Rescue Me, Rescue You: A Love Story

Today I’m taking the liberty of escorting you to Craig County, Virginia, about an hour’s drive from Princeton, for a short story about a former Princetonian. Craig County is a beautiful rural area located this side of Blacksburg. It is the home place of my grandmother Annie Kyle Lugar, now deceased, and home to my newly retired sister and her faithful companions.

About an hour’s drive from Princeton, headed toward Blacksburg on Rte. 460, lies Craig County, Virginia, nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia in a region known as Virginia’s Western Highlands. It is here that my sister Barbara decided to retire and find respite after the many years she dutifully engaged herself in employment amidst the hustle and bustle of Cleveland, Ohio.

This transition, from the rat-race to the tranquil peace of Craig County, was not easy. Dreaming of a time in your future of serenity and quiet, far away from the chaos of your daily grind, whatever it may be, is all very well, as long as you’re dreaming. When the reality of such a dream kicks in, one is always in for a shock.

Fear, distress, alarm—any number of feelings associated with panic —may set in after such a transition, and this was the case with my sister.  She questioned her decision to move to such a rural area, and constantly scrutinized, interrogated, and tortured herself to the point of no reprieve: What was I thinking? Did I really invest all my hard-earned money in this land and this house out here in the boonies? Why did I have to move so far away from civilization (and Panera)? Have I lost my mind? Thus was the daily self-torture she inflicted upon herself.

She wrote to friends and warned them to be careful of what they wished for. She even went so far as to scream at the top of her lungs, “I hate this___________ place!” (Use your imagination to fill in the blank.)  into the bare, bleak, black sky above her, as she took Cocoa, her beloved old dog, out for his last potty break of the evening. And so it was, that many a desolate night, she took solace in this little ritual of yelling into the heavens. After all, she was hurting no one, and as strange as it may seem, this small act of rebellion seemed to give her some comfort, placating her enough to give her the courage to step into the next day.

It was about this time, in the midst of all this discord, that a true tragedy descended on her. Her much-loved faithful friend Cocoa died. Her only real companion (besides her husband Danny, who is secondary for the benefit of this heartwarming story) was gone.

She no longer had a reason to get up out of bed in the morning. What was the point? She didn’t have to worry about rising early enough to let out her loyal old buddy to do his business, nor did she have to make certain he had his breakfast on time. She cried and cried, for days upon end. She vowed to never own an animal again so she would never again be subject to the misery of losing one.

Several weeks later, after a great deal of reflection and contemplation, Barbara emerged from this comatose state of mourning. She resolved to cry no more and pressed herself to move forward in this ostensible thing called life, where you can lose a cherished friend in the instant it takes to blink an eye.

Some people are just born with an innate feeler that is sensitive to animals. Barbara is one of these people. Because of this sensitivity, the death of a pet is especially heartbreaking. This gift—a heightened, empathy for animals—can then be a curse. On the funny side, Barbara’s sensitivity at such a young age to animals made for some amusing antics. She could be quite the drama queen, at least when the welfare of animals was concerned.

“Oh, my heart! I know they’re there!”

Once when no one in the family would believe her when she told them that a cat had given birth to kittens and the kittens were trapped under the house, she flung herself into a prostrate position on the backyard bridge and cried, “Oh, my heart! I know they’re there!” The kittens were there and she did save them. Out of five siblings, she is the only one that begged for numerous and sundry pets. Over the course of her childhood, she cared for ducks (thirteen, to be exact), chickens, cats, kittens, dogs, a groundhog, a pony, a salamander, and a donkey. That is why it was no surprise what happened next.

Making her way to the local animal shelter, her rationale being that if she could no longer own a dog, she could at least volunteer to help out there, she placed herself into an environment that was too overwhelming to ignore. There she saw animals in need, and her instinctive nature to tune into their feelings made it impossible for her to turn her back. It was as if a switch had been flipped from a realm of death, loss, and sadness to one of life, abundance, and joy. A small step into the local animal shelter would lead to rescue and renewal.

Enter Chance, Rescue Dog #1:

Chance was Ziggy when they first met. He was a caged animal for the second time in his life. Initially rescued by an elderly man who had treated and trained him well, this beagle-mix pup lost his owner to a stroke, unfortunately, after eight months. It was so obvious to Barb that he needed a good home after such misfortune. She took him for a walk, proceeded to take him into her heart, and then her home.  She knew she was taking a chance in letting a dog back into her life; thus, the name Chance.

If all rescues were as easy as Chance the world would be an easier, better place. Rescues, regrettably, like life, are not always easy. Animals come with baggage, and just as with humans, some have much more of it than others.

Chance was so dutiful and polite, but there was one problem: he was noticeably lonely, or at least Barbara said he was lonely. (There is some speculation that she just wanted another dog.) Chance had lived with his brother Hunter the first eight months of his life.

Enter Oscar, Rescue Dog #2:

Back to the shelter Barb went, hoping that Chance’s brother Hunter might still be there, now regretting not taking him home the day she had rescued Chance. Anxiously, she made her way to the cage that had held Hunter months earlier. The cage was only discernible now because of the signage covering it. As she drew closer, she realized the signage had one common theme, cautionary directives: See attendant before entering! Do not pet! Stay away from the cage!

Inside, a porky Chihuahua-rat terrier-mix named Oscar lay. Oscar greeted Barbara with a snarl, exposing his canines. After talking with the attendant on duty, two things became quite clear. First, the little guy was a porker because the animal caretakers, fond of Oscar and trying to gain his trust, had been feeding him McDonald’s McNuggets. Second, Oscar had a difficult past with a history of nipping and even biting. He had been through quite a few owners and each time had been brought back. Somewhere along his troubled past, it appeared that he had been burned with an instrument about the size of a cigarette. His last owner from Louisiana had dropped him off hastily, telling shelter employees, “If you don’t take this dog, I’m going to throw him out on the highway.”

Once the cage was opened, Oscar was miraculously on his best behavior. Barb picked him up, held him against her neck, and took him for a walk. He seemed so obedient. He is so cute, she thought, and once again, she was in love. When they arrived home, he jauntily dashed around. Excited and seeming to smile as his little half-tail whipped side-to-side, he was happy to have found a home.

Just why Barbara rescued Oscar is, to many, incomprehensible; nevertheless, her rescue mode had kicked in. She thought, This is a real opportunity to help, and it’s for all those times I couldn’t help when I had to work or when I was raising my children. His hostile nature surfaced in about two weeks. Generally, rapid movement toward him triggered his aggressiveness. Sometimes, however, an action as simple as putting on his leash was all it took. During this period, it was not unusual for him to “wear” his leash attached to his collar for weeks at a time in order to avoid confrontation. Even today, when his aggression resurges occasionally, it is not unusual to find him gallivanting through the house with his long leash trail racing behind.

Oscar remained Oscar. Can you think of a better name for a dog with this temperament? Two other dogs, Foo-Sing and Mondo, have joined the family since Oscar. Although they were not rescues, the rescues made way for them.

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Daddy’s Poem


A poem in memory of my father Alex Marion Mays, the best father a gal could ever have

Born in Bluefield in 1915,
his mother Callie’s pride and joy,
she named him Alex Marion for his two grandfathers,
William Robert Alexander Mays and Francis Marion George.

His daddy, Dallas, a skilled stone mason,
took great care and pride in his work, we hear.
A grand piece of his work still graces Concord College’s entrance,
welcoming its students, now, for over a hundred years.

Shortly after the sun set for the day
Callie magically transported her children to lands, far and old
as she read Beautiful Stories from the Bible, stories about Peter Rabbit,
Miss Minerva and William Greenhill, and Black Beauty, now gold.

The young lad Marion was perceptive and very receptive
to the goings-on about him in Athens, his town.
He recalled how, before anyone there owned a car,
all would gather ‘round fresh car tracks and just stare down.

Growing up in Athens,
young Marion had a mighty fine time.
He’d mosey to town, roam the green pasture land,
and ‘round Tater Hill he and his dog Uncle Fudd did climb.

Marion once saved his faithful friend Fudd
from apparent death, from poison;
Pounding on Fudd’s chest for thirty minutes or more,
he revived his loyal groundhog huntin’ companion.

Down to Lick Creek the boy Marion would travel
to visit his quaint, dear Uncle Blair;
Blair’d given him Fudd, taught him to swim, shoot a 22 Remington,
and had once taken him to the Hinton Fair.

The bachelor Blair’s décor fascinated the boy:
newspapered walls of ads for buggies, Lady Pinkham’s, and Swamp Root.
On a Saturday night were the sweet sounds of the mandolin,
guitar, and fiddle at Austins, leading the dancing afoot.
Aaaah, law!

School days in Athens were full and were fun;
Marion won two writing contests for best short story, he did.
The young man Marion treasured stories about Old West glory
and read Zane Grey’s books and Walter Noble Burns’ The Saga of Billy Kid.

Hearing his school was in need of a mascot, Marion
thought that the sound of Athens Trojans had a certain ring,
so he joined with other students in submitting his idea;
the student body voted Marion’s most befitting.

Sometimes he’d skip school, and hitchhike to Princeton.
There he’d spend his hard-earned cash from selling Collier’s magazines,
Garden Spot seeds, or Cloverline salve to catch the ten cent matinee
at The Royal; Cowboy-actor Tom Mix was quite the thing.

In 1933, his time at Athens High School did end.
The Mayses celebrated his graduation, impressed.
But Marion recalled his greatest disappointment of all
was losing the school’s Best Shot Rifle Contest.

One of the four who had tied for the honor,
Marion, before the tiebreaker, momentarily, turned his eyes
before the reprise, while a trickster raised the site on his
gun, causing him to shoot high and lose the prize.

It was off to college, for two years, but in ’35,
the US Navy called, and Marion wanted to see the world,
so to Norfolk NOB he did report for boot camp.
Into a fast-paced sailor’s world, he was hurled.

In ’36 through ’39, aboard the battleship USS Arkansas,
he sailed. The Arctic Circle he did cross.
He saw icebergs twenty feet high in July,
the ocean tamed into a gentle pond, and no loss.

His days now became regulated by bugle calls and commands;
he answered to “General quarters,” reveille at first light;
he prepared for Friday’s white-glove
inspections and was serenaded by “Taps” every night.

Transferred for special duty with Coast Guard Cutter Cayuga in ’36,
he and his crew accomplished a delicate mission during the Spanish Civil War:
they picked up sixty-one officials and refugees in San Sebastian,
amidst torpedo shots while Nationalist troops were ashore.

Back on the old Arkie, then the oldest US battleship on sea,
the sailor Marion–with smoother sailing offshore–
transported midshipmen to the European ports of Cherbourg,
Portsmouth, Liverpool, Copenhagen, Lisbon, and more.

In ’38, he had his first date with his soon-to-be wife Barbara of fifty years.
He fell for her hard and fast, and they married in ’39,
so back to Concord it was until ’41, pursuing a degree in teaching
and managing the recreation room at the Old Red Barn for a time.

It was then that his first offspring, Linda Gayle, came along.
Money had to be considered: he needed to make more.
To the Charleston, South Carolina Navy Yard he did report,
the soft lapping of gentle waves calling him to South Carolina’s shore.

From Charleston to the Terminal Island California Navy Yard
from Third to First-Class Ordinance Mechanic he did move;
When In ’45 he graduated with a Second Mate’s License from the
U.S. Maritime Service Officers’ School, his future did improve.

In the Merchant Marines now, with a gold stripe on his cap and
two gold bars on his sleeve, to the Liberty ships, he did report with care:
It was anchors away on the John Gorrie, General Howze, and on the Victory ship Laredo!
In ’47, just in time, he arrived in Virginia for the birth of his son, David Blair.

A fateful trip in 1948 to Australia started out like any other.
On the Juliette Low, Marion and his good friend Nick did sail.
While the two talked of the prospect of renting a Liberty upon their
return, to start a business, the cool breeze began to turn ‘to a moderate gale.

The ship pulled into a port in North Africa,
the moderate gale turning to dread.
An hour later Nick, on the dock, had fallen,
from receiving a hard blow to his head.

Nick was rushed to a hospital in North Africa;
the Juliet Lowe, on a schedule she must keep,
pulled back out to sea and headed toward Australia.
Into the dim twilight she did sweep.

Marion and the Chief Mate took over Nick’s duties.
The crew remained all worked up about the event.
About how one of their own, an American sailor,
could have taken a beer bottle to use as a weapon, they did vent.

Looking back at his naval deeds, Marion recalled it was a good life:
the best thing was visiting different countries and various ports,
not scraping the barnacles off of the ship’s hull in dry dock,
or eating eggs dated 1912.

As a daughter I couldn’t have asked for any better;
he won me, heart and soul.
His charismatic personality captivated;
Santa could have taken lessons from him for running the North Pole:

To him, the giver of popcorn under your pillow,
empty dental floss containers,
Giver of walks on top of his shoes and carburetors,
college educations, summer camp vacations,
Sunday rides in Model-Ts, book fees, and car keys,

I salute, and say, “Job well done. I miss you, Daddy.
You’re my rock,
you’re my gem,
you’re my home.”

Diane Mays Landy ©2009