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Sunday, October 23, 2005


Another homegoing ...

If one lives long enough the number of deaths begin to overtake the number of births -- and funerals begin to overtake wedding events. It's the life cycle, and has been so since the beginning of time. This month brought the final days of Dorothy Marion (Reid) Pete whose 90th birthday we celebrated last year -- followed in only a few days by the arrival of Jessica's firstborn; a little boy. Those are the everyday miracles experienced in all of our lives. The story of Harlem is not:

During the beautiful memorial service for Dorothy, her son, Geoffrey, shared this touching and extraordinary little story of the deep relationship between his mother and her little cocker spaniel, "Harlem."

Dorothy was in her 91st year-- after a long and dedicated life -- and had been failing rapidly over the past several months. She was being lovingly cared for at home by her three sons, Geoffrey, Gregory, and Dennis. Gregory had taken over the role of primary caretaker in her final days.

Harlem had been her constant companion for years. During the memorial service a soft knowing giggle ran through the congregation when Geoffrey reminded us how -- whenever any one of her friends picked her up for an errand or churchgoing -- room in the car had to made for Harlem. He lived in and as Dorothy's shadow.

As she became more frail in her final days, Harlem was leashed so that he wouldn't be in the way of the increasing medical and personal attention that she now needed. Gregory et al were there to give her a soft landing into whatever afterlife her faith provided, and there wouldn't any longer be room for Harlem, obviously.

On the day of her death and cremation, Harlem was finally allowed off leash where he'd been kept near the kitchen -- tied up and isolated. Geoffrey thought it right to allow him to roam free for a bit after such an unaccustomed confinement. After a time Geoffrey looked out and called. No Harlem. A few hours later he'd still not returned. As the night wore on more time passed and still no Harlem. There was cause now for real concern. The little dog was not accustomed to the streets and could be in jeopardy.

In the morning the telephone rang and it was the voice of a kind stranger who had found and identified him by the phone number on the identification tag on his collar. Harlem had been found miles away from home wandering in the vicinity of the Chapel of the Chimes, the crematorium where Dorothy's remains ... .

Some things defy logic, and rightly so and are the stuff of legends.

This one was true -- and the cause for a deep silence that followed the telling of the story against the bank of flowers (mostly red roses) that framed the teller of the story.

Dorothy would have loved it.

Photo: Dorothy as she looked when I first knew her in the late 1930's. She was the sister of my husband, Mel's, father. She was the first African American secretary hired by the YWCA's main branch in downtown Oakland, California. She was also the first African American administrative aide to successive pastors of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church. Dorothy's ancestors arrived in California during the Civil War and have contributed significantly to the building of the West. To learn more about them click on California Black Pioneers under my photo on the top left.

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