Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Salsa’s tale

Posted by boakley59 on September 4, 2020

NOTE: It seems I never hit publish on this in 2018. Beloved Salsa, RIP, May 9, 2018. I will soon add Dear Pepper, RIP, August 29, 2020. Forever in our hearts, Spice Dogs.

The key turns in the lock and the door swings open. “Daddy’s home,” Suzy calls from her desk and soon the tapping of claws on the kitchen floor signals my joyful welcome.

“How’s my pretty girl?” I ask as Salsa’s eyes shine up into mine and her tail flaps out the message that she’s just fine now that the house is full again. “Do we need to go tell the birds and squirrels Daddy’s back?” and she runs to the deck door to do her duty. I give Suzy a kiss and lift blind little Pepper from her nesting to join Salsa as Dad and dogs make our evening yard check.

For eight years in Batesville, that has been our daily renewal of family, and now it is held forever in family memory as Salsa has gone through another door ahead of me. She had not been able to keep food down for a few weeks and we found inoperable masses blocking her system. Rather than have her suffer wasting away into dehydration, I took her for one last round of her favorite haunts and pleasures; then Suzy and I held her close and scratched her ears as she went in peace.

Those ears! So soft, so befitting her gentle nature.

Bright eyes, windows to a gentle soul

Her bright eyes! So direct and unafraid to look right through you with grace and joy and forgiveness of human frailty. And the tail, ever in motion, a marker of energy and a call to action — one more adventure, one more game, one more good deed, one more moment loving life.

I tried to give her all of her favorite moments loving life on that last day, the proverbial “best of times, worst of times” so familiar to all with broken hearts.

My “pretty girl” had come to us years before at a time of distress and destruction. Suzy had found Salsa at the North Little Rock Animal Shelter while we were still mourning Mesa, a beautiful Lab/Chow/Corgi/Husky mix. Mesa had been given to Suzy as a weeks-old puppy, and we lost her to a wasting disease in her later years. We had then tried to rescue Tux, a sick little fellow who also proved beyond medical help. And Hurricane Katrina had formed and was about to hit stateside, so it was a time when thoughts went to rescue and companionship and needs.

Love from first sight to last light

Suzy says she knew at first sight Salsa belonged with us. That was a Friday in August, but we had to wait through the weekend to adopt. And there began Salsa’s tale. From the start, she was a morale officer, a comforter to our wounded hearts, a friend in our need.

She was about 9 months old when we got her, the vet said, apparently a mostly Manchester terrier mix, black and tan with white socks and loads of energy. We had a big split-level house and a big fenced back yard with lots of room to run. And how fitting that my pretty girl loved to run!

She would sprint any fence line with neighbor dogs. Inside, she would take a running start from our den and only touch one step of the seven as she leapt up to the hallway, ran into the bedroom to bound onto the bed, twist and race back down the hall to check on me still at the den. Sometimes she challenged me to run laps with her. Then I had to chase up the stairs so she could show her moves and swerve around me on her way back down. “Ha, Dad: I’m low; you’re too slow!”

Now and then she would scoop up her rope bone or stuffed squeaker toy on the run, hoping for a tug of war in between laps.

In time, the games and duties changed. The next house had no stairs and a shorter hall, but the race still went on to the bed and back through tighter turns. Eventually, Salsa’s joints protested the leap to the bed, but we could still play “flop left, flop right, rub belly” before tucking in for the evening. Always the bright eyes and the perpetual motion tail, always the devoted heart.

“Guardian of the Realm” alert at launch post 1!

In Batesville, besides her job as official welcoming committee, she was “Guardian of the Realm.” She had a special bark when trucks, trains, or bicycles passed within hearing and she diligently patrolled against birds and squirrels out back. A squirrel on the deck railing could count on a spirited chase to the tree in the back yard, with Salsa taking a flying leap from the deck to the grass 4 feet below.

Salsa never caught the squirrels and never figured out that they went up the tree trunk, either. I guess her head wasn’t in the clouds; she was strictly down-to-earth. She did manage to earn an alternate title as “Bug Hunter,” trying to clear the house of the occasional fly, moth, or mosquito. She was entirely unforgiving of snakes.

And stay off! Stupid squirrels.

She must have had riverside heritage in her blood, because she loved rainy days and splashing about in soggy grass. She rumbled her own challenge to the thunder, but fidgeted to be let out in a drizzle.

I say she had a special bark and I did learn to translate “Bark” for Suzy (in two dialects with Pepper’s idiosyncrasies). Salsa learned many of our words, too, and particularly enjoyed howling “Out! Out! Out!” when she needed a potty break or exercise — or a dance in the rain.

“Want to go for a walk?”

“Out! Out! Out!” The tail whipped impatiently as she headed for the bin where leash and harness are kept.


“Out! Out! Out!”

She knew “outside, walk, out, eat, snack, potty, couch, bed, Mama, Daddy.” “Ride, Nanny, birds and squirrels, train” were familiar too. And Suzy did her part spoiling our princess, teasing that “I did not say I was going to give you a belly rub.” Salsa would immediately flop on her side and raise her front paws to make way for gentle handling.

She heard us; she knew what we meant; she tried to do what we needed. That included trying to help with Pepper’s potty training by growling when Pepper squatted inside or alerting us when it was their time to go outside.

And Salsa could get an idea across with a look and a leap, too. We took our girls to the Chase Race and Paws in Conway when I got back into road racing. We two-legged folk run a two-mile race, then can pair up with our leashed friends for a mile.

They let us run, AND they give us trophies!

Salsa and I finished top 10 three years running. We didn’t know how she would handle it the first time because we didn’t run with her much on the leash at all. I had a long leash so she could run mostly free but I worried about fire hydrants and rival dogs leading to abrupt stops along the way. Suzy had Pepper on a short leash, waiting beside a large German shepherd for “Go!”

Salsa and I took off and she proved a good navigator, weaving through the leashes and around the other pairs. I have an image of her looking back and bounding off as if to say, “C’mon Dad!” and I’m pretty sure she gave the other dogs a look as we moved to the front that meant “Hah! My two-leg is faster than yours!” Meanwhile Pepper took about three steps and planted her feet worried about being trampled in the crowd of bigger critters. Suzy had arm cramps from carrying her most of the way and that was the end of Pepper’s racing. Salsa got a top 10 trophy: I was happy that in our house, the dog can run a 7-minute mile too.

Does this thing go any faster?

The next year, Salsa was ready to go and Dad had gotten with the program. We got closer to a 6-minute mile with two-leg in better shape, but we had a challenge as a younger fellow and his dog came alongside us near the finish. Salsa worked pretty hard sprinting with me and we went neck-and-neck until the other dog had an “Oh, look, bubbles!” moment and came to a dead stop yards before the line! Trophy number two.

We raced one more year but age was starting to gain on us. Our walks at home were not enough to keep Salsa in shape for that kind of run. This time she stopped at three-quarters and looked at me: “This is the water station, right?” (It was; I brought water.) Then on we went and the last hundred yards we again had competition. Salsa looked, listened and lit out: “OK, Dad, I’ll do this for you.” One last trophy.

She was my buddy, running in races or rumbling at thunder, waiting for a walk or warning away a squirrel.

Peace and love. RIP, Salsa 5/9/2018

Salsa saved me from depression and fear of uselessness when I was couch-bound with my last Crohn’s disease flareup when she was new to us. Suzy was off to work; I was feeble with no duties that I could manage or interests that I could indulge. I was a shell, doing nothing but rebuilding myself — except I also had Salsa, who gave me both friendship and responsibility. Small as the job was, tending her gave me “other-focus,” preventing the collapse of the shell.

Now, years later, I am rebuilt but there is a new hollow spot. The house is a little too quiet as I step through the door at night. There should be claws tapping.

The Landers is a little lonelier when I clean there. Isn’t that strange? I never had Salsa with me working, but I feel an absence.

We feed Pepper but there’s a bowl missing in their corner.I became well tending to Salsa; it is well with me still as I tend her memory.

Rest well, my friend. That was a glorious run!

Posted in Health, Personal, Philosophy/Life Lessons, Running | 1 Comment »

Without reservation

Posted by boakley59 on December 31, 2011

Two years ago, I wrote about how things had gotten better in 2009 and how I looked forward to 2010 with a mix of hope and concern. I said I don’t like to make New Year’s resolutions but I did make some observations and I combined these ideas into what I called my New Year’s “reservations.” The notion had a double meaning: Reservations can be doubts or they can be secured seats for a feast.

As it turned out, my reservations for 2010 mostly proved to be for seats at the feast. In fact, I ended up so busy and doing so well that I didn’t even stop to write a yearly review last December. I did a birthday wrap-up in September 2010 already glowing with the triumphs and joys of the first three-quarters of the year. The ride has been even smoother since then.

Early that September, I started helping a friend train for a half marathon. I couldn’t run far or fast after having been off for five years, but he was more or less a beginner and I could go short and slow and provide lots of advice from my long years of experience. As we continued, I rounded into what passes for shape for someone with chronic disease, and we picked up other friends to run with us.

I did a little bit of light volunteer office work that turned into a mostly stressless short-hours part-time job. It keeps me busy but shows me that I still can’t handle a full load, no matter how hard I keep wishing I could. That was all gearing up in December 2010, and I never sat down to look forward to 2011.

So, I’m here now to tell you that the reservations for 2010 kept my seat at an even bigger feast in 2011. My part-time work has been rewarding and reassuring: I contribute; I helped deflect the financial burden of two mortgages while our North Little Rock house was on the market; I do things that help my friends; I make new friends.

My running connections have expanded. Betsy Tucker hooked up with us in November 2010, already a good local runner but needing advice, plans and partners to improve. She finished 2011 as the Arkansas Female Masters (40 and older) Runner of the Year, setting two state Grand Masters (50 and older) records along the way. I had as much fun watching her race and improve as I once had doing my own racing.

Suzy got involved with the Women Run Arkansas training group in Batesville in February, too, and brought me along one night to perhaps be a volunteer coaching aide. I stuck with the program and helped many of the ladies continue through the year after the series ended in May. So, I became Coach Bruce for a couple of different groups, though I dare say I gained just as much from their enthusiasm and eagerness to improve as they gained from my counsel. Encouraging people to do hard things and sharing in their joy of achievement feeds your own spirit with jet fuel. Suzy and I have been able to do this together, too, which is a great gift. She has lost weight and caught the fitness bug, and jogging has been relief and reward in many ways.

Through it all, I have not put myself back in the hospital, which I guess means I’ve geared back appropriately and had smooth sailing for 16 months. It means I was strong enough to travel this year, too, and I got to see my family three times. We made the big trip to our meeting ground in Tennessee to see Mom, in from California with my cousin, and my sister came down from Virginia. We made two short trips to see my son, Courtney, in Oklahoma, too, including Christmas. It’s our first Christmas together in five years and the first time in six years I’ve been able to make more than the one big trip. A few years ago, Courtney had an emergency appendectomy and he was only four hours away by car, but I was too sick to go. So these extra trips are a big deal.

Good health, good friends, good works, good years. I have no reservation about keeping my reservations at this table.

Welcome 2012. Long may we run.

Posted in Personal | 2 Comments »

Curse the silence

Posted by boakley59 on September 15, 2011

It’s been happening again lately: Showmanship trumps discussion as our nation faces crippling difficulties. I cannot hold my temper as a barrage of shallow phrases casually dismiss my existence or suggest that people like me are the cause of the problems rather than victims of it. I cannot hold my temper as I am told that “my side” makes stuff up, too.

I saw a Facebook note not long ago to the effect that everything would be all right if only we would get prayer back in our schools — and send the Muslims back where they came from.

Such suggestions put me in turmoil. Would it do any good to point out the stunning lack of self-awareness in the suggestion? Muslims pray, too, and we could just as readily make a case for facing Mecca daily in schools and sending Baptists or Methodists or any other religious minority back where they came from, if dogma is to be our filter. Would it do any good to point out the lack of historical understanding in the suggestion? This nation encoded separation of church and state precisely because many of its early settlers left their homelands to avoid forced practice of a state-endorsed religion — in some cases from nations whose sovereigns formed a state religion so as not to yield to the pope! We are twice removed from mandated religion! Would it do any good to point out that individuals can pray at will in our schools (barring classroom disruption), and that it is a freedom held in communion with Catholics and Mormons and Wiccans so that no faith is crushed by powers and principalities.

Why must we have this discussion at this late day in our nation’s history? These questions have been settled. If I remain silent to preserve friendships or social standing, do I have friends or standing worth having? If I speak out, do I have the time or strength to continue as I am rejected (or at least scolded) as the intolerant, angry one?

Should we not all be angry at this? Isn’t it obvious that forcing (yes, “forcing” — not “allowing”) prayer in our schools is getting citizenship wrong, parenting wrong and even Christianity wrong? If you need forced prayer to save the schools (or society), what have you taught your children about responsibility, behavior and manners? If forced prayer is the way to demonstrate Christianity, how is Christianity distinguishable from wearing gang colors, your favorite team’s jersey or designer jeans?

People aren’t good enough, or people don’t do enough good — that I get. Muslims are so bad they are a threat just by existing and they could never become good enough — that I reject. The reality is that the Muslims in America are a tiny minority: If I understand correctly, about 1 percent of our population. (For reference, inflammatory bowel disease patients like me are about half that, 0.5 percent of the population.) Most of these people are your quiet, unassuming neighbors who love their children and their pets, go to school or work, watch TV and donate to flood or earthquake victims when the need arises. They do not disrupt or threaten your life in any way, unless you lose face because in polls, Muslims hold more strongly to Americanism than to their religion than do other belief groups. That is to say that Muslims are less likely as a group to push for religious dominion in the United States than are Christians. Sharia law here? It’s a dog whistle for Christians who want to impose Mosaic law and banish strangers to hell.


I heard a prominent Republican not long ago call Social Security a Ponzi scheme. I heard a Republican audience cheer a record level of state-sponsored murder, which was then defended as justice against outsiders. I heard another Republican argue against vaccination as a health risk. These are the frontrunners shaping the debate and the platform. I am told these notions just represent differences about the way things should be done and the proper role of government.

Here’s the thing: I am an outsider on Social Security disability with an autoimmune disease whose treatment puts me at higher risk of infections. These policy positions threaten my well-being. Someone who gets the science of vaccination backwards is a threat to my life if in a position of power, not to mention it hurts my head just to contemplate the sheer stupidity. Someone who would dissemble about Social Security as a wedge to dismantle it paints me as a criminal while preparing to pick my pocket. Someone without reservations about killing “the other” is not someone I can afford to trust.

When I hear serial adulterers use family values as a club to bludgeon those they would deny familial rights, I cannot trust them to make principled decisions. I cannot trust them to resist temptations. I cannot trust them to respect me or my rights. I have talked about this before: I am the adopted son of parents who had no biological children; I am divorced from my son’s mother; I am remarried to a woman with no biological children. What can the phrase “traditional marriage” mean to me but a confusion of failed promises and a wrenching struggle to love through great stress? If this is something that really can be protected by preventing the wrong kind of people doing it, we need a much better focus on just who the wrong kind of people are.

So, I’m sorry, but the people or the party espousing ideas that threaten me, even if they’re “merely” staking out extreme negotiating positions for later compromise or making a show for their own followers, are not people I can afford to dismiss simply as having different views. These are people threatening or attacking me, and I can’t sit quietly by waiting to find out what their good ideas are for fixing the problems they identify. Their bad ideas trumpeted in public put me and mine at risk.

Even if those on “my side” aren’t telling the whole truth, I’ll take the liars whose lies don’t put me at more risk.

And yes, every once in a while I will raise my voice and not just sit still, cursing the silence.

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52 pickup

Posted by boakley59 on September 15, 2011

Time for the ritual stock-taking after another tour ’round the sun. A year ago, I was wrapping up a grand stretch of good health, happy reunions and magic moments on Memory Lane. Still, I worried that I was only clearing a low bar and was not particularly robust, though better than I had been for a long time. I did not wish to celebrate overmuch such a small victory.

A year later I’m here to say: Raise the roof! This has been a fantastic year.

I have had no hospital time except as chauffeur for others having tests or low-risk procedures. I have been able to return to jogging, though I had some early minor bleeding around scar tissue. Through jogging, I have connected with a number of less experienced runners and have gotten a big boost from coaching them and sharing in their enthusiasm and triumphs. I get to use what I know to help others. I can keep them from painful mistakes; I can soften any blows just by letting them know someone else has been there, done that and gotten through; I can encourage so that they have light in darkness.

I’m considerably slower and less durable than I used to be, but coaching gives me a connection and a purpose that is every bit as good as racing. Suzy and I have gotten closer, too, as she has taken to running in the past several months. Jogging in good company has helped her relieve stress, lose weight and have fun. She was self-conscious and didn’t want to slow me down in my racing days, but now that she has seen me working with other learners, she appreciates my coaching and encouragement. We have found something to do together, and it helps me to have her along as I return gently to what I had lost for a time.

And I have so enjoyed bragging on my trainees: Everyone has been faster, fitter and seemingly happier; one has lost 25 pounds; one is breaking state records; another is starting a running club at college. Seems like we’re at the heart of a little running boom in the area, and I’m expanding a circle of friends as I volunteer at races, blog about running and post on group forums.

We’ve also put walking and fighting disease together as we continue to serve the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America through its Take Steps walks in Arkansas. Suzy and I have worked with the Arkansas CCFA office since shortly after its formation in late 2009. Two walks in Little Rock and a third in Bentonville have raised $200,000 to fight my disease and help patients. My computer and editing skills have helped a few of us do some heavy lifting to make these events a success (the next one is Oct. 29 in Bentonville). I also played guitar and sang (more or less) at two local fundraisers, and I even wrote a potty-humor song about my condition. Friends have rallied around us, donating to the cause and providing venues, support and music for these fundraiser concerts. Heartwarming to have support, uplifting to be able to offer it to new patients.

Through my volunteer work, coaching and limited, low-stress part-time work, I have also been able to test the depth of my disability. I still wear down too easily; I still spend a day in recovery if I push too hard. I try to keep myself to no more than four hours of strain in a day and even that only a few times a week. If I do four hours of hard work, I try to scatter the load with easy chores over six or eight hours of clock. I am enjoying being useful and productive, but I still recognize that I absolutely cannot be the constant mover I was.

The part-time work has eased the financial burden as our North Little Rock house remains unsold, but we remain one short step from ruin. We are holding on, we are giving back, we are far more fortunate than most — but we live at the edge of a cliff.

This year, though, the sun is out and I am dancing on the rocks, not shivering in the wind worrying I’ll be blown over the edge.

Posted in Health, Personal | 2 Comments »

BLT, with a side of tears

Posted by boakley59 on December 23, 2010

Mr. Taylor,

Your little girl is fine. We’ve come back home, close to your dear wife and son, and we’re taking good care of each other. You’d like seeing Suzy smile so often. She’s more relaxed and having more fun than she’s had in the last few years while she’s been having to work so hard to take care of me.

You’d be glad for me, too, because you know what it’s like to have chronic disease hold you back. I’m a little more accepting than I have been of my limitations, but I’ve also been able to find ways at last to contribute and participate and be busy without overdoing. Good for me and a relief for your little girl, who has been carrying more than her share of the load for years now.

It’s been 13 years, but we still hear your voice and remember your kindness, wisdom and guidance. I see you every day in your daughter’s determination, efficiency and thirst for knowledge. Life around the house might be easier if she had been more of the handyman (or if that had run in my family), but it’s probably best that we’re equally uncrafty.

Suzy has a good job at a company that is involved in the community, and she dives in wholeheartedly. And we’ve found a church that reaches out even more, strengthening Suzy’s faith, warming her heart and feeding her soul. The seed you planted flourishes.

Love always,


In loving memory of Bennie Lee Taylor, July 11, 1938-Dec. 23, 1997

Posted in Personal | 1 Comment »

With a deck of 51

Posted by boakley59 on September 18, 2010

(Nov. 30, 2010 Note: I set this aside in draft mode months ago pondering some refinement that I have since forgotten. With unremembered flaws intact then:)

This spinning rock has carried me around the big yellow ball one more time and as usual I like to take a look back at the track and see where I’ve been, hoping for some insight into where I might be headed.

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Posted in Personal, Philosophy/Life Lessons | 2 Comments »

With reservations

Posted by boakley59 on September 14, 2010

A long time ago, on a blog page that seems so far away …

I looked into the looming mist of 2010, preferring not to make resolutions, yet offering something more than observations. I called these not-quite-resolutions/observations my “reservations” for the coming year. I hoped they would turn out to be more like dinner reservations than like reservations about bungee jumping. I’m back to tell you that 2010 has been a feast of fun!
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A little help

Posted by boakley59 on March 6, 2010

Friends, I’ll be contacting many of you shortly for support against Crohn’s disease. Here’s a bit of lead-in to that upcoming message:

I love basketball. I can explain that it’s because speed and quickness are advantages but endurance and consistency are equally important, that a racehorse type has no more or less chance of success than a draft horse, that the game’s ebb and flow give a player with the grace of a dancer hope against one with the brute power of a boxer. But if you don’t play and relish the game as I do, you probably won’t believe all that.
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Gentle echoes

Posted by boakley59 on December 2, 2009

In dealing with disability, I have many moments of melancholy. I am busy in Bruce-watching, because I must be attentive to my health so as not to become sicker. When you are busy watching yourself be sick, though, mostly what you see is how you have faded from your remembered youthful vigor.
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See, I don’t fit in

Posted by boakley59 on November 9, 2009

I am a faithful watcher of Rankin/Bass’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In 45 years of annual viewing (more than annual, since it airs multiple times and I also occasionally stick in a videotape), my love of its kindly wisdom grows ever stronger. I especially like “We’re a Couple of Misfits,” when Hermey and Rudolph decide to “be independent together,” and Clarice’s loving reassurance that “There’s Always Tomorrow” for dreams to come true.
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