On Remembering You

Shannon Kernaghan bat-and-coffin-400 On Remembering You Adventure Challenges Death Family Friendship Fun Lifestyle Love Memoir Pets and Animals Relationship Travel

Call me weird, but sometimes I check the obituaries of cities where I’ve lived. I don’t have a morbid obsession with death. On the contrary, I’m more concerned with who’s still alive.

What fascinates me about obituaries is how lives are encapsulated and celebrated in mere paragraphs. Some folks are remembered for their song and dance, or their curling and Tai Chi. Others are recollected as feisty and humorous, or generous and patient. 

One woman had an interesting 89 years. Her tribute began, “Departed this world, looking glamorous as usual.” How’s this for an active life: she was passionately interested in wildlife conservation and international travel; she went on 13 safaris and two bat expeditions in Africa; and she was part of a field research team with the Royal Ontario Museum that discovered a new species of bat in Cameroon. She even had a bat named after her.

I’m not done: she sky-dived twice in her mid-70s; survived a plane crash en route to touring Antarctica; was a loving mother and lived a fiercely independent life, touching the lives of many throughout the world with her joie de vivre and courage.

The final words from her family? Bon voyage. Wow, if I deserved a third of her tribute, my life would feel well spent.

I am touched by the importance of pets in obituaries, which shows a kindness that transcends any list of accomplishments or academic degrees.

And food is often a focal point. Both men and women are celebrated for their sweet and sour pork buttons, their teenie-weenie sandwiches or their famous fudge cakes.

These small but poignant details allow me a peek into their aromatic kitchens and into their lives.

Some obituaries are historical, describing how parents struggled to raise a family during the Great Depression, with children recalling times so grim that furniture had to be broken up for firewood. One obituary revealed how the family went on to prosper in large part due to a mother’s relentless determination.

Who needs medals and certificates of merit when you have praise from people who truly love you?

Others tell a story in few words, such as this woman’s: “Dedicated to family, her character was her own and built on many passions such as the love of fast cars, fast horses, fast dogs and, of course, hollering Bingo!”  I would have liked this woman.

The most important aspect of an obituary? Remembering our loved ones, in whatever meaningful form that takes.

Have I written my own? Nah. I’m too busy living my life. The best news from today’s obituaries? I didn’t find my name!

Go out and live a little. For that matter, live a lot!

Audio song
“All For”
by Ralph Real

Look Out For the Rats

Shannon Kernaghan Look-Out-for-the-Rats-400 Look Out For the Rats Belongings Childhood Comedy Family Fun Gifts Humor Lifestyle Memories parents Pets and Animals

I discovered a few rats downtown, and last weekend I brought three of them home with me. They’re not real rats (or married people who pocket their wedding rings when going for a drink after work), but art rats.

A nearby gallery recently held a one-year anniversary and celebrated by selling donated art to raise money for the artist-run shows.

The gallery showcased a roomful of rodent-themed pieces designed from paint, ceramics, wire and needlepoint.

I’m not overly welcoming towards rats, unless they’re the cartoon or stuffed animal variety. But I do like to support our determined artists.

It takes exceptional people to bare themselves for public critique. And it takes courage to enter a creative field when there’s no guarantee of gain or glory. But try they must.

Besides, how many rat sculptures can you create and give to your mother before she stops accepting deliveries? Good thing we have our galleries.

It’s an indisputable fact – artists create because they must.

Why such admiration? Because I’m a left-brain thinker and can’t draw a convincing stick figure. I don’t even have a consistent signature when signing my name to the back of my ID and credit cards. 

My first artistic foray most likely involved Popsicle sticks, gold glitter and glue that ended up everywhere except the target. Years later, my high school dalliance with textiles resulted in a crooked gingham apron that only a mother – the same one with rat ornaments lining her curio cabinet – could love.

I appreciate those who pilot a potter’s wheel or wield a welding rod. For that reason, I’ll continue to collect and cherish their creations.

Will I end up with a Banksy Girl with Balloon piece that sold for $1.4 million even though it was partially shredded at auction? Who cares. I buy art because I like it.

For our wedding, my sister gave us a sculpted piece, a weird little monster named Theobold who wears a turtleneck and holds a cup in his gnarly monster grip. I’m happy to say that the marriage has fared the storms of time better than Theobold.

Although I try to be careful, poor Theobold has been broken on four or five occasions. Last summer he fell off a ledge while I read in a chair several feet away.

Luckily, I’ve retained good gluing skills from kindergarten. As for any financial appreciation over the years, Theobold has too many missing pieces to ever increase in value, but I’ll never say good-bye to him.

Please, no one send me a Rodin sculpture for my next birthday – if my monster is jumping off his ledge, just imagine the trouble The Thinker will get into.

Hang on . . . now my new clay rats are starting to eye me with suspicion. Better buy more glue.

Audio story backing track
Mind and Eye Journey
by
Emily Sprague

Don’t Sniff It on Father’s Day

Shannon Kernaghan Fathers-Day-scent-2017 Don't Sniff It on Father's Day Family Humor Pets and Animals Relationship

My father’s primary loves were his family, his pets and his television store, in varying order. No doubt that love toggled, depending on which source offered the most pleasure, the least annoyance.

Although I was less appreciative as a teenager, now I cherish the Saturdays and summers I worked by his side in “the shop.” There, I had a front-row seat to watch him operate in his favorite his territory.

His sense of humor was wry, often edging on rude. Since he was impossible to insult, he assumed everybody had the same thick skin. His guileless smile and kind heart enabled him to get away with more than the average proprietor.

I blanched when I heard him greet a customer: “Mrs. Finegold, what happened? You got so fat! Did you leave any food for the rest of us?”

“Such a kidder,” the woman said, laughing and hugging him. I don’t think he was kidding.

He was also a fan of practical jokes, whether on the playing or receiving end. One night my parents went for dinner with another couple. Outside the restaurant, someone had been sick on the sidewalk.

“Doesn’t say much for the food here,” Dad said as he gallantly scooped up the mess with his white silk scarf.

“Leon, what are you doing?” his friend gasped. “Not your nice scarf!” Dad eventually ‘fessed up to his prank: he’d brought along his own novelty store rubber vomit.

Trust was another strength my dad possessed. He’d hand over big-ticket items based on a handshake. Only once did a customer give him a bad check. After repeated and patient attempts to settle the bill, Dad drove to the customer’s home and took back his new TV. Solved! Um, he might have climbed through an unlocked rear window to retrieve it, but why sully this sweet tale with borderline B&E.

That same trust went for payment plans. Customers could have their new TV if they verbally promised to make regular payments. He accepted a few dollars each month until the bill was paid.

These scenarios were ordinary events during my childhood and teens. As an adult, I have a renewed admiration for my father’s view of humanity. A person’s age, culture, gender and income was irrelevant; my dad had respect for everyone. By the time he retired, he’d sold TVs to several generations of customers. I never grew weary of hearing their praise for him through the years.

Besides humans, he treasured animals. When my mother phoned our nearby pet store to find a remedy for our pet turtle’s filmy shell, the store owner said, “And by the way, Donna, your skunk’s ready.”

“That’s funny, I thought you just said skunk.”

“I did, the one your husband ordered? Flower has been de-scented and can come home now.”

“Over my dead body!” Mom said and quickly hung up the phone. Who surprises his wife with a skunk? We’d already sheltered and rescued a plethora of critters under our suburban roof, from dogs and cats, chickens and pigeons, to rabbits and rodents.

This weekend, do something special to celebrate your father. But don’t surprise him with a skunk. Brunch and a new gag gift should do the trick.

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Audio version music track
“Little Drunk Quiet Floats”
by Puddle of Infinity

My Beer is Child-Lite

Shannon Kernaghan Spy-on-Girl-4 My Beer is Child-Lite Beer Childhood Culture Family Lifestyle Pets and Animals Relationship

I don’t want children. My decision is not for physical or political reasons, or because I had a rotten childhood. It’s simply a personal decision.

I refer to myself as child-free. If I call myself child-less, it suggests I’m missing something, like a limb. On the contrary, I feel quite intact.

Well-meaning people have made what I consider dumb comments in regards to my choice. One woman said, “Don’t you want to leave behind a little piece of yourself?” She asked this while struggling to hold a red-faced squealing toddler in her arms.

“Not really,” I said as her son kicked her in the shins. Her face melded to a mix of grin and grimace.

I’m not geared for this kind of commitment. When Paul and I are out for coffee, I order a to-go cup, even if we plan to stay. What if I want to finish it later, or what if I want to leave? It’s obvious I’m not a fan of long-term leases or events that map out my future.

My biological clock must be set on perpetual snooze because countless women have told me there’s no turning off that shrill buzzer. But I’ve never heard mine. If I were a brand of beer, I’d be Child-Lite.

The other dumb comment I hear is, “Won’t you regret not having children when you’re old?” I liken this to being born with one eye and then asked if you miss the second. How do I know? Since I’ve never had the urge to reproduce, it’s tough to regret what I’ve yet to miss.

This subject of children comes down to choice and circumstances. Perhaps if Paul and I could put down deeper roots instead of always wanting to move or travel, I might have been more enthusiastic. And I’d probably be a decent mother, if the wonderful relationship I’ve shared with my own mom is any indication.

For example, I’d pass on sage advice to a son: “Don’t run with that stick. What are you trying to do, poke out your eye? You’ll miss that eye when you’re old!”

Or to a teenage daughter, “You need a bra under that top. It’s so transparent I can see what you’re thinking!” Um . . . perhaps I’m channeling my own mother here.

It’s easier to compare apples to apples. Or babies to cats. We had cats for years and I was absurdly maternal in regards to their well-being. I lost sleep, wept buckets and altered trip plans over our four-legged friends. Paul once chose a house “because the cats will love the screened-in porch and balcony!” But not everyone wants cats.

His comment is the most realistic yet: “If we have a kid, it’ll be the baby, the cat, and then me. I’ll come third!”

Is that an alarm clock I hear in the distance? Nope, it’s only the buzzer on my dryer. I might not have children, but I still have plenty of laundry.

So go forth and multiply. Or not.

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Audio story music
“The Emperors Army”
by Jeremy Blake

Real Dogs

Shannon Kernaghan Humphrey-400 Real Dogs Humor Memories Pets and Animals

I like to attend an occasional Kennel Club show, not because I prefer purebreds but because I marvel at how people fuss over their canines. At a previous show, Paul and I spoke with a woman who feverishly backcombed the fur of a standard poodle.

“How long does it take to get him ready?” Paul asked.

“Including the bath? Three hours.” The black poodle, shaved to pom-pom perfection, ignored us and rested his head on a padded chin holder. With three hours of grooming, I’d also need a chin holder. And I’d never look as good.

Next to the dog’s grooming table was a cannon-sized hair dryer. It required its own stand with rolling wheels. While we continued to bombard the owner with inane comments, she applied “Grand Finale” hair spray to the dog’s head.

I pulled Paul’s arm to leave. When both owner and dog ignore you, it’s time to move on.

We headed to the display of styling products. If dogs had pockets to keep credit cards, they’d do some serious retail therapy. I scanned the shelves: Udderly Smooth, Ear-So-Fresh, Crisp Coat, Silk Texturizing Super Coat and Get-It-Straight. I purchased a bottle of Get-It-Straight for me, as well as several stainless steel spray containers. I hate when animals have better bathroom accessories.

After the tour of beauty products, we wandered past booths of doggy accessories, marveling at racks of vests, bandannas, pet wraps and a selection of what looked like colorful underwear called Bitch Britch, in three convenient sizes.

On our way out of the hall, I spotted a woman lathering her dog’s snout with shaving cream before dragging a razor carefully over its cheeks.

“Come on,” and I pulled my husband’s arm again. “This I’ve got to see.” On closer inspection, I realized the small dog had no fur. She looked like smooth chocolate, at least what I could detect under her baggy sweater (the dog’s sweater, not the owner’s). Now it was my turn to ask the questions.

“Do you shave her entire body?”

“No, just her whiskers,” said the woman. “The breed is a Xoloitzcuintle.”

“Pardon?”

“Mexican Hairless.” She pointed towards a pen with four equally hairless creatures, all wearing stylish sweaters. Instead of a hair dryer, her dogs require a wardrobe.

“Where do you find such great clothing?”

She turned to us with an audible sigh. “Honey, if you’ve got the money, you can find anything you want for your dog.” Paul wanted to keep asking questions: do they need sunscreen in the summer and how much does she pay for home heating because those were some naked puppies. We didn’t get the chance. It was show time for her and the rest of the non-sporting group.

I should have been impressed by these potential best in breeds. I wasn’t. The one thing missing in this assortment of purebred perfection was a real dog.

I grew up with a real dog, a Pointer/Dalmatian/Your Guess combo who howled outside our front door one winter night. My sister let him in, no one claimed him and he never left. Humphrey didn’t have a name with titles or descend from special lineage, yet he became a valued member of our home for a decade.

Besides his daily food, seasonal baths and annual vet visits, Humphrey’s needs were basic. If he rolled in something unpleasant, we bumped up his bath schedule. If pests bothered him, we treated him with Flea Bath for Dogs. He sure didn’t need a hair dryer. A few laps around the back yard did the trick, providing he didn’t find anything dead along his path to roll in again.

His skills? He had a flare for performance. He’d say “I want my mamma” when treats were dangled. Another skill: craftiness. At the sound of the garage door opening, which meant a parent had arrived home, he’d hightail it off their comfy bed and hurry to his own dog cushion. The telltale warm and hair-coated circular impression in the bedspread always betrayed him.

Finally, he had street smarts. He recognized the dog catcher’s boxy vehicle and knew to make a hasty retreat for home. Once I saw him gallop around our corner followed by the evil truck 50 feet behind. (We grew up in suburbia, before neighbors objected to free-roaming pooches.)

Who won the biggest trophy at that last dog show? Not sure. We never stayed to watch the final judging because all the dogs looked like winners.

But there’d be no contest if any were pitted against Humphrey. He was a real dog.

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Audio story music
“Talkies”
by Huma Huma