Dearest Rachel –
Back in the 70s and 80s, my great aunt Belva participated in a ministry for international students attending Northwestern; inviting them over for a home-cooked meal, introducing them to our church community, that sort of thing. She had a great knack for keeping in touch with ‘her students’ after they graduated and went back to their home country (quite often, China, as per her mother’s final words: “pray for China”). As part of that, she was an early adopter to Internet culture, as a means to that end, even in her nineties (By contrast, you remember how neither of your folks wanted to even own a computer, let alone go on the Internet, thinking they were old dogs who couldn’t be taught new tricks. I think we can seated that, given how politicized things could get in Internet discourse, that was probably for the best). She would also occasionally travel overseas to visit some of them in their own homes, which often involved attending home churches over there, showing how her ministry had borne fruit, even in what one might understandably consider to be hostile territory.
At least one of her trips, she brought along her daughter Ginger, my dad’s cousin. Now that I think about it, I probably encountered one of her letters when we are digging out some of the papers from the crawlspace; I’ll see whether I can find it again to attach to this letter later on. Anyway, I’m getting off the subject. One of the things that they discovered, from a cultural standpoint, had to do with dining etiquette. You see – and you would know this from your own folks’ experience living through the depression – Aunt Belva, and by extension, Cousin Ginger, learned never to waste food. Some folks refer to it as the “Clean Plate Club.” All well and good, especially when dealing with, shall we say… exotic dishes, that wouldn’t be likely to be encountered here in the States, especially not back then. They would dutifully eat everything that was placed in front of them, regardless of what their opinion might be of a certain dish or another.
But the crucial mistake they made was to clean their plate whenever they ate at someone’s house. Now, this wasn’t precisely a matter of being inadvertently rude, as such, but as they related to the rest of the family upon returning from their travels, the fact that they ate everything they were offered implied that the host hadn’t made enough food for them to eat. Indeed, there were several times when hosts would refill their plates – when they really didn’t want or need any more – and they felt obliged to consume the second helping in turn, which simply compounded the miscommunication.
Eventually, someone (and I don’t recall the story well enough to determine whether they figured it out on their own, or if it was pointed out to them by someone else – it would have been no shame to them had it been the latter) determined the problem, culturally speaking. From then on, they determined that in order to not offend their host – and to prevent from being served seconds when they were of neither mood nor appetite to consume it – they needed to leave a few morsels of food on the plate to indicate “whew, I couldn’t eat another bite! That was a sumptuous repast, thank you ever so much!”
The story may be a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one. There’s something to be said for indicating that you have had enough (and, for that matter, being able to determine when you’ve gotten there, so that you don’t overrun ‘enough’ and wind up with ‘too much’).
I relate this story to you to keep you informed about Chompers these days. You knew full well that his love language, his entire raison d’être in fact, is food. When we first got him, he weighed more than twice what his breed should, about 33 pounds, and we have been told that he had topped out at nearly 45 pounds. The old boy was practically square, like the dog/ottoman from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Shortly after we acquired him, somebody described him as “a Toto dog that ate another Toto dog.”
So we all know that he loved him some food. And since you kept him on a fairly strict regimen as far as what he was to eat at breakfast and dinner so that he could lose the weight (which he has – as of his last vet appointment, he was down to 17.5 pounds, still more than his breed should be, but an amazing improvement), I can fairly confidently say that he would not get to the end of it, and find himself thinking, “oh man, am I full!”
I was always instructed that I would know that his time had come when he no longer enjoyed eating. The thing is, I’m still not convinced that such time has come even now. However, I have noticed a trend of his lately to leave behind a single kibble, or a lonesome bean – just one item, and little more – in his bowl, at which point he stops eating.
Several times, I’ve found myself pointing out what he’s left behind to him, and he proceeds to eat it as if he just hadn’t seen it when he set his head aside from his bowl. Other times, he licks at his morsel, and can’t seem to pick it up with his tongue. So I’m not convinced that this is deliberate on his part, a point where he’s trying to tell me that he can’t – or doesn’t want to – eat any more. And if he were, I’d find it hard to believe; it would just be too out of character.
But it is happening, whether out of simple myopia, physical inability or actual loss of appetite. And it leaves me wondering what, if anything, I should be doing about it at this point.
I mean, I think I can safely say that he’s not doing this to be polite.
I really wish you were here to help me with this decision. I’m not sure that I’m actually ready to let him go. And I’m not sure that he’s ready to let go yet, either.