Gourmet, Gourmand, or Foodie?

Graham Kerr, the gallant Galloping Gourmet

I want to chat about food diversity, but first, what is the difference between a gourmet, a gourmand or a foodie?  Having lived more than a few decades, I am amazed at the changes in so many areas, including the English language.  I will leave what I term the “hijacking of words” to another post, but the changes in terms about food are fascinating.  Let’s start with the three in my title, gourmet, gourmand and “foodie.”  Gourmet was long the term for someone with a discerning palate.  It implied someone who tasted his food as an oenophile tasted fine wine rather than like a wino who chug-a-lugged jug burgundy.  For those of you old enough to remember, Graham Kerr’s “The Galloping Gourmet” hit TV with an energetic, non-traditional cooking show.  He was not like Julia Child, standing in front of the camera, stiffly instructing the viewers how to prepare some difficult dish like beef bourguignon, but a dashingly dressed, decent-looking, youngish man who liberally used cream, clarified butter and wine to add zest to his dishes.  He did it with a great deal of flair and wit in front of a live audience, with no retakes.  He would raise a glass of wine to his lips before commercials and would seem to be finishing a healthy (or unhealthy) swig when the camera returned to him.  However, he actually imbibed very little during the show.  It was, if you’ll pardon the pun, all for show.  At the end of each episode, he would be joined by someone from the audience (normally female) and the camera would zoom in on their ecstatic faces as they sampled his culinary triumph as the show closed.  While it took a few years for the food-show craze to fully hit America, Graham Kerr was the pioneer.  Gordon Ramsey, Bobby Flay, and Guy Fieri, you owe a lot to Graham Kerr.

Gourmand or glutton? You say tomato . . .

Gourmand is a word whose meaning has definitely evolved.  Originally, it meant a glutton.  Now it is defined by Merriam-Webster as “one who is excessively fond of eating and drinking” and also as “one who is heartily interested in good food and drink.”  Wikipedia, that font of all knowledge, gives “a person who takes great pleasure and interest in consuming good food and drink” as its first definition, with “glutton” as almost an afterthought.  In a nation that is known for overeating, saying someone is a glutton has become almost as forbidden as a racial slur.  “Excessively fond of eating” is the acceptable term, but glutton is not.  But making a euphemism so that a word no longer has bad connotations is to weaken the language in the cause of being politically correct.

The food photo fad. If food is only a hobby, then is collecting picture trophies more important than eating it?

Now there are foodies.  The term originally came from an article by Gael Greene in the New York Magazine in 1980 and has since come to such common usage that it’s almost passé.  Wikipedia defines a foodie as “a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and who eats food not out of hunger but due to his interest and hobby.”  A hobby?  Like building model planes?  Whatever.  And what’s the difference between a foodie and a gourmet?  Again from the Big W, a foodie is “not as elitist as a gourmet, more discriminating than a glutton.”  Like a wine drinker who drinks Two-buck Chuck (now a little more pricey), but not box wine?  So what does all this have to do with food diversity?  Food has become more than something to eat.  It’s become fashionable.  And the more diverse and strange your tastes, the better.  It shows you are cool.

The size of a half order of spaghetti at Vince’s in the 1960’s

I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  My parents moved to sunny California from Kentucky, not exactly a multi-ethnic state back then.  But my mom learned to do some rather bold dishes here, at least for that time.  Our neighbors were from Oklahoma and taught her a few Tex-Mex dishes.  Tacos, enchiladas and what was termed Spanish rice entered our diet.  Since the rice was not really Spanish style, I suppose it was a euphemism since Mexican had less “class” back then.  That was odd since Mexican restaurants were not termed “Spanish.”  Not logical, but that’s the way it was.  Our neighbors’ daughter-in-law was Italian-American and taught my mom to make spaghetti and meat balls as well as lasagna.  I remember how my mom would start making the spaghetti sauce in the morning and the wonderfully pungent aroma of basil and oregano would fill the kitchen as it simmered through the day.  I was a picky eater, but loved those “foreign” dishes.  We also had corned beef and cabbage, which is an American tradition on St. Patrick’s Day, but not really Irish.  On the rare occasions we went out to dinner (we were not wealthy), many times we went to Mexican or Italian restaurants, no doubt because they were often cheaper.  Vince’s Spaghetti in Ontario served a huge plate of spaghetti with meat sauce (their half order, no less) for 65 cents!  Although Shakey’s Pizza Parlors started the pizza craze in California in the 1950’s, their’s were not really Italian style, so I don’t include them in this post.  While there also were Chinese restaurants around, we didn’t go to them.  I don’t remember any other “foreign” cuisine restaurants around back in the day.

Dar Mahgreb- great atmosphere, even if not great food

As I became an adult, I was more ready to try new tastes.  My broadening of international food experiences started with Chinese food when I was in college.  The restaurant I went to was Cantonese, but then I didn’t know different regions of China had different styles of cooking.  Szechuan  is my favorite now, with its bold chili peppers and garlic spicing.  The next, if I remember correctly, was Japanese.  It was Miyako’s on Town and Country Road in Orange and apparently is no longer around.  This was in the early 1970’s and sushi was not known to the general populace, so raw fish was not on the menu.  I did love their sukiyaki and miso dressing on the salad.  Then came Moroccan.  A small chain of Dar Mahgreb Restaurants were built to look like imitation Alhambra palaces, with plush cushions on low couches for seating, it was a bit of experiencing North Africa in Southern California.  You ate with your hands out of a communal platter of food.  It was fun dining, even if the food was a little sweet for my taste.  A  belly dancer added to the atmosphere.  The one where my wife and I sat almost on the floor to eat was in Palm Springs.  Alas, it is now closed and I understand the last one of the chain in Los Angeles is too.  I say that not because I loved it, indeed I have not eaten at a Dar Mahgreb since the 1970’s, but it is the passing of a memory.  Another dining expedition of that decade was an Indian restaurant, name long forgotten, in Riverside, CA.  I do not remember what I had, but it was not good.  It took years before I tried Indian food again and loved it, but not at that now-closed establishment.

Sushi and sashimi can be found all over America now.  Few people say, “Raw fish, Eew!” anymore.

Jump forty years in time to the present.  Change can be good or bad, but the diversity of cuisines available now is definitely good.  Not all cuisines are equal or even, to my palate, good, but having the choice is.  Now finding Thai, Indian, Japanese, Greek, Persian, Ethiopian, Lebanese, Jewish and many other dining options is not confined to major cities.  Not only that, Mexican, Italian and Japanese restaurants have greatly expanded their menus.  No longer are tacos, enchiladas, tostadas and tamales of my youth the limit of choices in a Mexican restaurant.  Carne asada, chimichangas, empanadas and Tex-Mex fajitas as well as burritos with a multitude of fillings are the norm with more exotic items on the menus of many places.  I had never even heard of mole or chipotle in the old days.  And Italian used to mean tomato-based sauce.  Now, there is cream-based alfredo and my favorite, pesto.  Penne is so much easier to eat and saves many shirts from permanent stains, but only long spaghetti was available for so many years.  Risotto?  Never heard of it in the previous century.  Now, when you say “Japanese food,” sushi comes to mind, but few would have tried raw fish forty years ago.  Delightful chimichurri sauce was only in Argentina when I was growing up, but now is on many menus.  America often puts its own spin on the different cuisines, but the variety has expanded wildly.  And that is good.

The heck with the view, let’s eat.

Returning to the title of this post, am I a gourmet, a gourmand or a foodie?  To say I am a gourmet sounds presumptuous to me.  I don’t have that trained of a palate.  I know what I like, but that doesn’t mean I’m an expert on flavors.  I love hot and spicy, but hate sweet.  That, in itself, probably disqualifies me to so exalted a title.  Am I a gourmand?  Harkening back to the original definition as being a glutton, I hope not.  I do enjoy food, but try not to overindulge.  At least not on a regular basis.  So I guess that, by default, I’m a foodie.  I do have an interest in food and don’t always eat just because I’m hungry.  My interest is more refined than the person who raves about Egg McMuffins or Taco Bell tacos, so I am not at the bottom of the food-discernment chain.  I enjoy many cuisines and some of the more esoteric varieties as well as the common ones.  Do I approach my dining experience “not as elitist as a gourmet, more discriminating than a glutton?”  I suppose so.  But is food merely a hobby?  Not for me.  I love it too much.







Gaining a Friend through Aussie Rescue

Cordon Bleu, better known as Blue

Cordon Bleu,
better known as Blue

On Monday, June 20th, Kelly and I finished the adoption process for Cordon Bleu through Aussie Rescue.  I never knew adopting a dog had so much paperwork.  We agreed to many things, including that we would never give Cordon Bleu, known as Blue to his friends and family, away to anyone, that we would never shave him (No way would I ever do that anyway.  I’d sooner shave my hair and beard.), never to let Blue ride in the back of a pickup (Again, something I would never do.), always keep him on a leash outside unless in a fenced backyard for 12 weeks (A good policy even for after that period.), etc.  We underwent a written online survey and a home inspection, as well as meeting Blue before we could adopt.  I haven’t felt so “under the microscope” since we applied to move to the Isle of Man, maybe even more so.   Am I complaining?  Absolutely not.  NorCal Aussie Rescue (click here) and Kim, who runs the operation in the area, want to make sure that the dogs she rescues aren’t sent to someone who will not take good care of them.  There is even a 30-day full refund period after adoption.  Considering some idiot abandoned Blue, I am in full agreement with a process to prevent that ever happening again.

Jilly-dog A real sweatheart

A real sweetheart

If you’ve been a reader of my blog, three years ago I wrote about the loss of my companion and family dog, Jilly, an Australian shepherd. (click here to read)  I was devastated.  After almost three years, I yearned to have the “friendly presence” of a dog in the house again.  Although I like the long-haired “working dogs’ like Aussies, I was afraid that I would always be reminded of Jilly and expect the next one to be a clone of her, so I checked out rescue border collies.  I filled out the application and kept a watch on the adoptable dogs.  Since I was looking for a dog no more than four years old and not too hyper, it limited my choices.  One great thing about rescue sites is you get a bio on each dog, letting you know age and personality, with a photo.  There was one dog that seemed ideal, but when I emailed the site there were eight others ahead of me in line!  Then, in January of this year, I checked NorCal Aussie Rescue.  At the rescue site, I saw Condon Bleu , who sounded good.  Then I read that he was “reactive with strangers” and wasn’t ready for adoption.  There was another Aussie, Rocco, who seemed a possibility.  I filled out the application and Kim, the person who had told me about Jilly being kept in Woodland’s animal shelter in 2004, responded.  She brought Rocco, who was called Rocky, out while she inspected our place.

Rocco, a.k.a. Rocky A big boy

Rocco, a.k.a. Rocky
A big boy

Let’s just say that at 70-plus lbs. and tall for an Aussie, Rocky was in the heavyweight class, as well as quick on his feet . . . er, paws.  He also put his paws on our marble table and on the grand piano (fortunately covered).  It wasn’t that he was a “bad dog,” just large and a bit rambunctious for our life style, never stopping his roaming around the house.  Still, I felt that familiar tug at my heart when Rocky was in the ring . . . er, living room.  I felt he could be trained.  After Kim and Rocky left, Kelly and I were discussing Rocky when we got a call from Kim.  She didn’t feel Rocky was a good match for us.  She takes her duties very seriously and did not want Rocky going to a home where there would be problems in the relationship.  Still, it was disappointing and we felt that the problems were more with us.  “We flunked,” Kelly said.

Cordon Bleu's photo on the Aussie Rescue website. Who wouldn't love a face like that?

Cordon Bleu’s photo on the Aussie Rescue website. Who wouldn’t love a face like that?

I would go on the the rescue websites periodically to check for new recruits, but no joy.  Days went into weeks and weeks into months.  Then I noticed that Cordon Bleu’s bio had been updated.  He was doing very well with people and dogs and was ready for adoption.  Well, he had problems with chickens and cats, but we have no cats and only eat chickens we get normally from Costco, so that would not be an issue.  I contacted Kim again and she brought Cordon Bleu (who I will henceforth call Blue, since the French word sounds too much like “blah”) out to see how he would do with us.  She told us that he was very attached to her, sticking close to her all the time, and was not sure he would do well with a man.  When she got here, we took him out into our fenced yard and played a little ball with him, then went inside and sat in the living room.  Blue came over to visit me at my chair and I rubbed his spine.  We seemed to get along.

After Kim left with Blue, I wasn’t sure if we’d made the grade.  After a day of no word, I was concerned.  Once I’d met Blue, I really wanted him to join our home.  Hesitantly, I emailed Kim and asked her what was the next step, fearing that there would not be one.  She said we needed to have three days in a row when we would not leave Blue alone and that it would have to be after she took Blue to the vet again.  Kelly and I were meeting our daughter and son-in-law for lunch on Father’s Day, but it looked like late afternoon of that Sunday would work.  I was like a kid waiting for Christmas morning.  Due to misunderstanding on telephoning procedures, it ended up that Blue could not come to his new home until the next day.  I’m way too old to feel like the kid who Santa missed, but I did.

Kim brought Blue to his new home on Monday.  We went through all the signing, agreements and info on caring for Blue.  I’ve done some real estate deals and they do take more paperwork, but so does dog adoption.  Especially the part where you slice your palm and drip blood on the contract to seal the deal.  Just kidding.  I think.  Anyway, Kim trusted us and left Blue with us.

Blue's first day with us.

Blue’s first day with us.  He looks a little unhappy, but that soon changed.

He was anxious for several hours after she left, pacing the house, but calmed by the evening and was even sleeping on his back behind my chair.  When we put him in the crate last night, he would whimper a bit, but stopped when I said “no.”  I walked out of the room to do a quick email and he whined, even though Kelly was there.  One time he banged on the crate door and I took him out to see if he needed to wet, but he just wanted to stay up and play.  After about a half an hour, he was fine and slept through the night.  It’s sort of like a kid who has his first night at camp and misses home.  He never whimpered in his crate again.  In a couple of months, we hope to have him sleeping on his own bed.  I may have to put it right next to my side of the bed.

Blue on a leash. We weren't actually on our walk, but Kelly doesn't want to get yup at 5:45 a.m. to take a photo!

Blue on a leash. We weren’t actually on our walk, but Kelly doesn’t want to get up at 5:45 a.m. to take a photo!

Blue and I went for our walk at 5:40 a.m. the next morning along the Nevada Irrigation District canal (that I call the ditch) and he loved it.  It is a dirt trail that is right along the running water, with lots of trees.  There was no one on the trail, so we had a great time.  Jilly used to wet one or two times on the walk, but he marked our trail about thirty times!  I wondered how big his bladder was.  At least he did his part against the drought.  We have gone every morning since and he has been fine with the few people and animals we have met.  Well, except for the doe and fawn on the trail in front of us one time.  He really wanted to prove he could run them down.  We serve him Taste of the Wild dog food, so maybe he wanted a real taste of the wild.  When I went home afterwards I may have found out why he had so much energy.  I found the empty container for some cookies that had been on the kitchen counter.  He must have grabbed it while I was in the bathroom before we left for our walk.  He was on a sugar high.  Our walk has lengthened from about 2 mi. to 3.7 mi. (per the Mapmywalk app on my phone).  Blue seemed tired and slowed a lot the first day, but no longer.   I bet he could got 10 mi. now, but I don’t know that I could.  There is saying that a fat dog is the sign of an out–of-shape owner.  As lean and strong as Blue is, I only wish I were in commensurate condition.

It’s been about three weeks since Blue joined the family.  He tries to stay beside me all the time.  Whenever I leave a room, he follows right behind me.  I call him the strong, silent type because he’s not a barker, but sometimes he does whine a bit whenever I leave.  I also call him my bud, Ol’ Blue Eyes, True Blue and Blue Dog, but I like nicknames.  He’s only about 8 months old at most and I’m happy with that because I am very attached to him already.  I want him with me a long time.  Young age and a good disposition were the two key requirements for choosing a dog, but if I’d made a long list of wants, he’d have fulfilled about every one of them.  He is one great dog.

They trust us, giving us loyalty and love. This is how they are treated.

They trust us, giving us loyalty and love. And this is how they are treated.

There is a moral to this message: rescue a dog.  The dogs deserve better than they have been treated.  Dogs have given their lives in the military, will sacrifice themselves to save their masters from harm, and give unswerving devotion to the humans that own them, yet far too often are given only cruelty and abuse in return.  There are too many of our four-legged friends that have suffered by the hands of humans and we owe it to them to reach out to them.  Dog rescue services try to right some of these wrongs.  The people who run the rescue operations are some of the most dedicated, unselfish people you will meet.  If you prefer, go to an animal shelter and save one of those poor, neglected dogs.  A quick Google search will locate the rescue operation or animal shelter in your area.  So, rather than buying from a breeder or “puppy mill,” rescue a dog in need.  I close with a quote from John Galsworthy that speaks to me.  “The family dog – the only four-footer with rudiments of altruism and a sense of God.”






Friday the 13th

13 friday2015 will have three of the ultimate of unlucky days, Friday the 13th.  February, March and November will all host one.  While not common to have so many, it will happen eleven times this century.  For friggatriskaidekaphobics, they will be very bad years.  In case you didn’t guess, friggatriskaidekaphobia is an irrational fear of Friday the 13th, deriving from the Norse goddess Frigga, the wife of Odin who donated her name to Friday, combined with Greek tris (‘three’), kai (‘and’), deka (‘ten’), and good ol’ -phobia.  Don’t like that word?  How about paraskevidekatriaphobia, which combines paraskevi (‘Friday’) and dekatria (‘thirteen’) with our beloved -phobia.  But enough esoteric etymology, why is Friday the 13th the penultimate unlucky day?  Herein lies the rub.  No one really knows.  So let’s explore some of the conjectures posited.

13 for dinner

13 for dinner with a Judas in the mix

Friday was the day Jesus was crucified after dining with 12 of his followers, one of whom betrayed him, although we do not know if it were the 13th day of the month.  That would seem to be very bad luck and should have credence, especially in so-called “Christian countries.”  Obviously, such a tradition of fear would have started a couple of millennia ago, right?  Wrong.  There is no ancient Christian tradition of Friday the 13th being unlucky.  While 13 has been considered an unlucky number to seat at a table for many years, even that cannot be definitely linked to Christianity.  Loki, the Norse god of mischief, was the 13th god at an unlucky Valhalla banquet and well may be the source of that superstition.  But, as far as the legend goes, we don’t know that the banquet was on a Friday.

Things got hot for Jacques DeMolay

Things got hot for Jacques DeMolay

Another theory is that it started when the fabled Knights Templar came under persecution by King Philip IV of France, known as “The Fair” because of his hair color rather than his equability, arrested Templar Grand Master Jaqcues DeMolay and other members of the order on Friday, October 13, 1307.  Now that really sounds like the source, right?  Unfortunately, (if you’ll pardon the pun) there is no reference to it being an unlucky day from that time hence.  In fact, as late as 1882 there is no record of Friday the 13th being considered particularly unlucky.

No way is that my room!

No way is that my room!

Friday itself had long been considered unlucky, again for reasons lost in time.  Perhaps it was because Jesus was crucified on a Friday, but pagan Germanic tribes considered it an unlucky day as well.  The number 13 has had a bad rap in most Western cultures so that up to 80% of high-rises are built with the floors numbered without a 13, but not in Asian ones, which consider 4 the unlucky number.  Why?  Oft times trying to attach logic to superstition is a wasted effort.  But when did 13 get attached to Friday as a double whammy?  It seems that a group of anti-superstitionists got together and officially formed the Thirteen Club in New York City on Friday, January 13, 1882.

The Thirteen Club was started by men who wanted to flaunt their disbelief in superstitions, including those about Fridays, when many hangings were done (we’re not talking pictures here), and of the number 13.  They also purposely broke many mirrors, which undoubtedly was good luck for the glass industry.  Ironically, the club may well have been the originator of the whole Friday-the-13th obsession, for they would hold a gala event when Friday and the 13th of the month intersected.  Branches of the club sprang up all over the States and Britain.   And with them, Friday the 13th observations of anti-superstition by their members.

However, the Thirteen Club may well have been the founders of what they despised: a new superstition.  In 1907, stock promoter Thomas Lawson published a  book entitled Friday, the Thirteenth.  In it, the protagonist manipulated the stock market to destroy his enemies by playing on their fears of Friday the 13th.  Obviously, since 1882 and 1907, something had altered in the Western view of Friday the 13th and the Thirteen Club may well have been the agent of change.  The club whose motto was “that superstition should be assailed and combated and driven off the earth” might have started one of the biggest superstitions of all time.

Jason Returns in Monday the 13th, Part XXX

Jason Returns in “Monday the 13th, Part XXX”

The consequences of creating Friday the 13th fears are pervasive.  A whole series of slasher movies might otherwise have been called “Monday the 13th.”  Or, if made by an Italian, “Friday the 17th,” since 17 is an unlucky number in Italy.  A British study found that since fewer people drove on Friday the 13th than the Friday before.  Since that resulted in fewer fatal accidents, it was actually a lucky day for those who might not have otherwise survived it.  Perhaps that’s a bit of “making your own luck.”  Then again, a study claims that $800,000,000 is lost annually by businesses that day because people won’t marry, travel and, for the most fearful, even work on Friday the 13th.  No doubt, there are those who will cite bad things that happened to them on some Friday the 13th.  But then, other people could do that for any day and date.  As for me, I opt to go with the spirit of the now-defunct Thirteen Club and thumb my nose at the superstition.  I won’t, however, purposely break any mirrors.  It’s not that I fear seven years of bad luck, but it’s a waste of money.

Battle of New Orleans

John Cherry?

Did Great-great-great-great Grandpa John Cherry look like this?

In 1959, Johnny Horton sang a song entitled “The Battle of New Orleans.”  (click here to listen) In it, he told of going with Colonel Jackson down the “Mighty Mississip” in 1814.  While this might have been true as far as the date of the trip, the battle did not take place until January 8, 1815, and this year is its bicentennial anniversary.  It should be noted that Andrew Jackson was actually a major general both in the Tennessee Militia and the U.S. Army by then.  There are two things I find very interesting about this battle, the most famous American victory in the War of 1812: first is that my direct ancestor, John Cherry, served in the battle with the 2nd Regiment of the West Tennessee Mounted Gunmen under “Old Hickory” and the other is that the battle had no affect on the outcome of the war.

Let’s address the first interesting point, well, first.  Although I have had ancestors serve in the Revolutionary War (yes, I could be a Son of the American Revolution, if I wanted to take the time and effort), the War of 1812 and the Civil War (on both sides, no less), the only one who bore the Cherry name was John.  The Tennessee Mounted Gunmen were militiamen, not regular army, and knew Jackson very well.  In 1812, he had led them in an aborted attempt to shore up the defenses of New Orleans (a major port and the defender of the Mississippi River artery), but had to turn back when Congress refused to fund the operation (Congress has always shown such great wisdom).  After the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, where Jackson defeated the “Red Stick” Creeks, he was made a major general in the U.S. Army, as well as the commander of the Seventh Military District, which included New Orleans.  And so, in 1814, he took a little trip with the militias from Kentucky and Tennessee.  That included Great-great-great-great Grandpa John Cherry.

Major General Andrew Jackson

Major General Andrew Jackson

The British Navy sailed into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 1814, and easily swept aside a makeshift American fleet.  They landed troops and made camp.  After a night attack by Jackson on the 23rd, the British realized that taking New Orleans might be more of a challenge than the sacking of Washington earlier that year.  The British commander, General Pakenham, decided to slow his advance and to do a reconnaissance-in-force to assess the American position.  This gave much needed time for Jackson to prepare his defenses.  He set up eight batteries with twelve cannons and had his men prepare their earthwork defenses.  Records state that Jackson had 4,732 men comprised of 968 US Army regulars, 58 US Marines, 106 US Navy seamen, 1,060 Louisiana Militia and volunteers (of those, 400 to 600 were free Blacks), 1,352 Tennessee Militia (one of whom was John Cherry), 986 Kentucky Militia, and 150 Mississippi Militia.  There were also 52 Choctows (traditional enemies of the British Creek allies), along with an unknown number of men supplied by Jean Lafitte.

Jean Lafitte Pirate, Patriot or Both?

Jean Lafitte
Pirate, Patriot or Both?

An interesting side note on the the pirate and smuggler, Jean Lafitte, is that the British had tried to woo him to support them.  The Americans had even attacked him to prevent him from helping the British, seizing property, ships and men.  Lafitte had not put up a fight.  He was charged with abetting piracy, but he then offered Louisiana’s Governor Claiborne his assistance in fighting the British and the governor sent word to Jackson.  Jackson replied, “I ask you, Louisianans, can we place any confidence in the honor of men who have courted an alliance with pirates and robbers?”  Nonetheless, Lafitte and his men manned American batteries and served on U.S. ships during the battle.  In fact, they fought so well that Jackson commended them and they received pardons.  Unfortunately, this leopard could not change his spots and spent his life oft overstepping the piracy and smuggling laws.  He normally tried to get letters of mark so that he was a legitimate privateer, but did fudge on that.  He died in 1823 attacking what he believed to be Spanish merchant vessels off the coast of Honduras.  They were actually either well-armed privateers or warships.  It is worth noting that he never attacked American vessels and even escorted them safely through dangerous waters at times.  Whether he fought for the Americans out of loyalty to America, hatred of the British or just out of pragmatism we will never know, but I like to think it was for the first reason.

Battle of New Orleans

Battle of New Orleans, with artistic license

The battle has been covered in detail by many sources, including Wikipedia (click here).  In summary, Pakenham’s 8000 men, although outnumbering the Americans, were delayed almost twelve hours in their “dawn” attack.  They suffered under the American artillery barrages (although there is no record of an alligator being used in place of a cannon, as related in Johnny Horton’s song), then hit withering fire from the muskets and rifles.  Since American forces were mainly militiamen, they did not have the inaccurate smoothbores, but rifles (called squirrel guns in the song).  Known as Kentucky long rifles (although not made there), they were accurate for up to over 200 yards, twice that of a musket.  Although they were slower to load and could not mount a bayonet, they were great for men sitting “behind cotton bales” and picking off British soldiers.  Although the British did push back the Americans in the west, their main attacks were thrown back with heavy losses.   When the battle was over, three British generals (including Pakenham) and eight colonels were among the 251 British killed. 1,259 were wounded and 484 were missing in the battle. The Americans lost a total of 11 men and 23 wounded, with no major officers in that number.  It was the greatest American victory of the war.  Or was it?

Here comes the second interesting point: the war was already over.  On December 24, 1814, the Treaty of Ghent had been signed in Belgium.  However, there was no telephone to send the word to the armies.  In fact, the Senate did not ratify it until February 18, 1815, for the simple reason that they did not have a copy to do so.  So the battle had no effect on the outcome of the war.  Save one.  It restored national pride, giving Americans a land battle in which they could celebrate.  The outnumbered American militiamen had righteously “whupped” some of the best professional soldiers in the world.  The battle also created an American hero that came only second to George Washington in the eyes of the people: Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Johnny Horton April 30, 1925 – November 5, 1960

Johnny Horton                       April 30, 1925 – November 5, 1960

An amusing side note is that Johnny Horton found that “The Battle of New Orleans” was not selling very well in the British Isles.  Wonder why?  So he was convinced to make a different version with a different take on the battle, one more British biased.  (click here)  While Johnny was not anti-British (his song “Sink the Bismark” proves that), he should have left well enough alone.  This  revisionist version of the battle just doesn’t work.  Sadly, Johnny died in an auto accident after four short years of hits.  His rockabilly songs and historical ballads are still played and enjoyed by people like me.  Thanks to Youtube, they live on.


In Memory of Jesse Winchester

Jesse Winchester May 17, 1944 - April  11, 2014

Jesse Winchester
May 17, 1944 – April 11, 2014

I never met Jesse.  I never spoke with him.  I never saw one of his concerts.  In fact, I did not even know his name until I wanted to quote some of the lyrics from a beautifully written and poignant song recorded a few decades ago by Jennifer Warnes, entitled “You Remember Me.” (Click to listen to it.)   It is about her former lover who became a priest (or a nun, if sung by a man).  It was perfect for my book, Foul Shot, but I knew it was copyrighted material and I would need to obtain permission.  While there are no set rules on this, it can cost thousands to quote a few lines of some rock songs and I wanted to use several verses of “You Remember Me.”  I found that Jesse had written it and contacted him by email.  I explained that I was self-published and did not have a big budget (any, really), but loved the song.  He gave me full permission, gratis, writing, “You have my permission to quote from ‘You Remember Me’ in your book. Thank you for asking, congratulations and good luck with the new publication.”  He requested nothing in return.  I did cite his generosity in my dedication and sent him a copy.  He wrote back that he had received it on February 26, 2014.  He thanked me for it and for mentioning him in the dedication.  “It looks very readable,” he wrote.  It was the same month that he was diagnosed with bladder cancer.  He died just weeks later.  Although I doubt that he had an opportunity to read Foul Shot, I have a faint hope that he did and liked how I used his song.

Although not so famous as a singer outside of his loyal folk music followers, Jesse’s songs were recorded by Nicolette Larson, the Weather Girls, Michael Martin Murphey, Reba McIntyre, Wynonna Judd, Jimmy Buffett, Tom Rush, Ted Hawkins, The Everly Brothers, Patti Page, Ronnie Hawkins, Elvis Costello, Alex Taylor, and many more, as well as Jennifer Warnes.  In fact, Bob Dylan once said of Jesse, “You can’t talk about the best songwriters and not include him.”  As is often the case, the recorders of his songs made his works more famous than Jesse was.

There are many ways to judge people.  Without personal contact, we oft judge them by less than reliable sources.  I had minimal contact, only email, with Jesse, but feel I have some validity in saying that Jesse was not only a great songwriter, but a decent person.  In all of our correspondence, he was friendly and gracious.  He was generous in allowing me to quote his song with no remuneration.  He even took time to write a kind note when he received my book, although I am sure it really held little interest for him at that point.  “Your new book arrived – thank you again.  And I appreciate the nice reference . . . . Good luck with your new baby.”   I judge people by their actions and Jesse’s were generous, indeed.  Thank you, Jesse, you were a kind and generous soul.  Your songs will continue to touch our hearts for many years.  And, come spring, another cherry blossom tree will be planted in your memory.

The Ides of March

Julius Caesar: The Ides of March Guy and Calendar Changer

Julius Caesar:
The Ides of March Guy and
Calendar Changer

When it comes to the most famous date in ancient Rome, the Ides of March comes to mind.  In fact, for most it is the only date that comes to mind, thanks to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  “Beware the Ides of March,” the soothsayer tells the doomed Caesar in Act I Scene 2 of that play.  Of course, because of his ambition Caesar doesn’t, and the rest is history and a great play.  But what exactly was the Ides of March?

To answer that, first I must give an explanation of the Roman calendar.  The first one was called the calendar of Romulus (the legendary founder of Rome) and had ten months: Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Iunius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December.  Most of the names are familiar if you change the ones with a first letter of “I” to a “J”  because there was no “J” in the Latin alphabet.  The first three months were named after Roman deities, Mars, Maia and Juno.  The last six came from the Latin words for five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten.  Where Aprilis came from no one knows.  It supposedly had been created about 753 B.C.  Since six of them had 30 days and four had 31, the total number of days in the calendar was 304 and it had some problems coinciding with the solar year.  The next one, the Calendar of Numa, was claimed to have been created by the second of Rome’s legendary seven kings, Numa Pompilius.  It added three months (Ianuarius, Februarius, and Mercedonius, also known as Intercalaris).  In this calendar, 30 days hath September, Aprilis, Iunius, November, and December.  All the rest have 31, except Februarius which has 28 and Mercedonius which has none except on a leap year when it has 27.  Is that clear as mud?

When Julius (actually Iulius) Caesar came along, he decided to simplify things.  He axed Mercedonius and changed the number of days to thirty days hath September, Aprilis, Iunius, and November.  All the rest have 31, except Februarius, which has 28 unless it’s a leap year, then 29.  Sound familiar?  Once you change the names of Sextilis to Iulius and Quintilis to August (changed after the death of Julius and Augustus Caesars respectively), you pretty much have our modern calendar.  Each month has an Ides.  In Martius, it’s the 15th.  So why not just call it quindecim, the Latin word for 15?  Because it wasn’t one the fifteenth each month.  Get out a pad and pencil so you can keep track of what follows.  It is guaranteed to confound.

The Romans didn’t just number the days of their months from one to 28, 29, 30 or 31.  No, they had to be difficult.  After all, that’s Latin’s middle name.  Only three days are defined: Kalens, Nones and Ides.  Kalens (from whence we get the word calendar) is the first day of the month.  Easy.  Nones is the 5th day of short months and the 7th day of long months, while Ides is the 13th day of short months and the 15th day of long months (like March).  Hmm.  A little more difficult, but not too bad.  What about the other days of the month?  After the 1st (Kalens), the date is how many days before the Nones, until it reaches Nones.  You count nones itself in the counting.  So March 2nd would be “six days before the Nones of March” (VI Nonis Martiis in Latin), while April 2nd would be “four days before the Nones of April.”  A little more confusing.  Then you use the number of days before the Ides until you get to the Ides.   March 11th would be “five days before the Ides of March,” whereas the 11th of April would be “three days before the Ides of April.”  What about after the Ides?  Those days become the number of days before the Kalens of the next month.   March 29th would be “four days before the Kalens of April,” while April 29th would be “three days before the Kalens of May” (ante diem III Kalenis Maii).  Well, that works unless it’s the day before Kalens, Nones or Ides, then it’s “pridie.”  In Latin, March 31 would be “pridie Kalenis Aprilibus.”    Got it?  If you do, what would February 28th be in a regular year and in a leap year?  I never said this would be easy.

Julius Caesar's Friday the 13th was on  Wednesday the 15hth

Julius Caesar’s Friday the 13th was on Wednesday the 15th, the Ides of March. Happy Anna Perenna Festival, Julius.

So, was the Ides of March to the Romans like Friday the 13th to us, a day known for bad luck?  Not at all.  It was a festival day for Anna Perenna, who was either an old woman who gave food  to the plebeians (poor class) when they went on strike in the 5th century B.C. or Dido’s sister who fled Carthage after Queen Dido’s suicide (an interesting tale, but not for this post).  Nice to have a holiday for someone and not know who she really was.  So the soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar had nothing to do with the day itself, but what was going to happen to him on it.  In Latin, the date when he was killed is Idibus Martiis DCCIX Anno Urbis Conditae, abbreviated as Id. Mar. DCCIX AUC.  The year is 709 AUC, how long since the traditional founding of Rome (Anno Urbis Conditae) in 753 BC, instead of 44 BC.

After Caesar’s assassination, however, referring to the Ides of March did become synonymous to referring to the assassination.  Not long after that deed, the famous statesman Cicero, no fan of Julius Caesar, wrote, “The Ides of March are encouraging.”  His meaning was obvious to any Roman.  Maybe that’s why Julius Caesar’s good buddy Mark Antony had him killed.  However, if not for Shakespeare most people today would have no idea even what the Ides of March is.

So, if you are at a cocktail party with boring people, you can now give a detailed explanation of the Ides of March to them.  By the time you finish, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be the only one left.  If the hors d’oeuvres are better than the company, it might be worth doing.

Sherlock Holmes: The World’s Greatest Detective

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

While Batman (another favorite of mine) has tried to usurp the title in modern times, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was the first one termed “The World’s Greatest Detective.” Why? He wasn’t the first fictional detective. Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin is normally given that honor. Dupin solved The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter as well as pointed the way to finding the murderer in The Mystery of Marie Roget. But Dupin is hardly the first person who comes to mind when you hear “detective,” in spite of the fact that the yearly award for the best mystery novel is called an Edgar.

Hercule Poirot

David Suchet as             Hercule Poirot

Sherlock’s claim to the title does not come from  having the most cases in print. Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot aces him out on that count. Holmes solved cases in 56 short stories and 4 novels, while Poirot’s awesome case load was 33 novels, 50 short stories and a play, making his creator much more prolific. While some might prefer Poirot, even the Dame of crime herself admitted that Sherlock inspired Hercule when she said, “I was well steeped in the Sherlock Holmes tradition; so I considered detectives. Not like Sherlock Holmes, of course. I must invent one of my own. . . . . There was Sherlock Holmes – the one and only. I should never be able to emulate him.” In other words, Hercule was her copy that, like most copies, was not quite as good as the original. She made him eccentric and cerebral, like Sherlock, but less macho and more prissy, almost effeminate. Sherlock goes over the Reichenbach Falls wrestling with Dr. Moriarty, while Hercule committed suicide after killing a murderer. Hard to think of Sherlock suffering from such angst. More cases or not, Holmes is still the guy you’d like to have on your side, brain and a bit of brawn. He was a boxer and trained in martial arts (an early form developed by an Englishman who had lived in Japan, bartitsu, which Doyle mistakenly termed baritsu) as well as a crack shot (who could shoot the letters VR on the wall of his flat while lying on his side). He could protect you while Poirot would be waxing his mustache and searching for his heart meds.

spenserDon’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that being a tough guy is what made Holmes the greatest. If so, Parker’s Spenser would win. As a former professional boxer and the mysterious, deadly Hawk as a sidekick, he’s the detective most likely to commit mayhem. He’s well read, able to quote his namesake, the English poet Edmund Spenser, among others. Yet he seems to solve his cases more with muscle than with mind. While Holmes, according to Doyle, had no knowledge of literature and philosophy, he was an expert in fields that applied to solving crime. Chemistry, botany, anatomy and current affairs were his areas. And he was a master of deduction. Can you imagine Spenser saying, “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” While a quote from the Faerie Queen might be more erudite, it does not solve mysteries. Holmes is also the one who established the tradition of a sidekick, a person with whom to discuss the case and to act as backup in tough situations. While Dr. John Watson may not have had the deductive skills of Homes, he was an ex-army officer and handy with a revolver. Hawk without the attitude? Spenser, especially when Hawk was with him, might be a better bodyguard, but I’ll take Holmes to figure out who-done-it.

The classic Bogart as Sam Spade

The classic Bogart as Sam Spade

Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe were pretty good detectives and no wimps, but they did not solve their cases by observing the clues and deducing the truth. They investigated and often stumbled upon the solution by questioning the suspects and witnesses. Sherlock Holmes, in many ways, was the first forensic scientist, studying footprints and cigar ashes. His CSI: London predated any of the TV shows about American city CSI’s. He set the bar without the use of modern laboratory equipment and it is a high one. True, some of the solutions were not exactly plausible, such as a rope-climbing snake that can hear a whistle and the invented Radix pedis diaboli (“Devil’s-foot root”), but far worse sins have been committed by other mystery writers to wiggle out of a difficult situation.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes and David Burke as Dr. John Watson

It is not any one trait that makes Sherlock Holmes the world’s greatest detective, but a combination of them. While not a renaissance man, he is skilled in all those talents that make a good detective. And it’s downright fun to hear him analyze a person’s occupation, habitat and/or past by mud on the trousers, wear of a boot heel, wax on a hat or teeth marks on a walking stick. While a few of his clients dismiss such as parlor tricks, I chuckle at their obtuseness. And so do many others. While he may not be lovable, Sherlock is fun and fascinating. That’s why Doyle’s readers refused to let him kill off the detective, forcing his resurrection from his fall down the Falls. That’s why there are a multitude of clubs and groups that avidly debate aspects of his personality, friends, family and cases, and Sherlockian is the well-known word to describe them. That’s why a small army of actors have portrayed him, both in the original cases, as well as in myriad adaptations of storyline and era. That is why Morg Mahoney, my female detective, is a big fan of his and tries to emulate his powers of observation and analysis. Sherlock Holmes is, without a doubt, the winner of the title of “The World’s Greatest Detective.”

That Ol’ Time Fourth of July

I grew up in Southern California suburbia.  As kids, my sisters and I had a box of “safe and sane” fireworks (not the big one, but what we could afford) that we would set off on Independence Day.  Piccolo Petes would make ear-piercing whistles and cones would sputter a range of sparkling eruptions, but nothing that would blow your socks off.  Literally or figuratively.  By junior high, celebrating the Fourth of July was more about sitting back and throwing some burgers on the BBQ than really observing Independence Day.  Go to a Fourth of July parade?  How old fashioned, how un-Californian.  When my wife, daughter and I moved to the Isle of Man in 1994, we observed a different July celebration, Tynwald Day, but more on that next time.

Grass Valley's antiques fire truck in Nevada City

Grass Valley’s antiques fire truck in Nevada City

Fast forward to after we returned from the Isle of Man in 1999 and moved to Nevada City in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California.  On the Fourth of July in 2000, I stepped back in time.  We went back to small town America when it was cool to be patriotic and local amateurs were appreciated.  My wife and I went to watch the Independence Day parade in Nevada City.  I felt like I was on the set of the Music Man.  The short stretch of Broad St. that is the main drag had its Gold Rush era buildings festooned with bunting.  Flags were everywhere, on lampposts and buildings as well as in the hands of most of the spectators lined three, four or more deep along the sidewalks.  As the tongue-in-cheek

Capt. Rufus T. Whizbang along with OPHIR PRISON MARCHING BAND

Capt. Rufus T. Whizbang along with OPHIR PRISON MARCHING BAND in Grass Valley

Ophir Prison Marching Kazoo Band and Temperance Society led off, dressed in prison-blue shirts and shorts with Capt. Rufus T. Whizbang leading the way with toilet plunger held high, the crowd broke in to wild cheers.  They were surprisingly good, with brass, reeds and drums.  Different local groups and individuals followed in many varied costumes.  Some had homemade floats, some were in oft-classic cars and others just marched.  For every entry, the crowd applauded and yelled encouragement.  This was so not California, the land of the jaded and the blase.  I loved it.  We even went to the county fairgrounds afterwards to hear the Ophir Prison Band again, as well as the performances of an Elvis impersonator and various local groups.  When the night darkened the sky, fireworks lit it up.  It was a heady experience.

Gold Country Celtic Society Precision Marching Unit.  I'm in the white helmet.

Gold Country Celtic Society Precision Marching Unit. I’m in the white helmet.

Now that I’ve lived here for almost 14 years, I still go to the parades.  However, now I march in them with the Gold Country Celtic Society.  Our precision marching unit carries the flags of the seven Celtic nations (name them, if you can) as well as those of the UK, Canada, California and, of course, Old Glory.  Maybe calling us “precision” is pushing the envelope far past literary license since our only practice is lining up a half hour before the parade, but we did tie for first place for marching units two years ago and won first last year.  Like I said, it’s small town America.  No doubt having a piper gives us a leg up (but you’ve got to be careful when you do that in a kilt). 

The pipes, the pipes are callin'

The pipes, the pipes are callin’

The crowd goes wild when his bagpipes begin to wail.  The location of the parade alternates each year between Nevada City and adjoining Grass Valley, but the feeling never changes.  I will be marching again this year, my third year as the Society’s Parade Marshall.  It is supposed to be about 100 degrees, but I’ll be in kilt like several other of our Society’s marchers.  It’s all part of being in small town America in a time warp.

The Gold Country Celtic Society march into the sunset in Nevada City.  Well, since the sun isn't setting, use your imagination.

The Gold Country Celtic Society marches into the sunset in Nevada City. Well, since the sun isn’t setting, use your imagination.

Oh, the seven Celtic nations?  Although some are actually regions of larger countries, they are Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and Galicia.

Manx Classic Car Club

Isle of Man 1994 Yearbook

Isle of Man 1994 Yearbook

When I moved to the Isle of Man in 1994, I bought a copy of The Official Isle of Man Year Book.   This is not like my high school yearbooks with photos of everyone there, but more of an almanac with 336 pages of statistics, names of government officials, important information about almost everything to do with the Isle, as well as listings of a multitude of Manx clubs and organizations with contact info.  I had shipped over my ’56 T-Bird and my ’63 Vette when we moved there, so one that caught my eye was the Manx Classic Car Club.

Now I have been a car fanatic since I was old enough to push around my toy cars, but I had never joined a car club.  Originally, my cars had not been old enough to be classics, mainly muscle cars that were two to five years old.  However, when I got the T-Bird, it was about 20 years old and the same for when I later got my Vette.  Still, I saw no reason to join a club when I could just hop in and drive them anywhere I wanted to without any formal organization.  But, since we knew no one but our real estate agent and his wife when we moved there, it seemed like one more way to meet people.  When I called the contact number, I found that there were no meetings, the dues were minimal (just enough to cover periodic mailing costs) and the main activities were cruises around the Isle, normally with some sort of food and beverage at the destination.  There were no real qualifications for membership and, although you were expected to take your classic car on the cruises, they did not have a firm definition of “classic.”  It sounded good and I joined.

One of the roads on a Manx Classic Car Club run.

One of the roads on a Manx Classic Car Club run.

The way it worked was that I would get a notice in the mail of the next run.  Then I would meet the club on Glencrutchery Road in Douglas, in front of the TT grandstands.  I would get printed instructions with the route and the final destination.  Since the cars had widely varying levels of power and handling, you were not expected to stay behind a slower car if yours were faster.  It was an individualistic cruise rather than a caravan.  One memorable run was when my daughter Noelle and I took the ’56 T-Bird.  There was an optional, more challenging route, which we took.  It became so narrow that I had to crawl out over the trunk lid to get a picture because the brush would have scratched the doors of the T-Bird if I had opened them.  Fortunately, the weather was unusually sunny and I had left the hardtop at home.  When we arrived at our destination, it was well worth the drive.

Our Host's Humble Abode

Our host’s humble abode

We had been invited to park our cars on the lawn of a rather impressive house.  Everyone brought a picnic lunch and we all dined with a view of a beautiful lawn and garden that surrounded a quite large house.  Painted white and with castellated walls, it was a bit of Camelot on Man.  Our host collected antique, historic motorcycles and showed them to us as he gave us a tour of the grounds.  It made for a pleasant afternoon, although Noelle and I lunched on sandwiches and Cokes while a few of our group laid out linen, china and crystal as they dined on cold roast beef and champagne for their midday repast.

The T-Bird joins the Jags and Rolls Royces.

The T-Bird joins the Jags and Rolls Royces for a picnic on the lawn.

Although most of the cars in the club were English, ranging from Rolls Royces and XKE’s to TR’s and MG’s, there were also a couple of Porsches and one Citroen.  I had the only American cars in the club.  As far as I know, I had the only T-Bird and one of two Vettes on the Isle, and the other Vette was a late 70’s unrestored one whose owner was not in the club.  It was humbling when club members complimented my cars and even asked if it were okay to take pictures of them when many of theirs were far more impressive than mine.  One of the picture-takers was the owner of the red 30’s Rolls Royce in this photo.  So if you ever get to the Isle of Man and hang out with the Manx Classic Car Club, ask them if they remember the crazy American who used to cruise with them.

Eulogy for The Dog


“The only four-footer with rudiments of altruism and a sense of God!”- John Galsworthy

Today, June 3, 2013, I killed a true and loyal companion.  No, I did not shoot her or actually commit the act myself, but I commissioned it.  I had my vet give a lethal injection to a kind and gentle soul who never committed any crime.  I do feel that, if she could have spoken to me about it, she would have asked me to do it.  With incurable chronic kidney failure and pancreatitis, she couldn’t stand up without help and could barely stagger a few steps.  She was in misery.  Yet, it hurt like a knife through the heart when she went away and the ache is so strong I have a hard time not breaking out in tears now.  Only you who have had to go through the same situation can understand.  Those who have not might dismiss this, saying, “She was only a dog.”  To me, she was The Dog.  The Dog: a noble title, duly earned, that was bestowed upon Jillaroo, affectionately known as Jilly.  I often called her nicknames like Jilly-Dog, Dog-Dog and, these last few years, Old Dog, but the “Dog” part was not an insult, but a term of respect.  Much like when Sherlock Holmes referred to Irene Adler as “The Woman.”

Back in 2004, I was looking for a dog.  We had lost our Sheltie, Fionna, a couple of years



before.  I issued her death warrant too, mainly because liver cancer was causing her great pain.  After that, I had planned never to have another dog.  The pain of killing her, albeit indirectly, and the loss was just too great.  But I missed that “friendly presence,” a being who always welcomed you home, no matter how long you left her alone, and was there even if you ignored her, satisfied with having you around.  I finally decided to find another faithful companion.  I did not want another Sheltie because it would feel like I was trying to replace Fionna.  For me (and everyone is different in this, so it is not a slam for those who feel otherwise), it would almost seem disloyal.  But, liking the nature and temperament of  herding dogs, I decided on an Aussie (Australian Shepherd).  I contacted Aussie Rescue.and established a line of communication.  Then I got a call and the lady who ran it let me know that there was an Aussie in the Woodland Animal Shelter that needed a home.  All of the normal foster homes were full and the dog was in danger for her life if not adopted.  She said, “You’d be a hero if you took her.”  Concerned with saving a dog’s life rather than our own heroic status, my wife Kelly and I hopped in our car and headed to Woodland, CA.

When we first saw Jilly, or the Aussie who was to become Jilly, she did not look good.  She had suffered from a severe infestation of fleas and had gnawed all the hair off her hindquarters.  She had kennel cough, so she was in isolation instead of the “adoption line” and lethargic.  The animal shelter had a gravel yard to get to know your possible adoptee and Jilly was let into it with us.  She immediately did her business, both types, but didn’t run up to us with butt (Aussies have no tail) wagging.  Kelly looked askance, seeing a haggard, stand-offish dog, and asked, “Are you sure you want her?”  Somehow, I knew Jilly was the right one.  “Definitely.”  So, on the 23rd of October, 2004, Jilly became a part of our family.

As an aside, she had a chip and the animal shelter had called the name listed as owner.  He had told them, “I gave her away years ago.  I don’t care what you do with her.”  Her name on the chip was Mesa.  Odd name for an Australian, eh, mate?  So I found Jillaroo, which is an Aussie term for a female ranch hand.  Later I found out that Aussies are not Australian, but American.  However, I still will take Jilly over Mesa.  We did also find out from the chip that Jilly (not Mesa) was born on May 27, 2000.


Jilly, the Superdog

From the beginning, I called her “the good kid.”  She didn’t have a mean bone in her body.  She did get a little crotchety with other dogs in her old age, but was never mean to them.  She was smart.  Very smart.  Even though we spent little time training her, she quickly learned “sit,” “lie down,” “shake,” and “play dead.”  She also would talk on command.  I have videos of her doing so that I will watch again.  In time.  If you said “go to bed,” let’s go outside,” “want to go for a walk?” or “how about breakfast (or lunch)?”, she knew exactly what you meant and acted accordingly.  When I took her for a walk on the trail along our local canal (on a leash), she was always friendly to people and other dogs.  Sometimes the other dogs, often illegally off-leash, were not as friendly, but she seemed to say, “What’s his problem?” instead of growling back.  (Why is it the owners always said, “He’s never done that before?”)  I started carrying a walking stick to keep the hostiles at bay.

She wasn’t perfect, but her flaws were self-destructive rather than destructive.  She would get “hot spots” at times due to excessive licking of herself.   We had to put on the dreaded “hood” to stop her at times.  She always gave such a tortured look when we put it on her.  The worst problems were also the funniest in hindsight.  Twice she got out (she was not good at “come”) and was lost for a couple of hours each time.  When we found her and brought her home, after a few hours she started staggering, almost falling over.  We took her to the animal hospital (it happened after her vet’s closing time, of course).  They took her in and put her on an IV.  The first time it happened, the hospital thought she was going to die, but she miraculously recovered.  Then it happened again.  The vet at the hospital asked us, “Is there any pot growing around your house?”  While I could definitely state not at ours, we live in a wooded area and who knows what private stash might be growing.  “Then the vet said, “Of course, it could be hallucinogenic mushrooms.  I’ve seen this before and I’m pretty sure that’s what caused her problems.  She OD’ed.”  Fortunately, she recovered again and never lapsed back into her drug habit.  I had one of the few dogs who went into rehab.  Considering the price of the animal hospital, I would have been better off sending her to Betty Ford’s.  After that, I sometimes called her Stoner Dog.

Jilly and Snow Dude.  He survived.

Jilly and Snow Dude. He alone survived.

There are so many fond memories.  She loved the snow, romping through it when it was up to her belly, yet hated rain.  She didn’t tear up things in the house, but destroyed her toys.  All except “Snow Dude,” which was the weirdest, ugliest one of them all.  I guess she felt pity for him.  Snow Dude outlived Jilly.  Almost every morning, I would get up early, eat breakfast, and sit in a recliner while I did the NY Times crossword puzzle.  She would lie next to the chair and I would rub her behind her ears while I crossed pens with Will Shortz and his cohorts.  Often she would flip on her back for a belly rub.  She loved it most when I went out on the deck to fill in the blanks.  When I went up to my office to work on the computer, she would follow and lie beside me.  It didn’t matter if I reached over to pet her.  She loved being near me. As I sit here typing, I feel her presence even though she is not here.

I started this post with sadness.  I’ve tried to make it a little more upbeat as I went along.  In time, those “up” moments should dominate my memories.  For now, I can only paraphrase Robert Burns, “Jilly Dog, when will we see your like again.”  Good bye, old dog.  I miss you more than I can say.