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Posts Tagged ‘Phoenix’

It was at least six months since I could encircle her waist with my hands but the rest of Rosalie’s body was still reed thin. Saturday afternoon and we were sitting on the couch. I was holding her very close. A dust storm raged outside rocking the eight by forty-foot house trailer. We each wore wet handkerchiefs tied over our nose and mouth their purpose to filter as much dust as possible. The handkerchiefs smelled like the first drops of rain falling on a dusty dirt road. The trailer shuddered, slipping on the concrete blocks supporting the far end, where we were huddled. The swirling dust inside was so thick I could barely make out the passageway from the kitchen area to the walk-through bedroom only ten steps away from where we huddled.

“It feels like it will tip over,” she moaned.

“No, we’re solid,” I lied. “It will be OK. It would be more dangerous to go outside than to stay put.”

Mister lay panting at our feet, occasionally sneezing to clear his nose. It was August in Paradise Valley, north of Phoenix, and hot, very hot in the closed tight mobile home. The dust turned to mud in skin creases on our necks and on the inside of our elbows where sweat had collected. I wasn’t certain if the threat was greatest from dust inhalation, heat prostration or the house trailer being blown over. Finally, the wind started to abate. I wiped the dust from the face of my wrist watch and peered at it.

“Only forty-five minutes but it sounds like it may be over. It seemed to last a lot longer than usual.”

A last burst of wind slammed the trailer adding to the thick cloud of brown dust. Then it was quiet. Mister sat up and licked Rosalie’s hand to reassure her.

“I am hot, unbelievably hot. I can’t stand this anymore.” Rosalie stood and alternately coughed and sneezed.

“OK,” I said. “I think it’s over. I’ll get up on the roof and take apart the cooler and clean it up so we can turn it on. When I get it apart I’ll yell down and you can turn on the fan.  It won’t do much to cool the trailer down but if you open the windows maybe it will blow out some of the dust.”

After stepping carefully on the slippery hot metal of the trailer’s roof I worked my way over to the evaporative cooler. Imagine a car that has been sitting in the Phoenix sun with all the windows rolled up, that was our home. I took off the first of the four side panels and the heat from inside the trailer pushed past my face. Each of the excelsior filled panels was full of mud. I unplugged the circulating pump.

“Honey, turn on the fan and then come around and hand me up the hose, OK?”

I climbed halfway down the ladder to reach the hose Rosalie handed up.

“OK, when I holler turn on the water. I’ll clean out the cooler pan and the excelsior pads.”

Using my thumb over the end of the hose to create a jet I rinsed out the cooler pan then each of the side panels and the pads.

“Watch out, I’m throwing the hose down.”

Mister pounced on the hose snaking on the ground and proudly carried the water spouting end to Rosalie in the process soaking her from the belly down.

“Mister, drop it,” she snapped. “Actually that feels pretty good.” She patted the dog’s head as she turned off the water faucet.

I put the cooler back together and Rosalie turned it on as I came down.

“That should help. I’ll help you clean up the mess inside.”

The people building what was to be the Paradise Animal Hospital were off for the weekend. I was starting my own practice. We had acquired the trailer for a hundred dollars in cash plus taking over the previous owner’s payments. We then moved it to the back of the lot that was the construction site for our hospital. I was spending most of my time going around and leaving business cards with everyone I could find letting people know I would take calls to treat horses or other farm type animals and could do simple things like vaccinations for their pets as house calls. The hospital building was due to be finished soon, or so the contractor kept telling me.

My Dad was an accountant. Two of his clients were retired veterinarians, Drs. Bramley and Shapiro. They would identify likely areas for a veterinary practice, purchase the land and build a clinic. They then leased the buildings to young veterinarians giving an option to purchase the practice after three years. It was a good financial arrangement and investment for them and a good deal, my Dad assured me, for someone like me without the financial resources to build a hospital and practice on my own.

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“Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticism” – George Elliot

Mister rose to his feet and tip toed three steps to the metal door of our mobile home, the hair on his back bristling. Three sharp knocks announced a visitor. Rosalie struggled to her feet then leaned back to balance the watermelon-size protrusion that was to be our firstborn. Mister positioned himself between her and the door as she waddled towards it.

A hard-used woman was standing on the top of the three wood steps. She moved down two steps as Rosalie pushed the door open. She was dressed in dirty Levi cutoffs riding high on overly muscled thighs. A much washed and faded orange T-shirt did nothing to hide she wasn’t wearing a bra. The sweet/sour odor of unwashed armpits caused Rosalie to wrinkle her nose. The apparition’s face was leathery from too much sun, her hair a curly mop dyed jet black. Too thin lips were drawn into a sarcastic half smile, half sneer. She held her right hand behind her back.

“Yes,” Rosalie inquired?

“The Vet here?”

“No, I’m sorry. He’s out on calls.”

“You recognize me?”

“No, I’m sorry.”

“Thought you might, my picture’s been in both the Republic and Gazette. I was just acquitted for the murder of my girlfriend.”

“Oh.”

Mister leaned against Rosalie who took another step back.

“I’m a professional wrestler, Killer Amy, maybe you’ve heard of me?”

“No, I’m sorry, I haven’t.”

She brought her hand from behind her back, holding a chunk of skin covered with thick gray hair. Mister rumbled.

“I need to have the Vet tell me if this is human or not. I found it on my property. I don’t need more trouble. Will that dog attack?”

“My husband should be back soon. Can you come back in an hour or two?”

“Can’t I just leave it and he can call me when he gets back?  I’ll leave you my phone number if you’ve got pen and paper.”

The woman took a step up and extended the scalp, it smelled like meat left on the counter overnight by mistake. Mister rumbled louder and leaned against Rosalie forcing her back another step.

“I think it would be much better if you kept it in your possession until he can look at it.”

“Well, if you say so. You think he’ll be back in an hour?” She stepped back down as Mister growled again. “That dog’s pretty protective ain’t he?”

 

The mobile home was parked in back of our under-construction veterinary hospital in the summer of 1961. We expected to overcome the delays and get the hospital open within the next few months but meantime I was taking horse and other animal calls and even spaying a few dogs on our kitchen table, much to Rosalie’s consternation.

I was back and eating lunch when she returned. I went outside to examine the scalp.

“Looks like jackrabbit, I doubt it’s human but I can’t say for sure. If I were you I would take it to the police. They have labs that can identify human remains.”

We never found out if she took it to the police. We did see her name in the newspaper, the sports page, two weeks later. A story about a wrestling match.

***

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Seattle author David R. Gross practiced veterinary medicine for ten years.   He returned to school and earned his PhD in cardiovascular physiology then he taught and did research in that field for more than three decades. After retiring, he and his beloved wife Rosalie looked forward to traveling, writing, and focusing on social action causes together. In Travels with Charlize: In Search of Living Alone, Dr. Gross tells a gentle and open story of recovery after the death of his wife of fifty-two years. He must go forward and face a new future, but that road carries rough spots. Memories spring up to hold him back. Revisiting friends reminds him of who no longer accompanies him. Home, to which he must return, still stores a profusion of painful memories. It is the presence of Charlize, his newly adopted rescue dog, that keeps Gross steady and willing to see a brighter tomorrow around the bend. Based on a compilation of chronicles from his popular blog, this compelling and enchanting book hit the shelves in February.

The dog loving couple had talked about getting a new pet, but with Rosalie’s diagnosis of lung cancer, those plans were put on hold. After she succumbed to illness in 2013, David adopted Charlize, a German shepherd rescue dog with problems of her own. He bought a travel trailer, closed his house and the duo started their travels. The two troubled souls embarked on a yearlong journey visiting parks and vistas, rain forests and deserts, family and old friends, to discover how to accept and craft a new life with each other’s help.

Travels with Charlize is available from any independent bookstore, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble. The Kindle e-book edition is currently available as are versions for Kobo and Nook. Dr. David Gross has published over ninety papers in refereed scientific journals and over a hundred abstracts in proceedings of scientific meetings. He co-edited three multi-authored textbooks and his single author text, Animal Models in Cardiovascular Research, can be found in most medical libraries. Since retirement, Dr. Gross has been busy writing both fiction and non-fiction. His published books include Manhunt (historical fiction), Animals Don’t Blush (a memoir of his first year in veterinary practice) and the soon-to-be rereleased, Succeeding As A Student (a self-help guide to efficient and effective studying, learning and test taking).

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The Phoenix I knew, before leaving in 1970, is no more. The northern suburbs now stretch all the way to Cave Creek. My brother and sister-in-law moved to Cave Creek eleven years ago. When I practiced veterinary medicine, never certain I practiced well enough or long enough to really be good at it, there was nothing between my clinic on 32nd St. and Bell Road and the town of Cave Creek, seven or so miles north. I had a few clients in Cave Creek so I drove those miles on a two-lane road full of drops down into washes then up again. Today the road is divided, two lanes to a side, no dips and the previously empty desert is full of subdivisions and strip malls. Compared to the eclectic neighborhoods of Seattle and Edmonds, the subdivisions are monotonic, ersatz adobe style, flat or tile roofs, varying shades of tan. It is early spring in the Sonoran desert and the cacti are getting ready to bloom, some already have. If I lived in one of those subdivisions, even though I still have positive feelings about the desert, I think I would need a trail of bread crumbs to find my house after a couple of glasses of Malbec.

 

The biggest change though is the shear number of people and the resulting traffic. I took Alexis to see where my clinic was and the building I built is still there. Here is a photo of the Paradise Animal Hospital in 1962:

My beautiful picture

Now the place is a Mexican furniture, knickknack and pottery store. We went in and most of the rooms of the clinic had been reconfigured and obviously repurposed. The indoor kennels have been removed and the openings to the outside runs closed. The outside runs have been removed. My old reception area is now a private office, my old office full of knickknacks for sale. Just for fun I peeked in the restroom. The fixtures have been replaced but the door to my old darkroom was still there, closed. I opened it and the room was empty but still painted black! Here is what the place looks like now:

clinic & charlize

Charlize couldn’t have been less interested.

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I met Don in 1954 in Green Hall where all freshmen at what was then Colorado A & M were housed. He had a room across the hall from mine and neither of us cared much for our assigned roommates. I have no recollection of how we managed it but by the second term we were rooming together.

The short, slight rancher’s son, who grew up in the wilds of the Sandhills of Nebraska and the tall Jewish swimmer from Phoenix, Arizona were an unlikely pair. We were nicknamed Mutt and Jeff, of course. However, we found an abundance of common interest. We both grew up with fathers who rarely talked unless they were giving instruction or needed to say something important. We both loved our dads and were comfortable being with them all day without talking. With that background Don and I were never uncomfortable being together without talking and that persists to this day.

After that first year we shared an apartment with two other friends and the third year, my first in veterinary school, we shared a small house with two third year veterinary students. In all that time together I cannot recall a single argument between us.

I was far from home and the ranch was only a long days drive from Fort Collins. Don had a car and he invited me to spend Thanksgiving at the ranch. His folks were warm and welcoming, especially his mom. The holiday was memorable as my first experience on a working commercial ranch. I was invited and returned for several years and always felt welcome. I felt then and still do today that it is my second home.

Years past and we stayed in sporadic touch. Don graduated with a degree in agricultural economics and returned to the same ranch his great-grandfather started and his grandfather and then his dad continued to operate. He gradually took over the operation of the ranch from his dad. He got married, I got married and miracle of miracles Susie and Rosalie became close friends.

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The first of the ranch houses are in the distance, top left.

When we lived in Montana they visited us, and after we moved to Phoenix several times, then in Illinois. We visited them at the ranch or sometimes met someplace convenient to all of us. Each time we got together we picked up as though we had been together the day before, despite the passage of years.

Charlize is in heaven. She stays close to me in the house but outside has thousands of acres to roam and hundreds of wild critters and cows, calves, steers and bulls to discover. She hasn’t wandered far as yet, keeps looking back to make certain I haven’t left without her.

Here’s a view from the house, mother cows with their calves on the hill pasture. They were brought downs to the hay meadow in the foreground the next day prior to being moved to another pasture.

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On the way over from San Diego to Phoenix I remembered my first time trip to San Diego. I was ten years old, the summer of 1946. The Second World War was over and my Uncle Sol, my Dad’s younger brother, was being mustered out of the Navy. The trip was made in our 1940 Chevy, before the multi-fabric, multi-color upholstery. The Chevy had new tires, but no air conditioning in fact I don’t remember a heater in that car, at least not one that functioned. To beat the summer heat we started after dark and Dad drove all night, no freeways or interstate highways to travel at seventy-five miles an hour. I don’t think Dad ever put that car over fifty. No radio either, not that there would have been a radio station to connect to anywhere in that desert, well, maybe in Yuma.

My brother and sister and I slept in the back seat, but I can remember waking up and listening in on the soft conversation taking place between Mom and Dad. Talking to keep awake, about mundane, every day subjects and their hopes and dreams, mostly concerning us kids. The road frequently dipped down then up through many gullies and washes, no bridges. I was concerned because there were stories about whole families being washed away in their car by a flash flood that originated in the mountains sending a wall of water gushing through those desert washes.

Old Blue, Charlize and I will make that trip to San Diego again soon, during daylight, on the interstate, at seventy-five, the radio tuned to a station playing Jazz, air conditioning if we need it. It will be different, better? Maybe. What’s the rush?

Here is Charlize in my brother’s back yard, and practicing her sit-stay, unhappily, in front of some cholla cactus, both near Cave Creek, AZ.

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We arrived in Phoenix but left Frog in San Diego. I will to return to San Diego after my sojourn in Phoenix to visit with my brother, his family and some old friends who are still living here as well as some snowbird friends. After averaging between ten and a half and eleven and a half miles per gallon pulling Frog Old Blue averaged sixteen and a half mpg while traveling seventy-five miles an hour on the freeways between San Diego and Phoenix. With gasoline costing four dollars and twenty cents, or more, per gallon in San Diego I calculated that I saved at least fifty-two dollars on the trip here, anticipate an equal amount on my return. I was also able to drive seventy-five mph instead of the fifty-five mph limit pulling Frog.

My brother and his wife are owned by a Chihuahua mix. She is short on stature and gigantic on attitude like many of her ilk. She is also possessive. When we walked in their front door that little dog let Charlize know whose house it was and that trespassers would be tolerated, at best. Her name is Madeline and Charlize avoids her as much as possible. Whenever Madeline has the opportunity she attacks, nipping at Charlize’s hind legs, going for the Achilles tendon. Charlize cowers and runs away but I’m afraid that at some point, probably when none of us are witnesses, she will turn on Madeline and do serious harm, but thus far she has not made a move to defend herself.

My brother Joe and his wife Carol have a two-plus acre lot filled with well-kept desert vegetation. The landscaping is unique, neat and starkly pretty if you grew up here in the desert and liked it. I did and I do. Charlize ran into a cactus while retrieving for my two grandnieces. She now understands to avoid those denizens of the desert, the cacti, not the nieces.

At four in the morning, my first night here, Naomi, almost four years old, got out of her bed and came into the room where her Daddy had been sleeping prior to my and Charlize’ arrival. Daddy, my nephew Andy, was asleep on a blow-up mattress in the same room with the girls. Little Naomi walked over the mattress with her Dad, came into the room where Charlize and I were behind a closed door, got into the bed where I was asleep on my right side. She was at my back so she crawled over me to get to my front and announced she wanted to snuggle. Charlize, ever watchful for intruders, had helped Naomi up onto the bed, nuzzling her behind. I guess I didn’t feel or snuggle the same as Daddy so Naomi started to fidget.

“I’m your Uncle Dave,” I explained. “Do you want your Daddy to snuggle with you?”

Yes,” she answered.

“He is in your room sleeping on a mattress on the floor. Do you want to go join him?”

“Yes,” she said, and did, apparently nonplussed by the situation.

Andy and the girls live in Germany. The girls are both completely bi-lingual. Andy speaks to them in English and they speak to him in English. Their mother, a native German, speaks to them in German and they speak to her in kind. If in a situation where everyone is speaking German Andy also speaks German. Their mother does the same in English when she is in an English-speaking situation, such as visiting here. Andy tells me that when he first spoke German to them, or their mother spoke English they were confused and a little upset that the parent was not communicating with them properly, but they soon adjusted and no matter which language is being used in the conversation they answer in kind. Oh, to be so fascicle with language.

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