Monday, January 25, 2021

The Beautiful World of Barney Campbell-Wakefield

In 2008, Barney appeared in my life, as he located across the street at the home of my sweet neighbors, the Campbells, who I’d known casually for eight years. This family had a Mom, Lyndi, four children, a grandchild and a Dad. And a few cats. And as of this day, a dog. A little white ball of fluff who arrived via Cayla, the eldest child and only daughter, adopting him to be a companion to her young daughter, Lauren.

He didn’t have a name, yet, but the boys seemed to be calling him “Jumbo.” The perky little turkey was having fun at his home and the boys brought him over to see me and we seemed to hit it off.

He reminded me a lot of my late lhasa apso, J. Edgar Hoover Wakefield, so named because he was the director of security. J. Edgar had been gone for two years, and his younger brother, a chihuahua/rat terrier mix named Pepe J. Wakefield (the J didn’t stand for anything, but he needed a middle initial for balance) had been gone for just one year. I was done with taking care of anyone, as I’d been through the death of my mother three years prior and the last two of her “babies” had joined her in Heaven.

But this little guy was sort of limping, and the boys explained he had found some sticky burrs in their backyard and wouldn’t let them pull them out. I scooped him up and put him in my lap and we all talked as I pulled out the sticky burrs one by one. They were shocked that he let me do it, and I just remember his beautiful brown eyes smiling up at me and a slightly wicked little grin that bespoke mischief in days to come. I said, “Fellas you cannot call this little guy Jumbo…he’s not large and its bad for his self-image.” Giving me that polite but understanding that most “old ladies don’t know anything…until they do…” they said “Okay.”

Two days later, Lauren and her grandmother, Lyndi, came across the street and reintroduced the newly christened Barney, named for the beloved purple dinosaur, and I loved the name! I also loved Barney. “He is not minding us very much,” Lyndi said, “so this is a hard thing to ask but we have our annual camping trip scheduled in two weeks, and they don’t accept dogs there, and that date has been set for a year.” I smiled and said, “He’ll be fine here with me. We’ll have a good time and we’ll call it Camp Barney.” I was confident. Barney, not as much, but willing to give it a try.

He arrived at camp with enough supplies to last a month and a happy but slightly distrusting grin, and we set about to establish a routine of sorts. How that worked was he did what he wanted and I tried to find the right cues of when to let him in and out and to go out with him and make sure he didn’t leave my yard. That went pretty well. However, while I was working from the living room in my home (having expanded my International World Headquarters) I noticed Barney was dashing from the living room to my back office and I heard a little bit of noise…seems he’d been pawing frantically at the mini-Venetian blinds when he’d see various cars pass by on the street.

I snapped to the fact that he had (natural) separation anxiety and worried being left…something we don’t think about when they’ve been in the welcoming but insecure place of the animal shelter in hopes of being chosen. How long that will last is unknown to them as their reasoning skills are keen but not as long a period to support long-term faith in the humans they take on. I mean what I say…they take on the human family, the humans don’t really adopt the puppy…we just think we do.

The third day in, I was starting to count the days until camp was over. I have to be frank. He was inconsolable, and even though I let him up onto my bed to share my space for reassurance, when morning came, the only thing on his mind was “Are they back yet?” Back to the window he would go and resume his watch post. And then that evening, an explosion happened west of town…fertilizer plant had sustained a major blast and the wind from there was heading here, so the news said. Having worked in a chemical plant in a prior career I knew neither Barney nor I wanted to be here for several hours until that had all passed us by.

Off we went towards Huntsville; I packed his little leash in the car and a little water. He wasn’t interested in either. He rode pretty well in the front seat passenger side, and he liked it for a while. If you have a child under five years old as your passenger in the back seat, wonder how many times a one-hour ride will bring the question, “Are we there yet?” No, he didn’t say a word, but Barney was getting antsy. Part of it was not having a clue why we were on the road, the other because it was time for nature to call. Finally, we reached Huntsville, and his little sounds were telling me “now” was the time.

I pulled into a parking lot, near a grassy area close to Jack-in-the-Box, and turned the car off. I slipped his little leash on him, and opened the car door and I was just going to sit there and let him go leash-far, a fairly good distance, but, it was raining. He didn’t mind the rain, but he minded my not being 100% committed to joining him there. In the rain. Rolling my eyes and recalling just four more days of camp, I went out and got soaked to the bone while he took care of business. I had towels in the car for him (I saw the sky and thought ahead), but I had to drip dry. Fine. We drove around some more, and he finally settled down, and we eventually had a good, snuggy ride back.

The next three days brought more smiles and shared times, and a d├ętente between our test of wills. We just managed to understand one another without the words. And he got into my routine. I found that if I turned TV on in the background, with the sound low as I worked, he had something to watch and keep him busy. He liked USA Network on Wednesdays because they’ve always rerun NCIS episodes and with then 5 seasons in the hopper back then, they had plenty to run. He seemed to like Leroy Jethro Gibbs, but I’m certain that was transference from what “Mommy” likes to what he likes. Hallmark Channel was another popular favorite. He didn’t fuss, he stayed awake watching the TV, and only snoozed occasionally. We made it through the week just fine.

When the family came home, they were horrified at the mini-blinds and offered to fix them immediately. I wouldn’t hear of it. They asked why not. I said, “You’ll be going camping next year, right?” They said, “Yes,” and I said, I’ll just pull the blinds up to the right level and you won’t be able to tell. It was henceforth deemed “Barney height.” It looked just fine!

The family had been back for at least three days when one day, my front door was open and this little face appears at my screen door, paws up, peering inside to see whether I was home. Curious, I thought, hmm, what’s on his mind? I opened the door and he marched in, hopped up in the chair that was tentatively known as “his,” lined with a towel, and waited for me to bring him a treat. I had enough treats to keep him busy for weeks, so once I gave him a few Milk Bones, he was off to take a nap. Okay, fine. He got bored. I actually thought he was curious as to whether my open door policy extended beyond Camp week. It did.

Still recuperating from being doggie-less for two years after Mom’s death, I had grown willing to live “alone,” and not be considered a family, because for that term, there must be two, not one. My schedule was different now, and I was traveling more for fun, and taking work along with me on the various adventures with “just like family” friends who made me feel like I really did have family, the kind that makes sure you’re covered on holidays. I wasn’t ready to settle into being a pet parent fulltime so I had not explored adoption. Barney was, I thought, a one-off experience, and he was cute.

Two days later about 8:30 am, I heard a lot of barking across the street. Didn’t pay too much attention, turned up Hallmark in the background and settled back into work. About 9:00 am, I looked up to see a little black and white dog at my screen door. Barney had dug out from under the front yard fence across the street. He was hot and slightly foul-tempered at having had to get dirty to get out. The nerve…he thought. I let him in, scooped him up, and put him in the sink for a quick emergency bath. Bless his little heart. I could swear I saw him grin as I watched him settle into the bath towel I’d wrapped him in.

I had another towel on “his chair” in the living room but he jumped down off of that, ran around the room furiously to “air dry” if you will, and having completed at least nine circles, he jumped back up on the chair, circled twice, and settle into rest mode. When Lyndi came home from teaching school, I took Barney across the street and said, “I had a little visitor today,” and she laughed and said, “He decided he wanted to be with you,” and together we saw the gap he’d dug under the fence. She said, “I’ll have Cade (oldest son) put a big rock to block him from digging there. Problem solved.

The next morning, I hear the barking again, and I am thinking, “Why is he out there barking when he could just as easily be inside his home (doggie door) snoozing with his little kitties?” Again, my mind got back to work and I forgot about it. At right about 9:00 am, a familiar face, black and white, appeared at my screen door. Again we performed the scoop-and-clean, run-and-dry ritual. And I laughed. He smiled. When Lyndi got home from teaching her first graders, we reviewed the day’s events. Barney 2, the adults 0. Hmm. She said, “I’ll have Cade put another big rock where he dug out.” As you might guess, we had underestimated Barney’s determination not to be without a human companion in the daytime. He knew I needed him more than he needed me and he was on a mission.

By the end of the third day, we decided that Lyndi or Cade would bring him over in the morning before they went to school, and we exchanged front door keys. That was the official event by which Barney had two mommies and two families, having created the second by virtue of his willing presence and my astonished joy of acceptance. I bought a dog bed, a box of Milk Bone, and a water bowl of my (his) own. And therein began the weekday/workday routine of most of the days from 2008 until 2021.

The different seasons of the years brought the need for haircuts and style for Barney as well as a selection of winter clothing suitable for a growing boy. Lyndi and I had a blast when he’d come home from groomings in little bandanas, looking like quite the little dude, and then his winter wardrobe included a little camo jacket that said “Major Trouble,” complete with the major insignia on it. He also had a black cape that said “Best Friend,” and a host of other stylish knits with holiday seasons on them.

Cayla got him a Halloween costume, I found him a referee’s outfit, and when Caleb entered the U.S. Navy, we got him a little sailor suit. He wasn’t big on the suit, which took both Lyndi and me working together to get it on him and a little picture—fast, but we have it! Caleb was pleased. I have almost a decade of pictures of Caleb, Barney, and me as we share a common birthday.

Over the years, it also gave me a chance to daily see whichever of the Campbell children would come by to pick him up for his dinnertime. Cade, Caleb, Colton, and Lauren, his beloved little girl and first love. Barney was never at a loss for loving arms to hold him, and all the boys loved him dearly, too. He loved being outside when they played football, and they had a great relationship. His boys brought him such joy. He would watch patiently as Lauren created sidewalk art.

Weekends provided some Barney time, too, if there was a time block where he might be bored being alone for four hours, so we had time here too. The weekdays we called “Office Hours” and I’d often reward him as Employee of the Month treats as he was vital to my success. Starbucks loved making him Puppycino’s (all whipped cream) and Puppy Lattes (again, all whipped cream), and many businesses in town (drive through at American Momentum Bank, dry cleaners, Sonic, and Dairy Queen) had something for the little fellow.

He loved errands. He also loved Dairy Queen, but you couldn’t get anything free for him, yet Freddy’s frozen custard was always gracious in providing a pup cup of vanilla custard for him (he didn’t get the ‘whole thing’ as I was careful about his only getting enough to participate in the tasting).

As I traveled out of town, I would do silly things like ask to FaceTime with him and while Lyndi was willing, generally, Barney was not having much of it, as he knew he was inconvenienced—but it was hard to stay mad at me. I did other silly things like knowing I would be out of the house for four hours some days, I’d pick up my cell phone and dial my home phone and leave a voice message that I knew he was listening to. He hated those fraudulent calls and scam calls as much as I did, but accepted them as part of working at home in your office.

Barney didn’t participate in athletics outside the neighborhood, though Lyndi walked him regularly after I threw my hands in the air. On my leash, Barn would want to go left, right, smell the roses, water the roses, look at something far too long for my purposes, and the broken up concrete sidewalks were often challenging for a smooth walk where I was, and Lyndi was a better mommy to walk with him. She had a gentle but no-nonsense leash hold. I was apparently a soft touch.

He ran the neighborhood over time…some days we’d both look out our doors and see the little turkey in the middle of the street, all stretched out and just daring a car to come by. We’d both freak out and run out our respective doors, chastising him in English not to do that. Other neighbors would see this and say, “Oh, the other day, the mailman went around him rather than make him move.” Our eyes rolled, we said silent prayers of thanks, and shook our heads wondering what made him so stubborn and yet fearless.

Over the years, the boys grew up and left home for their future careers. One by one, Barn went to the next boy to find his nighttime sleeping buddy. Finally, when Colton was out of town in college, Barney found Lyndi to snooze with. Or, if Lauren came over to be with her “Didi,” Barney would find a chair in the kitchen to perch on and watch the girls cooking up a storm.

Mother’s Day, birthdays, and Christmases brought gifts from Barney, and he signed the cards too, virtually, in his heart. Flowers for Mother’s Day, key chains with paw prints, coffee mugs that say “Dog Mom,” you’d have never known he was never really mine, except in my heart. Sharing two families, though, made it genuine work for him to keep all of us content and at peace in our lives.

At one point, neighbor Debbie took an instant shine to Barney, and was known to keep a box of Milk Bone treats or Pupperoni in her kitchen. Then, if Jeannie’s grandson, Hunter, was nearby, Barney wanted to play with him. Jocelyn and Philip had two dogs that would occasionally have Barney and Lyndi along. He was a real fixture and source of laughter for all of us, given whatever he was up to. We have neighbors whose names we still don’t know who say, “Are you the owner of this little white dog?” and we’d say “Well, we both are.” And others who knew his name and not ours…we knew where we ranked with the little dude in charge.

Lyndi as a first grade teacher and me with my virtual grandparenting skills, started to think we were pretty clever as we would spell out certain words around him. We were last to know he could spell. R-I-D-E would get barks of approval as he loved to go on rides. He was so funny. I rarely left the car unattended with him in it, but if I did, I locked the doors and had the A/C full blast in the summer with the engine (and radio) on and I’d say, “I’ll be right back honey,” only to return 45 seconds later and there would be “nose art” on my window, as he peered through, paws up, to figure out where I was.

At the UPS office, I’d wave through the window and he’d have his paws on the dashboard watching me. He’d bark when I got back in the car to register his inconvenience. I ignored it but made sure he got a treat from somewhere before taking him home. One day I came out from Little Caesar’s going inside and there he was sitting in my driver’s side seat and both front and passenger windows were wide open. He’d found the button, showed me his skills, and waited for me to note them. I swear he was smiling. Little know-it-all. But he was and he did.

Everyone has a similar, relatable relationship with their dogs and sometimes with their cats. Barney had five kittens but you had to call them “Barney’s kitties” or he’d get jealous. I’d take him over to visit with them for an hour or so every day during the family vacation. He missed them if you didn’t.

Occasionally, one or the other cat would want to come inside my house to see what the fuss was all about. I let them in but Barney wouldn’t hear of their staying. No thank you. Okay, and they left willingly, but I felt sorry for them. If they came over while Barney and I were in the front yard, I’d sit on the flower box wall, and the Momma kitty would let me pet her with my right hand, but you can sure as shootin’ bet my left hand was stroking Barney’s head with my left hand. It’s what you do.

During the past three years, life has been tougher than anything I’d experienced in my lifetime thus far. Many challenges appeared without warning, some invoking exasperation, others invoking real fear, and massive uncertainty. There are certain things in life where you can take calculated risks and things usually work out, but with others, you have to have genuine security over or else you can spend many sleepless nights worrying. Wise people tell you not to worry, to have faith, and that works during the daylight hours, but at night your subconscious doesn’t always follow that logical path. Too many unknowns in my life and our world weighed heavily on me.

Barney was a continuing sense of calm during the most tumultuous times in my life. Eight years ago, my world changed tremendously when I lost several key people in my world, some to passing away, others to changes in daily routines. The loss was severe and Barney kept me amused, kept me focused and was good company. He knew when I needed him, and found his way across the street outside of usual office hours and would show up, stand in my flower box, try to peer at me through the front shades and utter one loud sigh. No barking, no scratching, just a sigh, like “Lady, don’t you know I’m out here waiting on you to let me in?”

I laughed every time I heard that sigh. What a little nuthead, and so cute. He would respond to me with a familiar clap and whistle I’d created for him, and it was the only way to keep him from chasing a few dear young families pushing a stroller. Anything with wheels (bicycles, skateboards, etc.) caused him such consternation…he’d bark and go nutty cuckoo trying to chase after them. I could yell, “Barney, ride!!!” and he’d quit his path of trouble and return to me. Of course I had to make good on my promise lest he learn that my word was no longer solid. I always made good on my promises.

If you’re thinking that Barney’s world was 90% me, 10% Lyndi’s family, that would be so wrong. It was 50–50 for sure, but over there, he had all these children growing up in front of his eyes to love and cherish. At my house, he had just me to look after. There was one time when Barney thought he was a German Shepherd as he took out after one that had gotten out of someone’s yard. It had been a quiet morning and I let Barn out to hang out in our front yard and sun himself a little without me.

The fight began as soon as the German Shepherd wandering loose entered my yard. Barney wasn’t fearful and he was determined to chase that dog out, but I could tell from the yelping that he wasn’t coming out unscathed. So I ran into the kitchen, filled a pitcher of water, ran out front, yelled and barked (Yes, I barked) loudly at the German Shepherd, who was either amused or confused and he dropped Barney. I barked some more so the errant dog took out after some other less crazy lady.

I scooped up Barney and we drove to the vet. After some cleaning up, an antibiotic prescription and a “cone of shame,” I explained to the boys later that day that he would have to keep that cone on all night long so he wouldn’t scratch at the places healing. They nodded and said they understood. The next morning when they brought him over for office hours, he trotted in so perky and they carried the cone with them…they explained that he didn’t like the cone and wanted it off so he could sleep. I laughed. So much for the cone of shame.

Barney had an excellent sense of smell and of hearing. For example, when Lyndi made bacon (his absolute favorite treat), he planted himself right by her feet at the stove, an immovable object that you could possibly trip over, except you just knew he was there. The boys used to convince him to come home to their house when it was time for dinner by saying, “Barney, bacon!” and he’d leave my place in the middle of a good nap for promise of bacon when it was time to go.

They also used that phrase to attract him home from my front yard, particularly if he was without a leash, when a big doggie was being walked down the street by other owners and had not seen them first. We avoided many potential disasters that way, as Barney was keen on keeping non-block-doggies on their own streets. Territorial, just like lhasas tended to be. He approved of certain other doggies and he had a hefty list of who was/wasn’t approved.

Also, he could be snoozing in a back room, and if I tore open a cellophane package of anything that was a treat, he was by my side instantly, and smiling upward at me, waiting for “his” portion. He could count. One cookie for me, one cookie for him. Not two cookies for me, one cookie for him. Fine. Did I mention he was good at math?

Barney went to school, virtually at least. In Lyndi’s first grade class she had told her students all about Barney and his two homes, and they were fascinated that he now had learned to come over on his own, as we both stood in our front yards to “watch him over” so he arrived safely every day. We’d wave at each other, and his arrival would begin our days.

Our days usually ended with Lyndi coming to pick him up, and to try and have a conversation about how his day went was regularly interrupted with his barking. We said he was chewing her out and giving her “what for” if he had to deviate from his usual dinner time by one minute, one little minute, but more often, he just wanted the last word. All of them, ha.

That little “ba-roo-roo, ba-roo-roo” of his found us shaking our heads laughing while trying to get him to stop. We both caught what-for…when I came home from fun/work Los Angeles travels, I’d get a good yelling at (“You left me, you left, you weren’t here, I’m mad”) following by little kissies showing he had forgiven me.. One didn’t immediately follow the other. He’d make his point first. He’d been inconvenienced. “I’m sorry honey, Mommy is back now.” That would be one or the other of us saying that.

I was a guest speaker in Lyndi’s class one day to talk about what a writer did, and they had so many questions about Barney, that I taught them how to tell a story using Barney as the main character. That was fun! I learned much from Barney the teacher in my lifetime, and he just learned to love me for my best qualities rather than see the worst in me.

Barney’s role in my life the last two years especially has been substantial. I tried so very hard to remain apolitical in my posts of my personal opinions of the world of politics, while I watched as people I considered dear friends were posting every thought on Facebook, some of which I agreed with, others I did not. But inside I was a total wreck. Daily, I watched as the leadership of our country, not just one at the top, reveal themselves to be who they truly were.

Daily, I discovered new fear, new despair, and it was real. I fought like mad to overcome depression as it was always lingering close by. Faith and dear friends remained constants and, I was forced to jettison some dear friends who insisted on cynicism and rebuked my optimism that things would get better, because “it never goes well for those who want positives to change, and most people in government service are bound to stay silent, and if I’d only experienced what they’d seen.” I had to concentrate and focus on optimism and listen for the still voices of faith to send me insight. It had been hard enough, outside of politics, already.

Over two years ago, but virtually overnight, I found my traditional business income upended when a major company outsourced all the work all of us had done for over 20 years. I had to build back a substantive portion of my income, while doing the rest of the work I was doing. Barney was a steadfast companion when I was essentially housebound, working all holidays, nights, and weekends to rebuild. I was never alone as long as Barney was here. He put in long, long hours as my companion and joy.

He seemed to feel a strong sense of duty here. When the question of whether or not the government would vote to remove affordable health care arrived… the only issue I’ll address…were it not for that affordable insurance, I likely would not be here today. It saved me. I had no Plan B, nor anyone in my world who had room to worry about me as they were all worried about themselves, rightfully so. That’s normal. That’s life.

But when you think you have insurance and one day you hear it could be gone, you take a deep breath and scream. Every single day. I faced the likelihood that any medical procedure, no matter how common, would have forced me to sell my house and move, and of course, that isn’t the end of the world.

But the reality of that meant without living here, that would end my proximity to Barney, my family. So, let’s just say my fears and worries were real and rational. The uncertainty of life and the insecurity of, national security, also kept me up nights and weekends.

Some people mocked me for worrying or caring so much, but they were the ones whose future security had not changed a bit, so I shrugged as they would never know how it felt to have worked all these years and have it all gone. I cared about people who weren’t as fortunate as me, as well.

Some friends stayed by my side as I studied the details and facts carefully to be on top of what was happening. Prepared is a good state to live in. Only my closest friends heard my true opinions and shared theirs. We didn’t always agree, but we respected discussion and dialogue, just as we’ve always done. It’s never about one person as the leader of the country that we should focus.

It’s the officials you elect at the local polling places who showed us, as recently as January 6th, just who they are and what they stand for, and what they advocate and tolerate. Our nation has survived all these years, but I wasn’t sure I was going to the next four, to be perfectly frank. Depression is real. Fatalistic thinking is a habit many people adopt and if you hang around that, well, it’s better to escape the throes of fear and cynicism. Never give up, and take action when you can. At the very least, vote, always. Barney had news and information from both parties in his daily/evening TV viewing. I have to say he was more fair and balanced in his journalism intake than most adults I know.

Now, as far as the uncertainty of COVID, that was so not-a-worry compared to everything else. Yes, all of us were thrown into economic insecurity and the isolation (even working at home had not been total isolation as much the knowledge that you were really isolated from COVID). Angels around me phoned regularly, things found their way to me, to my front porch, to calls of brilliant insight, and the forever wonderful SKYPE visits with best friends out of town brought calm, joy, and laughter. Inventive meet-ups at Sonic parking lots where we sat six feet apart in side-by-side cars, at Happy Hour (2-4pm ½ price soft drinks, folks) and laughed were helpful. Barn was always at my feet or in the seat next to me.

In the part of my world as a life celebrant, I could relate to the losses people were sharing, and I determined to bring the best of their loved ones to life in the stories we shared. Barney was just as faithful on nights and weekends to his families. Thank the Lord, COVID wasn’t transmissible via puppies, or you’d have had two families in adjoining wards…only thing transmissible via Barney were little kissies and hand licks and lots of laughter at what he’d done lately to show his pleasure or lack thereof.

Over the past few months, Barney has been less a presence here, as Colton was working and studying from home quite a bit. When there was a choice between being “with his brothers,” or me, Barney preferred that over my company, and I thought it was adorable. At Christmas, we had the joy of having oldest brother, Cade, and Brittany here from out-of-state, and next brother, Caleb, got leave from the Navy, and Barney was in heaven with all his boys here. His paws never hit the ground as he was having fun being held, or chasing after the ball, or whatever.

Granddaughter Lauren had turned glorious 14, and Lyndi and I never could remember how old Barney was except by how old Lauren was when Cayla got Barney for her. When Cayla and Lauren moved to a home of their own, Barney remained with Lyndi because that bond had already been formed too strongly to part company. Over the years, Cayla found her soulmate and son Bodi was born, the youngest of the family to fall in love with Barney. Barney was just nuts over Bodi; he loved his youngest “boy.”

As to Barney’s heritage and doggie lineage…he was considered mostly lhasa apso, with a little bit poodle and maybe some Bichon Frise, too. Even the separation anxiety when Bichon Frises are left alone sounded familiar. He was too big for a Havanese, but their faces are similar to the Bichon Frises also. On the vet records, he was primarily a lhasa mix. And on some of the vet forms his full name would be listed as Barney Campbell-Wakefield. That was what I had engraved on his little collar tag where his shots/rabies info tags hung for inspection. Lyndi would laugh when I’d call him to return back from his little unauthorized jaunt down the street, while using his full name.

I had an interesting dream a few weeks ago, and it was one that signaled a major change coming in life. It also happened that blindness and a little hearing loss had popped up out of nowhere for Barney. We didn’t understand the blindness, especially as he had never even had a cataract that we ever saw. The occasional deafness was causing a little confusion, too. He wasn’t the same, but the holidays brought him joy. Most recently, he had the chance to don one of his sweaters to play in the snow.

As Lyndi and Lauren built a snowman, he supervised. Then when Lauren made snow angels Barney came over to my door, barked, and I let him in to dry off and snooze warmly for a nap from frisky playing in the snow. The past three weeks I have been moved to say to him out loud, “Thank you so much for being here with me.” “You have been such a blessing in my life, and I hope you’ve been happy here.” “I love you so much.” I sensed he was pulling away from this world, as much as he had been here long enough to see all of his boys one more time as the aging process had accelerated.

Neither of us had discussed it before, but lately Lyndi and I had to realize that he was showing fast signs of decline, confusion, and we learned that neither of us could leave the room for more than 30 seconds before he’d jump out of his chair and run to find us. Separation anxiety had returned. We hadn’t figured out why at that point.

Easter two years ago, Barney had changed my Easter morning plans when he had an episode of something that (for only $$$) the Vet school pronounced as pancreatitis. His bad episode of discomfort was enough to scare me. Had not seen a repeat of that since that time and their advice and counsel was worthless. But this past week, late Tuesday overnight, Barney experienced three seizures within four hours at Lyndi’s, and at 8 am he was resting as comfortably as he could on his couch, until his 9am vet appointment time that Lyndi made at the wonderful Kurten Animal Clinic, following their morning surgeries. What a blessing they are in this community. On our drive out there, a beautiful red cardinal crossed our path, and I knew immediately that all would be well; that was my usual sign.

After the examination, Lyndi and I spoke with the vet, who was wonderful, helpful, caring, kind, and she gave us time to consider what we thought was in his best interest. Imagine that I had come so far down the road from “neighbor lady during summer camp” to “Mommy #2,” who was sitting with Mommy #1 as we discussed what was in his best interest.

Faced with similar decisions that we all experience with an aging beloved pet or fur baby as we like to call them, we’ve all gone through this step. What is best, when is best, how is best? Heavy decisions, weighed with love, faith, and care. It’s the time when you’d like to retreat from adult decision making and yet, we can’t. By mutual agreement, we allowed Barney to transition to Heaven that morning. Never again would he fear being alone or having a seizure alone without one of us there to comfort him. That’s not the end of the story. When we arrived home, our neighbor Philip was waiting for moral support and to prepare the gravesite. Lyndi knew who would make the cross for his grave. That evening, Jocelyn had delivered beautiful condolence arrangements to both Lyndi and me.

I have been slow to tell people about this, needing to wait until I could write without tears. I made two phone calls that afternoon, and when I saved the news for a dear friend and former neighbor the next day, she broke into tears when she learned, as she'd watched Barney grow up for years, and he was welcome to come into her house, as sometimes he'd be at her door too; and she opened it and he came in, presumably looking for me, and he left after he saw I wasn't there. So, I apologize to those just now learning of this, but I was finding my way back to center. Much prayer, some amazing confirmations of his love, and the peace that passes all understanding have come over me, and I could write without tears, as he'd seen me through enough of those.

For on that day, Barney and I were both emancipated, from fear, as our nation turned a corner signaling a change. Those who agree see it that way, those who do not see it another. I just know that Barney stayed faithfully in my life until the moment it changed, knowing I’d be just fine from now on. He knew, or God knew, that I “had the watch” from here on out. Yet, my years in the vast wasteland of fear, uncertainty, depression, and negative projections of those who favored that path never found me alone or without a loving companion on the road filled with desolation and isolation when I needed him most.

That afternoon, after making two calls to those who’d been my second family every day in recent years, and receiving true condolences, I felt consoled and at peace. Later on, I experienced another sign that Barney had made it to the part of Heaven where he’d been welcomed by those in my world who were waiting for him. Without doubt, without fear, and without reservation, it’s been very quiet in my home and in our neighborhood these past several days.

I’ve hesitated to write this until I could type every word with a smile on my face rather than tears welling up. I’m out of tears, but I’m not out of love. I’ll never run out of love, for all my babies that have been part of my world throughout my life. I don’t anticipate being lucky enough to have another shared doggie situation as I think that was truly a once-in-a-lifetime situation. I’m just honored to have been one in a very large family of love who were made his earthly guardians for the 12 or so years that he was here among us, running our days and nights with precision, love, and lots of laughter.

My friend Betsy says, “There are no coincidences in God’s world,” and I believe that to be true. For those who have followed the adventures of Barney all these years, I thank you for your affirmations of delight and including his name on Christmas cards and in conversation, asking how he is and what he’s up to lately. Heavenly gifts and messages arrive in our lives as we need them. I believe that with all my heart. And, I bless the day that Barney Campbell-Wakefield came barreling into my world, staying long, loving strong, and showing me that he will always be watching over me, as long as I am alive, until I can once again scoop him up into my arms and thank him.

Everything is going to be all right. Time has shown that to be true. Paraphrasing the words of my favorite professor, Dr. Leo Buscaglia:
“I know for certain that we never lose the people (or the pets) we love, even to death. They continue to participate in every act, thought and decision we make. Their love leaves an indelible imprint (or paw print) in our memories. We find comfort in knowing that our lives have been enriched by having shared their love.”
Amen, and amen.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Freda Jane Wood—Devoted Church Volunteer's Life Set a High Bar For Giving

Freda Jane Wood came into this world on August 26, 1957, a Baby Boomer by generation, only daughter and fourth child born to Bob and Jane Wood. At the time she was given the named of her aunt, Freda, and her mother’s name as her middle name. Growing up in Bryan with three brothers, she quickly learned to love sports, which would remain an important part of her life forever. She loved her family dearly, and she grew up in First United Methodist Church of Bryan, and clearly idolized her parents, Robert “Bob” and Jane Wood.[Photo, FUMC Bryan Directory, 1995, Jane and Freda Wood]

It was in 1993 I first met Freda, at the former 6pm Sunday evening worship services led by Rev. Bob Richers, formerly of FUMC Bryan. Freda would bring her mother, Jane, to our group of about 100 gathered for an evening opportunity to praise and worship God once again that day, furthering our resolve to live better lives in the coming week.

Two ladies, Anita and Jan, alternated playing the piano for 6 pm worship at this service you’d hear traditional “Methodist” golden oldie hymns, and a Cokesbury song or two. Freda could have easily been part of the Sanctuary Choir as she had a good second soprano voice, but that wasn’t one of her goals.

Different times over the Sunday nights, I learned from Freda a lot of the history of our church. Having grown up there, she knew virtually every member, old and new; she’d been present for each of the many developments and growth and building phases that happened through the years. Not any different than anywhere else in the United States in the 1960s, the church’s administrative structure would be described properly when you said, “The men of the church.” That was indeed the composition of those who made decisions, and those who financed with personal funds, the growth of their church.

Her father was an accountant, and the CPA firm formerly known as Durst, Wood, Milberger, et al. was part of her family history. She worked there in the office for many years, until her brother Gene opened his own accounting practice, and she joined Gene there. That was Freda by day. By night, she was at FUMC virtually “every time the doors opened,” for two reasons: (1) she loved it, and (2) she knew she might be needed to do something.

Doing “something for her church” came naturally to Freda. Never once did she have to be asked because she had already volunteered, rounded up a team, and was well on her way to fixing whatever was broken, as she saw it. The quality of never having to be asked to help because you see a need and just move to repair is rare, as things go.

[Photo, FUMC Bryan Directory, 1999, Freda and Jane Wood]

When it came to her church, every action she took was merely what she learned from childhood. She saw her father, one of the “pillars of the church,” work together with others, such as the late Joe Hanover, Holland Porter, and others who remain with us today. If something broke, they took out a pen, opened their checkbooks and paid for it. Never did a fund-raising campaign have to be initiated. No magic appeal or consultants were required. And then the church grew larger and larger.

Back then the church was a frequent part of estate giving for local families, and the Permanent Endowment Fund was often grown as individual gifts and trusts were set up to provide funding for the future of FUMC. Church leadership changed over the past forty years as more women were brought into that role, matching what was going on around the country, albeit slightly slower than the national scene.

Women were offered and excelled in leadership roles, and were also found to be most generous in financial support. I have yet to hear one of them named as a “pillar,” but that definition is no longer used contemporarily anyway. Pillars are made of some kind of clay and held together with mortar, and it all depends on the foundation as to how long and how strong it will prevail.

I first saw Freda’s impact in action ca. 1995, but she’d been at it long before that. Freda was a favorite of the town’s older generation, as she was a willing volunteer who would do anything she could for widows who might not have children immediately nearby to help out with simple tasks. I remember Frances Allen describing her at one time as “you would hear that we’d be expecting a freeze soon on the weather forecast, and you’d look out your window and see Freda wrapping your outdoor water faucets to prevent them from freezing up. She didn’t wait to be asked.

And so a long-term friendship would be cemented between generations. Freda did all these things with the love and approval of her mother, Jane, for whom she was devoted daughter and caregiver until Jane’s passing in October, 2015. Freda’s ministerial efforts were all indirect for years and she chose the people to help who had been devoted to her church all of her life.

She took ballet as a child from wonderful angel Jane Lee and Freda adored her. In her later years, she preferred functional comfort to fashion so if you haven’t known her more than 20 years, you’d have missed the beautiful outfits and matching jewelry that she always wore for church directory photographs and other special occasions. A few pictures here from past directories underscore that fact.

It was when a new senior pastor was appointed to FUMC in 1995 that would ultimately change the church forever, at least in terms that I perceive (your mileage may vary). For the first time in memory, the Methodist church was less about the changeup of ministers every few years to a new trend of allowing them to remain in place longer term. At least that is how it felt to those of us who had always heard of the process of fairly quick rotation. It was a guarantee that if you didn’t resonate with the style of one pastor, another would be along soon, so keep worshiping consistently and trust in the Lord even if you didn’t in the Bishop’s wisdom.

Early on, that newly appointed senior pastor decided he would change things up and reroute everything that once was one direction to flow another direction, his way. Early decisions and changes were well received, but one day, one decision split the congregation in half. It’s not unusual in any church to have such earth-shattering changes.

Every congregation is made up of volunteers and devoted members who believe passionately in what they believe to be true and correct. The senior pastor’s challenge is to maintain common ground among the membership so everyone still feels as though it is “their church,” when in fact it is always God’s church, subject to decisions and actions of the Bishop and her/his appointees. I say this because it would be at this point where my discussions with Freda would become less about the Houston Astros, to whom she was their #1 most devoted fan, and more about the wisdom of some of the things ongoing in our church. The discussions were always pleasant, never unpleasant, but her determination to support a path I didn’t agree with was unrelenting.

About that time some senior church ladies took me to lunch for my birthday and Freda was included. I was opening cards and Freda handed me a small package. Inside was a glass desk decoration with a quote from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It reads:

What counts is not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

She was not forecasting purposefully, but did I ever come to see firsthand what that meant in terms of her devotion to pursuing a goal relentlessly, thoroughly, and with the kind of tenacity akin only to a bulldog unwilling to let go of a perceived invader. And yet, never was an unpleasant word spoken between us. She proceeded to rally support for her chosen path, succeeded, and prevailed. Anyone who might have doubted her abilities was “taken to school,” as the saying goes.

The amount of goodness Freda gave to FUMC Bryan over the past thirty years that I observed was virtually uncountable—there’s some you will see clearly but others (most in fact) that she did behind the scenes that most will never even know of, because that is how she operated. She preferred being behind the scenes, even if she was front and center briefly to have to do something before going back to her other pursuits.

For example, today FUMC enjoys a magnificent online and media ministry and that is thanks to Mike Holmes, Rev. David Henry, Gregg Barfield, and Freda Wood, to name just four people that I know of, though of course many others were involved. It began, the way I recall, when the then-senior pastor (ca. 1993) wanted “someone” to take photos of new members who joined the church each week, so they could be included in the weekly newsletter. Freda volunteered, went out and got a new 35mm camera and came down the aisle as church ended each week to snap the pictures.

Next, there was a need for a video ministry that occurred as the radio broadcasts of the weekly worship service were becoming less available to the homebound members of our community and, as you’d expect, Freda volunteered to be part of that team immediately.

The next thing you knew, Freda was up in the gallery loft above the back of the congregation running the board on the multimedia elements of all services, whether it was 8:30 am worship, 11 am worship, or even going to the Gym between those two services to run the media board in the 9:00 am service, known today as the Awakening Service led by Rev. Jennifer Webber.

That was what she did and she was still just as frequent a financial supporter of the church, particularly when it came to the youth of the church. Every time the church would place lilies on the altar for Easter, Freda would join with her brother Gene and sister-in-law Wanda and donate funds sufficient to give in memory of every beloved angel of yesteryear in the church as well as her beloved senior widows—often being 50% of the needed donors, to assure the youth funds would be sufficient to send every child who wanted to go to Lakeview would go to Lakeview.

[Photo, FUMC Church Directory, 2004, Freda Wood]

One of very few things that might cause Freda to leave the FUMC campus for a time would be precious trips to see her beloved Houston Astros play baseball at home. She went to as many games as she could and listened or watched all the others faithfully. She helped get plenty of church buses going that way as well, and she was the best advocate the team could have here locally.

Freda was named Media Assistant to the FUMC staff and the need for her presence became more full-time than part-time, and she loved all that she did. Whether official church staff or lifetime volunteer, Freda did anything that she could do. Even though as a child she didn't attend Lakeview church camp, as an adult she became the Registrar for the annual Methodist camp activities at Lakeview each year and brought excellent order to the registration process and did it essentially solo for many years. Her personal philanthropy had made it possible for many of our children to attend; she truly put her heart into each thing she did for her church.

Freda had the admiration of so many church members that I could name and name and name and still it would not be a complete list, because if you were a new member last week at 28th and Houston, you’d have met her and been welcomed to “your” church by her. You never saw her without a smile, even if the Astros didn’t win, because she was determined they could do it the next game. It was not the smile of a person of simplicity; rather, it was a determination to use each day to help anyone she saw in need, without being asked.

Her dogs were another part of Freda’s life’s joy. If you had her e-mail address, you know her handle, “Fredasdogs,” and her Facebook pages are overflowing with photographs of dogs—hers as well as the photos of local lost and found pets as she was always willing to help spread the word of a missing pet and, more importantly, a found pet.

Many people have known Freda Wood longer and better than I do. They know personally of her service to FUMC Bryan and appreciate her for her wisdom, sense of humor, willingness to follow up on any need for anyone she knew, and most of all her faith in God. It was not something she spoke of as much as it was her actions.

Her faith in action reflects the words of Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it for one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.’”

When a dear friend shared the news of Freda’s passing with me yesterday, the very first image that came to mind was a memory of the lobby of the former College Station Medical Center. Freda was about to undergo knee surgery. Although many of us might consider that a routine procedure today, it was a rare happening in Freda’s world to be in the hospital. She was not alone; of course Wanda and Gene were there, and perhaps her nephew Tom and his wife Dana were, plus her primary doctor and longtime friend Dr. Philip Alexander (at the time on the hospital board, no less). Yet, one simply could not miss the other crowd of Methodist ministers all standing together, from her childhood pastor to her pastor of the hour, there they were. She smiled her 750-Watt smile at that sight, seeing them one and all.

If memory serves, Reverends Morris House, Carroll Fancher, Harral Dunnam, and Bob Richers, gathered in the informal collective of the lobby to assure Jesus and all of his archangels surrounded Freda with love and a genuine regard for returning her to her church world as to carry on in her ministry as unimpeded as possible.

It is with blessed assurance that I know Freda entered the kingdom of Heaven greeted by her beloved parents, her brothers Porter and John who preceded her there, and Reverends Morris House and Carroll Fancher awaiting the reunion of another in their congregations who joined them and all the now angels among those she tended to here on Earth. She leaves her funeral service to the most capable pastor, Rev. Rick Sitton, whose ministry here these many years has been blessed and enhanced by Freda’s media ministry and friendship to him and his family.

As Pastor Sitton wrote of her in his morning tribute, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” Faithful church volunteer Rose Cates shared a copy of Freda’s father’s business card he had made upon his retirement, which gave him more time to do good works. When the man you know and love as father on Earth has “this” philosophy with him all of his life, it’s easy to see that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. [Photos courtesy of Rose M. Cates]

Freda Jane Wood will always be remembered, uniquely for one so young, as one of the “pillars of the church” at First United Methodist in Bryan. And though she never sought acclaim for anything she did, I think she would have been pleased. Godspeed, Freda, and thank you for all that you did for those whose lives you touched.