Life in Devon was great. My sister had gone off to college soon after I was adopted and when I was 10 my oldest brother left to join the Air Force. My mom was a single, working woman so my other brother and I were pretty much left to our own devices after school. One of my after-school responsibilities was the dogs.

We had dogs. We always had dogs. An American Cocker Spaniel named Crush, a Beagle/terrier mix named Dolly, and for a brief time we had Muffin, also a mutt (a coon hound mix). Sadly, two teenage boys drag racing on our dead-end street ran over Muffin. My brother and I were off with my legal father for visitation one Sunday and knew nothing of what transpired back at home that day. After Muffin was hit yet still alive laying in the road, Dolly stood guard over Muffin. Dolly wouldn’t let anyone near her until my mom arrived.  The vet said due to all her injuries the kindest thing was to euthanize her. Due to the many broken bones and internal injuries we weren’t allowed to visit Muffin before she was euthanized as the vet said this would excite her and cause her pain.

My brother and I both had our chores to do. Mine were mainly dog-based. I had to make sure they were fed and always had water. I let them out first thing in the morning and again after school. Where we lived, dogs ran loose. It was suburbia yet we were lived on a dead end road that had woods running behind most of the homes. The dogs would run to the houses of their canine friends and pick them up for a run through the area. Our dogs knew how to push the screen door open and jump out for their runs. They’d come back and scratch until we let them back in. It wasn’t uncommon for our dogs to go off for hours. No one except our very proper neighbor, Mrs. Blitz, ever walked their dog on a leash. The only reason Mrs. Blitz walked her poodle, Mimi, on a leash was because her first dog used to run loose. One winter it ran out on the pond where we would ice skate, but it ran out when the ice wasn’t solid, fell through and drowned.

One Saturday morning I came downstairs to let the dogs out and get them fresh water and discovered that Crush had died in the night. She was very old at this point. I ran upstairs and told my mom and later my brother dug a grave and buried her. Although I was sad about Crush, I immediately began trying to figure out how to get my mom to get us a new dog. There was a show, Run, Joe, Run on Saturday mornings about a German Shepherd Dog and that is what I wanted more than anything. One day I overheard my mom on the phone saying to someone “If I ever get another dog it’s going to be something small, like a Beagle”. Immediately I changed my strategy from asking for a GSD to a Beagle. I asked but she said no.

When Christmas came that year, Santa brought me a Beagle puppy named Happy Christmas III.  I loved her. She became my BFF and I spent all my time playing with her. I spent hours training her in obedience and jumping, hand signals, etc. I had a friend, Jane, who was 3 years older. She had a new Basenji puppy named Tonya. We took our dogs on runs and walks together and created obstacle courses for them.  We even went so far as to make a movie where Happy was injured and Tonya came to save her.

Beagle puppy in grass. Photo by Garrett222/WIkimedia Commons
Beagle puppy in grass. Photo by Garrett222/WIkimedia Commons

My other friends were Jean and Rosie. I liked both of them but for some reason they didn’t like each other. Jean had been my friend first. She lived around the corner and after school we’d watch Kimba the White Lion, Marine Boy, Speed Racer, Astro Boy and Ultra Man.  On weekends we were totally into Gene London in the morning and Dr. Shock’s Horror Theater and Mad Theater on Philadelphia’s Channel 17. On Channel 48 we’d flip over for Double Chiller Theater. Jean was very smart and in 3rd grade when our elementary school divided us into two teams, Intermediate and Upper Team, Jean went to Intermediate which was more for kids who liked to work independently.

Rosie was one of seven kids, and they lived right next door. Originally the land had belonged to my mom but after she separated from my father she sold the lot. The first family to live there built the house. We came home to find a brown house with turquoise shutters. My mom was horrified. Luckily they must’ve changed their minds because soon it was repainted white with black shutters. The first family had two kids, Betsy and Vincent. Betsy was my age and Vincent was a year younger. Betsy was a good friend but their dad was transferred to Ohio soon after they moved in.

Rosie’s family was great. Her parents were the best parents I’ve seen to this day. They were devout Catholics, they never raised their voices (and as a mom of one who has, I can’t imagine having 7 kids and never doing it), and they were the kindest people. It was always fun over at their house because there were so many kids. When my dog Happy had a litter of puppies, their family took a female puppy they named Candy. Rosie and I had many adventures, sleep-overs, working on our Girl Scout badges, exploring in the woods and creek, etc.

On one of the nights that I spent at their house something unusual happened. Like all little girls’ rooms in our neighborhood, Rosie had twin beds in her room. There was nothing remarkable about that night compared to any of the others that we had spent together. However, in the morning, Rosie was upset. She kept insisting that she’d awoken in the middle of the night to see a man standing between our beds. He was just standing there staring at me. I’d slept through the whole thing. Rosie was so upset. She told her parents who said she must have been dreaming. They even checked the doors and windows but nothing was unlocked and nothing had been disturbed in the house. It never happened again despite many more times of my sleeping over.

Years later, when I was a sophomore in college, I lived on my sorority’s floor of a dorm. My roommate and I had bunk beds so that we could have more room. I was on the bottom bunk. One morning Eleanor, my roommate, told me that she’d awoken to find a man standing next to our beds staring down at me. She said she kept closing her eyes and praying. She cracked me up when she told me that she’d try to say a “Hail Mary” but since neither of us were Catholic she didn’t know the words past the first line!  It never happened again at college.

When I first moved to NYC I was living in an apartment off Central Park West. My college roommate had married into a prominent and very rich family there that owned a lot of real estate. She got me a rent-controlled apartment in a nice, doorman building on the Upper West Side. Shortly after I arrived in the city a relative arrived to stay with me for a few weeks. I didn’t have much furniture yet so my bed was just a mattress on the floor. One morning I woke up to a very spooked relative who told me he’d seen a man standing in the apartment in the middle of the night just staring at me. That was the last sighting of this mysterious man. I was married twice and neither husband saw this nocturnal guardian. My daughter and I have lived together and she’s never seen this man either (and for that she is quite grateful).

A few times I even stood like an idiot in my NYC apartment demanding that this person, spirit, whatever, show himself to me. He didn’t. Which is probably good because although I’m fine with ghosts on shows like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, if one appeared in front of me I’d probably faint. I am Christian and I believe our spirits live on after our bodies so why couldn’t those who have died pop in on folks to make sure they’re ok? I’m assuming that is what this man was doing because he never looked at the other person, he never did anything to me, he just stared. I suppose until I pass on I shall never know who this is. His description does not match anyone that I’m aware of in my family.

A single mom, cancer survivor, proud of both sides of her Scandinavian/Puerto Rican heritage, whose sense of humor, friends, and faith have helped her navigate life. None of it would mean anything without my daughter and our furry family members.

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