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Lady and the Scamp

Contributor(s): 
Cilla Walford

Cilla Walford is a transplant from England who now lives in Grand Marais.
“Lady and the Scamp” begins when Cilla decides to take a sabbatical from her teaching job and take her ancient dog, Sarah on a few last adventures.
“Lady and the Scamp” can be heard on WTIP’s North Shore Morning every other Tuesday.
 


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Lady and the Scamp - Part 5

Travels with Sarah
From Grand Marais to Ontario, Canada

 
 
Sarah-the-dog and I drove all day with the 13-foot fiberglass trailer on tow, and only managed to travel half-an-inch of the Trans-Canada Highway on the big map. We made it from Nipigon to Marathon. Progress was slow partly due to the 90 kph speed limit  -- 56 mph -- which I decided to follow since it’s easier on the gas when towing the Scamp, and gas costs more here. 
 
Marathon is the sort of “I could live here” picturesque town,  but after I shopped in the grocery store I changed my mind about that. I couldn’t see myself making friends with the low-key couples staring at the drab rows of food. I left feeling depressed. Another potential home off the list. Where was my home? Which continent? Where did I belong? Sarah was home to me but aged fifteen, she didn’t have a lot of time left. I watched her constantly, trying to second guess how happy she was about still being alive. Deciding when to euthanize a beloved dog is agonizing. Sarah’s vet had spoken of “the rule of thumb” and “quality of life” guidelines before we left on this trip. Sarah no longer enjoyed walks, she was deaf and carried a large benign cyst on her chest. On the other hand, she enjoyed her food, and sniffing smells as she pottered around. Anti-arthritis pills seemed to help with her agility, and she seemed to like traveling on her bed on the front seat.  And her bladder and bowels were functioning well. Dogs are such stoic beings, sometimes it’s hard to tell if they are suffering. Always a quiet girl when she wasn’t on a walk, skipping ahead, her tail a-wagging, she slept much of the time now she was old. I stroked her silky curls as we drove to the next campground. We would share charcoal grilled steak for supper.
 
In the morning we set off from our campsite in Pukaskwa National Park (fantastic place; five stars for nature and beauty, where I climbed flat slabs of rocks and ate wild blueberries high above the lake hoping I wouldn’t fall and die out there as Sarah was shut in the car). Later back on the highway, I picked up a couple of Goth hitchhikers. We drove for an hour or two listening to  Fleet Foxes and Trampled by Turtles, and the girl, Mary, said I was “totally rad”. I was prepared to take them all the way to Toronto, but suddenly at a gas station outside Wawa, we joined a line of stopped cars. 
 
Turned out there was a paint truck on fire on the highway and traffic was stopped on both sides, so there was nothing to do but sit on the dusty ground in the sun while Dave and Mary took it in turns to play their banjolino and sing. They’d been busking their way from Vancouver. I wandered around chatting to fellow strandees, which was the only way to find out what was going on as there was no Internet service. The owner of the gas station said I could camp there if I wanted as the last road blockage had been for ten hours. So five hours later, although the road had newly reopened, I pulled the Scamp into what I thought would be a quiet corner of the lot about a football field away from the gas station. Mary came to tell me they were heading off and confided that she wanted to break up with Dave. “Are you OK?” I asked. “You can leave him now and travel on with me” but she assured me she was safe and would leave him when they arrived back home in Toronto. And so my Goths set off.
 
Sarah was tired and I was tired and I had no desire to join the nose-to-tail traffic. We went to bed. Then the rain began. First, a gentle pattering of random drops on the Scamp’s roof, followed by an insistent drumming which made patterns over our heads. This was home, I thought, lying safe and warm in bed with rain pounding on the roof. It reminded me of the sound of monsoon rain crashing onto the corrugated tin roof of my childhood home in Africa. I curled up with Sarah and fell asleep to the rain’s music. 
 
The rain fell all night and container trucks arrived all night and hummed and snorted around us and the dawn light revealed that we were surrounded by a sea of semis who had kindly left us just enough space to sneak out.
 
So it rained from then on.  I drove by the burned-out hulk of the paint truck that had caused all the trouble but missed the photo-op as the traffic cop impatiently waved me on.
 
A few hours later my phone rang: “This is a courtesy call from CVS pharmacy” and I thought, wow! I have phone service! Maybe I am close to the American border. So I called my best girlfriend in Minneapolis and we managed to chat for a few minutes before my phone went dead again. Home can be a good friend on the other end of a phone. 
 
Heigh ho, the wind and the rain/A foolish thing is but a toy/And the rain it raineth every day.
 
Feste’s song from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: sung by countertenor Alfred Deller
 
Feste's Song[]
When that I was but a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain, it raineth every day.
 

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Lady and the Scamp # 2 - Cilla Walford

Travels with Sarah - Part 2
 
Sarah-the-dog loved me long before I learned to love her. I had not realized the depth of her love for me until the spring morning I left her outside the May Day Café under the supervision of the outdoors coffee drinkers while I went inside to buy a cup of tea and a pastry to share on our walk. When I came out, Sarah squirmed with relief on seeing me again. She was still learning that when I left her, I would always come back. 
A woman sitting at one of the outside tables said: “She adores you” as I gathered up Sarah’s leash. “Yes,” I said, “she does” not feeling totally appreciative yet of that burden. As I walked Sarah to Powderhorn Park, I reflected on the commitment I taken on, because clearly my son’s dog had become my dog. The love of a dog. And how long for? Ten years? Sarah ran ahead sniffing the park’s aromas. As I waited for her to nose at the pee stains streaking the exterior of the nearest garbage can,  and lift her leg to pee up as far as she could, trying to emulate the big boys, I thought: Ten years of this is going to be a very long time.
 
Of course, it wasn’t only ten years of just sniffing other dogs’ pee, although there was a lot of that. In fact there had been fifteen years of walks, and morning tea and Digestive biscuits in bed together, and sitting together on the couch reading, or her sitting at my feet while I wrote, and both of us frolicking in the snow and the autumn leaves and flopping in the shade on hot summer days or swimming together in a lake or the St Croix River, when l decided that now Sarah was getting so old and infirm, I would take an unpaid sabbatical leave from teaching, and spend as much time with her as I possibly could during her last months. I would find that camper van I’d always wanted. We would take a road trip.
 
Ever since I was a child and my friends and I were allowed to sleep in a caravan kept at the bottom of the garden for visitors, I have always wanted to live in one. One of my life’s ambitions was to travel in a small camper van and wake up to a different view every morning. Sarah was already a good travel companion; she loved the car and would sleep on her bed on the front seat while I ran errands. In between errands, we’d stop at one of her walk spots; the Witch’s Tower at Prospect Park, or down by the Mississippi River, or any of the green spaces that abound in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. By this time I was single again, my son was grown up and off on his own, and Sarah and I drove around in an ancient red Mazda Miata. We enjoyed puttering around with the top down. Every early summer I would load up with plants from the garden center and drive home with Sarah surrounded by flowering annuals. Later, she would nibble compost and chase squirrels while I planted.
 
When I bought a 13’ Scamp fiber glass trailer in the spring of 2013, I was fulfilling an old dream.
 
The Scamp became part of the garden for a couple of months while I looked for a car to tow it. My friends would visit and drink tea in her. Sarah and I took afternoon naps in her. Gradually I learned the Scamp’s systems which became less arcane one by one: how to fill the water tanks. How to switch from the 250 volt system to the 12 volt one. How to turn on the propane tank. By the time we were ready to leave on an exploratory road trip, we were both seeing the Scamp as a home from home.
I booked a camping spot for July and August at Grand Marais in northern Minnesota and kitted out the Scamp with new cushion covers and blinds.
Journals, books, laptop, art materials, tea and tea kettle, Digestive biscuits, Marmite and other essential provisions, dog food and clothing were all packed away. After a lesson in hitching up the trailer and towing (I never did get the hang of reversing it) Sarah and I set off to spend the dog days of summer on the cool shores of Lake Superior.
 
The Scamp, Sarah and I are installed in Grand Marais Recreation Park and campground. My neighbours are from Texas and have a 25 foot long top-of-the-line Safari Airstream trailer. The Scamp looks absurd parked alongside; a small, grubby, off-white fibre-glass nobody next to the gleaming aluminum superstar. They are all married couples around me with monosyllabic names; Bob and Shirl, Don and Pat.  One of the husbands has promised me fresh fish the next time he takes his boat out. They are all being very nice to me, the single English lady with the elderly black dog. The woman across the way (new Airstream also) greeted me when I arrived with, “The regulars are glad that you have a small rig; you won’t block our view.” My view is blocked by her humungous Toyota pickup truck, but that’s OK; I’m the newcomer here and grateful for the little patch of scenery I can see between the trucks and the pine trees of the vast lake.
 
Lake Superior stretches away and around and across over to Canada in a great swath of ever changing color; sometimes pewter like the North Sea off the East coast of England where I spent my adolescence, sometimes emerald, sometimes various shades of white or blue. On the shore line, tethered boats rock in front of a sea of pick up trucks, SUVs, and Rvs; trailers with canopies and porches and front gardens and outdoor carpeting and barbecue grills and gadgets: all the paraphernalia of grownups’ playthings. For this campground is a giant playground full of thousands of dollars worth of toys. It is Shangri La.  Everybody is on vacation and there is the unhurried atmosphere of people with not much to do. People stop and chat, admire the dog, comment on the smallness of the Scamp. She is a minnow among Leviathans here; a tiny fish. A Scampi.
 
 

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Lady and the Scamp - Cilla Walford

Travels with Sarah  -  Part One
Minneapolis

 
I am walking a well-trodden path down to a sandy beach by the Mississippi River. The day is lovely, but Sarah, the black dog who should have been running in front of me, off-leash, as she generally was, stopping occasionally to look back and make sure I was still following her, was gone. She should have been scurrying from smell to smell, reading the wonders of the trail with her nose, and trotting off again, her feathery tail describing joyful spirals in the gentle autumn sunshine. She should have been there to enjoy this walk with me, as we had enjoyed countless walks over the past fifteen-and-a-half years, but she was newly dead, and my grief was a raw wound.
 
When I acquired a dog, I never imagined that I would grow to love her so much. For years I disliked dogs. When I was growing up my mother always had dogs, often several at a time. Sometimes one of them bit me, "You must have been teasing him, darling!" They were always undisciplined, accustomed to having the best seats, to begging at the table, barking for food, licking the dinner plates, jumping over passengers in order to get out as soon as the car door opened, scrabbling with sharp claws and emitting fetid breath. Dogs were a nuisance. My mother would often say “I much prefer dogs to people” and “I always wished I could have whelped pups instead of you lot.”
 
The dogs lived at home, while from the age of eight to seventeen I was packed off to boarding schools. This was the 1950s British way; thus we middle-class children acquired a stiff upper lip and the Received Pronunciation (RP) as linguists call it of the Queen’s English. At school, I slept on horsehair mattresses and sheets that the school matron cut and sewed “sides to middle” when they wore thin, so that at night the rough seam insinuated itself along the length of your body. At home, my mother’s dogs slept with her on the big bed in the master bedroom; my father, when he was home, was relegated to the spare room. Through her dogs, my mum expressed her bitterness and frustration with life in general. When the English Setter swept my grandmother’s antique Crown Derby coffee pot off a low table with a brush of his tail, shattering it, my mother’s first instinct was to laugh. Her dogs were her “Up yours” gesture against the world.
 
For years I thought I didn’t like children either. I was afraid of them. I never wanted any of my own. Children, like dogs, were undisciplined nuisances.
 
When I had my son I was nearly forty. Inevitably he was born a dog person, a gene no doubt inherited from my mother. As soon as he could walk he would toddle up to dogs and I would cower behind him for protection.
“Please can I have a dog!” he would plead as soon as he could talk. “I’ll take care of it! I’ll pick up after it! I’ll feed it!”
 
His father and I finally agreed to get him a dog for his eleventh birthday. A dog-loving friend advised me to get a Cockerpoo. “They are intelligent, sweet-natured, sturdy enough to play with a child without getting hurt, and they don’t shed.”
 
She loaned me a dog crate, and we were off looking at puppies. We visited puppies in their homes, and people brought carloads of puppies to us in parking lots. They were adorable, but none of them seemed to click with our son. And anyway, I thought, they would grow up to be dogs and there would be no sending them away to boarding school. I hoped our son was cooling on the idea.
 
One visit was to a couple in South Minneapolis who had advertised Cockerpoo pups in the local paper. The puppies' mother, a Cocker Spaniel, was a black shadow inseparable from one of the women. The father, a curly poodle, jumped around us with his son, the last of the male dogs to find a home. 
“That’s your dog,  ” I said to my son, watching the puppy leap about in a hyperactive way. “He reminds me of you.”
“No, I like this one,” he said. I turned to look at a puppy so far unnoticed in a corner of the dog crate. She was sitting watching us, her ears black ringlets framing brown eyes. “That’s my dog” he continued. “Her name is Sarah.”
“Are you sure? Don’t you want a male dog?”
 
I tried to dissuade him, but he had made up his mind. We wrote out a check for one Cockerpoo puppy and agreed to pick her up two weeks later as she was not quite ready to leave her mother. 
On the way home I asked my son, "Why Sarah?"
"Because she reminds me of Sarah Dagg. You know. Your friend with the ringlets." 
My friend said she felt honored, although she had spent much of her childhood being called Sarah Dog.
 
So it was that on a snowy evening, we collected Sarah-the-dog, then two months old, and took her home with us. I carried her out to the car under my coat, against my heart. 
 
I carried her around her new home, much as my husband had carried our newborn son around our first apartment. I showed her the bedrooms, the bathroom, the sunroom, the living room and the dining room. I showed her the dog crate under the kitchen table, and I lay down on the kitchen floor and touched my nose to hers. Knowing my long-held antipathy to dogs, in general, my husband muttered, “I never thought I’d live to see the day”.
 
The first night in her crate, Sarah cried. I got up and took her outside, after failing in my efforts to wake my son. “I’ll take care of her, I promise!” drifted away on the night air. I watched as she skipped out into the snow and squatted, her tail a graceful arc. Her mother, Rose, had house trained her litter, leading them outside to squat behind her, an ellipsis of black dots in the snow. Back inside, I placed Sarah in her crate with her blanket and went back to bed. As the males in the house slept, I listened to Sarah cry. Unable to bear it, I got up and cuddled her. I took her into my son’s room. “Your dog is lonely. She wants to sleep with you.” I placed her on the foot of his bed and covered her with one of his old baby blankets. After a minute or two, she began to cry again, insistently. Soon, my son stumbled into our room with his dog. “I can’t sleep. She’s keeping me awake.” And so it was that over the objections of my husband, Sarah trained me to sleep with her.
 

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