The retirement party invitation came in the mail a month or so ago.
A year before that, the veterinary practice that I had been frequenting since 1983 had been sold to a corporation. That’s common in the veterinary medicine practice as young doctors graduate from medical school with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and can no longer afford to purchase practices of older veterinarians wanting to retire.
Combine that with increasingly complex laws and regulations, along with an unfriendly small business environment in Michigan, and the only way out profitably for a veterinarian is to sell to a corporation who runs the practice from afar as one of many offices. I hated to see it, because much of the small office feel disappears and the doctors’ ability to use some amount of discretionary judgement is curtailed.
This month’s invitation was to a bittersweet celebration – a retirement party for Gary, a veterinarian who had just graduated from veterinary medical school when I first began with the practice 34 years ago. When the older vet retired, Gary and another younger vet bought the practice a few years later.
34 years. Where did those years go?
It’s wonderful that Gary gets to retire, something he richly deserves, but sad because one of the rocks, the foundations, the safety nets for the animals and their humans is gone. Gary’s partner retired a few years ago. The slow whittling away of a safe haven. Gary not only treated pets, but horses and wildlife too with compassion and humanity – often a thankless job.
Unlike a “normal” customer, I have had a bond with Gary that transcends normal.
Just to be clear, none of you are still suffering from the illusion that I’m “normal,” are you? I hope not. If so, just put that thought out of your mind. It’s much easier to understand me if you’re not saddled with that expectation.
In 1983, I was young mother, a professional in the computer field and a volunteer with the local Humane Society who did not have a shelter at that time, fostering animals in private homes like mine. I was also on my way to becoming a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
I blame Gary, personally, for his encouragement.
There were days I saw Gary more than I saw my family – and that’s no joke. There was one month I saw Gary every day. Every. Single. Day. That says something about him and me both.
But I wasn’t the only one that Gary encouraged. There was a cadre!
The photo above includes Gary, dead center, which I explained to him was his just punishment – and 5 ladies who hadn’t seen each other in decades.
Picture this if you will.
My husband and I are behaving ourselves, acting properly, at the reception today. I was striving for normal.
See the woman in the red coat?
She’s a troublemaker. Extraordinaire.
I have not seen said troublemaker in at least 20 years, but at one time she and I were “partners,” not in crime, but in rescue operations. In fact, she had the key to my (previous) house and she had the NERVE to leave “surprises” for me. You know, like pregnant animals ready to deliver, or whatever she deemed in need at the moment.
And you don’t even want to know what she told my mother about me, but I digress.
So, like I said, I’m standing there behaving myself when some female in a red coat is pointing at me from across the room accusingly and proclaims, “You, Bobbi Estes.”
The volume of the room quickly dropped as conversation stopped and people began staring at me. I was relieved for just a moment that no one said “there’s the cat lady,” or “the DNA Lady,” like happened in the restroom at the Tennessee State archives one time.
Now, given that she used my nickname, I knew there was no use in denying that she knew me, but I looked around behind me just in case anyway to see if there was anyone else I could blame.
My husband slowly walked away. This is not his first rodeo.
Taking a closer look at the woman in red, I realized that this was indeed my former partner – and I quickly scanned through the stories in my mind to take stock of how much trouble I was actually in.
Ummm….potentially a lot. But then, so is she. That knife cuts two ways.
I decided to fess up to being me, because people were still staring at me, and made my way through the crowd in her direction. I hugged Linda – it really was great to see her – and she said, “look behind you.”
I turned around to see the lady at far right, Chris, sitting across the room. I almost didn’t recognize her.
I don’t think I’ve seen Chris since before 1993 when my own life took a tragic left turn, and I had to resign from the Humane Society board as well as volunteer activities.
Chris was at that time the tireless President of the organization, saving countless animals and ushering in a new environment that ultimately led to the Humane Society as it stands today.
As I excitedly traversed the room to hug Chris, she said, “Did you see Caroline?”
“Caroline who?” I asked, as Chris pointed behind me to yet another part of the room.
Then, I saw the lady in the brown coat at far left.
Caroline is probably single-handedly responsible for the salvation of more small heartbeats than any other person I’ve ever known. She has worked unceasingly for more than 50, if not 60, years saving animals discarded by others – and still does! I can’t count the number of trips in the middle of the night she made to scoop some poor unfortunate up off the road – and then to the dark office to meet Gary, the vet who could always be counted upon to help any animal in need.
Sometimes we weren’t successful, and we cried – together with our rescue partner if someone was available to help when the call came in. Sometimes in the otherwise dark office with Gary. Sometimes in our car alone. Soldiers together in an unending, never-finished war. Those were our days in the trenches.
When I motioned for Linda to come and join us in our glorious hug-fest, the lady in black, Sharon, standing beside Gary in the photo, was talking to Linda.
Sharon works at the vet’s office, but she has also been involved with rescue and dog training for so long that I can’t remember not knowing her – at least 20 years.
What are the chances of all of us attending the reception at the same time?
Synchronicity? Divine intervention? Our just punishment? Veterans in a holy war.
Sometimes life just happens – moves fast and we drift apart.
Nothing intentional – but the reunion was akin to being raised from the dead.
However, we’re not done with this story yet, because that troublemaker in the red coat – the one who was such a BAD influence on me for so long. The one who owned “Linda House” on her family land in Tennessee that we visited together – the Moore family land. That one.
You see it coming don’t you???
Yep, you guessed it. We’re cousins, or at least we think we are. A possibility discovered by other genealogists sharing information back and forth – DNA projects – deciphering which Moore lines are which – when invariably someone from Alabama sent her my name as a resource. You see, I have a Moore family too and the Moores are a tangled-up mess. I was the one trying to sort through the various families using Y DNA when Linda began doing genealogy after she retired.
Since we’ve been fortunate enough to reconnect, even though the party was SUPPOSED to be for Gary (although you’d never know that by looking at our picture below), we’ve made arrangements to resume our unplanned reunion.
Beginning a week from Monday. Preferably this time not in the midst of the blood and the mud and constant anguish over not being able to do enough, fast enough…but at a restaurant where we will commence telling stories about one another.
But Linda, troublemaker Linda, she gets to swab for DNA before she gets to eat!
This amazing day certainly didn’t end the way it began.
Nothing bittersweet here.
Maybe Gary’s retirement involved more destiny than we knew. He solidified our purpose for all those years and we bracketed his career.
Old friends really are the best blessing! What a glorious day. I think we’re the ones who received the gift.
Thanks for one last favor, Gary!