The Saga of Cement Sue

my christmas gift

This is the special wonderful gift that my Linda gave me

I’ve often waxed poetic (or at least posted prose) about my love, Linda Herman.  I’ve worn out my list of adjectives trying to describe how wonderful she is, and how good she is for me.  This Christmas, she demonstrated her love with the best material gift I have ever received.

What could this gift be?  It is a two-foot high concrete statue of an Irish Setter.  Yes, you all know that I love Irish Setters, but that wouldn’t make this the best gift ever.  So what would?  I hope you have a few minutes as this is a convoluted answer.

The story starts with my great-grandfather Hall.  I don’t know much about the man, I don’t even know his name.  The generation before me simply referred to him as “Grandpa Hall.”  By the time I was aware enough to ask his name, my father no longer remembered it.

My great-grandfather's property in Spring Lake

My great-grandfather’s property in Spring Lake

Here is what I do know about the man.  He owned a farm in Spring Lake, MI bordered on the south by modern-day M-104, on the west by Fruitport Road, on the north by the railroad tracks, and on the east by the swamp.  On this farm he raised pigs, which he smoked and sold as bacon & ham in the surrounding communities.

The other, more interesting thing, that he did on his property was breed and train what he called “Irish Bird Dogs.”  We would know them today as Irish Setters & Irish Red & White Setters.  Even then they were trying to breed the white out so that they could develop into the red dogs that we know today.

Great-grandfather Hall always kept three dogs for breeding – a male named Patrick and two bitches named Molly & Sue.  When one passed on, or retired from breeding, he would replace it with another dog with the same name.  So he always had Patrick, Sue, & Molly.  This allowed him to sell to returning satisfied clients another dog with the same parents as their previous dog.  And disgruntled customers could be offered a dog from the other mother.

John & I with Jojo

My brother John & I with our dog Jojo.

grampa and dog

My grandfather with a Sue or a Molly

This practice of Patrick, Sue, & Molly was carried on by my grandfather, Melvin Bristol Hall.  He didn’t do the dogs as a full time profession like his father did, but he kept the Patrick, Sue, & Molly tradition alive.

Now my father, Melvin Edward Hall, didn’t breed dogs.  We always had at least one dog in the house, most of them Irish Setters.  But in my little atomic family, my mother claimed naming rights for all pets.  So we had Duke, Jojo, Koof, Kerry, & Scarlet.

Then in 1992, Dad retired from teaching.  It turns out that there was an Irish Setter breeder near Coldwater, MI who had a bitch that was descended from one of my great-grandfather’s lines.  And he presented the dog to my father as a retirement gift.

This was one of the rare occasions where my father stood up to my mother.  He explained to her that the dog was a gift to him, the dog was part of his family history, and he would be naming her Molly!  My mother didn’t speak to him for weeks afterword.

grandma and a dog

My Grandmother Irene Vos Hall with a Sue or a Molly

My uncle Ken Hall (Mel’s younger brother) had a much more entertaining response.  Uncle Ken located a concrete, life-sized, concrete statue of an Irish Setter.  Since Mel had a Molly, Ken brought him a Sue – Cement Sue (you have to say it like Jed Clampett – See-Ment Sue).  And from that point on, we had Cement Sue stationed in our back yard.

The years were not kind to Cement Sue, as she stood sentry day and night in all kinds of weather.  She may have lost pieces of concrete, leaving just bits of rebar hanging out.  But she was always there, and Dad & I made a habit of saying hello to Cement Sue every time we came or went through the back door.  As time went by Dad did indeed add a Sue to go along with his Molly.  After many good years with Mel, Molly final had to go to the Rainbow Bridge.  Fortunately, he still had his Sue, who stayed by his side until his death – and Cement Sue was still on station in the backyard.

ken hall & family

My Uncle Ken and his family

Mel & Molly

Dad with a Molly from his grandfather’s line

When the bittersweet time came for me to leave 712 Winter St., Spring Lake, MI to join my lovely Linda in Durham, NC I discovered a sad, sorry truth.  Cement Sue was so damaged, and so sunken into the very ground of the backyard that it would be impossible to move her.  So with a very heavy heart, I left her behind at 712 Winter St.

In my heart, Cement Sue not only meant Molly & Dad but also 712 Winter St., Spring Lake, Uncle Ken & a grandfather & great-grandfather that I never met.  Of course, being so sensitive, loving, caring, and attuned to me – Linda knew all of that.  So she gave me not only a brand new Cement Sue – but also all of those important things left behind when I left Michigan.  I have never received a finer gift with more love behind it.  Thank you Linda – I love you.

The Original Cement Sue (back) with Paladin

The Original Cement Sue (back) with Paladin

Happy Father’s Day

Friday was one of the toughest days ever.  On our way to Doggie Fun Land (the dog park in Ferrysburg) Sue got VERY excited in the car.  Now Pal is a great car rider, he just lays down and takes a nap knowing that there will be excitement when we get where we are going.  Sue on the other hand is always excited, and knows that we’d get there faster if I would just let her drive.  But on this occasion Sue was beyond excited – she was nearly out of her mind.

As we turned the corner, I saw why she was in such a state.  We pulled into traffic behind Dad’s old car and the folks who bought it from us.  Sue had heard Dad’s car and KNEW that was where her Daddy was.  Soon, they turned one way while we kept on another way.  The keening sound that Sue made cut through me like a million sharp knives.  I don’t think that anything has ever hurt me so badly as the sound that she made, knowing that she was in pain and wanted to be with her Daddy.  I was so impacted that I had to pull over and gather myself before I could drive any further.

Of course, Sue being a dog, she lives in the moment.  So by the time we got to Doggie Fun Land, she was ready to run and play.  I wish I could have recovered as quickly.

Today, Father’s Day, was the toughest holiday since Dad passed.  It was even tougher than Thanksgiving, Christmas, Dad’s birthday, or mine.  Since my younger brother

John with Barkley and Alexander

John with Barkley and Alexander

John passed away in 2004, Father’s Day has been a special occasion for Dad, Sue, & I.  This year, with just Sue, Pal, and I it seemed a very lonely day.

If you know me, then you know how dearly I loved, and still love, my father.  If you don’t know me, then words can never tell you.

But I want to share these words anyway.  In 2007 I was still working part time at WGHN– and of course I was working on Father’s Day.  Before I left for work that morning, I placed a card and a pile of gifts on the dining room table.  I also left him a note.  The note is reproduced below, without any further comment.

Mel and his first puppy Sue

Mel and his first puppy Sue

Dad,

I know that I’m doing more for Father’s Day this year than what we’ve traditionally done.  Partially that’s because I’m so grateful for all that you’ve done for me, and partially because I’m a little guilty about how little I’ve done for you.  Certainly some of it is a side effect of how scared I was about losing you in February.  But mostly it is just because I love you.

You’ve always seemed superhuman to me.  The strength of your character and the gentleness of your nature still inspire awe in me.  And when I look back from the lofty heights of my 47 years (yes, you should read some sarcasm in that) at how much you had accomplished in life by age 47, and how little I have accomplished, I am humbled.

Probably the single greatest thing that you did for both John and I was that you allowed us the space to be children when we were children and that you allowed us even more space to be our own selves when we became adults.  Recently I’ve thought a lot about that, and how I haven’t really given the same back to you.  I’ve always expected perfection from you.  And while you generally deliver on that score, I let myself become frustrated and even angry when those occasions arise when you are simply a human being.  That isn’t fair, and it isn’t right.  It has been a limiting factor in our tremendous friendship, and I am sorry for all the times that I’ve allowed my attitude to impact our relationship.

I know that you aren’t some comic book superhero who always does right.  I know that you are simply a man who always tries to do right.  And that is a far more precious and valuable thing.  I know that you forgive me for this, you always do – and I appreciate your indulgence more than I’ll ever be able to say or even show.  I will try harder to allow you the space to be your own self, and a human being.  But there will always be a little corner of myself that enjoys pretending that you really are that comic book superhero.

I wrote this all down and stuck it in a card for you to read while I am at work so that we could avoid one of those awkward, mushy moments.  But that doesn’t make it any less real.  Thank you for being my father, I love you.  Happy Father’s Day!

Happy Birthday Dad

Hey Boss,

I just wanted to write you a quick note as the dogs and I wrap up the preparations for your birthday tomorrow. It sounds a bit strange to me to be celebrating your birthday more than four months after your passing, but I decided that it will make me happy to celebrate you – and the special love that we shared.

We are going to start the day with a trip to Doggie Fun Land in Ferrysburg.  After dropping the dogs at home, I’ll pop over to Orchard Market to pick-up a big old porterhouse steak and some of those little cupcakes that you always enjoyed.  I debated about baking a cake for you, as I did every year, but I’ve been doing really well with my blood sugar lately and I don’t want to mess that up.

In the afternoon, Pal has an appointment at Harborfront Hospital for Animals.  He just turned nine this month and he’s due for his annual physical.  It just seemed appropriate on your birthday to take an old man to an appointment with a doctor.  Paladin graciously offered to fill in for you.

After his visit, we’ll stop in at the City Farmer to pick up a box of peanut butter bones for the dogs.  They are still Sue’s favorite food to play with, and she teases Pal and I mercilessly when she has one in her mouth.

Then it will be home to make dinner.  I’ll grill up the steak just the way you liked it – marinated in Worcestershire sauce and seasoned with salt and pepper.  I’m going to split it three ways with Sue and Pal.  I’m also going to share the cupcakes with them.  You should see Sue and Pal on a sugar buzz!  When I came home from your memorial service, I put the leftover cake on the kitchen counter while I changed.  When I came back into the kitchen, there were two happy looking dogs laying on the kitchen floor with some cardboard and plastic wrap between them.  About half an hour later, the two of them were running around the house like young pups – playing with all of the toys, teasing each other, barking at each other, and just having a great time.

After they eat their 9:30 treats, the three of us will snuggle in together on Pal’s couch for our moment of Irish Setter Zen.  And we will sing happy birthday to you.

It won’t be the party that we’ve thrown for you the last several years.  I haven’t invited anybody over, I didn’t buy balloons, or any of that party stuff.

It is still pretty lonely in the house without you, but as I promised you, Sue, Pal and I are taking care of each other.

Happy Birthday Dad!  We will always celebrate your memory.

Every Day Is Like Christmas

Our Charlie Brown Christmas TreeThis is our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. I bought this just before Christmas last year.  It just seemed to fit our lives, our Christmas decorations, our living room, and our lives.

A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired in 1965 – I was four years old.  I can’t swear to it, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve watched it every year since.

A Charlie Brown Christmas blu-rayWatching Dad’s reaction to the tree, I bought him a copy on blu-ray for Christmas last year.  We’ve probably watched it a dozen times since then.  There is just something about this classic that makes you feel good – even if it isn’t Christmas time.

When it came time to take down the Christmas decorations last season, Dad and I decided that the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree should stay up year-round.  So it became the centerpiece decoration in our living room.

Sue wearing a Christmas Wreath

Sweet Sue

With every thing that is going on with our lives and Dad’s health – we decided that we should stop for a moment each day and remember the great gifts that we have.  We have each other.  We have a roof over our heads and enough food to eat.  Dad has a tremendous insurance plan that covers whatever medical care he needs.  We have Sue – the love of Dad’s life and a tremendous blessing all by herself.

At the time, we were also fostering dogs for a rescue group – so we were sharing our gifts every day with those less fortunate.  We’ve since adopted Paladin, which put us at the limit for animals in the Village of Spring Lake and removed us from the fostering business – but we are overjoyed to be able to share our blessings every day with the most recent addition to our family.

At our house, everyday is Christmas Day – and we have the Christmas Tree to prove it!

Last June the doctor sat Dad & I down.  With a look of deep seriousness on his face he gazed deeply into Dad’s eyes and said “I very much doubt that you will live to see Christmas.”  I tried my best not to look at Dad, but I couldn’t help myself.  I looked over at him and we both started giggling like school girls.  The moment could not be contained, and soon we were both roaring with laughter!  The poor confused doctor said “That certainly is not the reaction I expected.”

As Dad & I wiped the tears of laughter away, Dad stated simply, between chuckles, “EVERY day is Christmas at our house!”

So, if you come to visit us – or even if you only visit through reading this blog – remember that EVERY day can be Christmas if you want it to be.  And please take a moment to appreciate the gifts that you have, and share them with others.

A New Year’s Confession

O.K. maybe this should be titled “A New Year’s Admission.”  Because there really isn’t anything to confess here, just an admission that I need to make to myself.

Dad as O.D. in the Army circa 1954

Dad as O.D. in the Army circa 1954

I have become a Caregiver with a capital “C.”  Being a Caregiver has come to define me.  It is more than what I do with my days, it has become who I am.  It consumes my thoughts, my time, and my energy.  It has impacted every aspect of my life and my relationships with other people.

I’m not 100% sure how it happened, but there can be no doubt that it has happened.  Three years ago, after making some bad business and life decisions, Dad and I decided that it made the most sense for me to move in with him.  It would allow me to save some money while I got my life back together and I could give him some help around the house.

keep reading…

What I Want For Christmas

Sue tells Santa her Christmas Wish

Sue tells Santa her Christmas Wish

Another year is coming to a close, and it actually finds me in a pretty good situation.  Dad & I are together – taking care of each other and our Irish Setter, Sweet Sue.  And I don’t dare forget the cat, who is doing well but would punish me in the middle of the night if I forgot to mention her.

For those very few of you out there who are wondering what to get me for Christmas this year, I have only one suggestion or request.  Since I have pretty much everything I need or want; I’m asking you instead of buying me a gift to make a donation to Save Our Setters.

We have been fostering dogs for them since the fall.  We are on our third one.

Foster Girl Danni

Foster Girl Danni

Danni, the little girl who had been used as bait in a dog fighting ring came out of her shell and found a perfect forever home in Wisconsin.

Foster Boy Hunter

Foster Boy Hunter

Hunter, the very handsome Irish Red and White Setter who was a stray in the U.P. found a perfect home (and a new name – Conner) on the eastern side of Michigan.  And little Codie Joe, who’s family had to surrender him when they lost their home in the mortgage crisis is still here with us.  Hopefully once the holiday activities settle down somebody will turn up who wants this

Foster Boy Codie Joe

Foster Boy Codie Joe

beautiful boy to brighten their lives.

Save Our Setters is an amazing all volunteer organization that absolutely performs miracles for the dogs.  If you haven’t checked out the story

Cloud learns to use a cart

Cloud learns to use a cart

of Cloud – the Dog that Could you really should.  It will warm your heart.

Save Our Setters has placed nearly 150 Setters into their forever homes in 2008.  That in itself is an amazing and heartwarming fact.  But the sad part is that they have received in excess of 500 intake requests from Setters in need.

That

Cloud stands on his own

Cloud stands on his own

boggles my little mind.  Somewhere out there in the past year 500 families decided that they either couldn’t, or worse – wouldn’t, continue to care for one of these beautiful animals.  Thank goodness that organizations like Save Our Setters exist to help.  Sue and I would both appreciate it if you could do something to help them help the animals.  Financial contributions are tax deductible and will make you feel good about yourself.  The link to make a donation via PayPal as well as the address to mail a check (and a list of other ways you can help) are all available here.

Even if you don’t know me or like me enough to want to give me a gift, you can of course still contribute to Save Our Setters.  And if for some unfathomable reason you don’t like Irish Setters – please Google up the name of a breed that you do like along with

Sue wishes you a Merry Christmas

Sue wishes you a Merry Christmas

the word “rescue” and you will find a number of other breed specific rescues that also need your help.  Or you could just donate money, time, or other resources to your local Humane Society or animal shelter.

That would make my Christmas very merry indeed.  Thank you.