Monday, June 13, 2011

 

Nonperishable Items

“Oh man, that’s a tough break, kid. Blaze was an awesome dog,” my Big Brother lamented when I called him with the news that our dog had died. I had just picked up Blaze’s ashes and was feeling pretty low, not to mention at a loss for what to do with my dog’s remains. We have yet to buy a house here, and I couldn't see scattering or burying his ashes here, in a place my dog barely knew. Strange, I know. It's just ashes, and Blaze is comfortably past caring, but there you are.

“You know,” BB said after a moment, “why don't you guys bring him when you come here this summer. There’s always a spot for him up on the hill. I know he had a blast when he was up there last time.”

And this was absolutely true. Two years ago, Blaze and I stayed with BB for a month. I spent my mornings writing at the house, but in the afternoons, Blaze and I went up on the 100 or so acres of land that have been in our family for generations, and of which my brother and I are now stewards. Some days I just wandered around, reacquainting myself with landmarks I’d remembered from childhood. Other days, I went up armed with a chainsaw and an industrial-grade weed whacker and worked on reopening the logging road that led to an old campsite.

While my routine varied, Blaze’s was the same. The moment we crossed onto the property, I unhooked him from his leash and let him explore to his doggy heart’s content. Having lived in the suburbs, he had never enjoyed this kind of freedom and it rather went to his head. He’d vanish for hours at a time. Occasionally, I’d hear him yipping joyfully in some distant part of the forest, hot on the trail of a new and diverting scent. Other times, he’d be so far away I couldn’t hear him at all. And just as I’d worry that he had gotten lost, or fallen into a pit or something, he’d turn up, interestingly spackled with twigs and mud (and once, memorably, with a dead snake in his jaws). Blaze had a good life at the Magazine Mansion and was always happy to be with us in our cozy suburban life, but on the hill, it was different. He was different. He seemed to sense that this moment in June of 2009 was a special time for him, and it made him positively radiant.

Blaze had even been to the secret spot on the hill that BB had been referring to: the sun-dappled glade that served as a cemetery to our family’s many pets. Here was where I had buried Pilgrim and Mayflower, the two dogs I had grown up with. I had put them in a place of honor, on a small rise, near a massive boulder of milky white quartz. Lower down on the hill were lesser dogs (the one who dined regularly out of the litter box, for example) and at the bottom of the rise was a flat place given over entirely to cats, more than a dozen of them, all members of the colony my mom acquired over the years. And that particular summer of two years ago, we added a few mounds to the graveyard, and Blaze was part of it.

Our funerary fun started the day after we arrived. As was my habit when I’d been away from the house for a while, I was poking around various rooms and closets, not really snooping, just nosing about. The last time I had been here was just after my parents’ death, when BB officially took ownership of the house. He had moved a few things around to suit his lifestyle. The room I normally stayed in had been converted into some kind of in-home gun repair shop. The pie cabinet where Mom had kept her collection of cookbooks was now filled with videogames and DVDs. The annex off the kitchen--a room Dad had been renovating singlehandedly at the time of his death--was now a massive storage facility for tools, dirty laundry, and palette after palette of nonperishable food and drink. BB appeared to be developing a survivalist streak, and I teased him about it mercilessly.

“Hey ass wipe,” he said, peering owlishly at me over the top of a five-foot high pyramid of Bush’s Baked Beans. “You’ve been living in civilization too long. I get snowed in here, I’m screwed. I gotta have some backup!”

“You live right on a main road,” I said. “You have a truck with a snow-plow attachment. You’ve lived in New Hampshire your entire life and never been snowed in anywhere longer than a couple of days.”

“So far!” he said shortly, and somewhat inadequately.

But I wasn’t there to fight, and presently, I found my attention diverted to a loose piece of plywood in a corner of the room which, when lifted, revealed a dark hole in the floor. When Dad started rebuilding this room, he had done it from the ground up, having a new foundation dug and poured. On the work order, it was listed as a “basement excavation” but my people don’t go in for basements. This was a cellar, dank, cobwebby and wonderful. I hadn’t been down there before, so I grabbed a flashlight and hopped down for a look. Blaze yipped when I did. He wanted to come with me. It probably smelled good to him. But evidently Dad hadn’t got around to building stairs, so the only way down was a straight drop into darkness. Or, as I discovered a second later, a crotch-traumatizing fall onto the top of a too-short step ladder.

After some fumbling about, I discovered a switch which, when thrown, illuminated the cellar in a feeble light. Like the upstairs, it too was full of tools, as well as food. But most of the floorspace under the lights seemed to be given over to a giant, humming freezer (however did Dad get that down here?).

“I see Dad bought himself a new freezer,” I called up, remembering the pride the old man had shone when he bought his first freezer, a real extravagance for him. He loved it so much, he used to have anxiety dreams about people stealing it.

“Oh!” BB cried. “That reminds me. Open it up, will you?” I did as asked, and as the frigid air hit me in the face, I saw that it was stacked to the top with assorted round objects wrapped in plastic bags or butcher paper.

“Look for a big one marked ‘R.B.,’” my brother called down. “Do you see it?”

I certainly did. It wasn’t a particularly large parcel, but it was weirdly shaped--round on one side and sort of bumpy on the other, all wrapped in freezer tape. It was awkward to handle and took whole minutes to wrestle it up out of there.

“What the hell is this?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s Rocky Balboa. One of mom’s cats,” he said.

I gave a squawk and lost control of the parcel. It fell on the floor and almost broke my toes. Above, I could hear my brother cackling.

“I’m kidding. It’s a roast. I thought I’d thaw it and cook it up. We can have it for dinner, slice it for sandwich meat. I know Blaze likes roast beef, right?” And up above I heard the excited clicking of the dog’s paws as he started dancing around at the sound of those two magic words.

It took some effort to heft the thing up to the top of the ladder and, with an awkward clean-and-jerk motion, get it up to the floor above, where BB and Blaze were waiting.

“You had me going there for a second,” I said. “I almost believed you when you said it was a cat.”

BB looked offended. “Please!” he cried. “As if Dad would ever let Mom stow a dead cat in his new freezer.” He paused a beat. “We always put the dead cats in the old freezer.”

And then there came the long pause during which I realized that BB wasn’t kidding.

I went back down the ladder and peered around before I noticed it. There, in the furthest corner of the cellar, just beyond the faint glow of the overhead lights, was Dad’s original pride and joy, his first freezer (how did he get that down here too?).

Well, of course I had to have a look. Now BB sounded alarmed. Or annoyed. Or both. “I was kidding!” he cried, too quickly and shrilly. I waded through a curtain of cobwebs, flashlight bobbing on the scuffed surface of the old freezer which, after the briefest hesitation, I opened.

In years past, whenever my mother had reported the death of one of her beloved cats, especially if that death had occurred in winter, when the ground was too hard to dig, I had jokingly (and, upon reflection, insensitively) suggested she pop the bodies in the freezer until the spring thaw. I didn’t seriously believe that she would ever do that. But I was wrong.

“There’s a dead cat in here!” I cried.

Now, for the cat lovers among you (of which, I hasten to assure you, I am one. And so was my mother) I wish to point out that I didn’t open the freezer to see an actual kitty cat, frozen stiff, whiskers rigid, paws out straight, fur covered in frost. It wasn’t like that.

Instead, there was simply a plastic bag. Actually, it looked a lot like the roast I had just conveyed upstairs. It was wrapped in freezer tape. And it had a label on it. The label read “Sparky.” Sparky had died in January, living to the ripe age of 20 before his kidneys failed and my brother had him put to sleep. And then apparently tucked him away in the freezer.

“What. The. Fuck?!?” I shrilled.

“Oh shut up!” BB called back. “He died in the winter. You can’t dig a grave up here at that time of year! Not without dynamite!”

"But- but-" I sputtered.

“It’s the same with people, you know! You’ve had grandparents die in the winter and they had to go into cold storage til the ground thawed. It was good enough for them!”

I stood there in the dark with my mouth open. For one thing, I was pretty sure the funeral parlor down in town didn’t stick people in a 1970s model Kenmore chest freezer in their cellar. For another, it was the middle of June. What had my brother been waiting for? But I just couldn’t see the argument going anywhere useful. Besides, I was too distracted by what I found when I hefted Sparky out of the freezer: the cat had been laid to rest on top of a box of popsicles. This was too much for me. I lifted that out, intending to throw the box away.

And that’s when I found two more parcels wrapped in plastic and sealed with freezer tape.

“Smokey and Tigger are in here too, you know,” I said in a normal tone of voice. Already, I was desensitized to the surreal quality of this day.

There was a strangled cry of vulgarity from above, followed by a heavy thunk as BB tripped over the frozen roast, then there was some frantic scrabbling and extravagant grunting as my brother lowered himself down the ladder and made his way over to the freezer.

“The fuck there is. Dad buried them just before ohhhhhh, shit, there they are!” he said, now standing next to me. He looked aghast. As well he should. I couldn’t be certain as to the exact time of death, but I knew Smokey and Tigger died sometime in the frigid depths of late 2006, early 2007, well over two years prior to this increasingly odd interlude in the summer of 2009.

“Dad said he was going to bury them,” BB hissed. “I thought he did.”

“You mean you didn’t notice them when you dropped the popsicles in on top?” I asked.

But BB didn’t seem to be hearing me anymore.

“Oh man. I’m going to be on CNN,” he said, in a scarily sober and sensible voice that sounded quite unlike his normal one. “One of those crazy hicks they haul out in a strait jacket.”

“Right. Because having just one dead cat in your freezer is okay. But three, well, that’s really crazy.”

BB was in a place beyond my reach now.

“They’ll probably use tear-gas. Afterwards, they’ll bring cameras in and see the stacks of food and the guns everywhere and I’ll be that nutjob hoarder who lives in his dead parents house with their dead cats in the freezer. I’m a fucking Alfred Hitchcock movie waiting to happen!”

“Okay, okay, don’t hurt yourself,” I said. “You’re on your own with the nutjob part, but we can fix this.” I reached into the freezer. “Here, grab a cat.”

I don’t know what Blaze made of the spectacle that followed, watching two grown men pulling heavy plastic bags out of a hole in the floor and hauling them (with, I might add, a certain dignity and solemnity) out to the pickup, then running around, frantically looking for shovels, but he commendably kept his silence. I think he was happy just to be included, since we popped him in the cab with us and drove straight for the hill. He didn’t run off when I unleashed him this time, but followed us to the secret glade. When we got busy with the shovels, he even pitched in, digging a little with his forepaws.

We worked with a will, BB digging furiously, as though he expected a CNN truck to roll into the clearing at any minute. But after a while, we had everyone, you know, settled in. I found a few nice rocks to roll on top of the mounds. Then we stood there in the woods, listening to the wind, the chittering of the birds, drinking in the sudden, unexpected peace of the moment.

Having attended a couple of the ceremonies on this spot, I remembered it was customary for us to say a few words. Blaze seemed to think it was proper too. He came over and sat next to us, looking up at us expectantly.

BB spoke up. "Well, Smokey was a pretty crazy cat. She lived under the bed, but she liked Mom pretty well. Tigger was a great mouser, and he sure could climb trees. Sorry you guys were in cold storage for so long. The old man never got around to planting you, and then he went off and died with Mom and never got around to it. Sparky was a good cat. He was Tigger’s littermate and after Mom and Dad died, he always used to follow me around the house. Geez, I hated putting you down. You—"

BB went silent then. It had been quite a speech for him anyway, and I figured he was getting emotional, so I didn’t interrupt. But after a moment, I hazarded a glance at my brother, thinking he might be a little choked up about things, and not just the three cats we’d laid to rest. I was wondering what I might say to cheer him.

But BB wasn’t crying. He was scowling at the graves in front of us.

All four of them.

“What the fuck,” he said quietly. “Did we just bury the roast, too?”

And we had, of course. But you know what? By then we’d pretty much lost our appetite.

***

“Well, at least Blaze will already have some roast beef waiting for him on his way to the happy hunting ground,” BB said philosophically. Then, despite himself, he started laughing. Which, incidentally, is one of my Big Brother's radiant virtues: the ability to find humor in the most unlikely places. Which is probably why I called him in the first place. Suddenly I was laughing too, the first time I’ve been able to do it in almost two weeks. But it felt right. So did BB’s suggestion to bury my dog on the hill where he enjoyed that special and all-too-brief summer.

And no disrespect to the family cats who rest on our hill, but Blaze won’t be with them (or the roast). He’ll be up on that sun-dappled rise.

With the good dogs.

Comments:
I've missed stories about BB, too. Glad to hear he had such a wonderful idea on where to lay Blaze to rest, and I'm glad he made you laugh. Hope you and yours are well..

Mandy
 
Oh, that was classic. I'm howling with laughter at the whole saga!

But I am bummed to hear about Blaze. Just two days ago I was thinking of him, wishing I had him as I was being dive bombed by crazy birds.

He will be missed, even by someone who never met him and lives in Australia!
 
You and BB each have that trait -of finding a way to tell about things that happen, often to all of us, and to do it with such a wonderful wit and sense of humor. I see too by this story that you both value humor as one of the best healing tools we can use when faced with a loss, especially that of a pet as beloved as Blaze was. It is most certainly the most appropriate place to lay Blaze to rest -in that special place near to your family's homestead. And to think that there is even roast beef nearby, waiting for him. Now that is the ultimate gift for Blaze, for sure. Peace.
 
What a perfect place for Blaze and, as always, thank you for sharing it with us.
 
I was so sad to hear about Blaze, he came across as such a gorgeous, loyal friend, a protector of the MM family.

I really hope you write that book about Blaze and his adventures one day. It might be cathartic for you, and personally I'd love to be able to share your stories with friends and family members. It would totally wipe the floor with Marley and Me!

Thinking of you and your family. :)

- Aquilegia
 
The last time I was in my hometown I took my parent's last dog's ashes back there with me and went hiking one day on his favorite trail, where I scattered them. I think your final resting place for Blaze is very appropriate.
 
HAHA! That roast bit is too much! Thanks for the lovely story, MM.
 
I can't think of a more perfect resting place for Blaze...and he gets to spend eternity next to roast beef, how great!
 
The hill with the good dogs sounds perfect for Blaze.

We found out our dog had an incurable illness last fall, and knew she would probably die within 6 months, although she wasn't in pain. Rosie was a big rangy husky who could take up our whole couch and we were very appreciative when she held on until the ground thawed this April here in Maine. She was a good dog right to the end.
 
Love the last line: "with the good dogs." Wish you the best.
 
Of course he'll be with the good dogs. That is exactly where he belongs!
 
Despite the overall subject matter, some serious laugh-out-loud moments here, MM.
 
What a great story. I've definitely missed you!
 
A wonderful story with laughter and tears. I've loved dogs all my life but we live in cities where personal burial is not recognized. Sometimes we scatter them in a favorite place
 
Aww, Blaze definitely belongs with the good dogs.

I hope BB doesn't end up on CNN with people making completely unreasonable assumptions about him. ;)

Best to you and yours,
J
 
great story!

your brother rocks. and he certainly seems to come thru when it counts!
 
Good lord.
If only all funerals can be so nice.
Thanks for the new post.
And the laugh.

Oh, how I miss the laugh.
The burying of the roast did its job.

Again, my heart goes to the family.
 
sounds like a perfect place for the best dog :)
 
Great tribute to Blaze, MM. Fitting.
 
MM,
I'm so sorry about Blaze he was an awesome dog. The stories of Blaze were some of my favorites. Thank you for sharing this with us.
 
The first story I read here was Blaze eating the Tootsie Rolls. That was 3 -4 years ago and I've been loyally reading ever since. Blaze stories have always been my favorite here. (With the pot roast possum a close second!)

You and BB burying the pot roast is now third.

It's perfectly fitting that Blaze will be with the good dogs. It's where he belongs.
 
So sorry to hear about Blaze. I started reading you when he had been stolen, and your adventures in retrieving him. I am definitely a cat-person, but reading about Blaze has almost converted me...

Peggy
 
Perfect.
 
So sorry, MM.

~Naiah
 
Lovely and perfect and hilarious.
 
I know you and the family will miss good ole Blaze~ made me cry reading he had passed : (

You and your brother on the other hand, had me laughing : ) You two.. good gravy.
 
Thank you for letting us share this moment of catharsis with you. And thank goodness for BB.
 
A good dog indeed!

p.s. palette=pallet?
 
Oh, MM!! I have been away far too long. I was so sorry to read the post about Blaze - tears are streaming down my face. It is good he died comfortably in his bed with his family around him though. And that he had such a nice burial in such a nice place. Remember the good times and he will live forever in our hearts!
 
Here it is September 9, with October only 21 days, three short weeks, away.

I wonder if that rings a bell for you? Like, if October might give you pause for some moments. Hm?
 
It's October! Ouija board! Ouija board! We want ouija boards!
 
Here's hoping for some October moments.
 
October's half gone. Just, you know, in case...
 
Checking in for a new post. I miss your stories. :)
 
Dude! October 23rd!
 
Can't have an October moment in November now!

Hope there is something in your life that you feel like sharing because I would love to hear how you all are doing... :)
 
Hey MM - hope all is well with you and your family. October wasn't the same without you! Take care, from Aquilegia :)
 
The blog is dead. Long live the blog.
 
Today is my 9th wedding anniversary. 11/22/11. I think your family should rescue another wonderful animal. A girl this time. Her name can be Glory because it goes with Blaze.

I don't know where you are putting it but i wish it was here. "It" the desire to write.
 
Come on, MM. Where are you? Just a little news would suffice.
 
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and the Magazine Man family! Hope all is well.
 
Just dropping by to wish you and yours the Very Merriest of Christmases, MM. Hope all is well.
 
MM we have missed you, happy new year! Please come back and update us. Thinking of your family and wishing you the best this new year.
 
I was directed to your post thanks to my post about a friend who kept a dead cat in her freezer for 10+ years. Maybe I should have her meet your brother ;o)
Funny thing about my friend, she saw nothing wrong with having her cat in the freezer, among the food that she served because it was in a pizza box!
 
hey, mm. i hope all's well with all of you. update soon? please?
 
It's been nearly a year since you posted, MM. Hope you and yours are doing well. Maybe one day we'll hear from you again.
 
April 4, 2012

I just wanted to add my words to the list of well-wishes and hope-you-post-agains.

Hope you're having a groovy day.
 
Just a quick word to say that you are missed and hope you and the family are well.

Come back soon.
 
I've always enjoyed reading your blog since the first time I stumbled upon it, MM. But after 10 months of silence on your end, I can only assume you've made the decision to discontinue the blog here. I confess, that's a bit saddening - rather like saying good bye to a good friend who you don't talk to anymore. I hope that you, Her Lovely Self, Thomas, the Brownie and the Éclair are well and continue to do well. Best wishes to all of you for a long, happy life.
 
Miss you mm-----
 
sbo
sbobet
 
still miss you. hope all's well!
 
Eleven months. I hope you and yours are well.
 
Hey there... apparently somewhere along the line I put your birthday on my Outlook calendar. Weird, I know, since a relationship like this IRL would be considered a bit one-sided. All I ever do is listen and never share about myself. lol
Anyway, wherever the Magazine Mansion is now, and whatever you all are doing, I hope it's a good day and that your birth is appropriately celebrated. :)
 
Should we assume that you don't blog here anymore, Magazine Man? I feel kind of abandoned! I hope you and yours are doing well. What a year it's been!
 
Tomorrow it will have been a year without your stories and October moments. I hope you are well. Best wishes to your family, wherever you are.
 
One year. You could at least said goodbye.

That being said, I quit my blog without saying goodbye but I had like, 2 part time readers. LOL

Just miss your humor.
 
A year exactly, now. I'm guessing that either your employer doesn't want you blogging (since you're not all that anonymous anymore) or there are life circumstances holding you back. Either way, we miss you.

Have a great summer!
 
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