Riding Waves with a Dog

Dogs can do incredible things. When I first started reading Ricochet: Riding a Wave of Hope with the Dog Who Inspired Millions by Judy Fridono, I thought it was just another one of those uplifting dog stories I enjoy reading from time to time. Although the book starts out as a story of a service dog in the making, it turns into something totally unexpected, at least for me.

Judy Fridono starts out talking about how she spent a year raising a service dog puppy while living in Chicago. She describes the agony of having to return the dog to the training facility for service dogs once her year was up. After that, she talks about her life growing up in a tough Chicago neighborhood. Her father was an alcoholic and a drug user, and this made her childhood difficult at times. When she was a teen-ager, both her parents died. She was attacked once and robbed another time, and all this caused her to have nightmares and panic attacks. She also contracted rheumatoid arthritis which didn’t help matters.

She then talks about how Rena, the puppy she raised for a year, helped her overcome her fears and inspired her to train service dogs. After she returned Rena, she moved to San Diego, California, to attend a dog training school. Through a miraculous twist of fate, Rena was returned to her, and after completing a dog training course, she formed her own service dog training organization.

Ricochet was part of a litter of Golden Retriever puppies, and Fridono started training her soon after she was born. However, although Ricochet was intelligent, after several months, she became stubborn, reminding me of the Irish setters we had when we were growing up who would only do something for us if it pleased them. Ricochet loved to chase birds, and since this is not a good trait for a service dog, Fridono became increasingly frustrated with her.

Ricochet also loved to surf, and on a whim, Fridono entered her into a competition. She feared it would be a disaster because of the dog’s obsession with birds. Fridono was afraid the dog would jump off the surf board after a flock of seagulls instead of focusing on her task. To her astonishment though, Ricochet stayed on the board through several waves and didn’t even look at a bird. She then realized that Ricochet had a different purpose in life and started looking for other ways the dog could be of service.

Fridono then describes how Ricochet inspired many people through surfing and other activities: children with autism and physical disabilities, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, even a teen-aged boy in Florida with terminal cancer. Ricochet put smiles on their faces and gave them the courage to go on, despite their limitations.

Ricochet also raised money for therapy and other essentials. She even helped Fridono when she underwent open heart surgery. The dog’s efforts gained world-wide attention through Facebook and other media. I’d never heard of Ricochet until I read this book, but I was touched by her story. To learn more about Judy Fridono and Ricochet, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8tUI3EC66M . This video consists of an interview with Fridono and footage of Ricochet in action.

In the summer of 2005 before my late husband Bill suffered the strokes that paralyzed him, we took a trip to California to visit friends and relatives for a couple of weeks. One of our stops was in Valley Village, near L.A., where my uncle lived. After he demonstrated how he does sound effects for movies, Bill asked, “Is there any chance I could work for you?”

At the time, we were living here in Sheridan, Wyoming, and I had no inclination to move anywhere else so I laughed, and nothing more was said. After reading Ricochet’s story, I can’t help wondering what might have happened if we did move to California. Although Judy Fridono lived in San Diego, she and Ricochet didn’t just work with people in that area. Would synchronicity have brought Bill and Ricochet together? He would have loved surfing with this dog. Would Bill still be alive if Ricochet had given him a reason not to give up?

I’m just a 53-year-old writer living in Sheridan, Wyoming. I’m able to walk and care for myself, and I don’t have any serious emotional problems. The only parts of me that don’t work well are my eyes. Because others need Ricochet’s care more than I do, I doubt I’ll have an opportunity to surf with this incredible dog, but maybe I’ll give boogie boarding another try the next time I go to Florida. When I visited my brother in Jupiter last summer, we went to the beach, and I borrowed a boogie board from one of my nieces. After I paddled around in the shallow water for a while, my brother offered to pull me into deeper water so I could catch a wave. The sky was growing cloudy, and the waves were getting choppy so I chickened out. Perhaps next time if the sea and weather are calm, I’ll take him up on his offer. Who knows? Maybe I’ll ride the wave of my life for Bill.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver, and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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To My Little Brother After His Wedding Day

This poem was inspired by a blog post at http://retconpoet.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/for-my-sister-on-her-wedding-day/ .

TO MY LITTLE BROTHER AFTER HIS WEDDING DAY

I should have given you this on your special day,

but until now, almost three months later, the idea didn’t occur to me.

You once proclaimed my brain was the size of a pea so go figure.

That’s water under the bridge—this is about you.

 

I was proud to watch you say I do for the second time.

It was my pleasure to sing songs that brought you closer

amid heat, humidity, and mosquitoes beneath the Florida sun.

I’m happy to call your new love my sister-in-law and her daughters my nieces.

 

I only hope you learned from past mistakes,

but if I must make another trip to wherever you are

to sing for a third wedding, I’ll do it

because you’re my brother, and I love you,

and I’ll rent a guitar.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver, and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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A Song About Apples? Not Really

During this time of year, our thoughts turn to apple pie, apple butter, apple sauce, etc. Years ago when I was single, I had an Apple computer and an idea for a satirical song I didn’t get around to writing. At our last Behind Our Eyes writers’ group meeting, it was suggested as a prompt that we write about apples, and the idea re-surfaced.

“Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” was a song I sang many times in the fifteen years I worked as a registered music therapist in a nursing home. It was made popular by Glenn Miller and the Andrews Sisters during World War II. You can learn more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don%27t_Sit_Under_the_Apple_Tree_(with_Anyone_Else_but_Me) . To hear the original Andrews Sisters version, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPJZTRqQ1Xw .

Nowadays, in light of our troops in the Middle East and today’s technology, this is how the song might have been written. Click on the link below to hear me sing it.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/start%20up%20apple%20computer.mp3

DON’T START UP YOUR APPLE COMPUTER

I e-mailed Mother.

I e-mailed Father.

Now I am e-mailing you.

I love my mother.

I love my father,

and you know I love you too.

 

Don’t start up your Apple computer with anyone else but me,

anyone else but me,

anyone else but me, no, no, no,

don’t start up your Apple computer with anyone else but me

till you come flying home.

 

Don’t go surfing the Internet with anyone else but me,

anyone else but me,

anyone else but me, no, no, no,

don’t go surfing the Internet with anyone else but me,

till you come flying home.

 

You’re on your own, but you’re not alone

in that desert far away.

Be true to me if you care for me

and listen when I say,

“Don’t start up your Apple computer with anyone else but me

till you come flying home,

till you, till you come flying home.”

What do you remember about apples?

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver, and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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The Joy of Learning a Language

When I was in high school, I took four years of Spanish and two years of French. In my junior year, my mother insisted I take French. I really didn’t want to but couldn’t think of a way out.

To my surprise, I discovered that learning French was more fun than learning Spanish. Each lesson in the French textbook started with a story about French teen-agers. Every day, the teacher played a tape of authentic French speakers acting out the stories with sound effects. Looking back years later, I was inspired to write the following from That’s Life: New and Selected Poems.

LEARNING FRENCH

In the high school classroom,

as I read the story in the textbook,

I’m in France with Guy and Suzanne,

basking on a sunny beach

or drinking wine in an outdoor café.

 

As French dance music fills the room

from the tape accompanying the lesson,

I find myself in the arms of a handsome monsieur

after a meal of chicken in wine sauce

topped off with chocolate mousse.

We whirl around the room.

 

The school bell’s clang jolts me back.

I rise, follow others out of the classroom,

resigned to being a teen-ager in Wyoming.

 

Did you ever learn a foreign language? How old were you? What was it like? Click on the link below to hear me read the above poem.

 

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/learning%20french.mp3

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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Unbroken

During World War II, you’re a crew member of a fighter plane that crashed in the Pacific Ocean. You and two others are the only survivors, marooned on two rafts floating in Japanese territory. Suddenly, a Japanese bomber appears out of the sky, aiming right for you. If you jump in the water, the sharks, waiting for just such a moment, will eat you alive. If you stay on the raft, the aircraft’s ammunition will kill you. This is the story of one such crewman, former Olympic track star Louis Zamperini, who survived weeks on a raft before being picked up by the Japanese and enduring years of torture, starvation, and other hardships in prison camps before being liberated by the war’s end.

Unbroken: The World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand is not something I would normally read, but it was an audiobook my uncle and aunt chose to listen to while we made the long drive to Colorado last week. Despite my dislike of anything with a lot of violence, I found myself fascinated by Louis Zamperini’s story.

He was born on January 26, 1917 in Olean, New York. He died at the age of 97 in Los Angeles, California, on July 2nd, 2014. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1941 to 1945. His highest rank was captain. He was awarded a Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, and a Prisoner of War Medal. To learn more about him, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Zamperini .

In Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand starts out by describing Louis’s early life in Olean, New York, and then in Torrence, California, where the family moved when he was two. Louis was a wild child, delighting in running away, stealing, playing practical jokes, and many other undesirable activities. His Italian immigrant parents didn’t know what to do with him until as a teen-ager, he took an interest in track. Hillenbrand then describes how he made it to the U.S. Olympic team and participated in the winter games in Germany in 1936. Although he didn’t win a medal, he caught Hitler’s attention by attempting to steal the dictator’s personal flag. I couldn’t help wondering what might have happened to him if he’d been captured by the Germans instead of the Japanese. In 1938, he set a collegiate mile record despite opponents’ attempts to spike him during the race. This record gave him the name “Torrence Tornado.”

In September of 1941 before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Zamperini enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces where he eventually became a second lieutenant. He was deployed to the Hawaiian Islands as a bombardier. Hillenbrand’s fascinating description of the planes in which he flew and bombed islands inhabited by Japanese military operations brought back memories of my younger brother’s interest in World War II aircraft as a child.

In the spring of 1943, he and other crew members were searching for a lost plane and its crew, using a defective B-24. The plane developed mechanical difficulties, and they were forced to crash land in the Pacific Ocean. Hillenbrand vividly describes the crash that killed all but three of the crew members. Zamperini and two others were the only survivors who ended up on two rafts 850 miles west of Oahu.

Hillenbrand then goes on to detail the 47 days spent on the rafts. The men survived by catching and eating raw fish and drinking rain water. They were attacked many times by a Japanese bomber which damaged the rafts, but no one was hit. One man died after 33 days. When they eventually reached the Marshall Islands, they were captured by the Japanese, and their situation went from bad to worse.

Hillenbrand then describes the two and a half years Zamperini spent as a prisoner in several camps where he was starved, tortured, and forced to do hard labor. At one facility in Tokyo, he was offered a job broadcasting propaganda in exchange for better living conditions, but he refused. One of his constant Japanese tormenters was Mutsuhiro Watanabe, nicknamed “The Bird.” Zamperini had beaten many schoolyard bullies as a kid but was no match for this one. Nevertheless, although “The Bird” came close, he didn’t break Louis Zamperini.

In the last few chapters of Unbroken, Hillenbrand describes Zamperini’s transition at the end of the war from being a prisoner to civilian life after being reunited with his family in the fall of 1945. In 1946, he married Cynthia Applewhite and stayed married to her until she died in 2001. Plagued by flashbacks and nightmares, he vowed to return to Japan and find and kill “The Bird,” but this plan was never carried out. He was also consumed by alcoholism. He tried many business ventures, but they all failed.

In 1949, his wife became a born again Christian, and one night when she dragged him to a Billy Graham revival, he remembered a promise he made to God while stranded in the Pacific Ocean and in the prison camps. After that, he stopped drinking, and the nightmares and flashbacks disappeared. In 1950 after becoming an inspirational speaker, he returned to Japan on a peaceful mission to visit and forgive the guards who mistreated him.

Laura Hillenbrand is also the author of the acclaimed Seabiscuit: An American Legend and several magazine articles. She lives in Washington, D.C. Unbroken is the #1 New York Times bestselling author hailed by Time Magazine as the best nonfiction book of the year. For more information about Laura Hillenbrand’s books and to hear an audio sample of Unbroken, visit http://laurahillenbrandbooks.com/ .

As I said before, I didn’t think I wanted to read Unbroken but found myself compelled by Laura Hillenbrand’s narrative. She touches on the lives of others Zamperini knew during his service in the Air Force, his surviving other crewmate on the rafts, and fellow prisoners in the camps. She also describes what his family went through after being notified that he was missing. When he was declared dead, his parents, brother, and sisters believed he was still alive. When Seabiscuit came out, I didn’t want to read it, either, but now, after reading Unbroken, I’m suddenly interested in horse racing.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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Betty White Dyes

In case you didn’t look closely at the title, this actress did not die at the age of 92. Her manager says he has booked her for an engagement when she turns 100, and there’s no out clause. However, many fans misread a headline of a satirical article online that talks about how Betty White dyes her hair at home and spread the news on Twitter that she had passed away. Talk about fun pun. You can learn more about this at http://kdvr.com/2014/09/04/betty-white-may-she-rinse-in-peace-readers-mistake-dyes-for-dies-in-satire/ .

A couple of years ago, I read a book by Betty White in which she talks about her life and other topics. I wonder what she thinks of this. Since she’s not dead, I’ll re-blog my review of her book from May of 2012.

If You Ask Me

Betty White’s book by that title is pretty good, especially if you get a recording of her reading it. I downloaded such a recording from audible.com and had some good laughs. I also couldn’t help laughing when I saw her on television as the scatter-brained Rose on The Golden Girls. She was also in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but I was a little young when that was running. My mother watched that as religiously as I watched The Golden Girls.

Betty White was born on January 17th, 1922 in Oak Park Illinois. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father was a traveling salesman and engineer. Her family moved to Los Angeles during the Great Depression. She attended Horace Mann and Beverly Hills High School. Hoping to be a writer, she became more interested in acting after writing and playing the lead role in a graduation play at Horace Mann.

Her television career began in 1939 when she and a former high school classmate sang songs from The Merry Widow on an experimental Los Angeles channel. She also worked in radio and movies. Best known for her roles in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, she performed in a variety of television shows including Life with Elizabeth, Date with the Angels, The Betty White Show, The Golden Palace, Hot in Cleveland, and Betty White’s Off Their Rockers. Since Rue McClanahan’s death in 2010, she is the only living golden girl. She won seven Emmy awards and received twenty Emmy nominations. She was the first woman to receive an Emmy award for game show hosting for Just Men and is the only person to have an Emmy award in all female comedic performing categories. In May 2010, she was the oldest person to guest host Saturday Night Live and won a Primetime Emmy Award for this. As of 2012 at the age of ninety, she is the oldest Emmy nominee. To learn more about her, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betty_White .

In If You Ask Me, Betty combines her ideas on such topics as friendship, technology, and aging with anecdotes from her childhood, career, and work with animals. She talks about developing a friendship with a guerilla, meeting two whales, and adopting a dog rejected by Guide Dogs for the Blind. I can relate when she says how frustrating it is not to recognize a face, especially when the face belongs to a celebrity she meets at a party and thinks she should know. Being visually impaired, I have the same problem but don’t run into any celebrities at parties. Anyway, I recommend this book to anyone needing some good laughs.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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Baseball Revisited

On September 10th, my late husband Bill and I would have been married nine years. One of Bill’s passions was baseball, and his favorite team was the Colorado Rockies. I don’t know if he ever went to a Rockies game, but I hope to do so next week.

On Sunday, I’ll be driving with my uncle and aunt from Sheridan to Colorado Springs where we’ll stay with relatives. My uncle from Los Angeles, a Dodgers fan, will be flying in, and he has tickets to the Rockies/Dodgers game on Monday. I hope that Bill will be with me in spirit, as I cheer his team to victory. In celebration of our ninth wedding anniversary, I’m re-blogging a post about baseball from last year. Enjoy!

At the Old Ball Game

Baseball season officially starts today when the Houston Astros take on the Texas Rangers. If Bill were still alive, he would be anticipating the Colorado Rockies opening game. The house will be oddly quiet without the thwack of bat against ball, the roar of the crowd, and the radio announcer’s excited voice when a player makes a home run.

Believe it or not, I wrote a poem about baseball. This is a fun pun poem which consists of words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings, i.e. sight (s I g h t) instead of site. (s I t e.” After you read this poem, you can click on the link below to hear me sing a well-known song about one of America’s favorite pastimes.

BASE BAWL (B A W L)

If you get a fowl bawl, (b a w l) you’re not playing the game write. (w r I t e) When you’re on home plate, and you see the ball coming toward you, swing the bat and prey (p r e y) that it connects with the bawl (b a w l) and sends it  in the write (w r i t e) direction. Theirs `(t h e i r s) a trick to that you will master only after months of practice and only if you have good I’s. (I ‘ s) It mite (m I t e) be better two (t w o) dew (d e w) something like water aerobics which doesn’t require a lot of I (i) site. (s I t e) It beats being hit in the knows (k n o w s) with a bawl. (b a w l)

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/ball%20game.mp3

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

 

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