Upon my return from spring break in Palm Springs, I read Mike Calahan’s story about his parents’ anniversary (you should be following him, if you’re not — go do it, we’ll wait) and it reminded me of some of the more twisted O’Connor family moments and one of those happened in Palm Springs.
In 2003, I took the girls (then ages 3 and 5) down to visit my parents, who would go to the desert for a couple of months in the winter. That year they rented a house owned by the daughter of a friend of my dad’s. The house had been built probably in the ’30s. It was a long house with bedroom wings off the kitchen/living area and all rooms had doors out to the patio area. It was a comfortable, pretty house with beautiful Mexican tile throughout. The garden areas were lush and bright with bougainvillea, cacti and palm trees, the Mexican tile accented the garden walls, fountains and pool. Really an ideal vacation spot.
The girls and I arrived in the late afternoon. If you have ever flown into the Palm Springs Sonny Bono airport, you know how cute it is. It’s mostly open air, it has a play ground and during spring break all the arrivals of children are met by waiting grandparents. It’s very sweet. My parents were thrilled to have the ladies arrive for a nice long visit. (When the girls were younger I always figured I could raise them in Portland, or I could raise them in Palm Springs or Gearhart….so why not vacation for as long as possible?)
My parents also brought the shih-tzu, Fred, to California with them. The three of them drove from Portland to Palm Springs in my dad’s giant gold Cadillac de Ville, basically a living room on wheels. I loved that car, the suspension honestly made it feel like the car was floating.
Anyway, we arrived at the pretty house, ate dinner, went to bed and woke to a beautiful sunny morning.
My mother gave me and the girls a tour around the back yard area being sure to close the door into the house so the dog didn’t follow us because he was old and blind. We found all the floats for the pool and looked at the fountain and so on and so forth. Oops, someone left the door open (to this day I think it was me but my mother always said it was her. I’m sure so she wouldn’t wind up hating her first born till the end of time.)
No Fred. We can’t find Fred. Minutes pass and my mother gets edgier and edgier.
“Maggie, pull back the pool cover!”
So, with my mother and the girls standing there and my father in the house, I pull back the blue pool cover and yep….we got ourselves a floater.
My mother starts screaming for me to get the dog out of the pool, the girls are moon-eyed in stunned silence, and in I go (with my clothes on) to pull a fucking dead shih-tzu out of the pool. My mother is screaming like a mourning middle eastern woman and my father comes out side yelling that he had to take some nitroglycerin because the screaming was giving him heart palpitations. My mom is now giving mouth-to-mouth to a dead dog. I hustle the girls into a bedroom to watch “Bear in the Big Blue House” and go back to the scene. My mother is sobbing, my father is upset, I guess, but he didn’t really show emotions like that and I think he probably wanted to go back to his coffee and morning cigar and paper. We bundle the dog in a towel and my mother takes him to a vet for cremation. I offer to go with her but she says very dramatically that it’s something she needs to do by herself.
While she takes care of that, I get the girls in their swimsuits and get on with the day. They get outside and look at the pool and then look at me, “We’re not going in there.” My ass your not going in there, put on your damn water wings and you’ll be fine. We are not spending two weeks in California without putting you in the pool. Girls go swimming, Dad is fine, all is calm all is bright.
My mother returns from the vet, absolutely wiped out. She is standing in the circular drive telling me about the vet, she’s a mess and there are red ants crawling up her leg and she looks at me and says, “I think I handled that pretty well.”
Sure, that was great Mom. The girls aren’t at all traumatized and Dad didn’t have a heart attack so I think we’re all good.
Ahhhh, spring break in Palm Springs.
My Mom said that there was always a warm spot in her bed where Fred used to sleep. Maybe six months later, my parents got another shih-tzu named Henry. But by that time, my dad had a touch of dementia so he thought we had two dogs (although he never saw them together). There was Fred and then the “other” dog, Henry. My mother was going crazy dealing with my dad and this whole uproar over the two dogs so she told us we just had to call Henry… Fred. We called the new dog Fred and my dad said, “Look at that Fred! And you know what? That other dog is gone.”
And once the new dog came along, the warm spot on my mom’s bed went away.
Here’s to you Fred the First.