Race season. Sigh.

I’m a “race widow”.   For an every varying number of weeks per month, my husband packs his suitcases, backpack of essential travel gear, gives me a long kiss goodbye and sets off for parts unknown.  Ok, the parts are known, at least to him and the fine folks across the country who are fans of automobile racing.

My husband won’t usually tell you what he does for a living. “I grout tile on the space shuttle” he says with his I’m-up-to-something grin.   He’s being silly. And modest.

We have a general idea of what each year’s schedule is going to look like ahead of time, but as the saying goes, “men make plans, and God laughs“.  The circuit sets the number of races per year, the locations and dates.  Events usually start in late January and run through early September. Knowing in advance he has thirteen races on the calendar is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s mandatory test days. There’s voluntary test days, made at the request of his drivers or due to the development or replacement of certain equipment.  There’s practice sessions simply because the drivers want more track time to perfect their craft and need their crew present.  Then there may be promotional events or trade shows where his expertise is necessary. And because the team he works for encourages new people in the sport with hands on training and car builds, he may be told on a Tuesday evening that he’s needed in another town or state (or country)  by Thursday with a trailer full of track ready speed machines.  I get it- he’s awesome, and I have to share him with the world.

Flexibility is the name of the game in this household.  I dread the arrival of wedding invitations, reunion announcements or other notices requiring an RSVP and potentially, an expense incurred by our gracious hosts because it could well be that I ‘ll need to place an uncomfortable phone call saying “I’m so sorry, but something’s come up…”   We are grateful to have such understanding and gracious friends; some are in the same industry and understand. Others are simply that good-hearted.

These are things we’ve come to expect, along with the need for high quality detergent (lemme tell you that track worn garments stuffed inside a bag and stashed on the semi for the return trip home after ten days on the road are smeeeelllllllllyyyyyyyyy). What you can’t expect is how empty the house feels when he’s gone.

We eat dinner as a family, many nights at the dining table; I mean, really, who even uses a dining room anymore? We do.  We talk about our day.  And I love to cook. Home made meals with flair, healthy and prettily plated.  If he’s traveling, there’s nothing special about mealtimes.  I’m accompanied by the teenager, who, being the sweet sort she is, is chatting away amiably about all the subjects she loves, but it isn’t the conversation we usually have. And dinner is often something very simple; spaghetti in meat sauce, leftover baked chicken, you get the idea.  The teenager isn’t impressed by veal marsala or shrimp diablo. Sure she’ll eat most of what I put in front of her but when we’re all together the meal becomes so much more than just good food. Its OUR time.

I don’t sleep much when he’s gone. This isn’t due to the fact I have more to do around the homestead when our strongest pair of hands is away.  If anything,  I should be more ready to hit the hay after hauling it.  But there’s this big empty spot where the other half of me usually is and I find it difficult to get much rest in that suddenly open space.  His cat knows when he’s gone and assumes ownership of his pillows. I’m not permitted on that side even if I wanted to be there…Whiskey has a stare that reminds you the average domestic cat isn’t all that far removed from their larger cousins in the jungles and savannas of the planet.  We call her a house panther. She gets the spot.

Normal Monday to Friday we say our ‘see you laters”  and go about our day. I still get a happy little jump in my heartbeat when I hear his car come up the drive every evening.  Trip weeks? I’m on my own and those simple little daily things I’ve come to adore so much, like the perfect cup of coffee he makes just for me each morning to the way he walks up behind me and wraps his arms around my waist, leaning his chin into my shoulder with a sweet sigh when he gets home.

The kiddo and I try to make these weeks our own.  We go out to a movie. We pick up a box of ice cream sandwiches and make sure we destroy the evidence before he returns.  We have girl days where we do things just for us and smile conspiratorially “don’t tell dad!”.  I love our time together.   But once we’re home, she’s back to her books; she writes graphic novels and they’re quite good.  She’s consumed by her art projects.  She’s completing her homework.  And I’m…..drifting.

I knew what I signed up for.  I just have to redirect that energy that usually goes into US into something just for ME and its harder some days than others.  A cup of tea on the porch. A good book.  Catching up on chatting with friends. Volunteer duties. They all get caught up and then some.

He sends me text messages from the road. Small reminders to let me know he’s thinking about me too. I treasure them all until the best one eventually arrives: “made it to the shop, home soon

And its just fifteen more minutes until that happy little heartbeat jump and we’re a family again.

 

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The Call

Being a responsible Breeder (with a capital B) is a time consuming work of heart. The joy of holding that precious new life in your hands, the bittersweet moment you wave goodbye when they leave with their new family and the inevitable tears when The Call comes.

I stay in touch with my families. Always have, always will. You aren’t buying a dog here, you’re marrying into my clan.  To do so you’ve got to pass muster and after that it isn’t hard to stay in my good graces. I’m a benevolent mother-in-law, I don’t need to be up in your kool-aid all the time but send me an email, pick up a phone, ask me for advice or brag a little about your furball’s latest accomplishments. I love this contact.  We’re something bigger and better than a single transaction.  And we’re united in our love for the dogs.

That amazing unconditional love these magnificent animals gives us comes with a price. And when the bill comes due, your heart shatters into millions of painful shards.

The  Call comes when you least expect it. You’ve had a long day, a good one by all accounts. Then the soft chime of the cell phone lets you know a new message is waiting.   Its a beautiful picture of  the pup you bred so many years ago, muzzle now silvered with age, looking tired but peaceful that says ” I’m ready to go rest with my daddy now. I love you”. And you lose it.  You live three thousands miles away and you wish with everything you are that you could stroke that beautiful face just one last time, and hold the hand of the person sitting beside him.

Once a BK baby, always a BK baby.  This litter wasn’t really even supposed to be “mine”.  Typically when you offer stud services you bring your boy to the date or mail a carefully packaged shipment of puppy juice in liquid nitrogen to the bitch’s owners.  Not so in this case.  I was present when the pups were born, helped clear nostrils and tie off cords and rub wet coats until the little ones squawked in response.   And a week later, when their dam came down with a serious life threatening infection and the pups had to be removed for her treatment and recovery, I stepped in to take them home with me and hand raise the whole crew. All ten of them.  We’re blessed in this breed to have what we refer to as super moms; a bitch will frequently adopt a litter not her own and care for them if they are orphaned. I’ve even had females who began lactating in the presence of a new litter.  I was lucky enough to own one of these very special girls at the time and we split the work load. She cuddle-curled around the babies and offered immediate nurturing. I was up every two hours for bottle feedings.  I think she got the better end of the deal.

When the time came for placements, I handled those too, to my standards.   The litter had a carbon copy  of their sire, Justice (CH Bk’s America’s Most Wanted, CGC, TDI) .  Moms aren’t supposed to have favorites. Riiiiigggghhhhhhttttttt.  This lovely boy went to an exceptional family not too far away, and came back for a stint at Camp Black Knight when he threw a teenage temper tantrum and thought being the Bad Boy was cool (not). I offer lifetime support including free training, and this family took me up on it.  Nitro never put a paw out of place again and all contacts from them over the years were very positive.

A few years back I moved across the country but that didn’t stop us from staying in touch.   As Nitro aged, and as happens with age, declined, his owner called and texted more for advice on what he could do to make his dear boy more comfortable.  We both knew where this was going with each progressive talk.

Yesterday, his owner made The Call.  And we cried together across the distance.

Nitro was born May 6, 2003 and left us shortly after his thirteenth birthday on May 10, 2016; a great run for an Akita. His family- all of us- will miss him greatly.  Joe, I couldn’t have picked a better friend for Nitro than you. Thank you for being part of the family.  And for letting me hold your hand through the Call.