Rhea’s Rules

Dandelion

No matter how old a woman is, no matter what kind of relationship she had with her parents, there are certain life events that compel her to call her mother. Sometimes, it’s to celebrate. Sometimes, it’s to complain. Sometimes it’s simply to say, “Ha! I told you so.”

My own mother has been dead for almost twenty years now. Even so, I still catch myself reaching for the phone when something fabulous or funny happens, thinking “Mama will get such a kick out of this.” When I touch the phone, I get jolted back to the here and now from the there and then. I don’t know what number to dial anymore.

Shortly after my mom died, I met Rhea Thomas. Rhea became my surrogate mom and dear friend until last month when she too passed away. Rhea had a certain set of life rules and in her honor I am going to share them with you now.

Ask for what you want. Rhea developed this into an art form. I’ve been with her in a restaurant and she somehow got the waitress to give her not one but two of the tea pots they used in their service. And here’s the kicker, the waitress apologized that they had not gone through the dishwasher, but she assured Rhea that she had personally rinsed and dried them. I was paying for lunch and all I got was a lousy receipt. Though I’m only sharing a couple of examples, it happened all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, Rhea was not pushy and did not act entitled. She didn’t beg. She often didn’t even ask for something, just commented how much she would love to find one just like it for herself. Boom! Gifts falling out of the sky from total strangers. Have mercy on your soul if you owned something with the Galo de Barcelos (the lucky Portuguese rooster) on it. She adored the lucky black roosters. Absolutely had to have them.

We were both realtors and one day on Tuesday Tour (the day realtors look at all the new listings) we went into a house that had a Portuguese rooster table cloth. (Awww Jeez. Here we go.)  Rhea started complimenting the home owner on her table cloth and reminiscing about Portugal. We left, finished touring houses that day, and that was that. Except it wasn’t. The homeowner took that table cloth, washed and pressed it, and told her listing agent to make sure that Rhea got it. Asking for things without actually asking was definitely one of Rhea’s superpowers.

If you didn’t get what you wanted the first time, ask again. Persistence pays and Miss Rhea was nothing if not persistent. I knew her well enough so that if she asked where I’d gotten something, I would just hand the item to her. It saved us both a lot of time and I did not mind.

It’s in the basket. Rhea made things pretty in her home. She loved baskets. We had a running gag. Whenever I asked her where something was, she’d reply that it was in the basket. Which basket? There were dozens. She had baskets for shoes, for paperwork, for reading material, for make up, for lap blankets. Her refrigerator was organized with wicker baskets, condiments in one, leftovers in their own, canned beverages in another. She wrapped her spare rolls of toilet paper in pretty wrapping paper and stored those in a basket. The lesson here is that you deserve to live in beauty and it’s not expensive to do that. Live with what pleases you and your home will be a happy sanctuary.

Pick your team. Surround yourself with calm, competent, trustworthy people. If you need help, drama queens will not do. Choose your friends, your doctors, everyone who enters your life by invitation, very carefully. Surround yourself with people who lift you, appreciate you, and will be there for you when you need help most.

If you were not designated as a member of Rhea’s team, you could talk until you were blue and she’d just nod occasionally. Unless you were fond of watching her nod, you might as well have been speaking to a cinder block for all the attention your words were going to get. Go buy yourself a bobble-head doll. The lesson? Save yourself confusion and heartache. Only listen to the people who truly have your best interest at heart. Everyone else can go pound sand.

Show up for life. Some days it’s hard to get motivated. You feel like hiding under the blankets. Let’s be honest, perky rarely happens naturally. But Rhea believed that you had a contract to fulfill. You had to show up for life. You didn’t have to do much once you got there, but a basic effort to participate was required. You’d be surprised how much goodness can happen when you leave the house.

We had a friend and co-worker, Barbara Tinsley, who had cancer. Twice. It ended up killing her, but not before cancer took her teen-aged daughter. So if anyone had earned the right to curl into a fetal position, it was Barbara. I visited her one day and she told me that many a day she’d be lying in bed feeling defeated, and she’d remember Rhea’s rule, “You’ve got to show up for life.” Barbara would drag herself out of bed, get dressed, and show up at the office. Once there, she’d feel better. It helped.

So if you don’t take any other rule of Rhea’s to heart, follow this last one. It will make a difference. It will improve your circumstances. Good things will happen. While you still can, make sure you show up for life.

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(You may be wondering why I chose a photo of a dandelion to illustrate this piece. Rhea was a dandelion. She was bright, cheerful, dependable, strong-willed, and she bloomed wherever she landed. A dandelion is a fine thing to be. It’s a compliment.)

Middle Management

Oney Brennan

(This post originally appeared on my old blog in August, 2010.  Surprising everyone, Oney passed away in October, 2010.  It still hurts.)

 

We have a Great Dane named Oney. The name Oney rhymes with pony and was the name of my great-aunt, Oney Lavinnia Davis. My great-aunt Oney never married despite having many suitors. She suffered from seizures and did not want to run the risk of passing that on to children. She loved all children but whenever anyone was pregnant, she always hoped that they would give birth to a robust, ginger boy. Aunt Oney had a real thing for red-headed, freckled boys and I’m certain if given half a chance, she would have kidnapped Opie for her own.

My great-aunt was an industrious woman, gifted with all things involving needles and threads or fabric. She was a wonderful seamstress, fashioning extraordinary formals for my cousin. She was an accomplished lace maker, knitter, and crocheted all my dolls’ wardrobes. She had her daily activity schedule and stuck to it. So does my Great Dane.

My Great Dane Oney is devoted to her routine. From morning to night, she has a plan. Upon rising from bed, she heads directly downstairs to the living room sofa for a post-sleep nap. She believes in starting the day gently and how better to ease into things than with a nap? Then there’s breakfast, eaten with appreciation and grace. After breakfast, the pace quickens and it’s time for her first official pass of the day. This means that she absolutely must go out and inspect the entire property. It’s important for her to establish that during the night we were not invaded by marauders, cutthroats, or groundhogs. Once perimeter security is confirmed, it’s time for the post-inspection nap.

Fully rested, Oney is ready to take on more management duties. She simply can not abide displays of frantic energy of any kind. Screaming toddlers send her straight to bed. Border collies make her flipping insane. If the English mastiff, Joe, and the Basset hound, Clara Jack, start to roughhouse and tussle, it must be stopped. Oney will get in between the two and try to block their contact as they pounce at each other despite her efforts. When that fails, she will put her paw on Clara Jack and push her to the floor. “When in doubt, stand on ‘em” is her leadership mantra.

More important to Oney than crowd control is resource management, or rather the allocation of the rawhide chew bones. We have three dogs, and I always buy four bones because this is not my first rodeo. I’ve learned that when you’re passing out something with the desirability of a large beef rawhide bone, having plenty keeps peace in the pack. Invariably, and for the life of me I can’t explain why, one bone will become “the one.” It, above all other bones, will be the most delicious, the most desirable, and the most sought after bone in the house, maybe even on the whole planet. Now skilled manipulation and strategy become important. Here is where Oney shines.

If Clara Jack has “the one,” there’s not much hope of getting it from her unless one of Clara’s favorite humans comes through a door and she bounds over to them in greeting. Then the bone can be snatched away. That’s a tough scenario to manufacture, so Oney just has to be patient, in position, and wait for opportunity to present itself.

If Joe has “the one,” there’s no waiting involved. Joe sees himself as Head of Security here, and will bark ferociously at the front window at anything that seems askance within a two-mile radius of our property. All are warned. There’s a 200-pound mastiff watching you. All Oney has to do to get the bone is to bark once or twice. Joe will run to the front window to man his security station, barking the whole way. Oney will snatch the dropped bone and run upstairs. After Joe is through securing the house, he’ll return to where the bone was and wonder what the hell just happened. I’ve seen this played out too many times to think it’s a coincidence. It’s sneaky, it’s devious, it’s effective; by God, it’s middle management material.

A variation of this maneuver is when Oney has “the one” and Clara Jack has been patiently watching and waiting for her opportunity to pull a quick grab-and-go. I’ve seen Clara sit there over an hour, observing, inching closer, her desire for the bone practically vibrating off her body. Oney gets tired of the bone but doesn’t want Clara to have it for reasons known only to Oney. Oney will get up, carry the bone right past Clara to a sleeping, oblivious Joe and drop the bone beside his drooling maw, making sure that he wakes up during this process. Joe rouses and thinks that the rawhide fairy has visited and starts to chew the gift. Clara who has devoted over an hour of her time to the pursuit of the bone just stares in disbelief.

Now that Oney has affirmed her superiority, it’s time for the official evening inspection of the property. Deer, foxes, and bear are warned that this is dog country, and not to defile the kingdom by trespassing during the evening hours.

Most of the day’s tasks completed, the pace mellows again. Evening meal is eaten, followed by a sound pre-sleep nap on the sofa. All dogs are officially off-duty now. There is sincere snoring until the word is given that it’s time to crawl up the stairs and officially go to bed. Oney’s last management duty of the day is to allocate sleeping space to all on the bed. We humans have reserved spaces, and the three dogs meld themselves into the remaining nooks and crannies. The Basset overheats easily so she prefers space under the ceiling fan, but Oney and Joe both want their blankets thrown over them and tucked in before the lights go out.

Life as a middle manager rocks!