Corona Chronicles: Animal Stories

Jack and Charlie
Barb Rehmeyer

Jackson arrived first in 2006. He liked to “sing” under the window, especially in the evening, in hopes to come inside. Because he liked to sing, I named him after one of my favorite singers – Jackson Brown. He was an orange tabby cat and had two triangles above his eyes much like a jack-o-lantern. Hence the name seemed to fit. We thought he was about a year old. I hung up a “Lost Cat” sign at the local shop, but I never heard from anyone.

Jackson was very affectionate. He was always eager to be petted and belly-rubbed and enjoyed sitting on any available lap. Sometimes this was a nuisance because he liked being as close as possible, crawling in-between my knitting or sitting on the book I was reading. Jack loved attention and loved being part of our family.

Charlie arrived in 2010. He was a real goofball! One of his favorite places to sleep was the bathroom sink, which can be quite shocking in the middle of the night. I often felt Charlie was part dog because he behaved more like a dog than a cat. He followed me around everywhere. I’d go to the garden and Charlie was there. I’d go to the bathroom and Charlie followed. Whenever I arrived home, Charlie showed up to greet me and follow me in the house.

Charlie grew to be a pretty massive cat, outweighing the other cats by about five pounds. But he was a lover not a fighter, friendly to everybody including the grandchildren. The other cats disappeared when the kids showed up. Not Charlie! He would let them pat him and pull his tail and never tried to scratch them. “Charlie” was one of my granddaughter’s first words. I’ll never forget the rapture on her two-year-old face the day Charlie walked between her legs while she was standing in the yard. Charlie had the most intense green eyes.

One morning in the fall of 2016, Charlie didn’t show up for breakfast, which was very unusual. We looked for him and called for him, but we never found him. Remember I said Charlie followed me everywhere? So his presence was greatly missed.

Jackson disappeared on May 31, 2018. It was a Thursday and I went to work at the library around 9:00 a.m. Jack was sleeping on the bed in the screen porch so I propped the screen door open with a rock so that he could get out if he wanted. That was the last time I saw him. My husband died in January of 2018 and Jackson was a great comfort during the months of grief afterwards. He sat in my lap and slept beside me in bed. I missed him greatly. I still miss him.

So that’s the story of my two friends. I don’t know where they came from, and I don’t know where they went. But I am grateful that they were part of my life.

Barb Rehmeyer lives in Liberty and is the director of the Liberty Library. She has three grown children and five grandchildren.

Jack and Charlie

My Elegant Beast
Kristin Frangoulis

I have a lights-out lover.
He creeps nightly to my bed.
He will lounge and will hover,
As his paws caress my head.
He will strut across my heart,
As if it was a pillow,
Purring from the very start,
Acting rather mellow.
A muffler his body makes,
And his cheek lies on my face.
We sleep until the dawn breaks,
Then a morning pose he makes.
He dreams of what next to kill,
As he stalks the window sill.

Kristin Frangoulis writes and paints in Belfast. She lives with her husband, George and several cats. She also hosts WBFY radio show, “Poetry By The Bay,” and co-hosts the TV show, “Good Morning Belfast” with her husband.

Conversations with Stinky
Brenda Smith

“How’s the weather out there this morning Stinky?” I inquire with a gravelly voice, unused since last speaking to it some eight hours ago. It stares at me. Stinky is still there, at eye level, clinging to the screen door leading out to my deck. This morning puffy white clouds with flat blue bottoms form a backdrop for my companion.

I know it’s not nice to call something stinky unless it is an over ripe block of limburger cheese. It would be nice to know if Stinky is a her or a him so I could affix a gender appropriate name to it. For now, Stinky will have to suffice as a nickname for the prehistoric looking creature it is – a brown marmorated stinkbug.

He clings on to the screen longingly desirous of the warmth and brightness inside my apartment. Out there the nights are growing longer and colder. “I’m sorry Stinky, Covid-19 update #24 of Penobscot Shores states in bold letters, ‘Outside visitors are not permitted inside the Ocean House. Only masked people who reside in the apartments are allowed inside.” No exceptions!”

Stinky is persistent though and has not abandoned its perch for over a week now. I say “goodnight and stay safe” to Stinky when I turn off the living room light at night. When I reappear in the morning I find Stinky has scooched a few inches to one side or the other and perhaps a tad up or down.

2020, this bizarre year of the pandemic, has left me feeling more isolated and lonely than ever before. Our lives have been turned upside down, unable to see or spend time with our friends or family except via a virtual world called Zoom. I so miss the smiles hidden under masks that conceal our faces from the bridge of our noses to under our chins. I find myself questioning whether I am actually going deaf or whether speech is garbled just enough that I strain to understand what is being said to me by the few other masked people I might encounter in a week.

Is it no wonder then, that a maskless six legged, two antennaed, inch and a quarter long insect who refuses to leave me alone, should become my unlikely confidant. As a conversationalist Stinky doesn’t have much to say, but I couldn’t dream of finding a better listener.

Every morning I tell Stinky about how many new cases of the virus have been reported. “Stinky, this virus is spreading and breaking records every day. Today it’s up to 243 cases. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t want to go to Hannaford’s where some people “prefer” not to wear masks. Do you think I should keep my Physical Therapy appointments Stinky? Who knows how many other babies my therapist’s baby has been around in daycare and for each of those babies how many family members were they exposed to? And how many other people were each of those family members exposed to?”

Stinky doesn’t get too excited when I begin to grow hysterical. That in turn has a reciprocal calming effect on me. We are slowly building some trust in each other as we both hunker in place. By now, Stinky knows I will not hurt it. It will not have to squirt its smelly defensive liquid to repel me. By Googling its species I know Stinky will not bite, sting or cause me or my house any damage. That’s the sort of apartment mate I can tolerate.

We both have hard lives right now. While I plot ways not to become infected with Covid-19, Stinky is worried about finding shelter and food to survive just a while longer. It’s a matter of life or death for both of us. I am worried about the predicted weather change tonight. The forecast is for heavy rain and 45 mile per hour winds.

It takes strength and endurance for Stinky to stay attached to the screen for days on end, but I’m worried about how my bug buddy will cope with gusts tonight strong enough to topple some power lines. When I warned him of the impending storm Stinky was speechless! “If you need to find a more secure place to hang out than on my screen door, I‘ll understand. You’ve gotta do, what you’ve gotta do. You should find a crack and take shelter while you can.”

The weather guessers got it right this time. Overnight the rain pelted viciously and the wind wailed furiously. I prayed that Stinky would find a hideaway because its diminutive quarter ounce of weight would be defenseless against the storm’s force.

In the morning, from the hallway I could see there was no longer a tiny body attached to the screen door. I felt a tinge of grief as I realized that Stinky was gone. I imagined that a great gust of wind had swept Stinky into the air taking it aloft on a magical carpet ride to some magical destination. How could I have gotten so attached to a little bug?

I walked to the door to gaze out over the bay, admiring the view that starts my every day. I was startled by what I saw. Tucked behind the door’s side panel, still clinging to the screen was Stinky. I let out a whoop of joy. “Stinky you made it! How did you do it?” I was amazed and elated. “Well little buddy this is going to be one great day!”

I pondered the miracle of Stinky’s survival and felt humbled by what Stinky must have endured. Clearly there was a lesson in it for me. In these pandemic darkened days when life’s routine has been thrown askew, the audacity of this tiny creature to survive a raging tempest gives me inspiration and hope. I know I must cling to the promise there will be a day when I no longer fear Covid-19, just as tightly as Stinky clung to my screen door. For now, we have each other.

Brenda Smith fulfilled a life-long dream when she moved to Belfast in 2019. An accounting graduate of Bentley University, she worked as a CPA and Vice President of Finance for several non-profit organizations. She earned her MS from Suffolk University in Philanthropy and Media and has produced, directed and edited many award winning videos. She is most proud of the coveted “Telly” award on her desk. Now retired, she is busy with several writing projects: an early memoir recounting some of her hair-raising global adventures, a later memoir about living with the extremely rare Stiff Person’s syndrome, and writing short essays about things in life that make her smile. She is a board member and treasurer of Belfast Senior College.

Sweet Memories
Yvette Reid

When my son Adam was around a year old, we had a long-haired dachshund named Dickens and a wire-haired dachshund named Reveille. Every day Adam and the dogs would stand at the storm door waiting for my husband to come home from teaching school.

Adam is now a high school teacher with a son of his own, and a much larger dog.

Yvette is a retired school librarian. The photos were taken when they lived in Connecticut, but they have lived on Islesboro for thirty plus years.

Al’s Sonnet
Kristin Frangoulis

He knocks at the door and asks to come in.
He nurtures us all, especially the small,
With a face that he sports with a smile or a grin.
He wears the same coat, summer, winter or fall.
A tweed kind of thing with ebony stripes,
Mixed up with black spots he tries to erase,
A lap of his tongue cleans his face with a swipe.
He moves with a lope, a lion’s smooth grace.
And bathes every night in a claw footed tub.
He falls into bed with a grunt and a sigh,
Too tired to yowl and carouse at the pub.
He purrs us to sleep with a sweet lull-a-bye.
Some call him a cat, but we call him Pal,
Our shadow and friend, our Sweet Baby Al.

Dog Love
Nancy Perkins

My lifelong love affair with dogs began when I met my first pet, a silky, caramel colored cocker spaniel named Taffy. Taffy had been my Daddy’s dog long before I was born and as a toddler there are countless black and white photographs of me with Taffy. As an only child for nearly five years Taffy was my constant playmate and confidant. I clearly remember Daddy breaking the news to me that Taffy had become ill and had died. None of the modern day euphemisms were employed. Taffy died just like I would some day. I learned early that all living things die but as a five year old it didn’t really register.

For my 12th birthday I was given a beautiful black and white English Spaniel whom my mother insisted be called Peter. All of my adolescent angst was shared with Peter who slept by my side. I lost my best friend when he was killed by a driver who used our driveway as a quick turnaround. I was disconsolate and mourned Peter for years. His was the first death of a living being to whom I had been close that I experienced. It marked a new phase of my life. I had loved him dearly and had lost him, a pattern we all learn sooner or later.

Our family welcomed another dog and I grew up and left home for college. I missed the family dog. But soon I was married and from that point on I always had a dog. There was a collection of 4-legged friends over the years who were part of our family: Tory, Abner, Zack, Sophie, and finally a beautiful black lab born in a shelter in Beaufort, South Carolina. My son named him Beaufort but he became Beaufie to me. He was a perceptive, loving companion and was at my side following the death of my husband. He helped me during those dark days but sadly Beaufie died at age 13 and I felt totally and completely alone with children grown and on their own. I had grieved so greatly upon losing my special friend that I swore I could not bear losing another dog and vowed never to adopt again.
Several years later I remarried. My new husband owned a handsome cat named Otis. Soon after we retired and moved to Maine. It wasn’t really home to me for a long time and I often considered returning to Virginia. One day my husband suggested that we adopt a dog. I fell in love at first sight with a diminutive mixed terrier, from Louisiana, named Pinto Bean. Even Otis welcomed the new member of our family. Sadly not long after Otis died.

Beanie was a lively and enchanting pet. He went everywhere with us, ate his home cooked meals with us, and inserted his 12 pound body between the two of us every night. We envisioned many happy years and adventures with Beanie but it was not to be. He died in early October of this year, in our arms. He was somewhere between 13 and 16 years old. I still see him at times and feel his cold black nose on my face. I still cry when I think of my Bean and his faithful presence. I have to remind myself that we gave Beanie a wonderful home and a happy life in Belfast. He had dog friends, people friends, and a family who loved him. He gave us so much more than we gave him, he brought joy and happiness to us. While I may have saved him he really saved me and like all the dogs I have owned taught me important life lessons. A dog can teach an old girl new tricks. Soon it may be time to welcome another dog into my life to both learn from and love.

Nancy relocated to Belfast from Virginia five years ago after a career as a nonprofit fundraiser and agency director coupled with political activism. A member of St. Margaret’s Church, the Belfast Garden Club, and the board of Waterfall Arts, Nancy is particularly happy to be part of Senior College Belfast.

Chaos and Cats
Kristin Frangoulis

I swim in a sea of cartons.

Our belongings all packed up,
Mountaineer Organic Chickens,
Northland Apples fresh from the truck.
That’s what the labels announce.
Their contents are mysteries to find.
Six cats on top of them pounce:
Black Panther, one of a kind,
Four tabbies, a mother and kittens,
Fat gray who growls and hisses.
Whatever I need is hidden.
I step on tuna in dishes.
I lament my loss of home,
And wish I could find my comb.

The Optimist and the Pessimist
Paul Sheridan

A child psychologist had twin boys—one was an optimist; the other, a pessimist. Just to see what would happen, on Christmas Eve she loaded the pessimist’s room with toys and games. In the optimist’s room, she dumped a pile of horse droppings.

In the morning, she found the pessimist surrounded by gifts, crying.
“What’s wrong?” the mother asked. “I have a ton of game manuals to read … I need batteries … and my toys will all eventually get broken!” sobbed the pessimist.

Passing the optimist’s room, the mother found him dancing for joy around the pile of droppings. “Why are you so happy?” she asked.
The optimist shouted, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”

Paul Sheridan has taught courses for Senior College on films, photography, and safe driving. He and his wife! Karen Gleason, are film buffs and live in Northport.