Where the Names Come from

“A rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” –  William ShakespearePicture of a rose“So where do you get the names for your characters?” People ask.

The answer is, I beg, I borrow and I steal them. I also make them up.

Here are some examples:

Desmond Sbeerin

I love the name Desmond. We have a dear friend who lives in Dalkey, Ireland with that name. I borrowed the name from him and he was gracious enough to let me. I chose Sheerin as the family name because, while not as well-known as Murphy, or even Malone, it is an Irish name. Once again, I borrowed it. My maternal great-grandfather, Patrick Sheerin, owned a bar or “saloon”, not unlike the original Ceol agus Craic, in Boston around the turn of the last century. From the first moment I envisioned this character I knew his name was Desmond or Des Sheerin.

Francesca Chiesa

Francesca Chiesa was my paternal great-grandmother, my father’s beloved Nona. I always loved the name.  I asked permission of the “senior” cousin on that side of the family to use it. I am happy to think that Nona’s name lives on in my novel.

Nick Benincasa

Nick’s name is stolen, from a saint, no less. Di Benincasa is the family name of St. Catherine of Sienna. I thought it was a perfect name for a plumber of Italian descent.

Drew MacCullough and Lilah Patch

Two examples of names that I made up from thin air. I wanted a Scot name as a counter-point to Brid’s name, which is Irish, and I liked the sound of MacCullough. The character was neither an “Andy” nor an “Andrew” and thus Drew McCullough was born.

Lilah was conceived in a moment of whimsy with a nod to a dynamic lady I once worked for whose name was Lilla. I liked the way the name sounded and I think it fits this character.

Here are some general guidelines I use when choosing a name:

  • Match the name to the nationality or ethnicity of the character or use names popular at the time the character was born.
  • Don’t use weird names unless you want the character to be viewed as weird, in which case, a weird name fits.
  • Make sure you offer an explanation if the name is unusual or out of time or place. An example of this would be Franny explaining to Nick why her name is Francesca.

I was still working in corporate training when MacCullough’s Women was published. My boss congratulated me on my great pen name. I laughed and asked, “What do you mean?”  He said, ” Your name, Ferrari. Like the car. Great choice.” I said, “I am Kathleen Ferrari.”  He said, “I know. Great pen name.” I tried again. “No,” I said,”I was born Kathleen Ferrari. It’s my name.” He couldn’t get over that.

I have been married twice. Both times I have taken my husbands’ surname as my own. Shortly before I was married the first time, I needed to get a passport in a hurry. This required a trip into Boston to the federal building for immediate processing. My father drove me “in town” as he, a Boston boy, always referred to the city. The plan was for me to take the train home. At the last moment, my dad decided he would stay with me. Luckily, as it turned out, because the birth certificate I had with me did not have the seal of the city where I was born embossed on it.  “This won’t work,” the man behind the counter told me. At the sight of my dismayed face, he looked at my father standing next to me and asked, “Is this your daughter?”  He then explained that if my father signed an affidavit swearing that I had been born where and when the birth certificate I had with me said, they would accept that as sufficient proof to process the passport request.

We then had to wait for them to make the actual passport. I fretted that my name on the passport would not be the same as my soon-to-be married name. My father’s patience was wearing thin. He turned to me and said, “Listen. You’ll always be Kathleen Ferrari.”

I smile when I see the name on the books covers. He always believed I could be a writer. Using the name he bequeathed to me is my small way of thanking him for having faith.


My Dad

My Dad


Is there a fictional character whose name you particularly like or will never forget?


Along Came The Muse. Enter the Tibetan Terrier

My theory is you shouldn’t apologize for believing in an idea-channeling muse. You should just be sure to feed her.” ― Laurie Seidler


The dogs of my life. I counted them one day and I came up with eleven. Twelve if you count Teal, the dog who dropped in for a visit and left four years later. As she was the one my husband liked best, I think I do need to count her, too. Twelve dogs who trotted gaily thorough my life strewing joy in their paths, beginning with Teddy who showed up shortly after I learned to walk. More than once we had several living with us.

“You know, I think I like dogs better than I like most people,” I once told my Aunt Joan. She studied me carefully for a minute as if to make sure I hadn’t lost my mind and then said, “Who doesn’t?” So now you can see that I am one of those writers who will always slip in a dog or two.

Two years ago in September we made the decision to let Grace, our English cocker spaniel, go. It was a hard decision but in the end it was kind. “Never, never, never again. No more dogs,” I said, through my heartbroken tears. My husband actually snorted. Really, he snorted.

We went to Ireland in November and there in Phoenix Park, Dublin we met a dog.

Murphy the dog from Phoenix Park

Murphy the dog from Phoenix Park

“Is that a miniature sheep dog?” I asked the gentleman at the other end of the lead.

Clearly affronted, he drew back and told me with no small degree of umbrage, “No. He is a Tibetan Terrier.”

Never having heard of the breed, I asked. “Is he friendly?”

Disgusted now, the man said, “Murphy, go say hello to the lady.”

We came back from our trip and I began to hunt…not that I wanted a dog but…there was something about these Tibetan Terriers.

Some times things happen as they are meant to. In December, I discovered Gamine Tibetan Terriers in Blandford, Massachusetts. Cute dogs…very cute dogs. But there’s more. Gamine Tibetan Terriers are neighbors of my husband’s cousin…really. And there’s more. A litter had been born the very day I checked the Gamine website. An unusually large litter so, yes, I could have a puppy.

And along came The Muse.IMG_1303

Her name is actually Arleigh Burke. Yes, I know it’s a man’s name but we thought we were getting a boy and then suddenly it was The Muse, already exerting her powers.

My husband retired from the Navy with the rank of commander. All three of our dogs have been named for U.S. Navy admirals: Halsey, Hopper and now,  Arleigh Burke, because, of course, an admiral outranks a commander. Every single time.

I have loved all my dogs and they each retain a special place in my heart but The Muse is the smartest. She is also pretty cute.

Her role in my writing process is to show up and inspire.

The Muse inspiring

The Muse inspiring

Midway through writing Francesca’s Foundlings, a black and white Tibetan Terrier whose name is Thatch trotted into the pages while I was writing. You will have to read the book to find out more but I credit his appearance completely to the powers of The Muse.

In Tibet, these dogs were known as ‘the little people” and believed to bring good luck. We treat The Muse like a little person, one with a lot to say, and she has certainly brought us good luck.

You will be seeing more of The Muse here on this blog. So stay tuned.


The Muse

The Muse






The Hard Part of What I Do

A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him.” ― Edna St. Vincent Millay


For me, what happens now is the hard part. Francesca’s Foundlings, the second book in the Lynton Series, is available for order on Amazon. And I am supposed to market the book. I looked up “market” to be sure I understood what the verb form of the word meant. The dictionary gave this as the definition: to advertise or promote.

This is a great segue into two things I definitely did not discuss in 2011 when I published my first novel, MacCullough’s Women, although I am sure observant readers have already figured it out. If, however, you have not, here is the great reveal: I self-publish my books and I will be sixty-five in June. As I will explain, they are interconnected.

Five years ago, I began querying agents in an attempt to find someone willing to represent MacCullough’s Women in order to publish the “old school” way. Many books and blog posts have been written on how to write the perfect query letter. More than one writer has been known to say, “Writing the book was easy compared to writing the query letter.”

The world of publishing was changing at a rapid-fire pace when I was ready to publish MacCullough’s Women. There was less money available in traditional publishing and the competition for it was fierce. The role of social media was moving to the forefront taking the writer, who once was a black and white photo on the back page of the book jacket, with it. It was harder to sell a book, especially a first book by a sixty year-old writer. As one independent bookseller told me, “Ageism is rampant in this industry.” Well, I’m sixty-five and I’m okay with that. I hope my readers are too.

The Muse and I

The Muse and I

My husband attended a conference on independent publishing and came home convinced self-publishing was the way we should approach this. We would set up our own publishing company and produce the book. And so we did, creating Roskerry Press.

Along the way I learned that many traditional writers resent writers who self-publish because they feel these writers have “cut the line”, and not paid their dues. Part of me understands but self-publishing is evolving rapidly leaving the stigma of “vanity press” behind. Increasingly, we learn of traditionally published writers who have left their publishers to publish their own books or backlists simply because they can and at the same time retain far more control of the profits and their books.

For me, the major downside of being a self-published author is that the “advertising and promoting” aspect of selling the book rests squarely on me. There is no marketing person at the publisher doing this for me.

I “advertise” and “promote” the book on Facebook, Twitter and here on this blog.  None of it comes easily to someone who spent eight years as a Catholic schoolgirl being told “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.” I recently gave a copy of MacCullough’s Women to a classmate at Tai Chi. She said she loved it.

Having finished Francesca’s Foundlings, as well as becoming both older and I hope wiser, I have discovered that what I really love to do is write the books. I enjoy my characters and discovering what they will do next.I have received enough feedback from my readers to know they like the books, too.

If you have enjoyed reading MacCullough’s Women, and Francesca’s Foundlings, I am asking you to take the time to tell your friends about them and — this is me “marketing” — please review the book on Amazon and “like” my author page on Facebook.Every review and “like” helps me grow my platform and increase my readers.

I really appreciate it.


What I am Reading

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” ― Stephen King

Photo of books

Some of my favorites…

I have used Fridays to recommend books that I have read and hope you will also enjoy reading. I thought as I am trying to recharge my blogging it made sense to explain my thoughts behind the Friday posts.

First, I don’t think of these posts as being critical reviews. Having written a book, I now understand how hard that is. All writers deserve a positive nod for bringing a book to publication even if you hate what they have written. Only once since I wrote MacCullough’s Women have I been tempted to critically dissect another writer’s work. I definitely would not have had anything good to say about that book. And that book has sold 60 million copies.

I was not one of the gifted kids. I didn’t start school reading. I was a ‘bluebird” in the first-grade and began with “Dick and Jane” like thousands of other public school children in the fifties. By the time I was ten, I read anything I could get my hands on, much of it adult reading. I went toe-to-toe with my sixth-grade teacher, Sr. Helena Regis, who insisted I could not have read Gone with the Wind. I had — the first of six times. I was the kid whose parents often said, “Get your head out of that book.” Quite simply, books were my world.

I have always been fascinated by series, beginning with The Bobbsey Twins. I think this is because I am so reluctant to let beloved characters go. I suppose that’s why I am writing a series myself.

I usually read between two and three books a week. I have been doing that all my adult life. I also re-read books I love. I have read across genres: light, dark, horror, classical and dystopian. I find myself no longer drawn to the dysfunctional or the sinister, although here and there I will make an exception. I have just finished reading The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian. The world we live in seems dark enough to me today and I enjoy escaping into my less fraught fictional worlds. Most of my time now is spent reading either women’s fiction, which is what I also write or memoir. Over the next few months, I hope to share some of these stories with you.

What do I think is the best book I have ever read? Without hesitation, my answer is the book I consider to be “The Great American Novel”:  Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The only novel Mitchell wrote, Gone with the Wind was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.

If you haven’t read it, you simply must.


To-ing and Fro-ing

“How did it get so late so soon?” Dr. Seuss

I have been doing a little research and have discovered writers in general are infrequent bloggers. Who knew that? I follow the blogs of several excellent writers in my genre and I assure you it’s true. The underlying reason has to be more than the simple fact writers are busy. Who isn’t? I wonder if it is because we so often are making things up that we find it difficult to write about our real worlds. I am not the only writer who breaks the first rule of blogging (Show up when you say you will.)  and goes for long stretches without posting. Writers who actually write their own blogs, (and the really big names usually do not) on a regular schedule are rare.

I have been busy “to-ing” and “fro-ing” and somehow December and January skipped away. I won’t bore you with the details but in addition to the usual holiday madness, we had a couple of other significant life events going on. One of which included answering the question: “On a scale of one-to-ten, what is your pain level?”

We ran into a problem with the paperback version of Francesca’s Foundlings. The issue was with the spacing of the words on the printed page. This required a page-by-page scrutiny to find any and all errors. Unfortunately this was sandwiched around everything else going on during that time and took a while to complete.

Francesca's Foundlings

The Series Continues

Roskerry Press was founded with the purpose of publishing my books. My husband and I are the only two permanent “employees” but we do use a professional artist to do the covers, as well as a professional editor. In addition, there are two dedicated copy editors who read the books when they are still in beta format.

The editing component of this work is not for the faint of heart. It is made even more difficult by the fact that many of the old editing rules no longer apply. The expression “Oh, that’s old school.” is true for all writing/editing today. There is also room for human error. Even the best editors are human. I recently read a novel by a well-known writer where suddenly in the second chapter, the name of one of the main characters changed. It took a second read through the previous chapter to wrap my mind around this. The editor should have caught it. But I understood how it happened. Characters may start out with one name and the writer for a variety of reasons changes it. In MacCullough’s Women, Neil Malone’s name was originally “Raymond”. I lived in terror that, despite obsessively doing a “search and replace”, I had somehow missed an occurrence in the manuscript. I did not. My fault seems to be a tendency to leave off the closing quotation marks when a character is speaking. I am pretty sure all writers are guilty of something.

The good news is, I am, indeed, back to work as requested this week by a reader on my Facebook page. The paperback version of Francesca’s Foundlings is once again being formatted. The online proof looks clean. I should have the physical proof in my hands by the end of the week. I am hoping it will be ready to go and available next week on Amazon.

The third novel in the Lynton Series, Maggie’s Girls, is a work-in-progress. I will be blogging more about that book in future posts. The novel explores the relationship between mothers and daughters, both biological and stepdaughters. When I worked in the development of technical training we had often used what we called, Subject Matter Experts or SMEs to insure the content was accurate. Having been a mother and stepmother for forty-three years, I considered myself to be an SME on this topic. I am excited about where this book is going.

My plan is to blog regularly about my books, my characters, my writing practice and The Muse, an indolent Tibetan Terrier called Arleigh Burke. I have also set myself the goal of learning how to use Scrivener described as a word-processing program and outliner designed for authors. Stay tuned. This writer is finding it a challenge.


The Muse

The Muse

The Muse



Going-to Girl signs up for NaNoWriMo

“It’s the witching hour once more – when the Muse comes out to play.” Belle Whittington


With some trepidation, I have signed up to participate in National Novel Writing Month known as NaNoWriMo. If you have never heard of it, this is an internet-based creative writing project held every year during the month of November. The goal is to produce 50,000 words – the minimum for a novel – in thirty days.

It took me almost four years to finish writing Francesca’s Foundlings. I had retired from my day job to focus on writing, so this came as a surprise to me, although it shouldn’t have. I am a world-class procrastinator – my father used to call me “The Going-to Girl” because that was my standard answer when asked when I would do something. I am my own boss accountable for my time only to myself – unlike when I wrote MacCullough’s Women. Then, I got up before dawn and wrote for two hours before starting my day job.

In 2007, long before I conceived the idea of the Lynton Series, I fell in love with the idea of writing a novel about a mother and her daughters. This is, of course, a much-loved and familiar theme beautifully done by Louisa May Alcott in Little Women. The twist in my story is the mother has two daughters, one biological and the other her stepdaughter. Yes, I know. Also done before in Cinderella – that wicked, wicked stepmother- by the Brothers Grimm and others.

The vilification of stepmothers is a theme close to my heart because I am one. Trust me a more difficult and less appreciated role does not exist. I wrote copious notes describing characters and potential scenes and then abandoned the story to finish and eventually publish MacCullough’s Women. While I was writing Francesca’s Foundlings, I realized Franny seemed to have no girlfriends. I knew while she was married to Drew he consumed her life but what about BD – before Drew? A light went on and the idea of how Maggie’s Girls could become part of the Lynton Series was born.

Just as Lilah Patch, the catalyst of Francesca’s Foundlings, makes her brief appearance in the Sheerin Gallery in MacCullough’s Women, first Maggie Kennedy and then her stepdaughter, Cookie, find their way through the door of Franny’s doll shop in Francesca’s Foundlings.

Maggie’s Girls will be the third novel in the Lynton Series. The focus will change but you will still find within its pages those familiar Lynton faces, I hope you have come to enjoy.

My plan is to use the discipline of NaNoWriMo to produce a first draft of this novel by –dare I say it? – November 30.

Writers are often a superstitious lot. I am no exception. Before I start a new novel, I like to find a talisman to help me focus on the project.

Yesterday, while treating myself to a visit to the League of NH Craftsmen shop, I found this. I thought it was appropriate for NaNoWriMo. We all remember Aesop’s tale of the race between the tortoise and the hare.



Francesca's Foundlings

At Last: Francesca’s Foundlings

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to a develop a thick hide.”  Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird was first published in 1960. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and gave to American literature, Atticus Finch, one of the most beloved characters ever imagined by a writer. A reported forty million copies of the book have since been sold.

Harper Lee never wrote another book after she wrote To Kill A Mockingbird. Her recently published Go Set A Watchman is the original draft of a story that evolved into the book so many of us first read in school and came to cherish.

I realize it might seem very presumptuous of me to compare myself to Harper Lee. However, if Harper Lee hesitated, you can only imagine how hard, indeed, terrifying, it is for the small indie writer to “do it again.”

I have wanted to be a writer since I was in the fourth grade. My father, always my champion, urged me on. Life and a lack of courage intervened. I wrote and published MacCullough’s Women four years ago to see if I could be a writer. Enough people told me they enjoyed it for me to feel good about having written it. I had written a book. “See that, Dad!” I told my long-dead father.

While I was working on MacCullough’s Women, the idea of creating a series of four books set in my fictional little city of Lynton, New Hampshire began to grow. My novels are character-driven and I love my characters. They are almost real to me. As much as I was happy and relieved to finish the book, I also felt a sense of loss. What was going to become of Franny? Were Brid and Neil going to have more than a fling? Would Sofia ever grow-up?

I am happy to offer you Francesca’s Foundlings, the second book in the Lynton Series. Francesca’s Foundlings is the story of an unconventional family, complete with an imperious cat and a grieving Tibetan terrier, created from need and bound together with love. In today’s global world, where individuals often live far from the families into which they were born, you will discover more and more families like this one. Maybe even your own.

Cover for Francesca's Foundlings

Cover for Francesca’s Foundlings

The Lynton Series is about women and the men they love. Women who though flawed, prove themselves to be resilient and willing to change in order to meet the challenges life throws at them. Women very much like those who read my books.

Roskerry Press has just launched the e-book version on Amazon (link to Kindle version).  If you do read it soon, please post a review.

The paperback version will be released later this fall.

Thank you all for your interest and support. My readers (you!) are the best.









Why I Vote

Have you ever stopped to ponder the amount of blood spilt, the volume of tears shed, the degree of pain and anguish endured, the number of noble men and women lost in battle so that we as individuals might have a say in governing our country? Honor the lives lost for your freedoms. Vote.”  Richelle E. Goodrich

 Will you vote today? I ask because so many people won’t. One of the many political canvassers who called yesterday told me turnout is expected to be light this year. The caller asked me to please vote.

I vote, and I always will, not from any deep-rooted sense of civic duty but because of the actions of one man whose name was never on a ballot.

Shortly after I turned twenty-one, I registered to vote. It was June and I drove to the town hall with my birth certificate in hand. With no more fuss than that I became a registered voter.

I came home from college the following November to cast my first presidential vote. It was exciting. I lived in a small town with only one polling place, the gym at the high school. When I reached the head of the line of people waiting to vote, the woman checking off the voters could not find my name on her list. I was bitterly disappointed.

My parents were both there. My mother was a poll watcher and it was my father’s school. So, of course, he was there.

I imagine most small towns in America are the same. In my rural Massachusetts town, everyone knew everyone else. My father, the school custodian, was standing near the door of the gym, making small talk with people as they came and went. I walked over to him. “They can’t find my name on the list.”

“What?” He said. “Come with me.” I followed him across the busy room to where the town clerk was standing.

“She registered last June and she’s not on the list,” my father said after first addressing the man by name. A name I have long forgotten.

“She must be.” The man walked back to where the woman was checking in the voters. Reading over her shoulder, he scanned the list. “ You’re right. She’s not here,” he said. My father said nothing.

“You know, Bud, now that I think about it, there may be a list with more names in a folder at town hall.”

“Let’s go get it.” My father turned and started toward the door leaving the other man no choice but to follow him.

The three of us drove to town hall. Dad and I watched as the town clerk unlocked a file cabinet drawer.

“I thought there might be more. These must not have been added to the voting list.” He was happy to provide a solution.

We drove the ten minutes back to the school. The town clerk handed the list of names to the lady guarding the voting list. “Add these names. We somehow overlooked them,” he said. “And give this young lady her ballot.” My father smiled, thanked the man, and returned to his post near the door.

I voted, casting my ballot for the man who would win that November day. Less than two years later, he would resign the office. My father did not live to see it.

Politics are messy and the rhetoric grows increasingly ugly. Constantly bombarded by social media and intrusive phone calls, it is easy to become disillusioned with the process. It’s easy to talk yourself into believing that your vote doesn’t matter.

Thirty years before that day in the school gym, my father landed in North Africa with the Allied forces. It was the start of a bloody trek up the boot of Italy, including the battle for Monte Cassino, that would result in the liberation of Rome.

Evil today does not wear a swastika. Instead, it hides its face and waves a black and white flag. Evil’s intent, though, remains the same: murder and enslave people and deprive them of their right to be heard.

“What’s the point of voting? My vote doesn’t matter. Nothing ever changes.”

What my father knew and taught me that day in 1972 was the point of voting is that we can.


John L. Ferrari in Italy during WWII

John L. Ferrari in Italy during WWII


What I am Reading – The Circle

“Big Brother is watching you.”     George Orwell

I can’t remember the last time a book captured and held me with the force of The Circle written by Dave Eggers. I read this book based on the recommendation of a writer I admire and follow on Facebook. Where else? Like me, while she writes women’s fiction, she reads everything. Since reading The Circle I have thought a lot about my relationship to Facebook and also the person I become when I am using it.

The Circle follows a young new-hire name Mae Holland at a mysterious Internet company of the same name as she strives to fit into the company culture. The company’s goal  is universal global transparency beginning with TruYou – one account, one password, and one identity. Soon Mae is bewitched and is willing to give up everything including her ability to think for herself in order to make this happen. She commits herself to becoming the person the company wishes her to be.

The Circle is a deceptively easy book to read. Mae, her friend and sponsor, Annie, Mercer, her former boyfriend, The Three Wise Men, who founded the company, are not deeply drawn characters. With the exception of trying to figure out who the mysterious Kalden is, there is not a lot of plot to follow. Eggers does not travel far into his characters heads or hearts. The reader sees what everyone at the company sees.

Privacy is verboten. No act is too intimate, craven, carnal or sad to not be recorded and then viewed by all. It’s all about transparency. The characters, in turn, strive desperately to produce what the company wants to see on its SeeChange cameras in order to obtain the desired approval of the viewers.

But there is something about The Circle that may begin to feel very familiar if you are on Facebook or some other social network. The increasing pressure to please, to draw reactions that are “smiles” and not – God forbid – “frowns”, or in the case of Facebook, as many “likes” as you can. The reader is drawn into the escalating pace of messages, e-mails, and texts that constantly bombard Mae demanding that, at all costs, she feed the myth of the woman she appears to be on the company’s screens.

The Circle is a book that should make you pause the next time you open your Facebook newsfeed and your finger hovers over the “like” button. Who likes it – the real you or “Facebook You”? Why do you like it? Is it because you approve of what the post says or because you are afraid not to approve because someone will judge you for not doing so?

I leave you with this question. Do you think that Dave Eggers created his characters to be superficial because so many members of social networks appear to be superficial, living their cyber lives only for show? Are you in danger of becoming one?

If you do engage in social networking, I encourage you to read The Circle. It will make you think about who you really are especially when you are online.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle by Dave Eggers


For the Love of Grace

You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.—Robert Louis Stevenson (author, Treasure Island)


Admiral Grace 2002 - 2013

Admiral Grace 2002 – 2013

Grace trotted into our lives during a time of great sorrow. Our English Springer Spaniel, Admiral Halsey, had recently died tragically. He was six and half years old. Almost demented with grief, I desperately needed another dog. Grace was available because at the last minute the family she was destined for decided they didn’t want a black dog. Grace was left behind when her brothers and sisters went to their new homes. All her life she was slightly anxious and those two weeks alone with her mother may have been the reason why.

Halsey was a beautiful dog, bearing a striking resemblance to his grandsire, Salilyn’s Condor, who won Best of Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1993. He completed four levels of obedience, earning the equivalent of a PHDog. Grace had big paw prints to fill. Knowing her as I do now, I realize if she had found those paw prints she would have squatted over them, the same way I have seen her squat over Halsey himself in the dog cemetery on Bailey Island.  Grace was not impressed. You could almost see her thinking, Halsey, Halsey, Halsey! Who gives a damn about old Halsey? whenever his name came up.

A smallish English Cocker Spaniel, Grace was not, as they say in the dog world, “typey”.  Her nose was too long, her chest too narrow and her feathers not curly enough.  Grace, however, thought she was “such a pretty girl” because we told her she was and so did the many people who admired her during her walks around the North End of Nashua. We named her Grace, after Admiral Grace Hopper. All our dogs were admirals thus outranking Mike who is a commander.

Serious Grace

Grace distinguished herself in other ways. She failed Obedience Level One and had to repeat it. Ate her Gentle Leader. Never learned “Leave it.” but cleverly taught us to “Trade.” (for food, of course) instead. She was also iffy on “Come.” but would turn up for an obnoxiously loud plastic whistle we used as a last resort. She took the longest of any dog I ever owned to become housebroken, reluctantly agreeing after six months that, okay, the dining room was not part of “outside”. No roll of toilet paper was safe in her presence. When she was bored, she would go seek one out for her amusement. She was the only dog I have ever shared a bed with, causing us to upgrade to a king-size mattress. This did not last long because her idea of sharing consisted of sprawling horizontally between us pushing with all four legs. One of us woke up with a nose in the face and, the other, something worse.

She threw world-class temper tantrums with such force they caused her steel crate to move across the room and had long conversations with us making sounds like the chatter of a monkey. We referred to this as Grace’s “monkey talk”. One weekend before she was a year old she ate two pairs of prescription glasses costing over a thousand dollars. On the positive side, unlike Halsey (Halsey, Halsey, Halsey…) she was willing to dress up. She had several spiffy coats and happily posed for pictures.

Dressed for winter

Dressed for winter

She inherited a dog nanny from Halsey. Devoted to Halsey, Nanny was slow to warm up to Grace (Halsey, Halsey, Halsey…). Grace chose to ignore this and with her needle nose wormed herself straight into Nanny’s heart. Every Tuesday and Thursday, she would wait for the sound of Nanny’s bike bell and off they would go on an adventure.

She started licking the air when she was four; her long pink tongue, reminiscent of a frog’s, repeatedly flicking in and out of her mouth. This can be a sign of serious neurological problems so we took her to see Dr. Lisa Anderson, her vet. Nothing was physically wrong but it seemed Grace had “issues”.  Dr. Anderson sent us to a specialist in animal behavior, otherwise known as The Dog Shrink.

In my writing, I often explore relationships between men and women. How do you know if a man loves you? When Mike agreed to sit for a two and half hour session of family counseling while Grace slumbered on the floor at our feet, I knew for certain he loved me. (He still has no idea what that appointment cost.)  The Dog Shrink felt that Grace needed to bond with Mike. She was confused about the order of our pack. Mike needed to be the one to get up with her, feed her and walk her until her confusion cleared up. Because he loved me, he did, balking only at the suggestion that, at first, he loop her leash through his belt and take her everywhere, including the office. Grace figured it out. Every morning from then on they shared a banana unless the person responsible for the banana purchase screwed up. Mike made sure that Grace understood who that person was. As for the air licking, it was her way of coping with stress, and as a coping strategy, The Dog Shrink considered it to be very benign. She implied we should be careful not to cause the dog any stress!

Three years ago Nanny decided Grace needed a cat for companionship. We had a cat when Grace arrived but she was long gone. Nanny and I went off to the Humane Society and found PeekABoo, soon shortened to Booder. Within two weeks, Booder owned Grace.  Grace had several dog beds scattered throughout the house. The fancy wicker bed with the sheepskin in front of the fireplace in the living room was her first choice  as a spot to snooze. Booder liked it, too, much to Grace’s dismay. On the days Booder got there first, Grace would sit and stare at Booder who in turn would stare back only moving if I inserted myself and told her to get out of the dog’s bed.  On rare sub-zero winter days they would share.IMG_6532


Two years ago, I pointed out to Dr. Anderson that the top of the nails on Grace’s left rear foot were scraped. Sometimes, on our walks I would hear the sound of her nails dragging on the sidewalk. Dr. Anderson checked her reflexes and confirmed they were slow in her left hind leg. She said it was probably a sign of degenerative disk disease. “And where does this lead?” I asked. “Over time to paralysis.” she said.  There was a surgery. It was very expensive, the recovery was at least six months and the end results were often not ideal. “Is she in pain?” I asked. I was assured she was not. I decided not to put my neurotic air-licking ten year-old dog through it and the doctor supported my decision.

The following year the weakness in her leg became more noticeable. Dr. Anderson suggested we could try acupuncture and sent us off to Dr. Gretchen Ham. Grace loved Dr. Anderson but she adored Dr. Ham whose beautiful office on top of a New Hampshire mountain felt more like a study in a country house. Indifferent to the handful of needles Dr. Ham stuck in her back, Grace loved the ultrasound machine the doctor ran up and down her spine. She would tip her head back and croon sounds of pure joy. Dr. Ham gave us another good year.

In November we put a gate on the stairs going to the second floor after Grace took a terrible fall from which she walked away, although I don’t know how. By June, I knew. Her right leg began to give way on her, too. Mike and I noticed that her vision was deteriorating and Dr. Anderson confirmed cataracts advising against surgery. Grace slept more and more both here and in Maine. Nanny shortened her walks, letting Grace meander where she wanted. Having avoided the sun her entire black dog life, she took to basking in its heat  while sprawled in the grass sometimes rolling over to rub her back, her now silver ears spread out around her. She began falling more and more, both forward and backward, sometimes all four legs would go out from under her. I began to dread opening the crate in the morning afraid this would be the morning she would not be able to come out.

Sometimes, she seemed confused when she woke up. Not sure where she was or who we were. I had two tearful conversations with Dr. Anderson. She told me she could not make the decision for me but that in her professional opinion people err on the side of waiting too long. On Tuesday, I watched Grace fall backwards in a heap three times trying to get out of her bed, only to walk five feet and sink to the floor.  I don’t know if she was in actual pain but at that moment I knew for certain life was very hard for her. I knew the question was not how much Grace loved me – I never doubted that – but how much I loved her. I realized that even though my heart was breaking, I loved her enough to let her go.

Last Wednesday, Dr. Anderson gave Grace a sedative and she fell asleep in my arms and then we sent her on her way. The last words she heard were,  “Mama loves Grace.”

I know that many organized religions believe that animals don’t have souls and don’t go on to a better place. These same religions make a point of telling you that God is love. Anyone who has ever been loved by an animal knows that love is pure, unselfish and true. I believe that Grace ran toward the light arriving in a place filled with sunshine, soft grass and mountains of marrow bones there for the snatching. I hope that when my time comes I am judged worthy of joining her and that some times before I get there she cocks her head and remembers: Mama loves Grace.


Our beloved Gracie – how we miss her.