Nellie Johnstone #1

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Nellie 3Nellie’s a friend of mine.

So named in honor of Nellie Johnstone, daughter of William Johnstone who drilled the first commercial oil well in Oklahoma in 1847, which he named Nellie Johnstone #1. What’s the connection between an Oklahoma oil well and a suburban cock-a-poo, you ask? Well the Nellie Johnstone #1 derrick is in Bartlesville, Oklahoma – my wife’s childhood Neverland, and such geographical childhood associations must always be considered when naming pets. Besides, it had a nice ring to it.

When last we met her, Nellie’s biological mother was a calm and amiable 25-pound cocker-spaniel. Her biological father was a foul mouthed, high strung, threatening parisian poodle one-fifth his beloved’s weight. Happily, Nellie possesses her mother’s disposition (and proportions), even as both her maternal and paternal canine traits are evident. She looks best when shaggy and sporting tousled 80’s rocker face and head fur. Think Rod Stewart (Maggie May era). Given the chance, her groomer seems intent on emphasizing streamlined poodle over fluffy cocker-spaniel. Out of the salon, she is embarrassingly sleek and reminds one of a dock-tailed whippet-dachsund mix.

Nellie greets me, Daddy-man, in bed most mornings. Not long enough of leg, she is boosted aboard by my wife, lovely, heroic Nellie 4Mommy-lady who each morning brings me the best part of waking up: Folgers in my cup – heavily cut with Nestle’s French Vanilla Coffee-Mate. Nellie dabs sweetened coffee drips off my finger tip, does a bit of canine coiffing (lick feet, scratch ears, sniff feet, repeat), wrestles sometimes, accepts belly rubs, and dozes between my mostly motionless calves – head resting on one foot or the other. When leg spasms erupt, as they are wont to, she shakes and rolls along with them. But after three or four such temblors, she bails.

Later on, after I’m bathed, dressed, out of bed and at work, she safety-tastes my morning repast, and assumes her ever-vigilant office watchdog posture. She safety-tastes my lunch, escorts me to precisely scheduled bathroom visits, scratches at the slider to take her own comfort-breaks, scratches at the slider to come back inside, and is given a caNellie 2nine treat (not safety-tasted). She frequently rests beneath my desk with her face between my shoes. After dinner, she thoroughly cleans any plate placed by her food and water dishes, after which it seems a waste to run that ol’ dishwasher. However, keeping with tradition and though unnecessary, the plates do receive a second wash.

Nellie moonlights as a watchdog on our back deck and in my ersatz exercise room. On deck-duty, she’s a good chaser – fast, menacing, and a loud barker, keeping bird and squirrel populations in line. She also happens to be a lousy interceptor while in high-speed pursuit. So, the bird and squirrel populations tolerate her warily, chip and chuff at her mockingly, and continue to patronize Mommy-lady’s backyard feeding stations. In the ersatz exercise room, she ensures my wheelchair seat is not suddenly, rudely occupied by some over reaching stranger, while snacking on crumbs left behind from previously safety-tasted breakfasts and lunches. At family gatherings, she herds Grand-boy-babies, wonders why there aren’t more, and feasts on crumbs fallen from the master’s table. Her vices are few. She begs in an endearing fashion, and she doesn’t drink from the commodes. During her free-time, she can be found curled up on the couch, or running leashless alongside her long-boarding and bicycling Brother-boys and Sister-girl.

Yes, Nellie’s a friend of mine.

Betty Rosebud

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They would travel annually to an unlikely destination, whose only marketing channels early on were a P.O. Box (0), a phone number, and a cryptic http://www.zipcode.mountainnet.com. Almost as if the destination was hiding. A strange place. No phones. No room keys. Beautiful, though. Verdant. Shaded. Bubbling fountains everywhere you looked. Unlikely a destination as it was, Betty and John had achieved repeat guest status. For several years, earlier on, they and one or two other church couples would periodically get away from the city. They came to lose themselves in the “holler.”

Birthdays for Alice had always been more than a day marking just another solar orbit, with presents, a few cards, perhaps a party. Much more. You see, birthdays were magical. On the birthday eve, Yellow Rosebud would get busy.

Yellow Rosebud was chief Pixie project manager of magic-infusing Pixie activity in the southwestern US. Moreover, She happened also to be a direct descendant of Tinkerbell.

Disbelievers should leave the room now.

Based out of a small petroleum rich northeastern Oklahoma town boasting three water towers: one Hot, one Warm, and one Cold, with offices beneath the town’s “Warm” water tower, her specialties were bedtime stories, fanciful refrigerator drawings, and birthdays. We’ll leave bedtime stories and refrigerator drawings for another time, but on birthdays, Yellow Rosebud would oversee thorough decoration of the celebrant’s room, as well as the breakfast nook, with carefully selected, themed streamers, balloons, bunting, and glitter. She would prepare sweet breakfast rolls, toast “soldiers,” fancy cereal, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. On Alice’s birthdays this fare would be served on Betty’s fine china and crystal which no one but Betty was permitted to touch, let alone use. No one, that is, but Yellow Rosebud. Pixies and moms had an understanding, you see.

Following birthday breakfasts, Alice would find, in some cleverly hidden spot, an elaborately inscribed map or list of clues to guide her on a hunt for birthday treasures. Around the house she would scramble – attic to second floor, to first floor, to garage, then the basement, out to the backyard, some years even next door through a gap in the hedge row to Marla and Darla Cunningham’s. These treasures, hidden so as to be found, would also be wrapped in keeping with the day’s theme, and once found would be brought to the breakfast table for opening. One at a time. Slowly. Ooing and Ahhing. And only after the celebrant’s official proclamation of her hopes, dreams and aspirations for the coming year.

The extended family began its annual week-long summer migrations to the holler in 1994 when Betty and John had all four daughters and their families as guests, to celebrate fifty years of wedded bliss. Their first visit to this unlikely destination went well enough that a return trip by all was planned for the following year. In fact, the four daughters and their families would return year after year. Over the years, family compositions would change some, but their ranks would often swell to 30 plus, comprised of daughters, husbands and children, beloved aunts, nieces, nephews, a second cousin or two, great grand children, a pair of Kung fu masters, and grafted-in in laws, including a striking ginger, a skydiving mountaineer and a philosopher-Viking. It would prove to be a most fitting venue. A foundry of sorts where cross-generational, cross-cultural, cross-ideological relationships would be forged into decades long lasting friendships.

In time, Alice came to her own understanding with Yellow Rosebud. An instinctual understanding passed down from mother to daughter. A long lasting legacy. She would carefully plan birthday events for eight children. infusing high anticipation, mystery and intrigue. Maps and clue sheets would be secretly prepared. Gifts would be cleverly placed, tucked behind bushes, inside chicken coops, atop play houses, buried in sand boxes – even tied beneath a diving board. Magical breakfasts would appear each birthday morning, although fine china and crystal gave way to My Little Pony, Muppets, Thomas the Tank Engine, or Spiderman paper ware. Ceiling-stuck streamers swung low. The more frequent integration of ceiling fans would later make streamer hanging really exciting. In time, a constellation of Scotch tape adhesive residue spots would bear witness to some two hundred-plus streamer-strewn, Pixie-powered parties thrown in ten homes, across four states. Hopes, dreams and aspirations would be recited. And, presents would be opened. One at a time. Slowly. With Ooing and Ahhing. But only after the celebrant’s official proclamation of hopes, dreams and aspirations for the coming year.

The next trip to the holler was on the calendar. Alice and her three sisters were in unusually close contact with Yellow Rosebud, the southwestern bedtime story, refrigerator drawing and birthday Pixie based out of a small petroleum rich northeastern Oklahoma town. It was their turn to shower felicitous natal recognition upon their mother, Betty, on the occasion of her 90th solar orbit. The arrangements took months and were impressive. The doting crowd was, too. It included daughters, husbands and children, beloved aunts, nieces and nephews, great grand children, a pair of Kung fu masters, and in-grafted in law relatives, including a striking ginger, a skydiving mountaineer and a philosopher-Viking.

What of the present treasure hunt you ask? Well, the Pixie Code – Section 66 – Concerning Birthday Parties for Seniors – is clear. It reads (with a twang) “Hey! Listen up, y’all! No lady-like celebrant with a pink walker named Rosebud shall be suffered to hunt for hidden gifts. Presents are to be placed reverently, smack-dab in front of ’em, with heaps of genuine affection.”

The party was great. In keeping with the Pixie Code – Section 66, the presents were placed, and in great number. The laughter sounded long into the night. And the lady who paid forward such Pixie-powered birthday celebration legacies was herself the celebrated one.

Hail, Queen Granny Cakes! We salute you!
June 12, 2014