No, not this one.
Though December 1st marked the anniversary of the day, in 1955, when this fine lady kept her seat on the bus, which led to her arrest, which sparked a bus strike, which got all kinds of wheels turning and changed our world for the better, forever…
…this is the Rosa Parks whose story I am telling today.
My little dog, who has stolen my heart.
I met her first nearly two years ago, when my daughter, Jen, her son, Patrick, and I took a road trip to South Carolina to visit my daughter, Kate, and her family.
Kate’s house was teeming with little dogs!
In a nutshell, the story goes like this:
Kate met a woman at work who stated that as soon as she finished with her appointment, she was taking her dog to be put down (PUT DOWN!) because it was supposed to be a long-haired “tea-cup” chihuahua, and was, instead, a full sized, long-haired chihuahua. Kate was appalled, walked out to meet the dog, and went home with him that day. They changed his name from “Neo” to Neil Diamond, and he became a happy member of their family.
Weeks – or perhaps months – later, when the police raided a crack house in the city, they found – chained in the backyard, skinny as a rail – a standard, short-haired chihuahua. Being familiar with Neil’s story, they contacted Kate to see if she’d be interested in taking in this dog, as well. She was. They named her Olive.
Then, before Kate had time to get the new addition to the vet, Olive and Neil got together and started a family.
When Jen and I got there in March for our visit, there were five little puppies running around: Archie Bunker, Audrie Hepburn, Blackie Chan, Rosa Parks and Theodore Roosevelt.
By the time our visit was done, Jen had fallen in love with and adopted two of the puppies. The unlikely combination of Rosa Parks and Archie Bunker came back to Michigan with us.
Jen, Patrick and the puppies went back to their life in Lake Odessa; I went back to my simple life on Beaver Island.
Then, the world fell apart.
My mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Three months was her projected life-span. Spring and early Summer were a gray fog, punctuated by bad news, lots of reminiscing and stories, one lovely, joyous wedding…and visits home. My sister, Sheila, moved into the family home to take care of Mom. My daughter, Kate, came north for a visit; My sister, Nita, and her daughter flew in from Texas. My nephew, Bob, drove his motorcycle from South Carolina. I made several visits from Beaver Island down to the thumb area of Michigan where my mother and most of my siblings lived.
It got worse. On August 2nd, Sheila died in her sleep.
We gathered together from all areas in tears and sadness to say good-bye to our sister, and to care for our mother at the end of her life.
The plan we threw together at that time was that I would come down and stay for the duration, and that everyone else would continue to help as they had been.
When Jen arrived at the family home shortly after I got there, she had Rosa Parks with her. It turns out, the puppies were not allowed in her apartment, under her lease. She had to get rid of them, or find a new place to live. Her ex-husband had agreed to take Archie. Rosa still needed a home.
There were very few things, that summer, that were within my control. There were plenty of changes I would have made, if I could. This, among the turmoil and sadness that defined my life at that time, was a problem I could fix.
“I’ll take her,” I said.
Rosa moved into Mom’s house with me.
I chose to sleep on the sofa that Sheila had died on. The fact that it was her last resting place gave me small comfort. Mainly I chose it, as she had, for it’s proximity to Mom’s bed, so that I would hear her if she woke in the night. Because Rosa was not yet house-trained, she slept on the sofa with me.
When I got up in the night to give Mom her medicine, I’d then take Rosa out for a bit of fresh air.
In the morning, after a cup of coffee and relief of my station by a brother or sister or two, I’d take Rosa for a walk.
Across Hunt Road to the Lake Shore Drive, and down that road, around the hills and curves until it came back up to Hunt Road, then a short walk home. The residents came out of their houses as I went by, with Rosa running full tilt ahead of me on her leash. Sometimes they offered sympathy for our loss, or asked after my mother, or threw out a remembrance of my father, or my brother, David, both gone now. Mostly, they’d comment about the little dog, running me to exhaustion at the end of the leash. “Who’s walking who?”, they’d ask, and I’d say, “I think it’s pretty obvious!” in response. Once, a group of children came to the edge of their yard to greet us. “Can we pet your dog?” they asked. “Of course,” I told them. “She loves children. Her name is Rosa Parks.” As they nuzzled her and accepted her puppy kisses, the biggest girl announced to her smaller companions, “Oh, she was named after one of the presidents of the United States!”
Whether it was her puppy messes to be cleaned up or her pathetic whimpering when she was tethered outside, Rosa offered distraction when it was most needed. By the time Mom passed away, Rosa Parks was a part of my family.
Rosa came back to Beaver Island with me. She won the heart of my old dog, Clover, and reminded her about dog-play. In exchange, Clover taught her the finer points of chasing squirrels and chipmunks.
Because there are too many predators for her to go outside alone, and because she still needs to go out in the night, Rosa has re-introduced me to the night sky.
She is quite the character. Rosa Parks makes me laugh every day. Because she’s not quite two years old, my life is a bit too slow for her. She insists that I will adapt to her pace, rather than the other way around. If I sit too long in one place, whether at the computer, the drawing table or with a book, she will leap at me repeatedly until she convinces me to play. Knowing she won’t give up, it doesn’t take much convincing. In writing this little piece today, I stopped once to take the dogs for our two-mile walk, twice to go out to the back yard with them and once more just to run the perimeter of the yard, to burn off excess energy.
Rosa Parks is sleeping now.
She came to me in a time of sadness. In a hundred ways, she has brought joy to my life. I didn’t choose her, but what a great gift!