The auspicious arrival of wedding fever was set to kick off at a preparty at my brother’s god mother’s house for lunch on May 25th a week before the wedding. In the Spurling family there was always a pre-party but in this case it turned out to be more of a wake. Sudden death, like overtime in a football match, is certainly something derelict mom thinks is an apt description for the last week of a single man’s life, but on this day it was as tragic as it was symbolic.
The Saturday morning started off like most of the others, up with Eva, breakfast and a pint of coffee for mommy dearest. When Chris stirred I went in to see if he had had a pleasant morning.
“How was your sleep in?”
“I have been counting, Babe has barked 56 times.”
“Babe is a morning person, we are not.”
“Fifty – Seven” was Chris’s only reply as he pulled the pillow over his head.
Eva and I wandered next door to see Hamma and Gigi. We played with Babe so she wouldn’t bark, and then Anna Laura and Sadie showed up to go swimming. I declined an invitation to join in because I had already decided to bake a paleo dairy free gluten free apple pie. I am a baking geek I know and so when they all descended on our little beach I retreated to the kitchen to whip up my dessert. Chris took Eva to join in on the fun, and soon most of the family was in the water, it was in fact a Bermudian tradition as the beginning of summer is celebrated on May 24th Bermuda day. Out came the noodles, the floaties, out came the rubber rafts, out came the kayaks and the swimming implements got bigger and bigger as each kid tried to out do a grandparent, while Anna Laura and Chris tried to make sure no one drowned, a kid or a grandparent. And then Piccolo my little dachshund got in the mix, barking and running his little roly poly body up and down the stairs, dreadfully worried about all his humans and their dangerous obsession with bathing in the sea.
“I am worried about his heart,” my mom said watching Piccolo run up and down keeping up with Babe, the Doberman who had a bit of an advantage.
“Whose heart?” Said Chris
“Piccolo, he shouldn’t be doing so much vigorous exercise with all that excess weight.”
“The vet said he should exercise.”
‘The Doctor said I should too.”
“Time to abandon the floatie.” Chris pointed to the teddy bear floatie mom had appropriated off of Eva who was crying.
“She should really have water wings.”
“Maybe, if you can convince her to wear them, she goes everywhere naked.”
My mother decided it was time to show off, so she broke out all of Babe’s water toys, which just drove Piccolo even more crazy. Meanwhile to appease my mother, Chris put Sadie and Eva in a kayak and was floating them around like twin Queens of Sheba.
My mother threw a Frisbee, it narrowly missed Chris’s head but I am sure if it had hit him she would have said it was an accident.
Babe bounded after it, effortlessly and with much enthusiasm. Babe and my mother’s game of water fetch was her favourite thing to do in the world, and here we were finally the first day of summer and Babe was loving it.
At some point Chris made the parental judgment that Eva was waterlogged, when her knees began to look like raisins and he brought the kayak back into the beach, wrapped her in a towel and told her it was time for lunch and left about ten minutes after Sadie and Anna Laura had left to shower and change next door for the party.
When Chris came into the kitchen, I looked at him and asked,
“What’s all that barking, why is Piccolo barking like that?”
I said unfamiliar with the regularly occurring summer cacophonies as I tried desperately to hang on to the vestiges of our mild winters, hence the baking of an apple pie.
“Oh your mom is throwing toys for Babe.”
“Oh, of course.” I answered and resumed the finishing touches on my culinary masterpiece.
“Where is dad?”
“He went out for a kayak.” Chris replied.
Chris rinsed Eva off and was watching a cartoon with her when about ten minutes later I brought her some lunch. I could still hear Piccolo barking.
“That’s weird,” I said to Chris.
“What?” Chris answered.
“Piccolo is still barking.”
“There is nothing weird about that, I assure you.”
“Yes there is, I said.”
I pointed to the clock.
“My mother can’t possibly be still on the beach, she needs at least thirty minutes to put her face on.”
“You know, her makeup.”
“And listen..” I said.
“He has probably gotten stuck trying to climb a palm tree again. Let me go out and see.”
Meanwhile I had no idea what had been transpiring on the beach because I was elbow deep in almond flour egg batter and coconut stewed apples. As I wandered out of the garden toward the beach I dodged, chewed Frisbees, dog toys, sticks, and children’s floaties, discarded swimsuits and partially deflated water wings missing their pair. As I rounded the stairs I located Piccolo barking on top of a kayak at Babe who lay in the sand, understandably exhausted from all her running about.
I figured Mom had left to get dressed as she often will leave Babe on the beach, who eventually gets bored and comes home. And I figured Dad had done the same, and left his kayak pulled up on the beach.
I took another look at Babe from the top of the stairs.
Piccolo kept right on barking.
“Oh god, Oh no.”
I noticed she wasn’t looking at me, and then I surveyed the scene, instantaneously remembering my CPR training from age 14. It was at that moment I observed a large bowel movement next to her in the sand.
I ran down the stairs and put my hand on Babe, and tried to move her head. I stroked her fur, and all that came to me was “Oh Babe.” And I patted her again.
I stood up, picked up Piccolo and told him.
“Babe is dead, she had a heart attack on the beach.”
Piccolo was very upset. I ran up the stairs with him in my arms and brought him inside to Chris and whispered so Eva would not hear.
“Babe had a heart attack on the beach and she is dead, look after Piccolo and I will find my parents.”
He nodded, and I locked Piccolo in the living room with Eva and Chris and sprinted next door.
Babe was really my mother’s dog, she was home the most, fed, bathed and walked her, and they had a mother daughter bond, that she didn’t really have with her biological children. So naturally, I ran yelling to my parent’s house looking for my mother,
“Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom where are you! “
Out of breath I checked the shower, she wasn’t there, finally she emerged from the back with Anna Laura, Sadie and a pair of scissors, they had been half way through cutting Sadie’s hair.
Out of breath and high on adrenalin, I started half yelling half breathing.
“Mom, you have to sit down right now, I have bad news to tell you.”
She looked terrified and sat down, my sister then came rushing out.
“Oh good, you are still here, you sit down too, I said to them.”
They looked ashen.
“On the beach,” I said, “Piccolo was panic barking on the kayak. I ran out to see what had happened and…”
“Oh my god “ my mother said, swooning with her hand over her eyes.
“Babe is dead, she had a heart attack on the beach.”
“Oh, is that it?” Mom looked relieved.
“What!!! Babe Died” I said.
“Oh Phew” my sister said.
“What do you mean, phew?” I said about to pass out from the sprint I had made in record time.
“Babe is dead.” I said again.
“We thought you were going to say your father.” Anna Laura said.
“Does anyone know where your father is?” mom asked
“No, I said- I came yelling and I didn’t see him anywhere.”
“He went out on a kayak.” Anna Laura said.
“The kayak is on the beach, he must be back somewhere?”
“Let’s go see Babe,” My mother finally mustered.
“What shall we do with her?” I said pointing to Sadie who looked like she was about to burst into tears.
“We should bring her so that she learns.” Anna Laura said.
“Okay, I will get Eva too but we all need to remain calm.” I said even though I had unintentionally let everyone believe that Dad had had a heart attack on the beach by accident.
We reconvened on the beach around Babe’s body. Myself, Eva, Chris, Anna Laura and Sadie.
Mom bent over and tried to feel for a pulse.
“Mom, I already did that, she is gone.”
“Shall we do CPR?” Mom said
“No mom, she has been gone about ten minutes, there is no point, it was a massive coronary.”
Just then we noticed something on the horizon. My father, paddling back to shore.
Like all dreadful moments, when you can see something has happened but you can’t tell what, Dad thought something had happened to one of the kids but upon counting heads, he realized he was only missing a fury one.
“We can’t just leave her here.” Mom said.
Chris volunteered to get a wheelbarrow while we filled my dad in on what had transpired.
“How many valiums did you give her last night in the thunder storm?” I asked.
“Three.” Mom said. “And she had her pee pill this morning and her eye drops.”
“Too many medications.” I said
“She only has half as many as me” Mom replied.
“Did you give her your pee pill by accident, that would probably kill a horse” I said.
She ignored me and instinctively, like you do after you put your child to sleep, started collecting Babe’s toys which lay scattered on the beach, a testament to her last happy moments doing what she loved. She took the Frisbee and fired it in the air trying to make the garden but it got my dad right in the face.
“Jane!!!!’ Somehow the trauma of the moment had made my mother a perfect shot.
The drama of the moment had everyone else scurrying about.
“Jane, we need an old sheet or something to lift the body in.”
My mother left and returned a few minutes later with my father’s limited edition St. David’s landmarks, hand-woven furniture throw, a collectors edition item from the American Indian descendants of the Pequot tribe.
“You can’t use that to wrap her body in” My father yelled.
“Why not?” my mother asked, always ready to throw his historical interests under the bus, or in this case the dead body.
“Because,” my father stammered not wishing to say he didn’t want to part with the throw.
In the meantime, Sadie and Eva stood together looking over the sea wall at all the activity. Listening to them talk to each other helped give the moment some levity and inspired this blog post.
“Babe died.” Sadie said to Eva
“Mommy, why did Babe die?” asked Eva pulling on my pant leg.
I crouched down between them.
“Because she did a poo.” Sadie pointed at the poo.
“No, Babe died because it was time for her to go to heaven and become an angel.” I said.
“Poos go in the potty.” Eva pointed down at Babe’s body.
“We are not going to die, Eva, because we do poos on the potty.” Said Sadie.
Hamma and Gigi and Chris moved Babe into the wheel barrow and wheeled her back to their house, outside the gate to the garden where all the pets are buried and where Chris and I got married.
Hamma laid her body on the grass.
“Now we have to clean the sand off of her.” said Gigi.
“What! “ said Hamma, “Why!”
“Because she is covered in sand and she can’t be buried with a sandy face.”
My father sighed and went to fetch the hose.
“In a situations like this, you just do as you are told.” He said.
I thought by situation he meant “marriage” not “death.” I wondered what he would do if he could go back to his “sudden death” week before he married my mother. I know he attempted to delay proceedings but she insisted that they get married before the end of 1969. He waited until December 27th but now it’s been almost 45 years… forty five years of fetching the hose.
My mother affectionately washed off Babe’s body. I wondered if the next step was taxidermy, but then I realized that that was something only I would consider, and my dogs were small enough to fit into a freezer, Babe was not.
Chris stepped in and decided to dig the hole in the garden.
“We had better do it now before rigor mortis sets in.” He returned with a shovel and got to work.
“I’ll call the Jones’s and tell them we will be late.” We were always late but they deserved a warning that we would be arriving even later and with a large risk of spontaneous crying.
Mom was already crying and so Sadie went around and hugged everyone to make them feel better. Whereas Eva just wanted to know,
“Why is Daddy putting Babe in a hole?”
“Because after she died, she needs to be buried and then she will go to heaven to become an angel.” I replied doing my best. I probably could have done better if we had had more warning.
My sister piped up, “But you said you were a heathen on your blog.”
“I am a heathen but I still believe in heaven and angels… and fairies and ghosts.”
“Mommy what’s a heathen.”
“It’s your mommy’s nickname.”
We decided to go to the party and return afterwards to host a proper funeral. Meanwhile my brother arrived at the party and was told by his godparents the terrible news. He was shocked and devastated, devastated that the sister he lost was the one that didn’t talk back, and the one who couldn’t read or write blogs, and for a moment Babe’s passing took emphasis off the event at hand. The rest of us arrived forty five minutes late, the approximate time needed for Chris to dig a hole and the rest of us to argue about it, shower and dress.
And so my brother’s wedding pre-party became Babe’s wake, as the family, the wedding party and the soon to be “outlaws” toasted to her memory. Who doesn’t love a dog, even one that barks fifty seven times at 8am.
Later at the funeral, even Chris wiped away a tear for Babe, for the dog, who would never bark for the fifty eighth time. I played Taps on my laptop and read a poem by Lord Byron.
Epitaph to a Dog: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epitaph_to_a_Dog
Near this Spot are deposited the Remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise; I never knew but one — and here he lies.
A video of the funeral:
A week before my brother’s wedding, my mother had lost more than a friend, she had lost her last daughter, her final child, and when my brother was lost to the institution of matrimony, when he and Danielle exchanged vows she would for the first time, have an empty nest. My father was going to have to take Babe’s place in my mother’s affections, by peeing the bed, being spoon fed, stealing roast beef, and tearing up my mother’s decorative pillows, it wasn’t after all, far from believable. A few days later after Hamma was forced to go on my mother’s regular dog walk at Ferry Reach, I found Hamma hiding Babe’s collars and leashes and he tried to give me one of her dog beds, out of fear that my mother would have his initials embroidered on a new cover by LL Bean.
It was clear after the wedding, my mother would need a new focus.
Stay tuned for Two weddings and a funeral part 2.
Here is a note that came back from Eva and Sadie’s nursery the following day as Auntie Zoe had been informed by both girls of Babe’s untimely demise.