dogs, emergencies, home

I went all Granny T last night…

Last night, I was sitting in the dark living room, working on the latest jigsaw puzzle. Suddenly, I heard Bill, and he sounded concerned.

“Arran, come here. You can’t have that nut!” he said.

Arran, who celebrated his ninth anniversary as our devoted family member yesterday, came running into the living room. He was clearly in distress. Bill was grabbing him around the stomach. It looked almost like Arran was choking on something, but I could tell he was breathing.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“He’s got a walnut in his mouth.” Bill said. Apparently, Arran had found an unshelled nut somewhere mysterious, broke it open with his teeth, and half of it was stuck on a molar. The other half, thank God, was in his bed. Walnuts are not really safe foods for dogs for a number of reasons.

“Oh my God!” I said.

Next thing I knew, my fingers were in Arran’s mouth, feeling around for the nut, which I thought was already halfway down his gullet. Vision of his sudden death flashed in my head as my fingers came out of his mouth, unsuccessful. I noticed splotches of blood on his right front paw, which he’d been using to frantically paw at his mouth, trying to get the walnut out.

I reached into his mouth again, determined to get the nut. I felt it stuck on his tooth. Somehow, I managed to grasp it and pull it out. It was all bloody, having cut the fragile gum tissue.

For a few minutes, all three of us were shellshocked by the sudden emergency. Bill had tears in his eyes as he comforted Arran, who was still scared and bewildered. I suddenly had a vision of my grandmother, Granny Tolley, who had a history of saving the day whenever one of her descendants got in trouble. I remember stories of Granny grabbing hatchets to kill snakes or break kids out of locked bathrooms. Granny died in July 2007, about six weeks shy of her 101st birthday. She was a tough lady.

After a few minutes, we were all a bit calmer, and Arran was back to sniffing the kitchen floor, hoping to find something edible that was dropped. He was perfectly fine within twenty minutes or so, but Bill and I were still a little bit shook up. Arran is about 13 years old, and it looks like he will be the dog who will have the longest tenure with us.

Our dog, Zane, died just a couple of months before what would have been his tenth “gotcha day” anniversary with us. But we got Zane when he was younger, and he had more health problems than Arran has ever had. Zane was a ray of sunshine, but he was fragile, suffering allergies and three years of mast cell tumors before finally succumbing to lymphoma.

I don’t think Arran was in any danger of dying last night, as the walnut wasn’t lodged in his windpipe or throat. But it was definitely a scary situation. I was kind of pleased with myself for jumping in and helping him out. As for how Arran got the walnut, I don’t know… I think he might have found it in the backyard. We lost a tree last weekend, and it’s still lying in the backyard, waiting for better weather and “processing”. I think the tree’s fall has unearthed some stuff.

As for Noyzi… he missed the entire drama. He usually hangs out in his bed upstairs in the evenings, except when we’re eating. Even then, he shows up fashionably late, sometimes even after we’ve already finished eating. He goes outside, does a few frenetic poop runs, tends to business, drinks a shitload of water, then puts himself to bed. Lately, Noyzi has had some pretty disgusting diarrhea, so that’s been fun… especially with the muddy backyard. I’ve been giving him pumpkin to help bind his poop.

As I write this, both dogs have come into the office, begging for attention and a walk. It’s cloudy outside and I’m a little depressed. I’m tempted to stay in my cocoon… but I guess it would do us all good to take a walk and get some air. Maybe it will motivate me to do my much hated Thursday chore of vacuuming, and pick up my guitar for some practice.

Last week, I was inspired to record my version of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” It turned out nicely, although it doesn’t have many hits. On that video, I used a lot of pictures of my dogs, who keep me sane. I noticed the YouTube guy I’ve been doing collaborations with did a version of the same song a few hours ago. I guess he was inspired.

Sometimes I feel like my dogs are my only real friends. I’m sure glad Bill and I were able to dislodge that walnut before Arran got really hurt. I’d like to keep Arran around for as long as possible. He’s such a sweet, loving, gentle dog, and he shows us every day how much he loves us. We love him right back.

If I get inspired to write again, maybe I’ll be back… but I’m feeling a little depressed today. It might be a day for reading and napping.

ETA: I just vacuumed the house, and when I went downstairs to put the vacuum away, Arran had managed to pull a small bag of treats off the counter and was trying to suck them down. Fortunately, he wasn’t successful. I guess he’s fine. Good thing these dogs are so loving and cute.


Happy 100th Birthday, Granny… Sep 11 ’06 (Updated Jul 24 ’07)

I wrote this piece for Epinions years ago. It was saved to without my knowledge or permission. I recently got access to it, so I am preserving it for myself and other interested relatives. has no right to charge people for the right to read something I wrote to be read for free. Especially ME! Granny died in July 2007. She was six weeks from her 101st birthday.

I may add a photo at a later date… like tomorrow. (ETA: The featured photo is of Granny in August 1972. She was holding me. I was born two months earlier.)

The Bottom Line 100 years on Earth is a great reason to have a big party!

Although today is the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on America, my thoughts are somewhere else this morning. In just two days, my grandmother, Elizabeth Brownlee Barger Tolley, will be 100 years old. Everyone, even people who are not related to her, calls my grandmother Granny or Mama. This weekend, most of my family will gather in Natural Bridge, Virginia for a birthday party to end all birthday parties. It will, of course, be more than just a birthday party. It will be a celebration of a great woman’s 100 years on the planet.

My grandmother was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia on September 13, 1906. She is one of ten children, and the last one still living. Having graduated as valedictorian of her high school class of fourteen students, Granny went on to marry my grandfather, Lloyd Tolley, otherwise known as Pappy, in 1925. The following year, she became a mother when my late aunt Jeanne was born in St. Petersburg, Florida. Jeanne got to be an only child for a few years, until Granny and Pappy moved back to Natural Bridge, Virginia. My dad was the next child, born on February 9, 1933 in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Granny went on to have a total of nine children, five sons and four daughters, eight of whom survived to be adults. My aunt Susan, who was born with Down Syndrome in 1948, died of a brain abscess when she was fourteen years old. She was Granny’s last child.

Although the Tolleys were a relatively poor family, every single one of Granny’s kids graduated high school. Most of Granny’s kids also graduated from college and most of the men served some time in the military. My father made a career out of military service, having spent almost twenty-two years as an officer in the Air Force. His brothers served stints of varying lengths in either the Air Force or the Army.

Though Pappy died in 1974, Granny still lives in the house my grandfather bought many years ago. She’s lived with my Uncle Brownlee and his wife, Gayle, for as long as I can remember. Although Granny’s house now officially belongs to my Uncle Brownlee and his wife, I will always think of the place as her house. The place is very special to me. It sits right off Route 130 in Natural Bridge, on a country lane that was named after my grandfather. A creek runs in front of the house, flowing under a stone bridge that Brownlee built with his own two hands. Another creek runs perpendicular to the property, meets the creek that runs in front of the house and flows down the holler’. At one time, my grandfather owned the property that makes up the holler’, but the land has since been sold several times. Weather permitting, whenever I spend the night at Granny’s house, I crack open the window and listen to the creek trickle past. I don’t remember ever not sleeping well at my grandmother’s house.

Granny’s house. It’s been in the family since the 1930s, and the road that runs in front of it is named for my grandfather, who owned a small store on it.

Granny is still very sharp and, though she seems tired these days, she’s remarkably healthy for being 100 years old. Every day, she reads the newspaper from start to finish. She always has, for as long as I can remember. It keeps her mind sharp. I can always count on Granny to have opinions about everything in the world. She watches CNN and plays freecell on a battered computer that’s useless for any other purpose. She bakes a mean loaf of bread and most years, she remembers my birthday with a card. Considering the fact that Granny has 22 grandchildren and at least 22 great grandchildren, I consider that to be quite a feat!

Five years ago, my Aunt Gayle’s brother, Ralph, took Granny, then 95 years old, for a spin on the back of his motorcycle. He drove her 15 miles, from Natural Bridge to Lexington, Virginia, where they enjoyed lunch at a little restaurant. Ralph took pictures of Granny on the bike and sent them to his favorite motorcycle magazine. They got published, along with a great article! At the time, I was studying social work at the University of South Carolina. I took great pleasure in telling one of my classes about my 95 year old motorcycle riding Granny, especially since my professor was a gerontologist.

Just a week before the 9/11 attacks, Granny met my husband Bill for the first time. She met him even before my parents did. It was Granny who told me in no uncertain terms that I should marry Bill. She liked him from the get go. On September 11, 2001, Bill was in the Pentagon in the wedge that got hit by the airplane. Luckily, he survived intact. It wasn’t long before we were engaged. I probably would have married Bill even if Granny hadn’t so overwhelmingly approved of him. It still makes me feel good that he vetted well with a woman whose opinion I so highly value. And it was Granny who paid for our marriage license with her wedding present of $100 cash.

It’s mostly because of Granny that I know my aunts, uncles, and cousins so well. Every Thanksgiving, for as long as I can remember, our family has gathered from far flung places to celebrate Thanksgiving together. Each year, aunts, uncles, and cousins drive to Natural Bridge, Virginia and spend the Thanksgiving holiday talking, eating, laughing, dancing, singing, playing cards, watching football, and hanging out. I have always looked forward to those gatherings, although Bill and I haven’t been able to attend since 2003 because of other commitments. It’s a wonderful tradition. Everyone is welcome. In fact, in 2001, when Bill and I were still dating, he brought his mother to our Thanksgiving party. I can’t help but think that letting Bill’s mom hang out with my family helped score me some points!

Over the years, Granny has rescued small children who have locked themselves in bathrooms and killed snakes with hatchets. She’s served as the long arm of the law in her house, catching and punishing my uncles when, as young men, they used to sneak behind the barn to smoke. She’s comforted the injured and sad, cooked many meals from scratch for her family, and worked hard to support her loved ones. She always tells the truth, too, even when the truth hurts. I don’t always appreciate hearing Granny’s truths, but I know that she’s usually right.

My grandmother is a grand lady and my family is very proud of her. I don’t know how many years she has left. Although her mind is still very clear, Granny has had a slow growing form of leukemia for some time. I sense that she’s very tired, especially since she lost her younger sister, Estelle, on Halloween 2002. Estelle was a hilarious chain smoking, trash talking, diminutive woman who never failed to make me laugh. Like Granny, she was blessed with an amazing constitution and lived to be 90 years old. I can’t help but wonder how long she would have lived had she not smoked so much. Her voice was like steel wool, harsh and abrasive. One of my fondest memories of Granny and Estelle was when they visited us in England, where my dad was finishing up his time in the military. I remember Estelle holding me up to a mirror and saying, “Who is that monkey in the mirror?” Estelle was, in many ways, Granny’s polar opposite, although every once in awhile, Granny can surprise people with a dirty joke or two. I think I take after Estelle more than Granny, though.

I look forward to seeing Granny this weekend at her birthday party. I hope it’s not the last time, though something tells me it probably will be. I imagine that this shindig will be very well attended, not just by people from the family, but by people in the community who have known Granny for years. I pray that she feels the tremendous love that others feel for her. I feel very blessed to have such a special, classy lady in my family tree.


Long lost relatives…

A couple of years ago, Bill and I submitted saliva samples to 23andMe. Although some people think there’s a privacy risk in doing genetic testing, I was curious to know more about my origins. So was Bill.

It turns out I am over 78% British and Irish, and about 9.5% German, which doesn’t really surprise me. I was surprised to find traces of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian genetic heritage. I thought I’d have more Native American DNA, but my test only came up with .2%. The rest is all white.

Bill, on the other hand, had a bit more variety in his DNA. There was even a trace of Nigerian ancestry in his, which really surprised us. He looks like a poster boy for Ireland, and of course, has an Irish surname, which he passed to me. It replaced my original English surname.

Goshen Pass.

Although the genetic tests aren’t really necessarily accurate– the results default at a 50% confidence level– they have been fun to explore. One really good thing has already come out of having done the test. One of my first cousins on my dad’s side is also on 23andMe, so now I have absolute proof that my dad was really my father. My sister can never again try to tell me she thinks I was the result of an affair (she actually did this on the day of our grandmother’s funeral). I now have proof that our dad was my father.

Another interesting thing that has come up is that I found a new relative. My paternal grandmother, affectionately known as “Granny” to almost everyone who knew her, had nine brothers and sisters. They all grew up in Natural Bridge, Virginia. I was among the last of Granny’s grandchildren, so I really never knew her siblings. A couple died before I was born and some died when I was very young. I did know one of her sisters, my hilarious Aunt Estelle, who was everything Granny wasn’t. My grandmother was very ladylike and patrician. Her sister was raucous, outrageous, and very funny.

Granny used to tell me that her mother was a bit bawdy. She’d go around reciting dirty poems. Here’s one:

Men, men are sons of bitches/ Have to undress or shit their britches/ Women, women what a blessing/ They can shit without undressing.

Here’s another:

If you want to shit with ease/ place your elbows on your knees/ put your hands under your chin/ let a fart and then begin.

I never knew Grandma Barger, because she died a few months before I was born. However, I heard stories about her. She was eccentric, and used to smoke cigars, go fishing, and split railroad ties. Or so that’s what my Uncle Brownlee used to tell me.

Goshen Pass.

Anyway, I recently got a message from someone on 23andMe. She lives in Maryland. She wanted to know if I was related to Edward Barger, Sr. I had to look it up on my family tree to confirm that yes, in fact Edward Barger, Sr. (who was actually Edward Barger, the second, since his father was also named Edward), was my Granny’s older brother. I never knew my great uncle, Edward Barger, since he died six years before I was born.

Well, it seems that Edward had a relationship with a young teacher named Christine, who worked in Natural Bridge in the 1920s. He got Christine pregnant, but for whatever reason, they didn’t get married. Christine put the baby girl up for adoption in Roanoke, then moved back to her hometown of Farmville, Virginia. Farmville happens to be where I went to college. It’s where Longwood University is… and I’ll bet Christine was also a graduate, since Longwood was once known as the “State Teachers College”. Edited to add: Turns out I was right, although my new relative’s bio grandma did not go back to teaching when she went back to Farmville. Instead, she worked on a tobacco farm.

A couple adopted Edward’s baby girl and raised her in Roanoke. She grew up and had her own daughter in 1945. And now, her daughter is contacting me. It seems that she got to know a lot of her biological grandmother’s relatives, but didn’t know any of the relatives she shares with me. And boy, is she in for a shockwave… because the Bargers, like the Tolleys, have been in Rockbridge County and Natural Bridge for many, many years. I am probably related to a most of the people who have lived there for any length of time. It’s not a big place, but there are several families who have been there for at least a couple hundred years.

It’s interesting to find this connection now, when I am physically so far away from my family and emotionally and mentally feel kind of “divorced” from them, too. I used to spend a lot of time in Natural Bridge. I’m glad I was able to have long conversations with my grandmother, who was really the only one I knew, since the others died when I was a young child. Granny, by contrast, died just after my 35th birthday. She was about six weeks from turning 101, and she was sharp as a tack until the end.

The family church.

Incidentally, Edward Barger did go on to marry. According to what I’ve been able to dig up, he married a woman named Julia and they had a son named Edward Barger, Jr. (the third?), as well as a couple of daughters. Unfortunately, the younger Edward died when he was about 23 years old.

It’s amazing the information that one can find on the Internet with just a minimum of effort. I’m surprised that more of my family members haven’t done 23andMe, although as I mentioned before, our pedigree is pretty boring. The earliest ancestor I found was a man named Johann Tolley. He came from Hamburg in the 1700s and landed in Virginia, which was at that time part of England. Johann Tolley would not be my new correspondent’s relative, as Johann was on my paternal grandfather’s side. But I bet if I keep digging, I’ll find more interesting genealogy nuggets. It’s really fascinating stuff… and it helps take my mind of things that trouble me.