Paige is my cocker spaniel. She was born in 2002. We met in a Pet Shop in Arizona when she was ten months old and it was love at first sight for both of us. I am frightened of animals – all of them – so this bonding was unusual in the extreme.
Paige was the first dog I have ever been able to touch and hold. She has always been gentle with me from the get-go and I have been sensitive to her needs. It’s like we were made for each other. When I would have to go away for a few days, she would stop eating. She follows me wherever I go. Her love for me is unconditional. She holds a special place in my heart.
I let the children name her. If it had been up to me, she would have been called ‘Lady’. The five children came up with Paige unanimously and Paige she is.
My husband readily admits that he is a mutt! It makes me laugh. Americans like to say they are made up of a percentage of the nationalities of all their ancestors and, as you know, the majority of Americans (bar the native Indians) descend from immigrants especially from Europe. My husband’s extended family comes from Norway, Denmark, Germany and Ireland. I, on the other hand, am a purebred! My ancestors come from Fordingbridge and Southampton for quite a few generations.
My ‘puppy’, Paige, is also a purebred. We have a great and natural understanding of each other. Perhaps we are subject to the myth that purebreds are a little insane due to interbreeding. Nevertheless, we are not mutts.
Paige is getting on in years and I am dreading the day when she has to cross the veil. She is so much a part of our family and I love her deeply. The past couple of years, her health has been declining. She always love to come on long walks with me and then she didn’t want to go any more. We would get a few hundred feet and she would be pulling on her leash to go home. We took her to the vets and eventually she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. The vet put her on some purple thyroid tablets – Levothyroxine 0.6 mgs. She started eating again, had more energy, and started to be able to go on small walks around the block. I was so happy she was feeling better.
One day a few months ago, I picked her up to put her in the back of the car to take her to the vets for one of her injections and a comprehensive examination. I felt something crusty under her belly. I couldn’t figure out what it was and wondered if she had another cyst that was weeping. When I got to the vets, I pointed it out. I left Paige at the vets as scheduled and rushed home to work.
A couple of hours later I got a call. The vet told me that she had open sores all over her body (how the heck did we miss that?!). The vet had done some research and discovered that Paige was allergic to the purple dye in the thyroid tablets. She went on to explain that the manufacturer had been told that some dogs were allergic to this dye but they hadn’t changed their product in any shape or form.
When we went to pick Paige up, they had cleaned up her wounds. Gobs of hair had come out of her coat and we could see all the open weeping lesions on her body. I found this extremely distressing. Paige had not shown any signs of pain that we had recognized.
We had to apply ointment to all her sores twice a day for two weeks. They covered most of her body – her back, her shoulders, her neck, all her tummy and her hind legs. Together with antibiotics and pain killers, her sores healed and the vet was very pleased to see skin growing back. She put her on some other thyroid tablets without any dye in them. It was a lower amount so we had to monitor Paige to see if the new dosage worked. I asked the vet to file a report to the manufacturer so that this wouldn’t happen to any other dog. I would hate to see any other dog suffering as much as my little girl had.
We took Paige into the vets again last weekend as we were worried that we saw blackening on her skin and she was having some more cysts appearing. We were also concerned as her hair wasn’t growing back on her body. We were lucky as the blackening wasn’t a repeat of the lesions, just old age. It turns out that the dye that caused the lesions also caused the hair follicles to be destroyed.
Paige will now have to either wear a doggie coat or have sunscreen put on her if she goes out in the sunshine. I feel so sad for her being physically scarred by this medicine. We now take our walks early in the morning before the sun has had a chance to be out. I so love Paige and hate to see her suffering in her old age. She is so much a part of our family.
I absolutely never wanted to live in America. Ha Ha – my famous last words! Everytime I made a close friend, they would end up emigrating to the USA. I even started joking with new friends – ‘Just a warning, by being a friend to me you risk ending up living in America!’
When my last friends emigrated, I ironically said to myself. ‘Well, if you become your own friend, you’ll end up with your friends in America.” A year later, the children and I were already to leave England.
My fiancée lived in Irvine, California. He was eager for me to arrive in America so that we could get married. I had phoned the American Embassy several times and just got an answer machine which told me that I needed to apply for a fiancée visa. I wanted to know further details but couldn’t get through to a person to talk to – just the same old answer machine.
When I let my fiancée know, he was exasperated. A few days later he called me to say that he had spoke to some lawyers in the U.S. and they had told him that I could go over on an I90 and then file the paperwork in the states.
“Are you sure”, I asked?
“Quite sure”, he assured me.
“Would you phone the Immigration and Naturalization Service out there and see if you can get further information. They told me on the answer machine that I needed to get a fiancée visa?”
My fiancée didn’t sound too pleased about this suggestion but reluctantly agreed to call them. He told me a few days later that he couldn’t get in touch with them and that we should follow the advise of the lawyers that he had consulted.
I put my house on the market and it sold in a day! I packed up my house; sold a lot of stuff and gave some furniture to my cousin. I had all my stuff shipped out to the States.
I was living in the Midlands at the time. I drove down south for a few days to spend time with my family and all too soon, we were on our way to Heathrow Airport to fly to America and our new life.
It was cheaper to get to Los Angeles Airport by having a stop over in Missouri. As this was the first stop in America we had to go through immigration. This was the part of the trip that I felt the most nervous about. I didn’t feel one hundred percent confident about the I90 vs Fiancée visa information. But the lawyers ought to know, right? I had bought return tickets so that if the paperwork didn’t go through in time, then we would go back to England. Well, it didn’t go well. After the children and I had queued for awhile, we eventually got to present our passports to the immigration officer. I don’t know what sparked their interest – maybe the fact that we had entered the States about four months ago for a week? They asked me what the purpose of our visit was.
I’m not very good at lying even if I wanted to. So I told them that I was visiting a friend in California. I gave them his name and address. The children and I found ourselves in a set of small connecting rooms to the right of Immigration Control. They then separated me from my children and began interrogating me. I was honest in all my answers even if my initial answer was not the whole story. They wrote my answers down and when they gave me the final draft of the interview, they had changed the order to make it look like I was lying. I was not pleased.
After the interrogation, I was back in the room with my children, where I found that they had let my seven year old go to the bathroom on his own in a crowded airport. I was beginning to simmer with anger.
They then lined us up by the wall and took our picture. Now I felt like a criminal. This was not one of my finer moments. I had no idea what was going on. They said I could have a phone call so I called my fiancée who was out at work and left a message to say that we were with the Immigration Department.
They then escorted the children and I to a plane. They gave our passports and the papers that they had written to the pilot. We were seated on the plane. It was not until the plane took off that I realized that we were on our way back to England. As soon as we took off and the pilot began speaking to the passengers, I learned that we were flying into Gatwick airport. A million things went through my head as I frantically wondered what I was going to do. I decided to shelve some of them and just focus on how I was going to get back to Fareham where my mum and dad lived. I was really glad that we were going to Gatwick as I did know how to get home from there on the train.
I was worried that my mum and dad would be worried about me when I didn’t call on getting to my fiancee’s. I wondered if my fiancée had got my message before he was due to pick us up from the airport.
As we started to land, my son threw up. It went all over him. We had no warning. We had been flying for nearly twenty hours with a couple of hours in Missouri. We had been awake for quite a few hours before we had left to travel to the airport. It was no wonder my little boy had thrown up.
So now my immediate concern was to get my son cleaned up. I had used the paper serviettes to clean up most of it on the plane, but it still wasn’t pleasant. After we left the plane, we had to go through the British Passport Control and pick up our luggage before I could even consider getting him some clean clothes. When we got our luggage, I couldn’t get the three of us and the luggage into the toilets together and my daughter was too young to be left outside with the luggage. So I decided that we would do it when we had gone through customs.
As we exited from customs and emerged on the crowds that were waiting for their loved ones, I felt very conspicuous and I was very, very embarrassed. As we got through that ordeal, I headed for the bathrooms that I knew were a bit bigger. Imagine my surprise and my great relief when I suddenly saw my dad. If I wasn’t in public, I would have probably cried.
My dad said that they were worried when I hadn’t turned up at my fiancée’s. My fiancée had called them asking where I was. My dad had made an educated guess as to which airport I would come back into and got in his car and had been waiting at the airport.
Even thinking about this now, all these years later, I still get choked up regarding what my dad did for me!
My dad looked after my luggage and my daughter whilst I went to the ladies to get my son cleaned up. Then he drove me back to my parents home.
For the next three months or so, we stayed at my sister’s house. I got the children back in school and picked up some temping work. My fiancee’s mother was old friends with the secretary to a senator. Somewhere in this adventure I had been given the forms to apply for a fiancée visa. Once these were submitted to the INS, the senator was able to expedite my application.
We arrived in the States in January 1999 and my fiancée and I got married. In 2003, I started divorce proceedings from my husband due to his abusive behaviour. Looking back on this event with greater hindsight, I don’t believe that the lawyers were ever contacted. I learned the hard way that I should trust my gut when it comes to making decisions and never rely on the advice and decision of another person. If a choice is made and the consequence picked up, I want to be in full control of that choice.
During my sojourn at Fareham Park Comprehensive School, we would sometimes have a 30 minute period where we spent time with our tutor. Sometimes we would do homework or chat; sometimes our tutor would have something that she would need to share with us. I had a wonderful tutor. Her name was Mrs Smith. She had beautiful auburn hair. She was my tutor for all of my five years at the school.
I recall one particular time where our time with our tutor was the last period before school finished. Mrs. Smith was not there for some reason so one of the other teachers, Mr. Gosden, filled in. He had planned to read us a story for those 30 minutes. He probably didn’t know that the story had a lasting impact on my life.
I remember that the story was about a man who was being ship wrecked in a ferocious storm. The man had been cast into the mountainous waves and each time he went under the waves, he would have flashbacks to moments in his life. He would relive precious moments such as when his daughter was born; the special memories he had of her growing up; of his sweet wife and the times they quarreled and made up; his son who loved football and the times he would watch his matches in the rain. Each time he went under, he recalled a different event in great detail. The final time that he went under, he knew he was close to death. He was called to account for his life – or so we thought.
Then came the amazing twist to this story that stayed with me ever since. As the man was called to account for his life, he was preparing to talk about what he had accomplished and how he had used his time, when his Creator said to him, ‘This is what your life will be like. Do you still want to go?” The man eagerly agreed to come and experience this life even though he knew that it would end up with him drowning at sea.
At that point, either the story ended or the bell rang and we were dismissed from class.
Ever since I have pondered on this story. The twist had taken me quite by surprise. I still remember where I sat – at a different table than where I normally sat facing the windows looking out onto the fields – probably because Mr. Gosden had moved people around to keep order in the class. It was like that moment stood still. Were we shown a preview of our life before we came down to earth? Were we so eager to come and grasp hold of life that we would accept any circumstances to come? Did this man think that he could change some aspects of the life that he had been shown even though he wouldn’t remember it? Did we live before we came to earth?
I don’t know the name of the book that Mr. Gosden read from almost forty three years ago or who wrote the story but it has had a profound impact on how I think about life and its purpose. It prepared me for a life changing event that happened when I was 16 which I will write about at a later time. I’m so grateful to Mr. Gosden for reading that particular story and for covering for my tutor whilst she was out of school on that spring day.
From the age of five to seven and a half, we lived in Singapore. My father was in the British Navy and had been assigned to Singapore for two and a half years. These few years were my childhood – almost carefree years!
I found the cultural adjustment very easy – children are very adaptable. I soon started school at the Navy school which was twelve miles away. At five years old, in a strange country, I was put on the naval school bus which took us to school a long way from home. As long as my mum put me on the bus to go to school and the teachers put us on the bus to go home, I was happy.
Singapore is subject to the monsoon seasons. When the rains start it is like the floodgates open up. To cater for the deluge in water, six foot deep monsoon drains are built. The ones near our house were made of concrete. They lined the paths alongside the roads. Even though these cement ditches were six feet deep, they would fill up quickly and the roads would flood within hours.
Despite the flooding, the school buses would run and we would have to catch them. The most difficult thing about walking the flooded roads to the bus stop was trying to keep your flip flops on! Unaware of the potential dangers of falling over and drowning; or slipping into the now invisible monsoon drains and drowning; it was an adventure going to and fro from the bus stop. For my mother, it was a nightmare. As she carried my little sister in her arms and grasped hold of my hand, her anxiety of me falling into the monsoon drain with the fast flowing water was near panic level. One time, as the regular bus pulled up, it didn’t get the stopping position correct. One young woman got off the
bus and stepped right into the monsoon drain. Several men on the bus managed to jump out without going down the monsoon drain and were able to rescue the soaking wet young woman who spent many minutes coughing up dirty water. Besides the worry of us children drowning, my mother also was wary of millipedes. One time, walking down to the bus, she got bitten by a millipede. I remember that it was very painful for her.
When the monsoon season was not upon us, we would see the now empty monsoon drains along side the path, that we would walk to and fro from the bus stop. My mother’s new anxiety was that I would fall down into the concrete ditch and break my arm or leg. Constantly she would tell me to walk away from the monsoon drains. I have a vague recollection of sliding into one once and of my mum being really angry at me. Luckily, I didn’t break anything unlike the boy who lived across the road. I came home from school one day and found out that he had broken his leg by falling into the monsoon drain. He was off school for many weeks.
One day, my mum took us shopping. We didn’t go to the market this time although we frequently did. I loved going to the market with its unique smells of Chinese cooking which made my mouth water, the unusual sounds of animals squealing and people speaking frantically in Chinese, and seeing all the local native crafts. This time, we must have gone to a department store. I vaguely remember the coolness of the store, the spaciousness and order. Inside the department store, my sister and I spotted these ornamental kangaroos with heads that bobbed up and down. We were totally fascinated with them and spent a long time watching them. We were absolutely delighted when mum said that we could get them for being such good girls that day.
We came home in the car. I was so excited to play with my kangaroo when we got home – at least have it on our table or window sill and touch its head so that it would go up and down. As we turned into the road that lead to our road of Jalan Belibus where our house was, my mum made a gasp.
“I forgot to get a present for the boy across the road!” She exclaimed. She paused momentarily and then said “Penelope, would you give your kangaroo to the boy for a gift?”
I gulped. My stomach lurched. I didn’t really want to give my kangaroo away. I hadn’t even had time to play with it yet.
‘Penelope?’ Mum probed.
Even at five or six years old, I already knew that it was the right thing to do. The young boy across the road must be awfully bored and uncomfortable from his broken leg, I reasoned. My kangaroo would make him happy and help him to pass the time. The nice feelings I had inside when I thought of giving up my new kangaroo with the bobbly head were slightly stronger than my desire and excitement to play with the kangaroo. When we arrived at our house and got out of the car, I handed the bag with the wrapped kangaroo over to my mum. After she had left us with our Ahma, she popped over to the boy’s house to give him the present. When my mum returned, she told me how thrilled the boy was with the kangaroo. This not only appeased the pain that I was feeling with it’s loss, but made me feel very good about the sacrifice that I had made.
Making sacrifices became a lot easier after this first one. Today, the sacrifices involve time and resources, sometimes pride and inconvenience. However, as is the nature of making a sacrifice, there is always that strong pull between doing what the self wants to do and doing the right thing. As Neal A. Maxwell said: “Real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!”