It’s been almost two years since my friend and neighbor, Joan Malley, passed away. A well-known person in the Dachshund world (she specialized in the standard smooth variety), she had one of the top females in the country, Tori, pictured here. Shame on me: I don’t remember Joan's kennel name; I don’t remember Tori’s registered name, or the names of her two black and tan girls that finished their championships after Joan passed away.
But I sure I remember Joan. I remember sitting on her back porch on a summer evening, sharing a few beers and a lot of laughs. I remember hearing the history of our street and all the people on it, the stories of her cat, Captain, and Gussie, her old Doberman. I remember she used to have dressage horses and Giant Schnauzers in the years before I knew her. I know she lived in that house almost forty years, and it was wall to wall in dog memorabilia. Heavy bronze plaques from the Dachshund Club of America lined her mantel. Dog figurines, dog books, dog art– everywhere you looked.
And friends. Every time there was a dog show in San Diego, her house filled with dogs and handlers, breeders and pals. Smooth, wire and long-hairs were welcome, standards and minis, and I had a blast photographing some of the many beautiful dogs to use for some future art project I hadn’t yet imagined. I arrived late in her life. Her friends and neighbors had partied at Joan’s for years.
Her back yard was full of chickens and a vegetable garden. Every spring, rows of giant sunflowers grew along the fence, bordering the squash and swiss chard, beans and zucchini. Her front yard overflowed with watsonia, roses, and crocus. When she died, I dropped a sunflower into her grave, on the plain pine box she chose to buried in. Today her gardens are gone; the house was sold and remodeled. What was once lush and green is now a weed patch full of parked cars.
Recently I noticed something interesting in my neighborhood. In the midst of the weed-infested back yard next door, a tall sunflower grew and bloomed. At the same time on the other side of me, Jon and Linda have a volunteer sunflower growing by their fishpond. And across the street, Barbara has one near her picket fence out front. And then in my yard, out by the mailbox, a sunflower broke through the dry hard dirt and bloomed in golden glory.
I mentioned the flowers to another neighbor, Julie, who got her start as a dachshund handler through Joan and her friends. She stood there quietly for a minute, and as her eyes filled with tears, she said, “We have one in our yard…”
I’ve heard it said a person dies twice. First when the body dies, and then again when their name is said for the last time on this earth.
Joan is still with us.