes I'd pick up or drop off one or both at a run down mobile home park that I assume held a shooting gallery or whatever it's called.

He had 3 cars one right after the other that were all the same. 1985–1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. V8 factory muscle car. Black on black, no sun roof. After market fancy wheel rims.
For a time he worked on an oil rig and they seemed to be on the way to a regular life. Started having friends and went to BBQs, that kind of thing. Then he was injured on the job. Not sure I believed it was as bad as he let on or completely an accident. It took a year, maybe two to receive a settlement. The bought the 3rd Olds. This also let him get back to his roots and buy a Honda 750. They went everywhere on it. Sandy was already blind at the time but would hang on the back and enjoy the motion, wind in her hair.

Kind of like this one but a Honda 750 with a Green tank

For a while, more than a year, when they were going to NA meetings and before the oil rig settlement, they lived in a 24 foot trailer on Richard's brother's land next to his house  in the Walker Basin. To get there you had to go through Caliente over winding uneven mountain roads. Through places like Last Chance Canyon, millersville and over Sand Canyon Rd. Only a few miles from Bakersfield but for the most part a dry and inhospitable area most people living here are not even aware of. One advantage for them was that so far from civilization temptation to use was minimal. Can't remember his name now but that older brother was a cold hearted asshole. Charged them a tremendous amount of rent for what it was. Made them turn all of Sandy's disability over to him each month. The chipboard floors had rot and holes. The winter there was extremely cold. More cold than the trailer was designed for. Brother did nothing but complain about them using power for heat; refused to let them stay in his warm house next door even on the coldest days or help with propane for heat.

They got a powder blue VW Rabbit and saved a lot on gas. Richard had a job in Bakersfield. Early one morning on the commute home he was probably dozing and the car slid off the road near Caliente and flipped over. He crawled out of the car and having no choice proceeded to walk back to Bakersfield. The time before cell phones so 20 miles before he got to a pay phone. Whatever other impression I may have given you about this man he was  meticulous about certain things. His tool box was his most prized possession. Every wrench and socket was always clean and it it's place. The Highway Patrol found his car and had it towed to a wrecking yard. When I got there with the two of them the car was totaled all he really wanted was that toolbox. It wasn't there. The CHP has the reputation for being more by the book than other law enforcement so it must have been logged in with the accident report. Accusing the officer of theft was a non starter for throw away people. They were just screwed.
Then had an old orange pick up for transportation and to do hauling, it was expensive to run. 


I was young during her first marriage so didn't know Sonny as well. He was a rather shy fellow, or he was intimidated. Mother was a bigger than life character. We speak English using all the words, no cussing and standard grammar. The Bunch of us were not what he was used to. For a time before they had kids they lived with us in our family home. He hid out mostly, even ate in their room. Our uncle Hank was a odd duck that drank a lot of beer. He and Millie (one of mom's 6 sisters) were visiting over the holidays. I remember Hank making a big deal out of staking out their room sitting there for hours watching their door. He assumed that sooner or later Sonny (Clyde) would have to use the bathroom.

When I was 18 or 19 the folks pushed me out of the nest to find my own way. Sandy and Clyde bought a house on Grace street in east Bakersfield. She was waitressing of course and he was a mechanic. Their third child Kimberly was a new born (1976 or 77?). I moved into their garage. Sonny was not too happy about losing his place to tinker on project. 1947 Dodge pickup built on the frame, suspension, engine and drivetrain of a big V8 car. It had the flared fenders and all of that. Really cool.
It was a selfish, self involved thing to do. Barge into their little family life like that. While clever in many ways, I was slow to develop in others, especially social ways. At 60 I'll be a fully developed adult any time now. MizCheek came by one day to clue me in but I didn't get it.
This was the end of their marriage. Alcoholism. He had a long history of time in the county jail for drunk driving. Long before mothers against drunk driving was a thing so each occurrence was only 30 or 60 days but it added up. Years of waitressing double shifts with the help of speed caught up with Sandy too. Nuisance brother-in-law me hanging around didn't help.
On the plus side I got to spend more time with Tawnya and Sonya. Their hippy uncle that lived out back.
A couple of years later me, Sandy and Kimberly were living back with the folks. Kimmie and me were the bestest buddies then. She was so little and that was so long ago she probably doesn't remember. I see the other two from time to time in person and on facebook. I have no idea about Kimmie.


During the 80s my best friend and running buddy was a gal I called Cereal.  Cereal had her own DUI to deal with and spent a month in the county jail called Lerdo. She met Sandy there. This was before the stroke and desperate days.  Sandy was 5'9" but with the bigger than life personality seem taller.  She was able to offer some protection and advice for the new to jail life smaller woman.  They became friends after jail as well.


Sandy was in the class just behind Karen Carpenter at Downey High.
Her best friend in High School was a goofy teen guy named Dudley Bonk the third.


For 2 or 3 years I was Sandy's designated payee. Social Security would send me her checks. It was my assignment make sure the money was spent on her upkeep in a practical manner. She wasn't using then and so she would have none of it. I just gave her the money and she did spend it on rent utilities and food as it was intended. They made me report on how the money was spent. I sent the filled in forms back with the truth and they didn't seem to have a problem with that.


I am a believer in the universe sending you what you need out of the blue sometimes.
My recollection is that "Baby" was a stray that turned up one day. Baby looked very similar to this American Eskimo Dog in the picture except she was no more than 15 lbs. Big fluffy tail. The sweetest most loyal dog. Looked after Sandy and was by her side constantly from the start. Sandy was alone quite a lot and Baby was companionship.
I say constantly. The mobile park was on H & Pacheco. Baby was out on the busy street and got hit. Left hindquarters had a big gash. She was in considerable pain but only yelped when we moved her. Sandy called me in a panic, we took Baby to the vet inside of Petco. They wanted $400 just to start repairs. $350 more than we could scrape together at the time. Professional help was not an option. We shaved the area and applied this purple liquid wound dressing for horses. Taped the wound closed as well as we could. Fingers crossed that there were no broken bones. the white fur on her whole left side and big tail was purple for a month. She made a full recovery eventually. We didn't know how old she was when Sandy got her but they were together Sandy's last 6 years or so. Lived another few years with Sonya, plenty of grand kids to play with.


As I indicated in part one Sandy had no particular attachment to telling the truth even before the junkie years. No part of her growing up was without it's complications. Things said could be to transmit information or to incite a response. Get someone to do something or just for the sake of the drama. My guess is that this behavior was fueled by a deep inner anger and self loathing. Armchair psychologist.
I met her in-laws when I was 8 or so. I was a standard middle class white bread kid. The things they did and said were unfamiliar. I didn't have the words for it at the time but I knew that when they did and said certain things it was about the drama, the stimulation of an ongoing drama. Things like calling the Sheriff about minor happenings. Blowing up the details for the sake of making more drama often resulting in someone getting hauled off to jail. Not that there were a shortage of things going on to justify being hauled off to jail. They lived in an unincorporated community north of the river from Bakersfield called Oildale (the poor side of the tracks). Even recently the LA Times,  BBC and others have done exposes about this area. I have always avoided people that acted that way. So maybe I'm clueless but it seems that while it still goes on this behavior has been in decline as the price of air conditioning and television has gone down.

I never could figure out if this was a thing or if she was playing me. She told me about her birth father Bob the poultry merchant drinking with his buddies where the chickens were kept in pens. She was 3 or 4; he held her up by her heels over the chickens to watch her scream and for the amusement of the other guys. I believed that part. The terrified little girl in her voice 50 years later wasn't faked. She also talked about a cross country trip she and my father Burl went on. A chance to bond with the new step dad. This was about the time she lost her baby fat and was developing. They got along very well as far as I remember until she turned 18 and went wild. She hinted that dad may have sexually abused her in her early teens, maybe on that trip, but would stop herself short mumbling things about how I wouldn't believe her. She pulled out the half siblings thing from time to time as self pity and to get me to say that it didn't matter to me, she was my sister, end of story. Maybe I wouldn't have believed her at the time. Dad was always a sweet affable man. Plain spoken but also a salesman that loved to talk and draw people out. He was also emotionally kind of a basic guy. I can see him at 30 his primitive urges rising because of a nubile young woman. He was also deeply moral, heavily indoctrinated with the fear of god growing up. I doubt that he would have acted on these urges. I know that women and girls can be creeped out feeling the vibe of suppressed urges like that. Or maybe he did do something. Couldn't have been much. They both would have been too afraid of mother's potential wrath at something like that. 

That is not a happy way to end this. Let me think on it. I'll add something more jolly when I think of it.

Sandy ~ 66 years less 5.

Sandra Lynn Taylor Parks Cheek Wiswell: 
aka: Sandy Parks
aka: Sandy Cheek
aka: Sandy Wiswell
Dec 8, 1946 - Aug 21, 2007

My sister Sandy was one of those people who are sometimes described as a force of nature. 
She would have been 66 today. 

Originally I posted a sort of obit on MySpace as the cost of doing one in the local paper is prohibitive. MySpace still exists for the time being but that post is long gone. What follows is a combination of my account of her passing that I sent out in email and the eulogy I read at the memorial service for her. I certainly loved my sister but I feel enough time has passed that, in the interest of history, a more complete logging of recollections should also exist.  Her story is one of a very bright and complicated person. At many places along the road of her life she took turns that eventually lead to her final years being filled with tremendous despair, regret and physical pain. Yet, on the occasion of her passing I got this message from our Aunt Patricia: "She was such a wonderful spirit.  What I remember best about her is her sense of humor.  When Phyllis (Patricia's twin) and I were there for Bert's (our mom's) memorial and we wanted to see her and she came over; we laughed a lot though the circumstances were sad."
That’s the way it was with her.
When she was younger she was* tall, usually with hair bleached blond, done up in a bouffant and those striking blue eyes. Always quick with a laugh. She loved to laugh.

At this point in the service I asked the mortuary guy to play Blood Sweat and Tears'  ‘You've Made Me So Very Happy’ They resisted, questioning the appropriateness but acquiesced and everyone there who knew her got the point. Her eldest daughter Tawnya cried. BS&T were Sandy's all time favorite band. The kind of bluesy rock they played was almost too on the nose as her personal anthem. 

She was born Sandra Lynn Taylor to Robert and Bertha Taylor in 1946 in Lawton Oklahoma. They owned a poultry business and had a nice life there as I understand it. Our mom escaped the drudgery of life on the farm looking after her 6 sisters by marring an ambitious older man. Robert and Bertha divorced in 1949 or 50.  Our grandfather Charlie Hale was a civilian mechanic at Fort Sill outside of Lawton Ok, when Vandenburg opened here in California he came to open the mechanics shop. Mom and Sandy moved here too. Mom had learned bookkeeping from the poultry business and did that to make a living for the 2 of them. It was a rough time to be a single mother. Not a common or acceptable thing in the 1950s. 

Sandy spent a good amount of time with grandma Zephry and my aunts. The youngest were the twins, Patricia and Phyllis, they were only 12 or so years older than Sandy. 
Finally Bertha and Burl, my father, married. After 3 or 4 years. They moved to a new house in Bellflower California. Then I came along in 1957. The new baby was the apple of everyone's eye. Being 10 years older Sandy was the built-in babysitter. We were really close back then. Suddenly in 1963 my position as the center of attention ended with the arrival of Stacey, the new baby. Sandy was then the built-in babysitter for both of us. 

Sandy was a dedicated horsewoman. I remember her working at the stables and a meticulously drawn illustration of a horse with all the musculature. She was great at sketching. How many times did I, or any of us who knew her, find a napkin or scrap of paper with a lady's eye drawn on it.

Shortly after Stacey was born the family moved to Bakersfield as owner/operators of the A&W at 2525 south Chester.

Sandy was a carhop at the A & W. She must have liked it because later she spent 15 years in food service. Her natural athleticism and bigger than life charm made her a success. Even-though waitressing is a hard job, day in and day out, she loved the work. The people mostly I suspect.

As a teenager Sandy had the big hair and seemed oh so glamorous to me at the time. Teen pranks were not uncommon. I remember one time the little Fiat sedan my folks had, being covered in toilet paper another time graffiti all over it done with poster paint. Another time they had to have it pulled out of the canal along H street.  

Then in 1964 or 5 Sandy met Sonny. Sandra and Clyde (Sonny) Cheek Jr. Soon after came Tawnya, then Sonya. Sonny was a shy man that was a kind of James Dean type. Broken nose that gave him a nasal voice with a thick Oildale accent. He was a mechanic so had muscles. Curly blond hair and crisp blue eyes that I can see in his daughters. I can even picture him in a white t-shirt with a pack of smokes rolled up in the sleeve. They bought a house over on Centaur in South Bakersfield. 

At this point I wrote a number of paragraphs describing the birth of Kimberley (daughter #3), her divorce from Sonny and about her 2nd husband Richard. Then I tried to trace the her steps and where it all started to come apart for her. We never really lost touch during the last 40 years but our lives took place is different worlds that were most of that time only miles apart. We were closer during the last 20 but even that was stop and go. Each new memory would disrupt my picture of the time line. Then so many memories that there was no way to organize it all in one post. Our folks are long dead ,  Stacey has a completely different experience of Sandy and set of memories. Not many recent, as she moved away in the 80's. I could ask her kids but at that point it becomes more work than I had intended. This will continue to bother me till I get it done,  just not today.  

For now, so that you have an idea of where this story is going, let me briefly describe her last few years. After years of working as a waitress managing a household of 2 then 3 kids and an alcoholic husband she, I guess, had what they used to call a nervous breakdown. She was unable to finish raising her daughters and was racked with tremendous guilt over this the rest of her life. With her new husband she had a few contented years but that finally devolved into drug addiction, jail, a stroke, an odd kind of blindness and a paralyzed left side. She regained use of her left side, mostly. She learned to deal with the scrambled information that she got from her eyes, kinda. About the same age that our mother got it, in her 50's, she had osteoporosis*(makes you shorter, incredible pain). The thing that really made it difficult for many people to feel too sorry for her was that along with the bigger than life personality, wit and charm was a very dark and blue side. This part of her loosely hid a kind of contempt that was expressed in a pattern of lies and manipulation. 

There aren't many pictures of her after about 18 years. None that I know of that captured her charm and laughter. When I was a real little guy the Foremost Dairy had this promotion were every year a big truck would pull up in front of our house. Inside was a photo studio where we had our picture taken.  My guess is that this is 1960 and 1961. I think it illustrates the two sides of her personality. The hair style in the picture on the right (except in blond) is how I remember her best.  

At the end of the memorial service I had them play Blood Sweat and Tears' ‘And When I Die’
She is survived by daughters - Tawnya, Sonya & Kimberly
Grand children  - Tosha, Brandon, Kyle, Mikey & Kellie
I believe since 2007 more names have been added to this list.