It begins long before the tale of Coco’s tail, way before my boyfriend introduced me to his own actual family.
We start here. On 1st Street in Nampa, Idaho. In this old house.
Once upon a time there was a skinny college boy who needed a place to stay during the summer. The boy had a piano professor who did two things: 1) loaned him a bicycle on which he put many miles to and from his summer job, and 2) gave him the names of a couple of elderly ladies, mother and daughter, who often had college boys “rent” from them upstairs in their vast old house in return for yard work, errands, etc. And so our long friendship with Adah and her daughter, Winette, began. Well, technically I didn’t enter the picture until the following winter but I can tell it how I want to.
Some facts you’ll need to know:
1. Winette, the daughter, was wheelchair bound since surviving polio at age 11. This was the life she lived. Her reality was the main level of the grand old family house into which, many decades before, was installed an elevator just off the kitchen in a screened porch to get her and her wheelchair down to the ground level in order to access transportation. Her bedroom was what used to be part of the large dining area. That’s what you do when your daughter escapes a deadly disease I suppose . . . you gladly reconfigure your glorious house which pales in comparison to a living breathing daughter.
2. The Lockman family, a generation before Adah’s husband, Tildon, built this house in 1906 along the railroad in the young high desert town — not because they loved railroad tracks, but because their way of life was their large, imposing, thriving Crescent Brewery built adjacent.The brewery is long gone but the house is on the National Registry of Historic Places. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_P._Lockman_House
3. Adah and Winette liked dogs. Some of the dogs were meant for show and they had handlers to do that work. Others, well, I’m not sure why they kept those particular doggos around. Maybe they had high hopes for them too. I wish I could tell you why and how it all got started, but when the early 1980s came along, their kitchen contained, in addition to what you might expect in the way of appliances, a sink, and a table, a barking miniature poodle named Danny, a biting Pomeranian named Josh, three or four or ten Pom puppies in a fence (barking simultaneously 24/7), and Coco, the gallumphing, good natured Irish Water Spaniel who had no idea that she was the largest thing in the room. I cannot for the life of me find an actual photo of dear Coco, but here’s a wonderful likeness.
Over the next few years as Bob and I continued with college, became engaged, graduated one of us, married, and lived in student-housing-for-those-who-couldn’t-stand-to-wait-to-get-married while I finished student teaching and all the delights of being a senior, we had less and less contact with Adah and Winette. For the previous couple years we had been there literally every day since Bob lived upstairs. We watched TV in the living room while they and the dogs did the same in the kitchen. We suffered through constructing and typing both our term papers for Johannine Writings at their dining table. We sat with them in the kitchen and listened to stories, though most were lost on us because they were old and we were young. Often we took Coco outside and ran her. And ran her. And ran her. Irish Water Spaniels typically don’t live their entire lives in a kitchen. She needed to run. And she needed brushing. All of her, that is, except her tail.
Coco, as do all Irish Water Spaniels, had what is known as a rat tail. You can see it in the pictures. If the rest of the dog weren’t so cute, the tail would be a little off putting. It seriously looks like the tail of a rat. We didn’t notice it much because she was so darling. So sweet. Such a tail wagger. Mmhmm. And that was what caused us to suddenly get back in touch with Adah and Winette after being away from them for a while. Coco wagged her tail at the wrong time in the wrong place. Bob got a call.
When he arrived on scene at the Lockman screened porch off the kitchen it looked like Jack the Ripper had been visiting. Blood on the floor. Blood on the wall. Blood on the ceiling. All due to dear sweet Coco wagging her tail in the direction of the old metal typing table that was stored out there. Whacked an inch or so clean off the end of her very sanguineous hind part which she just kept flinging around in addition to crying loudly in pain. Imagine those two ladies trying to deal with that. Nope. I can’t either.
At this point the details get a little murky because I can’t remember who got Coco to the vet. I think she was taken by Winette’s cousin or one of the dog handlers or some such. Bob, bless him, cleaned up the carnage. Dealt with the aftermath including locating the actual tip of the tail slung by a panicked dog somewhere into the rafters. No, it could not be reattached. I’ve never been so thankful for some horrible last-semester-of-my-senior-year class that kept me away. It was probably my third and last attempt at Chemistry. Pardon me while I get over my nausea. Not from Coco’s tail fiasco. From, you know, that word we only whisper — chemistry. Shhh.
Over the next week while Coco stayed at the vet with a cone on to keep her from reopening the wound, we went over and played outside with her daily. The office was near our campus and almost outside the south side of town. It’s now fully enveloped into the megalopolis that is little ol’ former Nampa. Kindness Small Animal Clinic. Dr. Ken.
And then we were done. It was graduation for me and a cross country move. We no longer saw the Lockmans. There were a few letters but we naturally drifted. Bob and I had new jobs, new responsibilities, a new life. Those two ladies though were on our short list to call when we found out we were expecting our firstborn and we paid them a visit when the treasured little one was a couple of months old. We even stayed overnight with them upstairs in the grand old place. Here are Adah and Winette holding our precious one.
And then nothing. Did we put them away in a drawer?
We were back living in Nampa years later with three children, a busy fulfilling life, and no contact with the Lockman household. WHY? I do not know. I believe we knew that Adah, the mother, had passed away the year before we moved back but we never pursued visiting Winette. WHY?
If you’re thinking “young and busy” then okay. But still. It should’ve been different.
How we accidentally discovered that Winette had died was my random scan through the daily local newspaper, eyes falling on a familiar name in the obituaries. Gut wrenching. I woke up my sleeping husband who was home after working night shift. And then later probably reminded him of what I’d said. Poor guy.
We went, the two of us, to Winette’s service at the funeral home along with maybe 30 other people we did not know. It lasted maybe 20 minutes.
I wish we knew then what we know now about honoring.
I’m pretty sick of hindsight. Kind of really am starting to dislike it. It’s too clear.
Maybe we could’ve helped make her funeral a day of deep, glad remembrance with a story or two. A smile and a laugh.
Instead, later in the week, we were invited to stand in their china closet at the beautiful old home on 1st Street and “pick out one item.” Why I came away with a random porcelain swan I can’t answer but it certainly wasn’t special to us the way those two wonderful ladies and all those dumb barking Pomeranians and nipping Poodles and one large doofussy Irish Water Spaniel were. Not by a long shot.
But that swan was all we deserved.
Now for the good news!
You can learn from others’ mistakes. Even I, a rotten Chemistry student, can learn from my own. It’s too late to redeem this particular situation and we don’t dwell on the sadness as much as we do the sweet moments we had with these good ladies, but I do often refer to it possibly even subconsciously when I am interacting with people.
It’s good to listen. It’s good to inquire about peoples’ lives. And then listen to their answers without interjecting how your own life pertains to the situation. And then be genuinely interested.
Hear me when I say this:
People are worth the investment of your time.
Even if you are busy.
It means more to me in a conversation when someone seems unhurried, honestly interested, and focused on what I have to say rather than how they can segue off my last comment to put the spotlight on themselves. When is the last time you had a conversation with someone like that? Have you recently been able to provide that experience for anyone else? Genuine interest? Care? Putting them first? Maybe you have. Good. Keep doing that.
I never thought I could be the type to have easy conversations with anyone but Bob. Seriously. Then one Easter break when we were visiting long-time friends in Washington (our kids were little and there were a lot of them in our combined households) I went to the local grocery story with my friend, Melody, an experienced ministry wife. She actually went right up to a woman in the store and said these words to her: “We missed you last Sunday.” Can you believe it?! I was floored by her bravery. Her finesse. Her smooth delivery. I wondered if the lady would hit her. Nope. She was so happy to have been noticed in her absence and was anxious to connect about it. Go figure.
So that’s just about it for today.
Listen and care. Deeply. Genuinely.
Talk even when you’re not brave enough. Ask God to help you.
Make an effort to know who people are. Who they really are. Listen to their lives. They appreciate it. Maybe you’ll gain a deep and abiding friendship, one that will stand the test of time and not just be random snippets and glimpses. Rock solid core memories. Not just a story about the end of Coco’s tail.
Here’s the crux of it. It goes against what current culture teaches. Ready?
Consider others more important than yourselves.
Ooooh. Wait. That sounds familiar.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Philippians 2:1-4 NIV
I like this song. It’s sweet and encouraging. You can do it with God’s help. Go forth and listen to somebody. Make them important.
And as always . . .
4 thoughts on “The End of Coco’s Tail”
Loved this story, Molly. Julie’s roommate, Pam, from NNC, lived with Adah and Winette 1976-1978 or around that time. Julie and I hosted Pam’s wedding shower in their living room. We were told that Winette had been an opera singer and sang all over, especially the East Coast. We loved the china closet in the dining room because the lightbulb was the original bulb that had been installed when the house was built, and it still worked. Good memories of spending time with those wonderful ladies. Thanks for this story and the importance of showing up and caring for people.
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I remember going to their house when I was older, too, and not just 2 months old. 🙂
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What a wonderful story, and such important insights. You challenge me to be better at listening and being present. You have a beautiful gift with the pen, my friend, and you have learned the art of listening, caring, and acting in such a God-honoring way. ❤️
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I always enjoy your writing. 😊 Thank you for sharing little bits and pieces of your life.
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