For the first twenty years of my life, I lived in Finland, a country of night-less nights in the summer and Northern lights in the winter, a country that offered countless riches and comforts.
In the 1950's, a television set came into our house, and with it, Leave it to Beaver. I was fascinated with Beaver's, or Theodore's, mother, June Cleaver, who was ever-so-elegant with her hair carefully coiffed . She was wearing high heels and pearls while vacuuming her house and had a slightly raspy quality to her voice, while speaking a language that flowed smoothly and effortlessly. June Cleaver lived in a white clapboard house with a picket fence surrounded by flowers. She was home all day while her husband went to work. As a 10-year old, I decided that this was the life for me.
I set a goal for myself to become a high school English teacher in Finland. Through the years, I became efficient in translating text describing the installation of the Transatlantic underwater cable, or the spreading of the Reformation through Scandinavia. However, I could not give simple directions in English to a lost tourist looking for the nearest restroom. A trip of language immersion was necessary.
On the first Monday of September, 1967, I boarded a Pan Am flight to New York. After eight hours of sitting in heavy cigarette smoke, I went through customs and handed to the officials a sealed envelope with my confidential medical information, necessary for a year's study in the United States. The Customs officials looked at each other quizzically and then at me. I had put the envelope next to my passport in my purse, and left another sealed envelope with my electric bill for my cousin to take care of. Needless to say, as there was puzzlement at JFK , there was equal bewilderment at the electric company of my home town, when my cousin attempted to pay my bill with the miniature X-ray of my lungs. After a visit to the airport infirmary, a new, very large X-ray under my arm, and missed connections to Upstate New York, I was admitted into the country.
I slowly settled into dormitory life. After the death of my parents, I had held an auction, sold my house, and become an adult too quickly. The antics of the freshman students away from home for the first time were surprising entertainment for me. One day after Anthropology 101, a classmate said to me: “I need to hurry, cuz I have to watch All My Children.” I was impressed that she had children and found time and energy to be a college student. I later learned about soap operas.
American friendliness impressed me from the beginning. I was often invited to various events and get-togethers. One such invitation was to a person's house where we were to talk about squash. I prepared myself by studying the many varieties of winter and summer squash, only to find out that the topic under discussion was a sport.
At first, I struggled to answer questions such as, “How are you?' I quickly realized that this question is synonymous with hello. People did not really want to know about the boils on my butt, caused by the change in water, or the Sitz baths I had to endure for their cure.
It took a while to master the skill of small talk, a foreign phenomenon to a Finn. Idioms were a great challenge as well. I learned that it was not appropriate to inquire about the cost when some one had “bought the farm.”
As I adjusted to the culture, the language, and the customs, I started to feel quite American and more comfortable on this side of the Atlantic and decided to stay, got married, and had a family.
I never became an English teacher. I did want a career where I could be a help to someone. As I had decided early on that mathematics and science were too defined in their answers and chosen not to like them, my path to a medical career was blocked. Instead, I became a Speech and Language Pathologist, a pseudo medical field, where I was not at risk of killing anyone, even by mistake. My exposure to speech pathology taught me that June Cleaver's soft, yet raspy voice was, most likely, a result of vocal abuse, as pleasant as it sounded to me as a child.
Although I do not have June's picket fence, and the deer are eating all my flowers, I will now go home, slip into my high heels, clasp on my pearls, and vacuum my house.
When I first met you, you looked me in the
eye, when the others didn’t. I saw it as a sign of love. You meant it as a
challenge. I took you home thinking how wonderful it would be. We would play
with your toys, take walks outside, you'd give me sweet puppy kisses, and when
we were tired there would be snuggling on the couch.
Reality soon bit me in the face. What few
toys you actually bothered to play with you destroyed in minutes. The bones
that were supposed to ease you through the teething stage were spit out and
abandoned. Fingers, wrists, and arms were much more satisfying to chomp.
You flunked out of puppy class. You almost
bit your vet technician, who recommended I give you up as you obviously had
issues. An experienced trainer told me, I would probably never be able to pet
you, and I should just keep you as a guard dog. That’s not what I wanted for
either of us.
Exhausted, covered in black and blue marks,
and feeling defeated, I almost did what I swore I would never do, give up one
of my dogs to a rescue. My sister didn’t want to let you go. You had managed to
work your way into her heart.
When we reached the place of the surrender, the
volunteers were all playing with you, and saying they wanted to be your foster.
They even offered to trade me a well trained calm adult, but then I looked at
you, and all I could think is I don’t want another dog. You are my dog. The
people at the rescue understood, and made arrangements for us to work with a
certified master trainer. She admitted a
few times that you were the most stubborn puppy she'd ever worked with but she
said, if we wouldn’t give up she wouldn’t either. It wasn’t easy but we turned
the corner. I am not saying there weren’t incidents after, like the time you
pulled me down and I broke my finger because you wanted to chase the deer, but
they became fewer.
You quit using me as your chew toy. We
invented our own form of dancing. It mainly consisted of you holding onto a
bully stick while I dragged you around the room but, hey, it was to music. I
will always remember how you’d stop whatever you were doing and go and get that
stick whenever music started to play. We finally started to share naps and you
rested your head on my knee. That was the most comforting feeling in the world
to me. The same vet technician that had declared you vicious even said she
couldn’t believe you were the same dog, as you were now a big sweetheart.
It was perfect but then the world shattered. Cancer
entered your body, and, like the stubborn brave girl you always were, you tried
to fight it, but it was a battle you could not win. So I made the decision it
was time to say goodbye. This time there was no changing what had to be done
even though every part of me wished there was. I let you go to the place where
there is no more pain.
There will be other dogs, but not to take
your place. No other could. I wouldn’t trade
a minute we had together despite the early struggles. I also meant my last
words to you as you closed your eyes for the final time. I will love you
forever, Marnie. Thank you for looking me in the eye that day to let me know
you were my dog, and you always will be.