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Teaching my kitty to play Fetch.

Fetch

OK, I’ve been around cats long enough to know that you never really teach them anything. They have an innate (or is it “inborn”?) ability to use a potty box, and if you douse them enough times with water from the squirt bottle, you can almost teach them NOT to do certain things.

Still, for the most part, it’s pretty much always about the cat … and what he or she WANTS to do, at any given moment.

However, I am quite pleased that Kiddle has shown a willingness to retrieve her chew toy and also her new mouse* when I toss them.

When I was a kid, we had a psychotic Siamese cat named Simon who would fetch a wadded-up piece of paper from one of my Uncle Merlyn’s note pads. (Uncle Merlyn was an insurance agent; that’s why he had his own pads of paper, and he and Aunt Toots would give them to us — along with an assortment of pens and balloons and tops [the kind you spin!] — every year for Christmas.) Simon would also play Keep Away (a.k.a. Monkey in the Middle) with Debra and me, serving as the “monkey” as we’d toss the paper wad back and forth. He’d leap and contort himself, trying to bat away the paper; occasionally, he’d even catch it between his paws, and one time, he jumped up, twisted himself about three feet into the air, landed right in his water bowl and then shot out of the room!

My beloved Mitty would fetch a small ball made out of gauze tape. I’d throw it down the stairs and she’d run down after it, then bring it back upstairs to me, dozens of times, until she basically was too tired to run anymore. She also would occasionally “roll over” at my command — but, again, this was something that was mostly up to her. (I can recall any time Jenn would come over, I’d “command” Mitty to “Roll over!” and Mitty would usually just lie there, purring, looking up at me as if I were crazy for thinking she’d do anything that wasn’t her own idea … and, of course, Jenn would just giggle!)

New Mouse

* — I went over to Diane’s the other night and she held up a small red stocking with white trim and said, “Guess who got a stocking?” And I said, “Who? You?” And she said, “No.” And I said, “Me?” And she said, “No. Kiddle!” The sock was filled with five stuffed mice in varying colors. Needless to say, Kiddle adores them!

I was happy to see the first snow of the season, knowing how much it meant to sweet Jenn, but I have to admit: I was even happier to see the SUN for the first time in, like, three years! (OK, OK: I know, my mom told me a million times not to exaggerate!)

Here are a few shots.

Magnolia, Moon & Snow

Evergreen & Shed

Buckeye Bud & Snow

Light & Icicles

(Why do I always want to put a “y” in the word “icicles”?)

Or perhaps just comfy.

Me & Little Kiddle

Jenn & Di at the BEN

One of my favorite people on earth, Jennifer Brannan, died this week.

At the moment, I still can’t quite grasp the fact that she’s gone. Also, I’ve never lost a friend with whom I felt so close, so forgive me if I meander a bit: I’ll be OK in a few paragraphs … or maybe a few days.

I don’t think I’ll ever be quite the same, though.

Jenn and I became friends the instant we met.

I say this as someone who doesn’t make friends all that easily. Nor do I take friendship lightly; it usually requires months and years of “tending to,” and even then, so many factors go into having — and being — a true friend, I am amazed that any of us are able to be truly successful at it.

Plus, I have the added quality of being someone who, on occasion, makes a really bad first impression — just ask my boss, Terra Kerkemeyer, or sports editor Phil Knapper. (On second thought: Don’t! Their first-impression stories about me make me cringe!)

Jenn and I clicked, though, right from the start, when I saw her sitting in the darkroom at The Benton Evening News office back in the fall of 1998.

A junior at Benton Consolidated High School, Jenn had signed on as our darkroom assistant, which meant that over the next couple of years, she got to arrive at work an hour or so before everyone else (5:30 or 6 o’clock each weekday morning) to develop film. My fellow editorial staff members and I would get to the office, look at our negatives and tell Jenn which ones we wanted printed for that day’s newspaper. She would print the photos and then head off to BCHS for a full day of school.

(Along with my bad-first-impression tendencies, I’ve also heard I can be a little demanding when it comes to pictures. Not as demanding as our former outdoors editor, Joe McFarland, but a little picky, nevertheless. Jenn never seemed to notice or to mind.)

Later, she worked in our composition department, which often required her to be at the office for the late-night shift on Fridays following a Benton Ranger football or basketball game.

Early mornings and late nights can make for some great conversations at the news office, and with each passing day, Jenn and I got to know each other a little better … sometimes outside the office, “on assignment” or road trips or sharing a pizza at the restaurant now known as Cathy Ann’s.

I lost track of Jenn, momentarily, when she left for Peoria not long after graduation — not because she didn’t keep in touch, but because I was caught up in my own sometimes very self-centered life.

In fact, that Christmas, when I was in the midst of a major case of the holiday blues, a card from Jenn a few days after the event was just what I needed, at just the exact moment I needed it, to get me back on track. Or at least pointed in the right direction.

She was a wonderful listener, even when I would babble on about what was going on in my very low-key thirtysomething world. And then, sometimes I would go into Wise Old Pal Mode and try to dispense Valuable Advice on Life. I’m not sure how “valuable” anything I ever said really was, but Jenn did a fantastic job making me feel as if it all really mattered, somehow.

I loved her sense of humor and her smile, and that she would sometimes get to giggling so hard she couldn’t stop.

I loved her fashion sense and her cool hair, along with the fact that she had such a true knowledge of who she was, even as a high-schooler. For someone so young — a mere teen-ager when we first met! — she seemed so comfortable in her own skin, so happy and healthy with her own identity. (For example, she wore a tuxedo and escorted her girlfriend to Prom — something that took no small amount of guts, even here in the diverse and oh-so-open-minded Franklin County!)

I loved the fact that Jenn loved photography. And music. And movies and rain, so much so that the night we went to see Boys Don’t Cry at the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis, the fact that it was pouring down rain only served to enhance the entire evening.

I loved how much she cared about her friends. Staci, Cristy, Leslie — all of you and many more, her friends and confidants (and anyone who knew her, really, even casually), loved her … and as much as you loved her, she loved you that much back, and more.

I loved how she loved her family, especially her sisters, Molly and Kim, and her brother, Steven. She was so proud of all of you, so glad to be your big sister (and an aunt to her nieces), and she enjoyed being reunited with you over the past few weeks.

And, oh, how she loved (and missed) her mom …

If there is a silver lining to be found amongst the ugly clouds that have loomed overhead most of this past week, it is the belief that Jenn and her mom, who passed away earlier this year, are now together again. And believe me: I do believe.

I hate the fact that Jenn is gone, physically, and I hate the fact that I won’t get to spend about 50 more years hanging out with her. Yet I am grateful for the past nine years that we have known each other and for every second we spent together during that time.

I loved teasing Jenn about how she was so much shorter than I am — even though I am pretty sure we both measured about 5 feet, 2 inches (and change). I used to stand right next to her and cast a sidelong glance and say, “Look at me! I’m TOWERING over you!” She’d smile and giggle, knowing full well we were the same height.

Truth of the matter is, she towered over all of us.

I love you, Jenn.

My little buddy Jenn died today in a car wreck.

I have so many memories and snippets of conversations and other … just stuff that I wanna write about her and me and our friendship, but at the moment all I can think about is how sad I am, and how much I’m gonna miss her. (It really is all about me, isn’t it? Well, except when it isn’t, and I know a lot of people are sad right now, and they’re all gonna miss Jenn. If you knew her, even casually, you loved her.)

I saw her the day before Thanksgiving. We had lunch together at The Buzz: Never mind that it was the day before Thanksgiving, we both ordered turkey-and-Swiss sandwiches on baguettes; she got hers without onions. I drank a Coke and she drank a cup of coffee.

Jenn Coffee

We talked about her move back to the area. She hadn’t found a job yet, but she wasn’t too worried about it because she had put in several applications. She and I had met when we were co-workers, actually, so I knew that she was a dependable, diligent employee (I’d given a potential employer a glowing recommendation about her earlier that day, in fact).

I asked her if she was seeing anyone special, and she sorta gave me a look; later on, she told me about a girl she had been friends with in high school, and how they had rekindled their friendship (and more) over the past few days.

She was happy.

I had no idea this would be the last time I would ever see her alive, or that this would be the last picture of her I would ever take.

Smiling Jenn

I had the grandkids over at my house today to open birthday/Christmas presents.

Yeah, it’s a little early, but I’m not sure when we’ll all be together again during the holidays. Shelby got a Polly Pockets something-or-other, Shannon got some tiny WWF action figures and a wrestling ring — all of which folded into a neat lil’ suitcase-style carrier! — and Shane and Samantha got some cold, hard cash. (In-between, I got a bit flustered trying to figure out how to put $15 worth of minutes on Samantha’s GO Phone and $15 worth of songs on Shane’s iPod Shuffle.)

After the kids all cleared out, my new Grover seemed wiped out!

Grover

Happy holidays, everybodeee!

(Does it say anything significant about me that my copy of “The Monster at the End of This Book” is right next to “Rubyfruit Jungle” by Rita Mae Brown on my recently reorganized bookshelf?)

A few shots from Kiddle’s first couple of weeks hangin’ out with me:

Watchful Kiddle

Wistful Kiddle

Wrapping Kiddle

Heh.

BEN Group Photo

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Waving

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Shed & Pump