You had a raincoat? and other obvious questions

our fair city on the banks of the River Isar

Good morning 2020 (written early New Year’s Day morning). What a wild ride it’s already been, and I’m still in my pyjamas.

My mother, who’s nickname when she was young was ‘Fafa’ so that’s what I call her here, and I have talked briefly, which because of the time difference between here and the States means it’s still yesterday there.

My sister-in-law and I also had a meaningful, end of the year conversation a little while ago in which we talked about her husband/my brother and what he was like as a child. That was something.

We also talked about me, which is unfortunately still one of my favourite subjects, and she had some insight about all of that, which I appreciated. All of that, you ask? All of what, exactly?

Well, this is the first time in almost twenty years that I haven’t had a dog to walk on New Year’s morning. You likely know of Ella and Louis, but before them there was a girldog named Lyle. She came with my first wife and me from the States, when wee moved here to Munich in 2001.

She was my only real responsibility as I was getting my bearings in this curious new land. German culture was weirdly unfathomable, which made no sense because I’d lived here as a small child. I’d learned to play German music and even sang in the godforsaken language before I understood what I was singing about. Nevertheless, I felt odd and like an outsider.

That first year, I drank too much Augustiner and Austrian Veltiner, I smoked my Gauloises, and I walked my dog. It was all pretty straightforward. Below is a photo of my friend Elaine’s dog, Poppet, and me in Tottenham. Well, it’s our shadows. When I’m without a dog, I greet every single one I see. Right now, I’m meeting a lot of dogs.

Poppet’s and my shadows…

Here’s the story I want to tell today, and I assure you that there’s a moral. I’ll be explicit, rather than make you guess what my motive is.

It’s about gratitude and perspective.

A woman told a few friends and me a disheartening story about her horrible childhood and how she always felt like an outsider. She could’ve been telling my story, but that’s beside the point. ‘It’s not always about you, Ken.’ Yes, I get it.

She told us about standing in the rain in her raincoat and looking up at the sky and somehow, in her childlike wonder, asking what on earth the reason for everything was. Asking God or the universe or whatever was out there why she was even here. Why did she even exist? What was even the point?

Aphrodite and the setting sun

After my friend told her story, we were all really quiet. It was so depressing that we were simply mute. Until one quiet voice meekly asked, ‘You had a raincoat?

The raincoat obviously wasn’t the point of the story, but clearly the woman who was almost afraid to ask her question must’ve had an even worse childhood. For her, the mere shelter from the rain was absolute and utter luxury.

I try to remember that everyone I encounter could be dealing with trauma that he or she doesn’t even want to think about. It’s a trick I use to be more compassionate. Sometimes it works.

Sometimes I forget. My New Year’s resolution this year is not to forget.

I should be more compassionate. Especially to those who’re in my inner circle. They very well might get my best, but they simultaneously get the worst of me, as well.

I resolve to give them more of my best. A lot more.

my rays of sunshine

Before there was even the thought of Ella and Louis – the Magyar Vizsla brother and sister that I talk and write about a great deal – before them there was a dog who came walking up to our car on a little road in southwestern South Dakota on the way from Sturgis down to Colorado. There was no intention of taking this dog. None. She was a mop of very dirty black hair, and looked painfully hungry. After giving her a bit of food, she jumped into the car and insisted that she was coming with us. Clearly of her own volition.

Lyle in snowy Colorado

Her name was Lyle, and there was something about her that I’d never experienced as a dog lover. See when I was a child, we always had dogs. My brother Michael had an incredibly strong connection to each one, but the very first dog, Dandelion, lived an astoundingly long time and he was especially fond of her. So much so that when she died, he was unconsolable. From my perspective, this was preposterous. ‘What’s wrong with you?‘ I wanted to ask him. ‘The old dog’s gone, which means we get a brand new dog. Maybe even a puppy.‘ He only wanted Dandelion. Once again, this made no sense to me.

So, back to Lyle. Brought her to Germany, and she was my only responsibility in the early days when I was still polishing my German. She’d run alongside my bicycle as I went to get papers from the main train station. She’d watch German television with me and offer sympathy when I insisted that I’d never get this language.

She was the perfect café dog. For hours, she’d sit next to me as I nursed my tea (sometimes even a coffee) and read book after book in my native tongue and sometimes even struggled through the daily papers in the adopted one. She was simply happy to be alongside me.

You see where this is going, right?

Lyle and me

In late January 2005, Lyle was healthy one day & violently ill the next. Before I could even consider taking her to the vet, she was up through the night unable to sleep. Took her out to the street in the middle of the night and she desperately wanted to go deep in the snowy bushes and be left alone. I held her the rest of the night and sometime around dawn she died in my arms.

I was suddenly my brother who I’d ridiculed. For months, I cried everyday. She had been my companion in such dark, frustrating moments. I didn’t want a shiny new puppy. I wanted Lyle.

Still brings tears to my eyes when I think about her.

Sometimes you really need more time to grieve the passing of a pet. And anyone who says they need more time…

I completely understand that. Without reservation.

But in this case, the only way to still the waves of inconsolable emotions was to get a new dog. Or in this case two new dogs. Then there it was written in the local Munich paper:  ‘Hamburg family has Magyar Vizsla puppies‘. Went to get them at Easter time. In the photos, they were still tiny. They were anything but small when I first saw them. The thing that sealed the deal for me was Ella laying next to me on the bench at the family’s house in Hamburg, and she began to purr. Just like a cat. She still does it to this day. It’s easily the most adorable thing she does, which says a lot. Louis was very standoffish. Over the years, he’s grown to become anything but that.

Here they were when they were still quite small:

Louis (on the left) and Ella as puppies

And if you know me at all, you know that my day revolves around these two. Happily. I’m sure I’d go outside if I didn’t have them begging to be taken, but I wouldn’t go as often. Or for as long.

I literally have hundreds, if not thousands, of photos of them. I’m loathe to include too many, but here are some of my favourite:

earnestness

Ella listing to the port side

in the autumn leaves

Going up Wendelstein-one of our favourite hikes

serious glove tug

goodnight happy dogs

Happy Birthday my rays of sunshine. You give so much more than you take. Thanks to all of you reading for loving them too.