Little Sister

Mood: Dogged | Drinking: Drinks

mother_of_god

My sister’s birthday is this weekend, so I thought it was an excellent time to post a poem I wrote about her.

The poem was featured in a small anthology published last fall called Remembering Faces. The theme of the book is poetry by women about women who have made an impact in their lives.

My woman of choice was my sister…

Little Sister

I broke mom and dad
in with a blazing trail
of beers, boyfriends
and broken curfews
so you didn’t have to wait
’til 18 to get your first kiss.

On your first day of school
you didn’t go as yourself
but as my little sister,
second Witmer.
Teachers thought they knew
what to expect.

In the shadow cast
by my relentless claim
to some sort of significance
you quietly carved out the shape
of your own existence.

All our lives
you’ve come in second
in everything but this:

I push open the door
to the white room
in which you labor,
a stranger to me,
flushed and new.

Your smile speaks a language
I have not yet learned,
heavy with the rhythm
of wet mystery
and expectation.

When they bring him to you
all wailing and warm
you beam like the mother of God,
stretch out your arms
for the first time
and without any effort
surpass me.

*****

— Happy Birthday, Beanhead! —

-Lo, big sister.

I Ran So Far Away

Mood: Rested | Drinking: Water

tiffany

Last year at this time if someone had told me I would run not just one but two half marathons, I would have fallen over laughing.

But change is possible. With a smidgen of faith, a lot of hard work, three pairs of running shoes, and a little help from my friends.

Last year at this time, I had just started running. I could barely run for a block or two before feeling like my lungs might be full of fire ants.

And now? Now I’ve got 13.1 competitive miles under my belt — twice. Not to mention a couple of 5ks thrown in for good measure.

It’s an amazing thing.

So is running with 20,000 other women (give or take a few brave men). The Nike Women’s Marathon and Half Marathon in San Francisco is billed as a women’s race, and marketed with a whole lot of pink banners.

And I have to tell you, it’s very different, running a race course with a bunch of women. A woman bumps into you and actually says she’s sorry. Women on all sides cheer (and sometimes drag) each other on, mile after sweaty mile. Compliments about hairstyles, t-shirts, and choice of footwear are easily passed about between strangers.

I never really considered a half marathon to be a nurturing environment, but in this case, it was.

I ran my first half marathon in Phoenix back in January, after training for 3 months with Team in Training. This time, I trained myself (with occasional accompaniment from my fabulous running buddy, Allegra).

On race day, Boy dropped me off a block from Union Square in the wee dark hours of the morning and from that point until I crossed the finish line, I was on my own. I trained on my own, ran on my own, and finished on my own, and goddamn, am I proud of myself! 😉

I finished the Phoenix Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon course in 2 hours, 55 minutes, on a hot day over flat roads with only 3 months of training to back me up.

My goal for this Nike race was to beat my own time, and I did: 2 hours, 52 minutes, on a foggy morning over San Francisco-sized hills with a year of running experience behind me.

The best part, besides crossing the finish line, was all my friends who got up early to come and cheer along the way, including my juicy nephew, Jude, and my parents, who just happened to be in town from Illinois. Thanks to all of you!

The other best part? Turquoise Tiffany’s boxes held aloft on silver platters by handsome tuxedo-ed men. And one of them (the box, not the tux man) is all mine.

I’ve been resting up all week, after a nice post-race soak in the ocean, and I think I’m ready to run again.

Time to go pound some pavement…

-Lo, who doesn’t photograph well when sweaty.

Outsider Writer

outsiderwritersMood: Medium
Drinking: Milk

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a lovely lady from New York state named Aleathia, who found me and my cinépoems online.

She asked if she could interview me for the Outsider Writers website.

How do you say no to that?!

So I am the “Outsider of the Month” over at The Guild of Outsider Writers. I’m very honored.

Go check out my interview, and poke around the Outsider Writers site while you’re at it. It’s pretty nifty.

Today is also a day worth mentioning because it’s my favorite sister’s birthday.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BEANHEAD!

-Lo, who has always been an outsider. Often on purpose.

Newborn

jude_hand_crop
Mood: Sweet
Drinking: Chai

There is a new person in the world. Small and innocent. His miniature feet are like velvet. His head smells of meadows and milk.

I am utterly in love.

My sister is a miracle worker, bringing such a perfect wee thing into being. I am so proud. So proud of her, and so in awe.

“You’re a woman now,” I said to her in the labor room. And we both laughed. But I was serious.

She has gone beyond. Someday, perhaps, I will follow. But until then, I’ll stand here in wonder that such a thing is possible. Nothing, and then life. Emptiness, and then a perfect small person.

It’s shaping up to be a wonderful Christmas.

Over the last few days, with the phone call that it was happening, it was happening Right Now! And then the trip to the hospital, the chaos of it all culminating in the arrival of new flesh and blood… It’s such an overwhelming experience. Over the last few days I kept thinking of a poem that I discovered in a poetry workshop earlier this year.

All I could remember was that it was written from the perspective of a newly born baby, and that I was deeply moved the first time I read it.

So I dug through my piles of poetry and found it there among the heap. It’s called “First Hour”, by American poet Sharon Olds, from her book The Unswept Room (2002)…

That hour, I was most myself. I had shrugged
my mother slowly off, I lay there
taking my first breaths, as if
the whir of the room was blowing me
like a bubble. All I had to do
was go out along the line of my gaze and back,
out and back, on gravity’s silk, the
pressure of the air a caress, smelling on my
self her creamy blood. The air
was softly touching my skin and tongue,
entering me and drawing forth the little
sighs I did not know as mine.
I was not afraid. I lay in the quiet
and looked, and did the wordless thought,
my mind getting its oxygen
direct, the rich mix by mouth.
I hated no-one. I gazed and gazed,
and everything was interesting, I was
free, not yet in love, I did not
belong to anyone, I had drunk
no milk yet, no-one had
my heart. I was not very human. I did not
know there was anyone else. I lay
like a god, for an hour, then they came for me,
and took me to my mother.

-Lo, who is celebrating the season of miracles.

Mistletoe and Miscellany

poinsettaMood: List-Checking-Off-ish
Drinking: Daily Dose of Water

No matter how much you plan, how many vows you make, cookies you bake, lights you string, fa la la… No matter what, this season always gets to you with its busy-ness. With its sometimes sincere but often forced cheerfulness. Its overwhelming red and greenness. Its sugar overdoses and last minute gift panic.

I’m not panicking, though. I’m roadtripping.

Boy and I are packing the LeeLoo up and driving north to Portland to visit his sister, a few friends, and LeeLoo’s Internet Boyfriend, Henry D. Monster.

LeeLoo’s excited only because she saw some tasty treats and one of her babies go into a duffle bag, so she knows she’s going along. She has no idea what’s in store for her. She and the Monster have not yet met in real life, but now that they’re taking their relationship offline (i.e. out of me and Henry’s mom’s myspace photo exchanges and fake dog-messages and into the dogs’ actual lives), well, much cuteness and butt-sniffing shall be had! There will be photos. Count on it.

I’ve got other plans to avoid holiday panic — I’m boycotting the company Secret Santa thingie, for one.

Even better, my sister’s baby is due between Christmas and New Year’s, and even though he hasn’t even taken his first breath, he’s already got more presents than Boy does. I can’t stop buying adorable wee t-shirts that say stuff like “I do my own stunts.”

My parents’ plane touches down in CA soon, and since holidays with the entire Witmer family don’t happen often anymore, it’s quite exciting to think about the full house and long chats by the fire that we’ll soon be having. Actually, nervous energy getting spread around the maternity ward waiting room is probably more like it.

And in the midst of all the holidays and hullaballoo, I’ve still got some training to do. I’m up to 9 miles now, and my half marathon date creeps steadily closer. I’m still fundraising for Team in Training/The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. You’ve got another week or so to sponsor me, if you want.

There are also a few poetry readings in the works for early next year. Dates to be determined. I’ll let you know when I know.

-Lo, who misses sword-sized icicles.

The Peanut Proclamation

jobelly2Mood: Chipper
Drinking: Diet Dr. Pepper

I’m going to be an aunt soon.

My sister is gorgeously, beautifully pregnant with an ever-growing bump that we’ve been calling “Peanut”.

He’s a first for the Witmer clan. First grandchild for my parents, first baby for my sister, and the first time I’ve ever been so close to a pregnancy.

Friends have popped out wee progenies here and there over the years, and I’ve been there at baby showers and first birthdays. But I’ve never been so involved before.

Last weekend I attended a birthing class with my sister, and was quickly overwhelmed by just how much I do not know about this whole process.

You’d think, being in possession of a womb myself, that I would be a little better informed. But I’m also a member of the Unused Uterus Club at work (where myself and my fellow Unused Uterians are surrounded by women who’ve already gone where we few, thus far, fear to tread.)

I think my mother was afraid I’d be either terrified or grossed out by the class (and the incredibly crisp, unedited videos) and make my Unused Uterus Club Membership permanent.

But just the opposite happened. My dad attributes my stoic stomach to growing up on a farm and watching hundreds of newborn creatures — puppies, kittens, lambs, goats, etc. — make their somewhat slimy but no less miraculous way into the world. I’m sure that’s part of it.

But the avalanche of new information was ultimately what won me over… learning about the four stages of labor and the way the body readies itself for what is to come. I had no idea, and now I’m utterly fascinated.

I’ve always thought of pregnancy as nine months of waiting for the torture of childbirth. Yes, a miraculous new life is growing inside of you, but at some point it’s going to need to come out, and the coming out part is going to hurt.

But the pain is just part of the process, I think. And I know I’m saying this from a safe and painless vantage point — unused uterus and all. But after the birthing class and talking to my sister and thinking about the millions of women who’ve already been there, well. I think the actual act of parenting is much more daunting than the few hours of birthing.

I’ll get the inside story in a few months from my sister herself, as she crosses over to a place I’ve never been.

All our lives, I’ve gone first. First to drive, to date, to drink. First to get a bicycle, and then a horse. First to break curfew, first to leave home. And now, finally, she gets to take the lead.

I know she’ll be amazing.

And I? I’ll be an aunt!

-Lo, who has big plans for Peanut’s punk rock t-shirt collection.

Smells Like Children

kids2Mood: Measured
Drinking: Diet Coke in a Can

Last weekend, Boy and I played host to some old friends and their two little rugrats. (It’s an affectionate term, Internet!)

I guess the LeeLoo should get some credit for playing host, too. She was so very polite whilst being covered in shredded bits of Kleenex by small shrieking tots.

I think the game was “TeePee the Dog with the Smallest Bits of Tissue Possible While Giggling Hysterically at Extremely High-Pitched Levels.” She did very well, just laying there and taking it like a champ. But then she does love to lick on baby toes, so I guess the trade-off was more than adequate for her.

We had lots of fun with homemade pizza a walk to the park and small bowls of messy gelato for all. I even dug out a dusty box of coloring books and crayons from the depths of the garage. One of our small guests has a great liking for drawing dinosaurs. He also will only eat crackers and grapes.

The habits of childhood are mystifying to me. I remember having a strong aversion to liver and onions (which has followed me into adulthood), but I don’t remember much about my own toddler-sized likes and dislikes.

After all the sippy cups and ziploc baggies of crackers were stowed away and our guests had tucked themselves back into their minivan and headed east again, Boy looked at me in the blessed silence and said,
“You know, if we have some of our own, they’re not going to go away at the end of the day.”

I flopped down on the couch next to the dog and picked a bit of half-chewed tissue from her ear.
“Yeah,” I sighed.
“I know.”

It’s a topic that’s been beaten to death recently, what with another approaching birthday heralding another year in the Unused Uterus Club, as well as the way one of my very best friend’s little belly is starting to pooch out in an adorably pregnant way.

Boy’s mom wants to know, my Grandma wants to know, people I don’t even know at all want to know, “WHEN ARE YOU GUYS GOING TO START A FAMILY?”

There are so many things I want to say to that question, not the least of which is,
“None of your business!”
And also, “We already ARE a family.”
And then, “I really haven’t the faintest idea.”

At first, there were so many things we wanted to do. And we’ve done a lot of them in the last seven years. But the thing I’m beginning to realize is that you never, ever, finish your To Do List.

Visit one exotic land and you’ll discover six more that you just have to see. Finish one book and you’ll want to write two more. Settle into a little house and you’ll soon need a bigger one. The list will just go on and on, forever.

Meanwhile, in the background, behind all the hustle and everyday bustle, a clock will wind up and start ticking, at first so softly that you can’t even hear it. But the years start to spin by faster and faster and pretty soon the goddamn ticking sound is all that you can hear.

And by “you”, I mean me. Because I’m standing up here with my head cocked to the left like Captain Hook on watch for the crocodile, but Boy can’t hear a thing.

I guess if you’re lacking in ovarian capacity, a biological clock is beside the point.

So there I was on a bright Sunday afternoon, slow roasting in the sun at a playground, feeling like a barren intruder among all those self-confident breeders, a colorless island amidst a river of primary colors, watching the roommate of my bar-hopping days wrangle her children like a seasoned veteran, like a real mommy, like a woman.

And the clock was beating in time to my banging pulse.

Suddenly I was afraid.

They say you’re never really ready for it. I believe it. If I’ve learned anything in this life, it’s that you’re never really ready for anything. Not even when you’ve read all the books and done all your homework. You’re never prepared for the real thing. You’ve just gotta jump in and kick and splash and cough and swim.

One of these days, one of these days
I’m jumping in.

Until then, I’ll just let my li’l sister tell me how deep and cold the water is…

-Lo, who wants to know if she’s Auntie to a boy or a girl. What are you, Peanut?!

Beanhead’s Birthday

Mood: Sleepy-eyed
Drinking: Morning teajobday

When I found out, at age 4, that my mom was going to magically pop out a brand new little sister, I begged my parents to name her Tracy.

Much to my disappointment, they knew better than to take the advice of a punk-ass toddler, and named her Johanna instead.

One of my earliest memories is of my baby sister laying on the floor in her white cloth diapers with the big yellow safety pins while I played drums on her naked round belly.

Four years doesn’t seem like a huge age difference now, but when we were kids, it meant that we lived worlds apart. She was getting into stuff (paper dolls, bicycles, sandboxes) when I was outgrowing them.

She always wanted to tag along, and I always wanted to leave her behind. I don’t even know how many times my friend Jason (who was only 2 years younger than I) and I would hop on our two-wheeled bikes and pedal furiously down the lane, while she climbed onto her orange tricycle and tried to keep up, yelling “Guys! Wait for me.”

Even as a tiny thing, she was always an old soul, always worried about everybody else, always standing at the window waiting for mom to arrive home safely, always bossing me around when I least expected it.

But when it came to make-believe, I was the boss. During every stuffed animal army invasion, her teddy bears were always on the losing side. When we played dress up in mom’s clothes, I got to wear the green bikini top stuffed with Kleenex, not Jo. I took our Star Wars reenactments quite seriously. I was always Princess Leia, of course, and the Otto boys were always Luke and Han, and Jo was shorter than all of us (not wookie-sized) so that meant she had to be R2D2. And she wasn’t allowed to talk while in character – she had to beep, just like R2 did.

When I was 12, my horse-owning dream came true, in the form of a donkey named Jackie, which I purchased from a distant cousin for $25. After he bucked me off and broke my arm, my dad decided that both of us girls needed to take riding lessons. When I first walked into the stable at Copper Bit Ranch and saw all those glorious 16-hand horses, I knew that I was going to be a star. I was going to be riding a sleek black steed over 3-foot fences in no time.

Yeah. It didn’t actually work out quite like that.

Since I was the only one in the family with a horse-type-creature (come on, a donkey is decidedly NOT a horse), my sister got to ride one of the stable ponies – an adorable little brown mare named Ginger. I, on the other hand, I had to ride Jackie. The donkey. With the stiff western saddle my dad picked up at a farm sale.

So while Johanna trotted prettily around the arena, touching the dressage letters on the wall with ease and grace, Jackie and I lumbered along, veering wildly to the right or the left as I tried in vain to make a donkey actually do what he was told. The riding lessons usually ended up with my sister trotting merrily past me, all the onlookers “awww-ing”, while Jackie leaned his full weight against my left leg and smashed me into the wall. It was highly amusing to everyone but me.

Johanna and I didn’t really become friends until I was in college and she was in high school. It happened when she drove up to visit me one weekend. I don’t remember the details of what we did. I’m sure we rented videos and ate beer nuggets (a college-town delicacy). But all I know for sure is that when I watched her little red truck pull away that Sunday afternoon, I realized that I had made a friend.

That was just the first of many sister weekends. They’ve become a special tradition for both of us, although now we usually show up at each other’s door with a dog in tow (and sometimes a husband).

Today is my sister’s birthday. And it’s a big one this year. Not so much in numbers, because she’s still younger than me (and I’m not old!). But it’s a big one because more than ever this year, I realize what kind of woman I have for a sister.

She’s gorgeous, of course, although she’d never admit it. (And she’s probably blushing furiously right now, reading this.) She’s one of the few people who can get me to laugh, even on the worst of days. She’s much nicer than I am. She is a fiercely loyal friend and an incredibly gifted teacher. She kicks my ass in an argument, hands down. She plays the piano beautifully with those long and slender fingers, and has this whole crafty thing going on that’s really quite impressive. She’s all the things you want in a best friend – she’s smart and funny and witty and warm. She can come up with some astonishing insults, too. In fact, we’ve taken to answering each other’s phone calls with insults. I think the latest one is “What do you want, you bitch-faced whore?!” Every time I see her name flash on my incoming call list, I start smiling before I even answer the phone.

She’s one of the bravest people I know. Right after she got engaged, her fiancé was notified that he was getting shipped out to Iraq. They had a wedding all planned, and she had a gorgeous white dress waiting in my closet, but it was all going to be two months too late. So I got a phone call on a Tuesday morning, “J and I are getting married tomorrow. Can you be here?”

There were 10 people at her wedding – the only ones who could make it on such short notice. Not even my parents could be there, so Boy walked her down the aisle. And she spent the first 18 months of her married life alone, in a new apartment, in a new city, with her new husband on the other side of the earth, staring down death in the desert every day. It was hard for her. I saw it. But she didn’t complain. She had her bad days, yes, but she was braver than I ever could have been. She sucked it up and stuck it out and I have never been more proud.

So today, Jo, on your birthday, here’s what I wish for you:
A kind mirror. Pancakes. A birthday kiss from J. A high-five from McKinna. Sun and falling stars. Lists of baby names. Dreams so close, you can touch them. A sudden onset of inspiration. New sheet music. A pedicure. Traffic-free highways. Girlfriend phone calls. A tall glass of wine. An optimistic sky. Fuzzy slippers. A good book. The all-pervading calm that comes with knowing you are loved, you are wanted, you are appreciated, and you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Happy XXth, Beanhead!

-Lo, who could always use more sister days.

In Honor of Henry

Mood: Mixed Up
Drinking: Hot Chai

My Grandpa is dying.

His body has grown tired and gray, but I never remember him that way. I always picture him spry and whistling, pulling into our gravel driveway in his navy blue Oldsmobile, a red feather perched in his jaunty fedora.

Every day of my childhood, Grandpa was there. He always came bearing a ready joke and a baggie of Tootsie Rolls. (Even now I can’t untwist the wrappers without remember his endless sticky candy offerings.)

I know the years have passed us by, but it’s still so hard to imagine that the Grandpa Hank who built my sister and I a horse stable out of scraps of old lumber, clambering around with hammer in hand, nimble as you please, hiding a cigarette behind his back whenever us kids appeared (as if we couldn’t see the smoke winding up, wreathing him from behind)… it’s hard to equate the Grandpa of my childhood, joking and jovial, with the Grandpa of my adulthood, feeble behind his walker. And now lying so quietly in a hospital bed.

So today, in honor of Henry Witmer, I’m sharing a story my sister wrote about him last year. (She has a way with words, too.)

A True Glimpse of Grandpa
by Johanna Witmer Baldwin

Everyone wants a second chance, a chance to be redeemed, to start over. I just never thought Grandpa was one of those people. To me, Grandpa was my hero, invincible and un-aging, without fault. Or so I thought, back then when my world was so small and perfect.

More than President Reagan, Johnny Cash, or even Daisy Duke, I wanted to be like Grandpa when I was little.

After retiring from the steel mill, Grandpa began driving the 10 miles to our house every morning at about 6:30. By the time I crawled out of bed, Grandpa had already finished his cup of coffee, hammered out a few carpentry projects, and probably taken a break with his morning smoke.

Except I wasn’t supposed to know about that smoke. He diligently tried to hide it, even around Mom, who told him that she had known about the smoking for years. She even offered to buy him an ashtray.

Even so, he continued to slink behind the garage, barn or the garden to light up. I can’t remember how many times I walked up on him smoking and nearly gave him a heart attack. After regaining his composure, Grandpa would cough out the smoke from his last drag and pop a Vick’s drop into his mouth to drown his ashy breath. Then he would stand with the cigarette behind his back, in a futile attempt to look innocent while the cigarette smoke slowly curled around his ears grew into a hazy wreath behind his back.

“Oh, hey there! Did ya just now get out of bed?!?”

I played along, but spent more than one afternoon combing the gravel for his cigarette butt, so I could pretend to be a rebel smoker like Grandpa.

So why was Grandpa the secret smoker such a perfect icon in my childhood mind? Because only a few of my memories are of Grandpa pretending he never inhaled; the rest remind me of the selfless way he showed his love for us.

No one ever asked him to show up and work at our little farm, but there he was every morning, whistling a raspy tune while he invented an economical way to convert a shed into a 4-stall horse barn for my sister and me.

In addition to his carpentry skills, Grandpa was the only adult to recognize that I honestly COULD handle an entire Big Mac (minus the middle bun) and strawberry shake at McDonalds instead of a mere child’s Happy Meal.

More than that, he always knew the perfect time to offer me a Tootsie Roll to brighten my mood. Like on the days he drove me to school when my fake stomachaches had not convinced anyone that I was dying and needed constant bed rest.

Amazingly, the Tootsie Roll always healed me instantly. At every school program, Grandpa wandered in half an hour early, in order to get the best seat in the house.

In almost every corner of my childhood memories, I find Grandpa in his feathered fedora, flashing his false teeth to gross me out or standing proudly somewhere nearby.

Last summer, I flew back to my hometown to see Grandpa, whose heart was failing. Maybe all those years of hidden smoking had finally caught up with him. He had been in and out of the hospital every few months, and Dad said Grandpa “might appreciate” seeing me. In other words, Grandpa was dying.

The first night back in Illinois, my Dad sighed as he talked about my Grandpa’s health problems, “He spends all his time complaining about this ache and that pain, how he’s getting too old and might as well die. And he wonders why I don’t always want to come visit him. He forgets that he missed most of my childhood. I mean, for crying out loud! He was a horrible father! He’s never admitted all the affairs he had, or how he disowned me for years after he divorced Grandma. He said terrible things to me back then, things I don’t even want to repeat.”

He rubbed his brow in frustration, as if to erase the painful memories, “But he seems to have forgotten all of that now.”

I was still thinking of this new side of Grandpa the next day when I saw him. He appeared to have shrunk over the past six months and was so frail as he shuffled into the house with his walker, a mere shadow of his former self. But he didn’t seem like the playboy who once had abandoned his family, either.

What was Grandpa really like, and why hadn’t I seen the other side of him all the years when I scampered around in his shadow?

As I was deep in thought, Grandpa’s ashen face lit up and he interrupted my reverie, “I always think about how you used to run around, following me everywhere when you were just a tiny tyke…” A smile tiptoed across his weathered face, then cautiously crossed to mine.

At that moment, the foggy doubt about Grandpa lifted. Grandpa did remember all the hurtful years he lived as a father, and he had spent the next few decades trying to make it up to the following generation of family. I was Grandpa’s redemption. I was his second chance at fatherhood.

Sometimes I just want to go back to the way things were before, when I was little, swaying in the swing he built for me and listening to his stories of surviving through the Depression. Before I knew. Before I could read between the lines of our family history.

But maybe it’s better this way. Because now I know that all Grandpa wanted was redemption. One chance to make things right.

-Lo, who could use a Tootsie Roll or two right now.

Two Weeks

Mood: Teary-eyed
Drinking: A toast to the Yodes

When the phone rang yesterday at 4 p.m., and the display said my sister was calling, I knew even before I answered that something was wrong. Call it sixth sense, sister sense, women’s intuition, whatever. I just knew.

My sister’s teary voice confirmed it. She was sitting in her car in the parking lot of a vet clinic, calling with the worst news any dog lover can get. Her dog was dying.

My sister’s dog is not just any dog. And I know all dog owners are prejudiced in favor of their furry beasts. But seriously. You haven’t known adorable-gentleman-giant-pig-dog until you know Yoda.

My sister met the Yodes in October of 2004. She was a newlywed, and her husband had been shipped off to Iraq just weeks after the wedding. She was living in a new town, alone, far from family, with few friends. I told her she needed a dog.

As my dog LeeLoo’s favorite auntie, my sister was well acquainted with the Boxer breed, so she began scouring pet rescue websites for some sort of Boxer-ish pooch. In one of her searches, she discovered a picture of a big ham-headed white Boxer/American Bulldog mix named Yoda.

Even though he weighed in at a good 110 pounds, the Yodes was living with a slew of thimble-sized Chihuahuas at a Chihuahua Rescue in Burbank, CA. He had been there for two years, since nobody in LA-land comes to a Chihuahua rescue looking for a husky galoot of a Yoda dog.

Yodes’ story was a sad one…his previous owner had died suddenly, and Yoda, being the delicate flower that he is, was so upset, he lost all his hair. The relatives of the deceased owner didn’t know what to do with a bald, chubby sad sack, so they dumped him at the pound. Enter Chihuahua Rescue Lady, searching for unwanted pocket-sized dogs. She felt so sorry for the big grieving Yodes, she packed him in with the tiny dogs and away he went.

Two years in purse dog rescueland were not kind to Yoda. In addition to his depressed state, loss of hair, and all around tubby condition, he also had a thyroid problem that went untreated for a long time.

So when my sister showed up at the kennel to meet him, Yodes wasn’t looking his best. He was bald in patches, had icky sores between his toes and big goobers in his eyes. But in spite of all that, he had the love. And my sister saw it. She called to tell me about the gentle giant she had discovered, and on a roadtrip south a couple of weeks later for sister weekend, I saw him for myself.

We took LeeLoo along to the kennel to see how Yoda would react. LeeLoo took one look at him, walked over, sat next to him and leaned up against him. They both sighed. My sister and I looked at each other, wide-eyed, and I said, “You have to get this dog!”

It was easier said than done. Turns out that Rescue Lady was also a wee bit crazy and liked collecting dogs more than she liked letting them go. So even though my sister filled out all the paperwork, had proof of good dog ownership qualities and everything else, she didn’t get to take Yoda home for three more months.

Finally, in January of 2005, Yoda became part of the family. He got a bath, a trip to the vet, medication for his various skin conditions and thyroid issues, and some nutritious, yet delicious kibble. Over the next year, the Yodes only got healthier and happier, taking walks to the beach and trips to San Francisco to hang out with his cousin LeeLoo. My sister’s husband returned from Iraq in early 2006, and Yoda was there to greet him at the door.

Over the past two years, the Yodes has provided endless entertainment, usually beginning with a phone call from my sister, “So, guess what Yodes did today?”

The list of things he tried to eat just kept growing, ranging from tea bags to styrofoam to a Duraflame log. In person, he was like a walking cartoon, a giant marshmallow of a pooch who wanted nothing more than to lean his head against your leg, slobber all over your knee, and get in some sloppy tongue kisses.

The Yodes had many talents. He could blow a drool bubble like it was bubble gum, poop in a perfect circle, and snore in an exact imitation of a giant pig.

He’s the sweetest beast to ever walk the earth, having nothing but love for everyone he meets. He has friends all over my sister’s town, from the elderly residents at the nursing home, to the toddler down the street, to the homeless guy on the corner. Everybody loves Yoda. And he loves them back, no strings attached.

Which is why it’s incredibly unfair that he has only two weeks left on this earth.

The phone call yesterday came immediately after the vet told my sister and her husband that Yoda has an aggressive form of untreatable cancer. There’s nothing they can do to treat it, they can only make him comfortable and give him the best two weeks any dog ever had on this earth.

As any dog person knows, the dog who shares your life quickly becomes more than a pet. They are your friend, confidant, your baby, your pride and joy. So the news that Yodes is not long for this world is unbearably heartbreaking.

As my friend S put it,
“He’s such a big, goofy canned ham of a dog, and it’s just not fair. I do know that Yoda’s last weeks are going to be the happiest, steakiest, up-on-the-furniturest, most spoiled-rotten weeks any dog ever had. I’m going to miss his bald patches; his hard breathing and huge grin; the way he used to follow Leeloo around like an enormous, lovestruck linebacker. Yodes, we hardly knew you.”

So here’s to you, Yoda… We love you. We will miss you terribly. There will never be another pig-dog like you. We’ll always remember your smile, your stinky breath, your gigantic pink belly, and the way you brought unabashed joy into our lives every single day. May your last weeks be heavenly. And may dog heaven be even better.

And when (god forbid) the LeeLoo’s turn comes, please wait there for her at the Rainbow Bridge. I know you’ll take good care of her.

-Lo, who thinks that a world without Yoda is a very sad world, indeed.