Frances I, II, and III

Surrounded by sorting and packing chaos, three stuffed replicas of Frances sit on my worktable. They seem less disturbed by the activity than the real Frances would have been.

Each has a red felt heart on its back side, embroidered with the initials of Lady Baby, Sweet Baby, or Baby Brother. Soon I’ll pack up the stuffies to mail, along with a little note explaining that Frances is gone. She wasn’t friendly to the children, but she was important.

Each Frances is slightly different and wrong in its own way. They looked like her in the paper pattern, but lost resemblance in the stuffing. Little muslin bags of beans weigh them down, so they sit easily, but their floss whiskers sag, and they look disapproving and slightly strange – not cuddly (maybe that’s lifelike). I tell myself the imperfections matter less than their existence.

I’m leery of that impulse, said to grow stronger as we age, to let ideas die, to fail to push against resistance and stalling and overcome inertia. Making these three became important to me as a memorial – the figuring out and stitching were an occasional escape from the tasks at hand, the handwork therapeutic – but also as proof of follow through (at least this time).

The trio stares at me – or past me – multiple reminders of Frances and of making. I like to think of them joining the other beloved stuffed animals with names and history – but I’ll miss them!

 

Good Luck, Serendipity, and “Trusted Housesitters”

How to describe the events I’m thinking about? Luck seems like when my husband can most always find a parking space close to our destination (as I repeat: “we should have left earlier, we will never find a place to park”), while serendipity seems a light-hearted term for important happenings.

But I want to make note of such occurrences – in part because I keep thinking about two recent ones, and in part to counter the opposite kind of event – bad things that come out of nowhere like accidents or illnesses. Plenty of those around.

One night, during a trip in February, with the Ladies Baby and Sweet, Baby Brother, and their parents, we emerged from a restaurant into a rainstorm. We had a walk ahead to get home, and huge, fat drops quickly threatened a drenching. As we turned the corner around a building, a man stood under an overhang and said: “How about an umbrella – just a dollar?” “Oh, look,” he added, “I have two.” I dug in my already soaked purse and gladly bought both.

In the following days, the girls and I talked off and on about Umbrella Man, as we called him, how he appeared by magic to offer us shelter just when we needed it, like in a storybook

Planning for that February trip included much worry about leaving Frances. The mother of our young friend had told me about the website, “Trusted Housesitters.” If you are in need of care for pets and house, you register on the site, pay a fee of about a hundred dollars, describe your home, its location, and pet(s), enter the dates of your travel, and wait.

People (often retired folks who love both animals and travel) contact you and offer their services. The sitters pay their own transportation to you, and they don’t charge. Sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. In December a capable woman from Vancouver Island (who lives on a boat in the summer) stayed with Frances and took very good care of everything.

But by mid-January I had no response to my posted dates for February. Belatedly I realized you could search sitters by geography and read their profiles and recommendations, so I took a chance and directly contacted a handful of people with open calendars who live in Western Washington.

An amazing couple answered (their reviews from past sits are over the moon). Adventurous empty nesters who work from home, they don’t usually do local sits, they’ve done housesits in England in the past, but they wrote to say they would be glad to come to the bluff and care for Frances. I was grateful and relieved.

As time passed and Frances began to fail, my instructions and worries multiplied, and our correspondence increased. Our fairy godparent housesitters, as I came to think of them, adapted to all my anxious changes and special requests for Frances’ care. In the end, we didn’t need all my notes, and after a departure delay, we left a sadder, simpler house. The housesitters still came to stay and were so kind to us in a hard time, kindred spirits, now friends. The “Trusted Housesitters” site seems a miracle.

I’m reminding myself here to appreciate such serendipitous moments of grace, such offerings of kindness – and such good luck.

 

A Frances Update

Last spring the vet diagnosed our 15-year old kitty, Frances, with kidney disease. Unsure whether it would progress quickly or gradually, the vet taught us how to give her subcutaneous water to fight dehydration and increase her appetite. Frances tolerated our treatments a few times, and then made it clear that further needle and tube interventions would not happen.

Nine months later she thrives, at least for now. We figured ways to have water containers everywhere she wants and to surround her canned food with a moat of water, refreshed all day. She eats well, had a grand summer in her courtyard garden in all weather, and we are thankful.

But she weighs only seven pounds at most, and is cold all the time. She’s a creature of habit, is Frances, with definite sleeping spot preferences. She watches “shows” each evening from a blanket spread on my husband’s lap, likes to sleep on his chest when he naps on the floor, and sleeps next to me – under the covers mostly. She misses our beloved housesitter, who accepted a good job in the big city, and can no longer visit to provide generous lap-sitting time. During the day, when Frances first comes indoors, she hunkers on a heat vent, then sleeps on a folded comforter at the foot of our bed or a wicker chair full of old sweaters.

Thanksgiving particularly vexes Frances – when everyone gathers here. We shift bedrooms, so the comforter and the chair are both out of bounds, and this compounds her general stress from the pitter-patter of little feet and jolly shouts of laughter. Frances is not a party animal.

I’ve wished she’d be more flexible in her sleeping places (and her general attitude), and that I could make her more comfortable. So I sent off for a thick, boiled wool cat bed from Lithuania – an ovoid cocoon with small entrance hole. The bed garnered plenty of five-star reviews on Etsy, and a couple of “my cat won’t go near” warnings. At first I feared the same from Frances – for days it sat, she barely sniffed. I put an old sweater of mine in the bottom, trying to overcome foreign smells, but no luck.

Then, on a cold and windy October day, the kind of day when I usually curl another blanket around her on the bed, I put the new possibility near her sleeping spot. Glancing that way in a little while, I could see only one ear, a black triangle against the wool, and then the triangle disappeared within the cocoon, which wriggled slightly, like when an emerging chick rattles an eggshell.

Hooray! I’m ridiculously glad she accepted a change, found warmth, and a happier Thanksgiving (her nest can come downstairs with us).

And a Happy Thanksgiving to you as well – I wish you time with family, friends, food, and cheerful pets!

 

Lady Baby Spring Doings

Because I was in Alaska when news came of the Sweet Baby’s arrival, I got to watch Lady Baby see the first photos of her new cousin. With the sweetest expression of curiosity and awe, she said, “She’s so tiny. She’s the size of Pink Baby, right?” (Pink Baby is a soft doll clad in pink terry cloth, a long-standing, cherished member of the family.)

At Downtown Abbey now when I’m with Lady Baby, it’s like visiting with a really good friend. We enjoy each other, laugh at old jokes and memories, and share new experiences. Her dad came home one day and said, “You two are thick as thieves!”

He’d found us sitting at the top of the basement steps with the door closed. (It’s always closed and has a cat flap because the Ladies Cora and Winnie aren’t allowed in the basement where the Lords Cromwell and Wolsey spend a lot of time.) I’m not sure why we hunkered on the top step chatting. Well, actually, (as Lady Baby often begins a sentence), she had requested we sit for a “meeting,” because of some “concerns” about Baby Boy. (He likes to skate but fell on the ice. I said: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” She replied: “It’s OK, he’s a doll.”)

We spoke of other matters, the weirdly painted stairway walls (my doing long ago), more “concerns” (not serious ones because I can’t remember them), questioned how bulky Wolsey clambers up to his perch high on a shelf, and I told her the story of how Frances came to live with us. Lady Baby loves stories, and ones grounded in reality work just fine.

We only broke up the meeting because we’d discovered her bike in the basement where she showed me her steering and braking skills. We realized we could take it outside! (A miracle if you live in Alaska and only know bike riding in the basement.)

It’s a purple bike with training wheels, and must be really hard to pump, but she rode the whole way to the bakery, bike wheels spinning out a little on snow patches. Liberation – a bike to ride in springtime.

Muscles grow stronger with daily rides around the block, and one day we rode to the nearby school playground. We stayed a record two hours, sliding, swinging, and watching a family hide Easter eggs.

Whether Lady Baby rides her bike or we both walk, we’re fond of singing loudly “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor….” Lady Baby doesn’t know Mr. Rogers yet, but she surely knows the first part of his song, and sang with lusty enthusiasm while tromping the gritty sidewalks.

This time I suggested the ancient Johnny Horton hit “When It’s Springtime In Alaska…”, but couldn’t remember any words. So Lady Baby sang, “It’s springtime in Alaska, and the birds are nearly singing!”

And that works just fine.

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