Category Archives: Dogs Never Bite Me

Chapter 1

I was working at the salon halfway through an overlay when my husband called. I couldn’t pick up. When I listened to the voice mail later, he said he was sorry more than once.

“Honey, I’m sorry, really sorry,” he said.

“What did you do?” I thought, sitting in the lunchroom, making a sandwich, waiting for it to warm up in the toaster oven.

He went on and on for more than three minutes. I took a bite of my sandwich. It was raining outside.

“Oh, my God, what did he do?” I thought to myself louder than before.

“She was walking in the street,” he said. “She looked like she was trying to get hit by a car.”

“Oh, he rescued another dog,” I realized.

He said she looked so sad that he pulled over, turned around, went back, and picked her up. “She was just looking for someone to hit her,” he told me over dinner. “She just wanted to die.” But there she was alive at my feet.

He found her on the east side, on Superior Avenue on the far side of downtown. No collar and no tags. She was a purebred German Shepherd, between six and eight years old. He called his brother about the dog and he wanted her right away. But, because Brian’s brother has such a nasty, hateful girlfriend, she said no, and that was that.

He brought her back to our house.

I fell in love with her. She’s so sweet I can’t stand it. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to give her to anybody.

She lies on the sofa between us when we watch television. If we get up at the same time ,she doesn’t know which one of us to follow. Wherever we are she’s right behind us. She lies next to our claw tooth tub when I shower. I have to step over her, which is hard to do with my short legs.

I was wondering what her story was.

I was going up the stairs to take a shower, stripping as I went, when I found out. I was taking my belt off when she almost pooped herself. She could not get away from me fast enough. She fell down a few steps before getting her balance back, and disappeared fast

I muttered “son-of-a bitch” under my breath. All because I took my belt off. How about that.

When we first got her, she was depressed and miserable. She wouldn’t eat for a week. At first, she and I would share rice chips. She wouldn’t eat anything else and she wouldn’t touch dog food, but then she got back in the swing of eating it.

She had a bad ear infection, but, luckily, I had ear medication left over from other dogs we’ve rescued.

Our vet came over to check her out because she had lumps on her chest. Tracy said they were probably fatty lumps and nothing to worry about. She ran the dog’s blood, just in case.

Brian put a call in to the pound and left a description of the dog and his phone number with them, but no one ever called back. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to give her to anybody, but thought I had to find her a home, even if it was only with another dog rescuer. Better than the one she had.

We put up lost and found dogs with other rescuers, passing them to each other, by word of mouth and on Facebook. The day before Brian found the German Shepherd, I had tagged my sister to a Yorkie.  She had had to put her own Yorkie down.

“I want the dog,” she said when she got a hold of me.

I called my friend about the Yorkie.

“When can I grab the dog?”

I drove to Elyria that night and picked up the little eleven-month dog. He was going to be my sister and nephew’s Christmas present, but we had to fix him first, in more ways than one.

An elderly woman had bought the dog from a breeder, but she got sick and ended up in a nursing home. Her idiot kids locked the baby Yorkie in the garage for four weeks. They fed him, sure, throwing some food into the garage now and then, but they neglected it. He went from being spoiled rotten to having no one.

Finally, a friend of the kids took the Yorkie, but decided the dog was vicious.

“Oh, it’s vicious, vicious, it snarls at me, and lunges at me,” the lady said.

“All seven pounds of it” I said.

“Yes, he won’t let me pass out of the kitchen.”

“Just give me the dog,” I said.

People are so stupid. Sometimes I hate them.  Honestly, I’d rather hang out with dogs.

Most of the dog’s problem was that he had never been neutered. That was going to take a lot of his attitude out of him right there. The rest of it was they let him act like that. You don’t let a dog act like he wants to. You are the alpha dog. He learned quick who was the alpha dog in our house.

When they’re aggressive you have to show them that you’re more dominant than they are.

I said no, and he growled, and went to bite, and I picked him right up and put him on his back. If it’s a little dog, you put them on their backs. If it’s a big dog, you press on their backs until you hear the sigh of release.

“We don’t do that in this house,” I explained.

I put him in a cage.

“Ugh,” he said.

But cage training is better than force. I wasn’t going to hit him, or any other dog. After that he was a delight, running around on the couch, playing with his rope and toy. When I gave him to my sister, I explained how to be with him, how to restrain him when he acts out, and to make sure she had a cage for him, just in case.

The next day Brian came home with another Yorkie.

“It’s for my cousin,” he said.

Brian’s cousin Clint had been a heroin addict who had to have his legs amputated.

“He isn’t still using, is he?” I asked.

“He needs a dog,” Brian said.

Chapter 2

My husband’s cousin Clint had been an addict, had gone through rehab and everything seemed to be all right, until the night he decided to stick a needle into his arm again. The problem with heroin is that you think, even though you’ve been clean, you can go back to using the same amount of junk you had been using before.

He wasn’t thinking right. He went into his room one night and stuck a needle in his arm like before. He stopped thinking a few minutes later

The next morning his roommate got up and found Clint curled up on the bathroom floor. He had been lying there most of the night, it turns out, on goose bump tile, in the dark.

“Clint, get up, we have to go to work,” the roommate said.

When Clint didn’t move, the roommate, being the genius that he is, went back to bed for an hour. When he woke up again Clint was still in the bathroom, out cold. Did he call an ambulance? No. Did he call the police? No. He called his girlfriend.

“Hey, Clint’s on the floor of the bathroom and I need to get in. I need to get to work.”

“Who is this genius?” I asked Brian.

“Boy wonder, disaster,” he said.

The girlfriend drove over to their apartment. While she was on the way she called an ambulance and Clint’s mom. She was thinking, at least.

They rushed him to the emergency room at Fairview Hospital in Fairview park., where the roommate and Clint’s mom were told the bad news.

“Here’s the deal. This kid is not in good shape. He’s overdosed on heroin, his kidneys have shut down, and he’s got Compartment Syndrome. His whole body is shutting down. Before we can work on the kidneys, before we can work on the Compartment Syndrome, before we can work on anything, he’s got to pull through the heroin overdose. He’s got to come through that first.”

After forty-eight hours he was still alive. Nobody could believe it. It was like a miracle.

Compartment Syndrome is what happens when oxygen gets cut off to the muscles in your body. That’s what happened to Clint. It’s the same thing that happens when you fall asleep on your arm in the middle of the night and wake up with it numb and tingling. You shake it off. It’s no big deal.

But Clint had been lying on his face, his arms and legs underneath him, when he crumpled to the bathroom floor the night before. He’d been unconscious for ten hours, circulation, and oxygen, everything, cut off. Everything fell dead asleep. Then muscles started dying, dying all night.

In the hospital they slit his hands open at the palms and slit his hands open at the back of his hands. The doctors slit his arms all the way up on both sides and slit his legs down the middle. They manipulated his muscles to get them to start coming back alive again.

He was wide open, machines circulating his blood. They did nineteen surgeries over three months. They saved his arms, but both of his legs are gone. His leg on the left side is gone above the knee and his leg on the right side is gone below the knee. They couldn’t bring the muscles back for anything. So, he lost his legs.

They didn’t tell him they cut his legs off until he was almost done with all the surgeries and the recovery room because they needed him to fight and keep going. He was almost ready to leave the hospital for rehab when they talked to him.

“We have to tell you something,” they said.

After he got home, he got a small motorized wheelchair he runs around in. He can’t even use prosthetics because all the muscles in his upper thighs are ruined. They had to take some of them out because they were dying. If they had left them in that could have made the other muscles die, too.

The doctors had to take all the muscles that had compartments in them out of his legs. He has no strength in his upper leg muscles to support prosthetics, so he’s going to be in a wheelchair forever. He’s thirty-two years old and his fingers are locked up. They’re almost like claws. When he talks and tries to gesture, he can’t unclench them.

Clint asked us for a dog.

The dog we finally found was a puppy mill dog, a little Parti Yorkie. We got him from another dog rescuer who put him up on Facebook. They didn’t even know what he was. They thought he was a Maltipoo, but it was really a Parti, a new designer dog, although it’s hard to tell the difference.

We jumped the rescue by telling them we very possibly had a home for it.

So, we just took it, not knowing if Clint would go for it. We cleaned him up and had him for a few days at our house before giving him to Clint. Brian carried the Parti Yorkie around with him like a clutch for a few days. He was show dog size, under seven pounds, not a family-sized Yorkie. That was a mistake, carrying him around, because Brian then started wanting the dog.

When we delivered the little Yorkie to Clint’s apartment Brian told him if it didn’t work out it would be OK, and he would take the dog back.

But Clint does nothing now except sit in his wheelchair and dote on the dog. And the dog is the kind that needs nothing but being doted on.

“I love this dog, man, and he loves me,” said Clint. “I’m keeping him.”

Chapter 3

When my little brother Brad and I were kids we only ever as a family all together went on one family vacation. Before that vacation my sisters used to go all the time, to Florida to see my grandparents, where they’d ride on their boat and go fishing, and all their other fun stuff.

But then Brad and I joined the family.

“Too many kids,” said my mom after we were born. Our family vacations were mostly over after that. My mom never wanted any of us, anyway, so she was pissed that we were there to begin with.

“I never wanted you kids. You are all your father’s idea.” She told us that my entire life. She meant we were a bad idea.

“Why are you even here? You’ve ruined my life!”

We would walk into a room and she would get pissed that we were living and breathing.

Later on, Patty was ostracized from the family and Betty cut herself off. Betty would lock herself in her room and never come out. Whenever Brad made my dad mad, i would jump in and take his punishment. I couldn’t stand to see him get it. But we were always throwing each other under the bus, too. None of us wanted to get hit. The bad part is your sisters then grow up hating you. That’s how we have the mess between my sisters and me now.

I’m not saying there weren’t good times, but it was definitely tough.

The one family vacation we went on in my whole life was to Disneyland. My mom said it was like corralling cats. One morning I was with her. We were out searching for breakfast. No one knew where Patty was. She had just walked off. Betsy took Brad with her and my dad went to find tickets to see the Country Bears Jamboree.

That’s the only reason he went to Disneyland to begin with. He loved the Country Bears. He laughed up a storm.

When my mom and I finally got trays of breakfast for everyone we couldn’t find anyone, so we sat down on a curb. A minute later, sitting on the curb, looking up, we saw Betsy and Brad go slowly by leaning back in a horse-drawn carriage.

My mom and I looked at each other. What? Really?

We all saw the Bear Jamboree later, and the next day I saw Donny Osmond riding the same monorail with us out of our hotel. My sisters loved Donny Osmond when they were growing up, but they wouldn’t go up to him.

I was young and gun-shy, but my dad pushed me in Donny’s direction, anyway.

“Go get his autograph,” he said.

“No, no, no,” I said.

Dad pushed me forward, I got a push running start, and the next thing I knew I was standing in front of Donny Osmond. I was just flabbergasted! I had seen him on TV and now I was standing in front of him. I got his autograph, although I don’t know how. Maybe he felt bad because he thought I was special needs. I don’t even know.

“Poor little retard kid,” he probably thought and gave me his autograph.

I ran out off the monorail. “Why would you do that to me?” I asked my dad. “Why?”

I went to Bay Village Middle School and Bay Village High School, I was a lifeguard at the Bay Pool, and I was a Bay Rockette on the kick line for two years. I had a lot of friends growing up, but I hardly ever had them over our house. I usually went to their houses. I was always leery of having them over because I never knew if my dad would be mad or if my mom would start something.

If you liked something my mom was always going to find a way to not like it. After she moved away, my sister Patty wanted a family heirloom mom had, a bench that had been in my great grandparent’s house, but mom wouldn’t let her take it.

Mom and dad used to have the bench in our big family house in Bay Village at the end of their bed, but when dad passed away and she immediately re-married, marrying her old high school sweetheart from Jersey Shore, and moving to North Ridgeville, she put it away in her garage.

Patty truly wanted the bench. I told my mom over and over that Patty wanted it, but she was, no, she can’t have it. It was like talking to wood.

“What are you doing with it?” I asked her.

“No, no, no,” she said. It’s because she knew Patty wanted it that she wouldn’t give it to her.

That’s the way she is. If someone loves something, then she hates it. She always finds a way. She’s always been like that. My dad could be cool sometimes. I knew, even though he beat the tar out of us, that he cared about us. But, my mom, not so much.

We had a Rockette party at our house once, at the tail end of August, all out of the blue. We were at practice and our coach said the first football game was coming up soon, on September such-and-such, and we didn’t have a place scheduled for our potluck, yet.

“We can have it at our house,” I blurted out.

Just like that thirty high school girls were going to be coming over to our house. I called my dad at work. He sounded happy to hear from me.

“Hey, dad,” I said. “I just invited all my friends over for a potluck.”

“Sweet,” he said.

He came home early from work, bought all the hot dogs and hamburgers, and thoroughly enjoyed having all my girlfriends in our backyard. He was all over the place with his camera and took a ton of pictures. It was a good time. My mom stayed in the house and never came out into the yard. Dad loved it, but she was pissed that I had thirty girls over.

I loved being a Rockette. I was one of the gang all my sophomore and junior years at Bay High School until the night not long after the party when I tore my hamstring in three places. I had to give up being a Rockette because of my leg.

It was terrible, like I had lost something special.

Chapter 4

Every time I found an animal, cat dog bird squirrel, anything, it didn’t matter, I would take care of it and nurture it. If they were hurt my dad and I would help them out together. If it was an emergency, we took them to the Lake Erie Nature Center just down Wolf Road.

It drove my mom crazy. She barely liked animals, at all. Besides, she had asthma. Their dander, saliva, and skin flakes aggravated her asthma.

“Someone’s going to have to take me to the people doctor,” she said whenever I brought another lost or hurt creature home.

If you’re born to love animals, then you love animals. I don’t think it’s anything you can really make happen. My dad had it. I had it. My mom wasn’t good with it.

Whenever I wanted a pet, I always asked my dad. I never asked my mom. We had cats, dogs, guinea pigs, and a poodle, thanks to dad.

Our poodle Coco hated my brother Brad. I never knew why, exactly, except I thought he might have been too rough with her when he was a little kid.

“Coco, get him,” was all I had to say if we were sitting on the sofa together. She would assault the hell out of him, growling and snapping and pulling off his diaper. I used to have fun making her attack my little brother since I knew she wanted to, and because I could.

Before Patty moved out Brad and I slept in the same room. We both had big beautiful beds with posts and a bar across the back of them. We each had cherry wood dressers, a closet, and shelves for our toys. 

I slept in the bed by the window and Brad slept closer to the attic. My brother passed a lot of gas when he was a kid. We kept a window cracked even in winter. Sometimes it was so loud he woke me up.

“Are your butt cheeks still flapping from that one?” 

I did love him, though. He was a good kid most of the time. When I was in high school, I took him with me wherever I went. We were Tom and Jerry.

I played TRIP with him all the time when he was small. Wherever he was in the house, which was a split level, six steps up from the basement, or the five steps up to the kitchen, or the twelve steps up to the bedrooms, it didn’t matter, he never knew when I was going to suddenly pull a cord tight and make him trip.

My sisters made me play LET ME HAVE IT with them. We would be in Patty or Betsy’s bedroom and I would have to say, “Let me have it.” They would pummel me with pillows. Just pummel me.

A car hit Coco when I was a junior in high school. She had gotten older and slower, but none of us saw it coming.

She ran up and down the street and into and out of the woods at the end of our cul-de-sac all her living days.  The man who hit her stopped, picked her up, and went looking for the owners. When he found my sister, she came to the Bay Village pool where I was lifeguarding and got me. We had to put her down. 

It was awful.

When we got our Rottweiler, mom claimed she loved the dog, but we had to get rid of him because mom said the dog inflamed her asthma. My sister Patty adopted him, since she had moved away from home, so I was still able to see the dog whenever I wanted.

Growing up in our house was not like growing up in your average house. You were either going to move out while you were still young, or you were going to be thrown out. Looking back, I think we were all thrown out.

Everybody in my family got married when they were 19, except me. My mom and dad got married at 19, my brother got married when he was 19, and both of my sisters got married when they were 19.

I didn’t get married until I was 34, right after my dad died. Before I got married, after I left my family’s house because of one thing and another, I babysat Patty’s Rottweiler whenever she went on vacation. His name was Wellington.

Wellington was a sweet dog, but a stupid dog, too. He wasn’t the kind of vicious Rottweiler everybody always thinks they are. He had a blanket he carried around. We called the blankie Betty. We would tell him to go get Betty and when he came back, he would be dragging his blankie behind him.

He loved people, just loved them.

Patty lived in West Park, near St. Patrick’s, and when school let out, Wellington would sit at the front door and whimper to be let out.

“You can’t go out,” Patty would say. “You’re going to scare the kids.”

He was a silly beast and would cry no matter what she said. He learned how to lean on the door and swivel the knob and get out. I started thinking he wasn’t so stupid.

“No, you’re not going out there,” I told him every time I was at Patty’s house, but if I was upstairs dressing for work, he would burgle the door and the next thing I knew he was at the end of the driveway. As the kids walked by there were three big slurps for each of them.

They walked away wiping their faces and rubbing their hands dry on their pants.

He got out once when two guys were playing Frisbee in the street. He had seen them through the screen. He couldn’t contain himself.

“You’re not going out there,” I told him firmly, wagging my finger. “I don’t know those guys.” 

He banged up against the door and when it flew open, he took off. The guys were 18, maybe 19, and when they saw him running at them, they froze. I ran out. 

“Throw the Frisbee!” I yelled. 

They stayed stiff as sticks. “The dog will love you if you throw the damn Frisbee!” One of them threw the bright red plastic disk. The big Rottweiler hauled ass after it.

“Sweet,” one of them said.

They hit the jackpot, running the dog until the end of the afternoon. His feet were bloody when he got home. He was an idiot, after all.

Even though I loved animals and my mom didn’t, which was a disagreement between us that wasn’t getting resolved, I was the only one of my mom’s four kids who forced her to love me. The others gave up trying.

I would come home from parties or from dances when I was in 7th grade and plop down on her bed, sprawled out and telling her about the whole fantastic night, everything that happened. She would stay on the bed with me, holding my hand, listening.   

A dog will love you if you throw a Frisbee. In my family I had to plan scheme compel my mom to love me. It was the way she was. I used to wonder what it was like for her growing up in a small worn-out Pennsylvania town, her family poor and broken. She needed it. I could tell. Maybe animals couldn’t give it to her, but I could try.

Chapter 5

We have a little buddy whose name is Dell. He’s an 80-year-old little man and I met him the day Brian told me he was bringing one of the guys from the shelter to our house for dinner.

“Oh, now we’re going to be feeding the homeless in our own home,” I said.

I cried and cried when I met Dell because I thought he was homeless. He wasn’t, although he helps out at the shelter. He’s like Brian, feeding the homeless.

Dell lives in a big house on Erie Road in Rocky River near the Elmwood Playground. He lives alone. We go to his house every Sunday, hang out, go out to dinner or maybe eat there. That’s how we know Doug and Christine, a couple we met. They live across the street from Dell, their backyard facing the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.

They had an adorable little three-year-old Jack Russell terrier. His name was Mr. Jibbs. We brought Baby, our 140-pound Leonberger, with us to Dell’s one evening. Leonbergers come from Leonberger, Germany. Jack Russell’s are fox and rat hunters and come from England.

“It’s too bad Doug isn’t out with Jibbs,” I said. “I would love Baby and Mr. Jibbs to meet each other.”

“Oh, we can go over,” said Brian.

“I don’t know. It’s Sunday night.”

“They’re not going to mind if we stop by and say hi,” said Brian, knocking on their door. They brought Mr. Jibbs out and he and Baby played and wrestled. There was some barking, but not like a world war. Doug and I took the dogs across the tracks to Elmwood Playground on the other side of the street.

There weren’t any teams playing baseball, so we let the dogs run around on the fields, although Baby is too much of a lazy lummox to run very long. He’s a big, muscular, working dog, but lazy. Mr. Jibbs did most of the running and Baby did most of the laying around. After we walked back, across the tracks and through their backyard, and were sitting down again, Doug said he was going to bring out champagne.

“Don’t,” I said. “We just came to say hiello goodbye. We’re going out to dinner, anyway, don’t do anything special.”

“No, no, no, stay,” he said. “Christine doesn’t like champagne. I’m going to open the bottle and we can finish it.” We were sitting and talking and drinking when Doug got up. “Have you ever seen a train coming down the tracks from this way?” he asked me.

“No, I haven’t.”

All of a sudden Christine jumped up, worried, nervous.

“Doug, go grab Jibbs,” she said.

“He’s fine,” Doug said. “He’s been in the backyard hundreds of times with the train going by. Everything’s fine.”

I grabbed Baby.

“Baby’s never seen a train,” I said.

I held on to him because we were literally ten feet from the embankment along which the tracks were on. Mr. Jibbs was running back and forth with his Frisbee. I think he was guarding it, keeping it from Baby, so he couldn’t get it, not that Baby had any interest in it. We were all trying to catch Jibbs as the train came closer. He didn’t realize we just wanted to get him, and no one cared about his Frisbee, at all.

“Someone get this dog.” I tried to jump and grab him, but he took off. He bolted away from us. Suddenly, the Jack Russell swerved and ran out onto the tracks.

Christine was running an arm’s length behind him. She was wearing flip-flops and a long, flowing summer dress. I don’t know how she didn’t get hit. Obviously, it wasn’t her time, but the train hit JMr. ibbs. Christine had somehow gotten on the other side of the tracks and I thought she was screaming.

“No, it was you screaming,” said Brian.

The worst part was waiting for the train to pass by before we could get to Christine and before she could pick up Mr. Jibbs. It was horrible. I drank myself into oblivion at home that night to dull the pain.

“We shouldn’t have gone over, we shouldn’t have interrupted them, we should have left things well enough alone,” I said to Brian when we were home.

“I told Doug,” said Brian. “Your wife gave you the look. Go get your dog. Now he’s fucked.”

“He was just guarding his Frisbee,” I said. “Should I have walked the other way with Baby? Would Jibbs have followed us? I just can’t believe Doug didn’t get the dog or do anything.”

“Julie,” said Brian. “When you tell me to do something I will listen from now on.”

“God, I hope so,” I said. “I hope it doesn’t take another dog dying.”

There’s a place at the Promenade in Westlake that sells silver bracelets with little paws dangling from them. I’m going to get one for Christine, and I’m going to Cahoon’s Nursery and get a plant or a bush for their backyard, in memory of Mr. Jibbs.

For more than a week I sent a text to Christine every day. I found out she was sitting by the spot where Jibbs died, every day. She was just trying to save her dog and the train missed her by inches. She might have been killed herself.

I wake up at night seeing Christine just barely being missed and Mr. Jibbs being hit by the locomotive. I hear the train whistle screaming, which is why I didn’t hear myself screaming that day. All I could hear was the whistle screaming. I wake up all night long, jumping, reliving it in my head.

The other day Brian asked if I could move my Honda because he had to take his van to be e-checked. I was backing my car out of the driveway when a box truck came barreling down the street. I started to panic and jumped out of the car at the edge of the drive.

“I’m not that kind of a person,“ I blurted to Brian when he came running.

Nothing freaks me out, but Mr. Jibbs being killed by the freight train has freaked me out.

Chapter 6

I’m a Bay Brat, which means I grew up in Bay Village and lived there my whole life until my dad died. When I was a girl, I picked up every lost bird and squirrel, every lost cat and dog, and every injured animal I found and brought it home to protect it.

I was an animal lover from the get-go. I got it partly when I was born, in the blood, partly from my dad, but definitely not from my mom. My mom never liked any of the animals we had in our house garage backyard.

My parents met at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a few hours west of Philadelphia. My grandparents on my dad’s side had moved from Ohio to Philadelphia a few years earlier and he enrolled there after high school. My mom was working in the library, which is how they met. He fell head over heels for her, swept her off her feet, at least he thought so, and they got married.    

“We’re out of here,” is what my dad said the minute they got married. They quickly and promptly moved right back to Cleveland. Even though they were married for more than forty years it might have been the worst thing either of them ever did.

I had a mom who didn’t love my dad, and a dad who was frustrated about it, and the way he tried to make her happy was to beat the kids, which was us. So, it was a tough childhood. Either you were being totally ignored or you were being hit.

There were four of us. First, there was Patty, and then two years later Betsy, and then me five years after that, and last, five years later, Brad. Mom always said dad tricked her four times.

My dad was from Cleveland, from the west side, where he grew up almost rich for his time. My mom was from Jersey Shore, just a few miles from Williamsport, where she grew up poor.  Jersey Shore isn’t anywhere near New Jersey, the Jersey shoreline, or any real shore of any kind. There used to be silk mills and cigar factories in Jersey Shore. Later on, factories there made steel rails for train tracks.

During the Depression my grandfather was the only teenager in his high school who had a car. He used to follow my grandmother down the street trying to get her to come in his car with him, saying he wanted to help carry her books, so what happened was they eventually got married.

My other grandfather in Jersey Shore had three jobs the minute he stopped being a teenager. He was a coal miner, a school bus driver, and a milkman, but they were still poor. Even though they were money short they built their own home on the Susquehanna River. I honestly don’t know how they ever got it built since they were so strapped most of the time.

The river was their front yard. Susquehanna means Oyster River and it was on the Susquehanna where the Mormons say they got their priesthood from heavenly beings. It was a huge beautiful comfortable house. It’s still standing, although it’s not been taken care of lately, so it’s falling apart.

My grandmother lived in that house into her 80s, but then sold it and moved into a trailer, in a trailer park in the mountains above Jersey Shore. She started believing people in other trailers were trying to shoot her with laser guns. She slept wrapped up in foam rubber holding an umbrella over her head for protection. My mom never wanted to talk about her mom because she thought she was crazy, and a Jesus freak, too.

I didn’t know my grandfather because he died young. He had rheumatoid arthritis bad and it finished him off. It didn’t help working in the damp underground. I knew my grandmother well. Whenever my sisters and I visited her in their big house she taught us how to pull taffy and fudge. We played with her paper dolls. She didn’t have any real dolls for us. We sat on the front porch and waited for the bean truck.

Sometime before dinnertime she sent my older sisters to the side of the road. When the bean truck, or sometimes the vegetable truck, went by on the rutted bumpy road beans would bounce off of the back of it and they would run and gather them up. My grandmother cooked them for dinner. If no beans fell off the truck, then there was no dinner, although she usually had a little something else in the house. 

Most of the time it was something cold she had canned months earlier.

My dad went to Upper Darby High School just outside Philadelphia, starting when he was a sophomore. His parents moved him to Philadelphia from Cleveland and he always said he hated it. He was a Cleveland Browns fan and wore their colors, so he got into fights every day with the other kids who were Philadelphia Eagles fans.

He liked telling us stories when we were growing up, like the one about how one day he and his friends went to the second story of their high school and jumped up and down all as a group until the second floor fell in on the first floor.

The school’s mascot is a lion now, but when he was there it was a court jester.

My father’s parents were from Akron, and lived in Lakewood for a long time, but had to move when the new I-90 was being built. It was called the “Main Street of Northern Ohio” back then. When we were growing up dad would drive us to a bridge over the highway and show us the exact pot below the bridge where their house used to stand.

It was when they had to sell the house to the state that they moved to Philadelphia. After my mom and dad came back to Ohio they lived in Lakewood in a rented house for a few years. My older sisters were born there, but by the time I came along we were living in Bay Village.

We lived on Jefferson Court my whole life, which was a short cul-de-sac street, five blocks south of Lake Erie. My dad designed our house, and it was built just the way he wanted it. My family lived there until the day he died, when I was thirty-three years old.

We all had our own rooms, although my brother and I shared a room when we were tots because we were a room short. My sisters had their separate bedrooms just down the half-story stairway from us and my parents were at the other end of the hallway. We had the crow’s nest until Patty moved out and got married, when she was nineteen, and Brad was seven. 

It was in the crow’s nest where I grew close to Brad, who looked just like the Bamm-Bamm in the Flintstones. We even called him Bamm-Bamm. I became his number one protector like I did with all the neighborhood’s lost cats and dogs.

But I could never protect him from Coco, our poodle, who used to bite and tear off his diapers when Brad was little. He could never crawl away fast enough. Coco was quick as the devil.

Although, honestly, there were times I didn’t try to stop Coco. I had some of my mom’s tough love in me. Other times Brad had done something I didn’t like, and it was just his tough luck that Coco was on the rampage.

Chapter 7

Our neighbors who have passed on and are no longer with us, Mary and Josephine, lived in the house on the driveway side of us. The woman who used to be absolutely horrible to me, but is a little less horrible now, lives on the other side of us. The Italian man and wife who love our dogs live behind us.

Josephine and Mary, who were sisters, lived together in the two-story brick bungalow for 62 years. Neither of them ever married. Josephine cooked hot dogs, brought them to the fence, and fed them to our dogs every day. We hardly ever saw Mary. She never came out of the house.

They both died this year. Brian fixed up a security light in their living room afterwards and he mows their lawn. We park our Honda Element in their driveway to make it seem like it isn’t vacant, at least until the house is cleaned out and sold.

Chuck and Dawn live on the other side of us. Chuck has been in his frame house the whole time we’ve been in ours. He’s a super nice guy. Dawn moved in sometime later, after Chuck was our neighbor. She’s not so nice, although she’s not as horrible as she used to be.

She’s from New York City. She started in on us right at the start. Whenever we used to wave to her, she would never wave back. If she caught Chuck talking to either of us, he had hell to pay. He would have to sneak over to say hi and chat. The things she says to him about us I don’t even want to imagine.

She would call the dog warden on me every other week. It was always about our dogs barking, even though they’re not big barkers. What she didn’t know was our dogs are licensed, all of them, all the time.

“Here’s the thing,” the dog warden finally told her. “Their dogs are licensed, and everyone’s dogs bark sometimes.”

They don’t bark much, at all. Our little Lab doesn’t even bark. Dawn finally got tired of that game.

Most of the rest of our neighborhood loves it when our dogs are out. It was Dawn who gave us the most trouble. I don’t care if you’re from New York City, or not. It doesn’t give you the right to be a bitch. That’s all changed now that she needs me. When she couldn’t afford to have her hair done at the Charles Scott Salon in Rocky River anymore, I became good enough for her.

“Chuck doesn’t pay for anything for the children,” she said. “Everything falls on me. I have to pay for their school.” She has two kids of her own and doesn’t have any money anymore.

Then, when I started doing her hair, knowing that I don’t have kids myself, it was the kids with her all the time. “Do you think you could come over and watch them for a few minutes?”

“No,” I said. That’s why I don’t have kids of my own, I thought. “I don’t want to sit your kids,” I said. I might have done it to be a good neighbor, but she would have started taking advantage of me, so I put an end to it.

The old Italian couple behind us bought their house the year I was born. That’s almost fifty years ago. They’re straight out of Italy and I can hardly understand a word they say, her more than him. His name is Anthony, but I’ve never been able to understand what her name is. I always just call her Mrs. Anthony.

Everything in their back yard is a farm. They grow everything they eat all the full year long back there during the summertime. When we first moved in, they had little grandkids that fed our dogs doggie cookies.

We would hear them from our patio. “Can we go see Julie and Brian’s dogs?”

The kids are teenagers now, but they still come over to see their grandparents. My dogs run to the back fence and line up, waiting there. “You can’t stop doing that, you have to keep giving them cookies,” I tell the teenagers.

Brian used to walk the dogs every day. He always stopped and talked to our neighbors. They asked him about the dogs, so a lot of them found out we rescue them.

“That is so cool,” some of them said.

That’s how we came to be called the dog people. That’s what we’re known as. Once a lady was walking up and down the street looking for her lost dog. “Did you try the dog people,” somebody everybody told her.

“Have you seen my dog?” she asked me.

“No, but I’ll keep an eye out for it,” I said.

Sometimes neighbors donate dog food to us. We find it left on our front porch. It’s nice to have a little community support.

We’ve been taking the dogs to the dog park in the Metroparks lately instead of walking them because Nookie, our Husky, is an absolute screamer. The second you put a leash on him the screaming starts. It’s like we’re ripping out his toenails. He screams the whole way on the walk. People come out their doors to make sure we’re not beating our dogs.

It’s so embarrassing. Brian stopped walking them. He drove them to the dog park, instead.

But Nookie hates the dog park, too. He doesn’t like other people or other dogs coming up to him, or even up to us. One day we thought we would hide from him so he would learn to leave our side and run around with the other dogs. We hid behind a tree. But it was sad what happened. He just ran around looking for us.

“Brian, we can’t hide from him,” I said. “He’s never going to relax.”

When we came out from hiding and he saw us he ran over right away. “He’s back to guarding us again,” I told Brian. He gave us a warm glow.

One of our neighbors fell in love with Grayson, who is our little silver Lab. He’s got a great personality, mostly because he hangs out with Baby. He’s a cutie patootie, too

Our neighbor did everything she could to get us to sell Grayson to her.

“He’s not for sale,” I said. “He’s my dog.”

“But I love him,” she said.

“We love him, too,” I said.

One morning we took Baby and Grayson, who are best friends, even though Baby is five times bigger than Grayson, to Project Runway on Whiskey Island for a fundraiser for dog shelters. From there, later in the afternoon, we did Doggies on the Patio, another fundraiser. It was a long day. Afterwards we took the dogs out for gelato.

They loved it, the whole day, and the gelato, too, especially our patootie. We could never sell him. We could never give him away.

Chapter 8

The good times we had when I was a kid were always the day after our family fights, which were usually on the days before a holiday. Christmas Day was always fun happy because it was after the big Christmas Eve scrape.

The fights always happened before or on the holiday, not afterwards. On Easter, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving we always had a knockdown. My mom, or my dad, or both of them, would start the fight. Afterwards the family pulled it together for the holiday, to look good for the big day. We had to look better for the neighbors and in-laws and our pets.

One Christmas all my cousins from Pennsylvania, my mom and dad’s sisters and all their kids, were at our house. Our house was warm and cozy and there weren’t any fights. We were all looking good.

It was Christmas Eve morning and Eric from Philadelphia passed gas.

“Oh, that’s a wet one,” somebody said, and that started the whole thing, which turned out to be the flu. It went from Eric to Curtis on down to Kim and Skip and the rest of us. We barfed and barfed for days.

My mom was pissed. She was beside herself. She wanted to go to a hotel, even though she was a nurse. She would have jumped ship if she could have, but dad made her stay.

Every 4th of July we had a street party. We lived on one of the only two cul-de-sacs in Bay Village. In the morning all the kids would decorate their bikes and we would have a bike parade. Our parents judged the bikes and gave out prizes.

We played games all day and later in the afternoon everyone carried their grills and picnic tables to the end of the cul-de-sac for a party. We had food and our parents had coolers of beer. Everyone would party and they were great times.

My mom wore a t-shirt that said JOE BALLS on the front and FROM NEWTON FALLS on the back. It was a family joke. We had an uncle named Harold who lived in Newton Falls, but we called him Joe Balls. Nobody knew why.

One summer a windy waterspout from off the lake touched down in Bay Village during our street party. We were out in the street playing. All of our parents were trashed. When I ran into the house to tell my mother she said, “Go back out there and play.” But we ended up having the rest of the party in our garage.

When my mom became a nurse, she wore a t-shirt that said BUSHER THE PUSHER because she was an IV Therapist. She was the one who loaded the IV’s with drugs.  She became a nurse when I was in 5th grade. She had all of us and before we knew it decided she wanted a career. My grandparents put her through nursing school, paying for it all. She studied at Tri-C and later worked at Lakewood Hospital.

It was when I was in 5th grade, at Normandy Elementary School, during the Miracle of Richfield, that I got a pair of tennis shoe roller skates and lived in them for years.

We had a teacher named Mr. Barton and he loved to hoe down dance and dribble basketballs at the same time. He taught us to do it and we got so good at it that we were invited to perform at a Cleveland Cavs game.

It was the year the Cavs were scrappy and good and played the Washington Bullets in the conference finals. We watched it on TV. The crowds were so noisy people in the stands wore earplugs and the players on the benches stuck their fingers in their ears.

“If you don’t drop your ball, or double dribble, or anything else helter skelter during the performance, I’ll buy you whatever you want,” my dad said. I told him I wanted tennis shoe roller skates.

“Whatever you want,” he said.

We were great that night doing our hoe down dribble dance at halftime at the Richfield Coliseum, which isn’t there anymore. It’s just a big empty field now that it’s been torn down. We danced to the song “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers.

S_A_T_U_R_D_A_Y!

I lived in my skates from that day. I put them on first thing in the morning and skated all over the house. I did axles in the streets and figure skated every day in my tennis shoe roller skates But, I wasn’t allowed to wear them to school. Even so, I wore them all the time until I got my first pair of high heels.

The roller skates came off right after that and I’ve never been out of high heels since.

The reason is that I stopped growing when I was in 6th grade. After that I found out I was going to be short, a pygmy. My mom was a pygmy, too. I don’t know that she was ever taller than five-foot-one. Everybody else in our family was taller than me. My dad was six-foot-something. I was the shortest of all the kids, shorter even than Bamm-Bamm.

My mom got me a pair of Candies. They were plastic made to look like wood and had a strap across the top of the foot that stopped about mid-way up. You could wear them with anything, shorts, skirts, disco pants. They were the hot shoe. Every kid had to have a pair.

“You’re going to be in these for the rest of your life,” my mom told me. “You will never get out of them.”

She made me practice walking in them, up and down the driveway, then up and down the street, and finally up and down the stairs.

“You don’t want to walk like a clod,” she said. “A lot of girls stomp in their high heels, but you’re going to walk like a lady.”

I got to the point where I could run in them fast. I could chase dogs. I’m still fast, not as much as I was then, but still fast if I have to be.

I don’t know who invented high heels, but we owe them a lot. You put high heels on, and you change. Everything is different in them. Your body moves to a different kind of tempo. My favorite things are dogs and shoes. I still love dogs the most, but shoes are a close second.

Chapter 9

“We’re going to have to get out of here or I’m going to kill him,” I said.

Brian my newlywed husband didn’t say anything. What could he say? Freddie was his older brother, and we were living in Freddie’s house in Little Italy.

But Freddie wasn’t just our landlord. He was an annoying obnoxious older brother-in-law. He stuck his dirty disgusting food wrappers into my make-up bag when I wasn’t looking because he thought it would be funny when I found them. It wasn’t funny. I told Brian there was going to be trouble. We started looking for a house of our own.

Brian and I prayed together about the kind of house we wanted. We wanted central air, three bedrooms, and a fenced-in backyard. We searched for a long time and finally our prayers were answered when we found a two-story house in West Park. We were one of the first people to see it, we put a bid on it, and we got it.

We got everything we wanted, basically. The basement was waterproofed, and the back porch covered, although the backyard wasn’t dog friendly the way we wanted it, not in the least, not at all.

For the first four years of living in that house we had a backyard of mud. It was because we had up to thirteen dogs at any one time, some ours, some rescues. When they came into the house a lot of mud would track in with them. Since I’m a clean freak it freaked me out.

“It’s a shame we can’t cement in the whole backyard,” I said to Brian.

“I’ve got a guy for that,” said Brian.

Brian’s got a guy for everything.

Brian’s guy laid down stone stamps in the patio and we put in river rocks, large ones around the small patio, and small ones in a big bed next to the garage for the dogs to potty. That made it easy to clean up. We hose down the patio, hose down the river rock bed in the back, and Brian picks up every day. He puts it all in a garbage bag and we throw it in the garbage cans.

What else are you going to do with it?

Even though we liked our new home right away, which made our realtor totally happy, it was awful. It was decorated like an old person’s house. The outside of it was painted yellow and brown. Inside the woodwork and walls were painted white. I’m not a white person, even though I’m white.

We painted everything, the outside of the house, and all the inside, too. I had a lot of design ideas and a lot of ideas about new colors. We ripped out the carpets right away. Then we re-did the hardwood floors. I swore to myself I would never have the house carpeted again.

Except after the last two winters in Cleveland happened. It got super cod. Lake Erie froze over.

It was winter for a long time twice for two straight years. Getting up every morning, touching the cold hardwood floors, one morning I just said, we’re not doing this anymore.

“We’re getting carpeting for the upstairs bedrooms,” I said.

Brian was very much against putting in new carpeting. He’s usually against everything, but he never says no. At least, not after we discuss it.

“Do what you want, do what you want,” he said.

So, I did what I wanted. Of course, now he loves the carpet. He drags his big, bare, gross feet through it.

“Stop rubbing your gross feet in my new carpet.” I tell him.

I never thought I would love carpeting over hardwood floors, but in the bedrooms, I love it.

The dogs are not allowed upstairs, or even beyond the kitchen. The rules are that they can be in the kitchen or in the basement. The baby gate is set up at the kitchen and dining room doorway. Even so, just after we had the carpets laid down our little silver Lab, Grayson, got through the gate, went right upstairs, and peed on my new carpet.

No dogs upstairs. No Grayson. No matter how much we love him.

Every once in a while, we let them into the living room. That’s why there are always blankets on our sectional. We let the dogs jump on it so they can sit and snuggle with us. Only Nookie, our Husky, is not a snuggler. He’ll cuddle for ten minutes and then he’s done with you.

There’s another living room in the basement. There’s a television, bistro table, and another sectional. All the dog food and water bowls are in the basement, too. Baby always sleeps on his dog bed, but the others just lay out on the couch like freeloaders.

The couch is completely chewed up, completely. They paw it and dig in it when they are settling in. I don’t know what the digging thing is all about, but it’s their couch. They can do what they want, destroy it if they want. Only, when it’s completely gone, it’s gone. They’re not getting another one. I’ve told them that. It’s up to them to understand.

The biggest trouble is Pebbles. Fat Pebbles. She’s the one who truly wrecked the sofa. She’s my digger. She’s the reason we used to have a whole living room in the basement until it all got chewed up.

Even though I’ve decided they aren’t getting any more sectionals, no more couches, or anything in the basement, Christmas is ridiculous at our house. Brian and I buy the dogs tons of gifts. I start buying presents for them for the next year right after Christmas when everything’s discounted. Around the end of August, I start buying dog treats whenever I see them on sale. It’s not any good if I buy them any earlier than August. Brian finds them and gives them to the dogs. So, I always start that later in the year.

The dogs get stockings full of toys on Christmas Day.  Then the mess starts. The toys are in stockings stuffed with stuffing, just like pillow stuffing. The dogs take their stockings outside and tear them apart to get at the squeakers inside. By the end of Christmas week, I’ve got a backyard full of puffs of white stuffing stuck in the ice.

It looks like a hillbilly backyard until I can finally get out there when winter is changing to spring and chip it out of the melting ice. I don’t like that it looks so hillbillyish all winter long, but what can you do?

Thank God we have a privacy fence on all three sides of the backyard.

Chapter 10

My dad was a stockbroker, an investment advisor, and a vice president at Prudential Bache. But he never let it go to his head. He wasn’t always prudent, though.

They called him the Margin King. When mom and dad got married dad was a gambling man, but mom didn’t want him doing that after the wedding. She said it was time he became a family man.

“The gambling stops now.”

So, he became a stockbroker. That way he could still gamble, except now it would be with other people’s money. He made tons and tons of money. He didn’t just make a boatload of money, though. He told jokes all the time. He was a jokester.

He was a prankster and a jokester. He used to appear on the “Hoolihan and Big Chuck” TV show now and then, doing skits with them.

Hoolihan was really Bob Wells, but he was Hoolihan the Weatherman on the air. After Ghoulardi left Cleveland for Hollywood, Hoolihan still did the weather, but became the other half of the “Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show”. It was what replaced Ghoulardi. They showed low-grade science fiction and horror movies late at night on weekends and did comedy skits in between the commercials.

That’s where my dad came in.

The shows always started with the Ray Charles song “Here We Go Again” and ended with the Peggy Lee song “Is That All There Is.”

Big Stash and Lil’John were on the show, too, more than my dad was, and they were all friends. My parents used to go to Hoolihan and Big Chuck’s house parties and we used to have Lil ‘John over for spaghetti dinners. Lil ‘John was actually a very small man who could eat a lot of spaghetti.

They did skits on the show like Ben Crazy, from the “Ben Casey” TV series, Parma Place, which was like “Peyton Place,” and the Kielbasa Kid, which was like a Polish cowboy misadventure. The skit my dad was most famous for was the “When You’re Hot You’re Hot” skit, which was from the Jerry Reed song.

“Well now me and Homer Jones and Big John Taley, had a big crap game goin’ back in the alley, and I kept rollin’ them sevens, winnin’ all them pots,” was how the song went.

“My luck was so good, I could do no wrong, I just kept on rollin’ and controllin’ them bones, and finally they just threw up their hands and said, when you hot, you hot, and I said, yeah. When you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not you’re not, put all that money in an’ let’s roll ‘em again, when you’re hot you’re hot, La, la, la, La, la, la, when you’re hot, you’re hot.”

They acted out the words to the song. Big Chuck would roll the dice. My father was the sheriff. They would be shooting craps on the street and my dad busts them. Later when they are all in court the judge tells them he is going to throw the book at them, except when he throws the book, he actually hits my dad, who is the sheriff, in the arm by mistake.

“That hurt!” he always said.

My mom was in a skit with Big Chuck. They are sitting on a park bench on a first date under a full moon and he turns into a werewolf. He reaches for her. She starts screaming and runs away.

My dad did a lot of skits wearing a gorilla suit. But not all of them were on the “Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show.”

He would get into his gorilla suit and he and Big Chuck would drive around the west side of Cleveland and Lakewood in a big car looking for hitchhikers. Big Chuck drove while my dad hid in the back seat. They would pick someone up and after a few minutes my dad would suddenly pop up out of the back seat in his gorilla suit.

They would scare the hell out of the hitchhiker. That’s what they did for fun. I remember being a little girl and listening to their stories and thinking, you guys are really weird.

Sometimes they would go out and roof jump. The houses in Lakewood are close together and they would run across the roofs, jumping from one to the other. They whooped it up. 

When they got older Big Chuck, Hoolihan, and my dad got a little more sophisticated. They had mystery parties, which were parties on a bus on which you’d have dinner and drinks, not knowing where you were going, and at the end of the night you’d have to guess where you were.

It was the 60s at that point in time.

My dad was a prankster even where we lived, which was quiet conservative Bay Village. He played jokes on the neighbors on our street all the time. One time he hired the Bay Village High School Marching Band to wake up one of our neighbors at five in the morning. They did it by marching up and down their backyard and playing a fight song.

Another of our neighbors had dogs and I used to watch them when they were out for dinner or at a show.

“Julie, can you watch our dogs?” Mrs. Butler would ask me.

One day my dad took advantage of me having their house keys. He snuck into their house and filled up every glass, cup, vase, china, and toilet, whatever, with water and a single goldfish. When they got back there were goldfish everywhere in their house.

Another time he and his friends got into their garage, picked up their car, and turned it sideways. They left it sideways so tight in the garage you had to squeeze around it. Mr. Butler couldn’t get to work the next day. There wasn’t anything he could do. SWe thought he might have to tear the garage down.

He crept into their house late on a summer night wearing his gorilla suit and scared their kids so much they peed on the floor. He thought it was great fun, giving them nightmares. That was fun to him.

It didn’t matter to him. Whatever he thought of doing he did. He was constantly, constantly, constantly pranking the poor Butlers.

My sisters and Brad and I weren’t out of his prank zone, either. He would crawl underneath our beds at night and wait quietly until we dozed off and then reach around and grab us. Oh, yeah, while we were sleeping! I still can’t hang my foot out over the edge of my bed at night.

He was a great dad, but he was a prankster, that’s for sure.