“Do you carry electric blankets?” the voice asked when I answered the office phone. For a moment I was confused. Veterinarians use a variety of warming devices for our patients. In the old days, many of us routinely used electric heating pads (though not electric blankets), but these devices can actually be dangerous. Animals recovering from anesthesia or those too sick or injured to move away from such a heat source are at risk of developing thermal burns. Even when the pad does not feel too hot to us, prolonged contact can cause massive, even fatal, tissue damage. There is also the rare but real risk of electrocution should a curious puppy chew the cord. Did the caller need some way to warm up a pet? It took me a minute to regroup. “Ah,” I said with a smile. ”I think you want Shirley’s Hardware.”
These are the little things that make me happy, why I like living here. Shirley’s TrueValue Hardware and my veterinary practice have shared a similar phone number for more than 30 years, just two digits reversed. I like that we both still have landlines. I like knowing that the caller inverted two numbers and that I can give them the correct phone number without looking it up. I like knowing Lori Pinkham works at Shirley’s. Lori, who had been my veterinary assistant for so many years that on one really hectic day she called me “Mom” by mistake. Lori, who may now answer Shirley’s phone and help someone get an electric blanket (which I assume is not for a pet). These little connections, such an integral part of Island life.
Like the homemade key lime cheesecake in my freezer. Barbara Prada brought it to me on Monday, Dec. 20th, as she has done every Christmas for I don’t know how many years. I put it in the freezer to save for my younger daughter Sydney’s return home from college. Sydney loves Barbara’s key lime cheesecake. Barbara, who was named MSPCA Animal Control Officer of the Year in 1994. Who, as ACO, brought injured dogs and cats to me and to other Island veterinarians at all hours of the day and night for 38 years. Dedicated, professional, and always compassionate … and also always happy to sit and schmooze if there was time. On that Monday, Barbara was cheerful and told me she was doing well despite her illness and planned to live at least five more years. She passed away unexpectedly three days later on Dec. 23.
As I thought about all Barbara had done throughout her life for the Island animals, I remembered a day in the early 80s. I was living in a winter rental on Lake Tashmoo and would often go for walks very early in the morning. One frigid dawn as I wandered down the dirt road, I heard someone else traipsing through the woods. John Rogers, Tisbury Animal Control Officer, out looking for someone’s lost dog. Who does that? The sun was barely up and John was breaking trail through icy brambles and brush determined to find that pup. Almost 40 years later, as I learn of Barbara’s death on social media, I happen across another post. John’s granddaughter, Phebe, has gone to find a lost and injured lone chicken after hearing about it on Facebook. Phebe later starts a GoFundMe page to help with the veterinary expenses and does everything she can for the bird who has now been named Wanda. Dozens of Islanders donate money to help Wanda. Who does that?
John passed away in January of 2004. At his funeral, his daughter Nancy told a story about a maple tree her father had planted when she was a child. Many years later, on an autumn day, the sun was going down, shining through the shimmering yellow-gold of the turning leaves. “It was just one of those perfect moments,” Nancy said at the memorial service. “I was sorry I didn’t take a picture of it.” But then Phebe had told her mother they didn’t need a photograph. She would always have the memory of that moment, the picture in her mind’s eye of that tree, on that autumn day, just as she would always have the memory of her father. This story has always stayed with me. Perhaps because my own father also died during the month of January, back in 1986. Every Jan. 14th I light a yahrzeit candle for him, the traditional Jewish way of remembering a parent on the anniversary of their death. I have very few photographs of him, but I do have the memories of his love, his kindness, his humor. Like the sun going down, warming rays of light through the shimmering leaves of that tree.
The week Barbara passed away, Penny brought me Christmas pizzelli, as she has for years, even though we had to say goodbye to her dog Katie last April. “Did you think I’d forget?” she asked, smiling, as she passed the package through the door, both of us carefully masked. Traditions are good. Sydney is home now on winter break. Her sister Lila is here too. We plan to thaw the cheesecake and drink a toast to Barbara. Perhaps next year I will find a recipe and make key lime cheesecake in her memory.
Someone has found someone’s wallet, or keys, or a stray mitten, and posted it on Facebook. Another lost dog has been reunited with its owner. Albert volunteers to pick up my autoclave in Hyannis. Someone sends a DoorDash dinner to Nina in the hospital in Boston. These are the things that bring me joy. Not just the tangible gifts, much as they are appreciated, but the intangible gifts of Island life that even a pandemic cannot take away. I wonder if my caller found her electric blanket. I hope she is warm. As I ponder what medications to prescribe for a chicken named Wanda, long rays of light reach back, illuminating our connections.