This is a tough Prayers & Passages to write and it will be long because of the emotional content.
On the opening page of Readlarrypowell.com you see a stylized version of this photo. That was me en route to Dog Day Afternoon, the annual Operation Kindness event. It was June 6, 2004, and that dog was freshly caught. There's a movie at the end of this tribute. Please read on.
She had been living in our neighborhood for at least two years, slinking between houses, in alleys and avoiding all manner of perils and especially my persistent attempts to lure her into my arms, traps or loops on leashes -- not even close enough for a desperate lunge.
She was already in my heart. They all are. This dog, however, was extraordinary. We just didn’t know how extraordinary yet.
This was an important ride she was taking.
My little brother Garry and his wife Brenita had just lost Tuffy and Lady, their Border Collie/Springer Spaniel mixes within a period of about a year, one after the other. Garry wasn’t sure he was ready for another dog. His heart was kind of hurting.
Being the wiser big brother, I talked him into meeting me and Martha and the dog at Dog Day Afternoon in Plano. Martha and I were scheduled to help judge some of the contests.
For a few days this dog had been “Girl” or “Sweetie” for lack of a better name. I’d told my brother about her, how we had a great dog for him and his rural home at the community of Branch at Lake Lavon. He would say, “No, I don’t think so...” and change the subject.
The big challenge had been getting her into custody.
Here’s how we caught her. She had puppies under a storage shed a block down the hill from us. A dedicated mom, she wouldn’t abandon her pups. A neighbor called to let us know, we raced down and got them all. There was some scary reaching under the shed to pull them out.
Four of her pups went to East Lake Pet Orphanage -- they were quickly adopted. In the time since, the puppies became adults and faced some health challenges. We have the surviving puppy, Annie, an alternately adorable/cranky girl as tall as a Rottweiller but as thin as a cattle dog. (That's Annie in 2004 with our beloved Chihuahua Rosie, and Annie today.) We kept Annie because we thought she might be adopted by whomever took her mom -- I hinted to my brother. He didn’t take the hint.
The dog and Martha and I rode to Dog Day Afternoon in my 1999 F150 and this sweet dog, who’d been dodging humans and living on the streets for at least two years -- she was probably 2 1/2 -- was the perfect pickup dog. She sat quietly, looked out the window and concentrated on the driving -- I don’t think she trusted my motoring skills. She was not alone in that, of course.
We got to the event in Plano and pulled into a parking spot, got out and began walking toward the contest area with this beautiful dog. She drew attention -- she was pert, pretty and obviously happy to be safe -- her little tail wagged, her eyes twinkled and she readily accepted the loving pats and head-scratches from strangers. She was a jewel of a dog.
My 6-4 or 6-5 (he was always towering!) little brother rolled up in his truck, got out and walked across the park to where we were. He saw this dog and she saw him and it was love at first sight. (That's them seconds after meeting -- she was looking at me as if to say, "See ya, sucker." I was elated.)
They bonded at about 30 feet apart and Garry was immediately smitten. He named her Calamity. “C’lam” he called her most of the time. They went everywhere together. If a hotel wouldn’t take Calamity, it didn’t get Garry and Brenita, either.
Garry would remain smitten with this dog for the rest of his life. And that is the really tough part of the story of Calamity. We lost Garry to cancer on April 27 -- it didn’t beat him. He beat it. Fought it for years and finally said, “You’ve had enough. I’m outta here.” And he was.
It was wrenching for all who loved him -- and many, many do love him. He was the famous “Uncle Garry.” People are wrong to say he and Brenita have no kids. They had ALL our kids. Nieces, nephews, cousins. They all adore Uncle Garry and Aunt Brenita.
And they all know how much Calamity meant to the both of them.
Calamity, facing her own health problems at her advanced age, sat vigil with all of us as Garry was in his last days at home.
She‘d probably spent more time with Garry in the past decade than any other living being -- walking with him, going to work with him, sitting in his workshop. They were a boy and his dog.
The entire family loved Calamity.
And on June 20, after years of love and extraordinary veterinary care at the end, Calamity did exactly what her boy had done. She died in a love-filled home.
Brenita sent us a note that captured the “scene.”
“Calamity went to meet Garry Friday morning here at home. Her hip and spine issues overcame her. She was in such pain and could no longer sand. It was such a blessing for her to be at home rather than the vet’s I am thankful I could be with her. I will miss her greatly but she is not in pain and is with her beloved Garry.”
My sister in law is a pretty tough cookie. She helped Garry every day after his diagnosis and surgeries began more than 3 years ago -- about halfway through that, she had her own run-in with cancer and beat it with courageous surgery. And, after Garry left and Calamity had no one’s hospital bed to nap next to, Brenita was Calamity’s caregiver.
The dog that was once wary of humans, was loved by so many.
It was not that Calamity was an extension of my brother. It was that two beings with love to give found the right place to give it.
Here's an example. It's the note grieving niece Ashley Derrick, with Garry and Brenita in this photo, wrote when Garry died. (You can bet Calamity was near his boots, just out of the frame.) "I cannot begin to express the joy and unconditional love this man brought to my life. He was a wonderful uncle and an exceptional godfather who truly was like a father to me. I feel so blessed to have had him by my side all these years watching me grow up and always being there for me. It warms my heart to know that he got to welcome both my boys into his life and adored them. He will be forever missed, but I know he's always with us. I love you Uncle Garry."
That photo at the right shows Uncle Garry with my own kids and our friend --Garry's slumping in the back, Kevin Millikan is on the left, Bret's in the middle and Bart's on the right. All these boys are dog lovers. And they all knew Calamity because Uncle Garry made sure family was family. And Calamity was indeed a big part of the family.
My belief is not that all dogs go to Heaven, it is that all dogs go back to Heaven. They surely must be angels on a mission -- if only humans will, as my brother did, open their eyes and see the halos.
Now, I’m going to close this memorial to Calamity by getting you to watch a video -- you’ll see this great dog and my little brother Garry playing in the back yard in Texarkana where the Powell brothers learned to play baseball and football all the while accompanied by our border collie Queenie, the world’s greatest dog and occasional retriever of a ball that was still in play. That's Queenie in the center of the photo after a blizzard in Texarkana along about 1959. Barry's throwing the snowball. I'm in the back and Garry's the little guy in the front. We lost Queenie in 1968. Barry died from leukemia Nov. 27, 2009. When he needed a marrow transplant, we were all tested and Garry was the match. He quickly went to Chicago to try to save our brother's life. That's the hero in him. Calamity sensed it.
My Calamityfanspouse Martha put this video of Calamity together -- turn your speakers to a gentle level and think of how much fun this dog had with my brother and how the right home means all the difference to the stray you see in the neighborhood. Click HERE. (Best if your on a computer, not a hand-held device.) The video is called Border Town because Texarkana is split by the Texas-Arkansas state line -- you can look east from our yard an see into Arkasnas. It was a fun place to grow up -- and film shows you two forever-young souls.
God bless Calamity and Garry -- we know they’re doing something fun in Heaven.
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