June 24th, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 25
Looking Back - John Kinnear
A Moment in Time - A Life Well Lived - Part II
Looking Back
John Kinnear photo
All 6 long-coated chihuahuas in the hammock
Read: Part I - A Moment in Time Love at First Sight

“A life well-lived is a precious gift
Of hope and strength and grace,
From someone who has made our world
A brighter, better place.”

In last week’s column I related to you some of the early part of my wife Lorraine’s remarkable history, specifically the first 30 or so of the 48 years I was blessed to have her in my life. I’ll continue from where I left off now, sharing her legacy of animals, plants, people and dancing.

Lorraine raised Shih Tzu (Chinese lion dogs) from the early 1980’s on and on occasion showed them in dog shows. Anyone who has ever owned one knows how much grooming work they require. They are lovely dogs; non-shedding and long lived. I have fond memories of playing with Shih Tzu puppies on the living room floor and there is nothing cuter. Lorraine was very discerning about with whom she placed them with and all puppies found wonderful homes.

In the early 1990’s tropical birds entered our world and she clearly understood and embraced the commitment and gentleness required to properly keep exotic birds as large as macaws and as small as Amazons or African Greys. It was a crazy household at times when they got talkative. Lorraine never used a reward method to teach them to talk. They picked it up naturally, mimicked her laugh exactly and hollered her name out loud when wanting attention. The macaws loved a shower now and then and on occasion Lorraine or I would climb into the bathtub shower with a macaw and hang on for dear life as that exuberant, hollering bird would flap its wings and beat us about the head as it bathed. It was a highly unusual scene to behold, hard to paint verbally, and you can trust me when I say it was unforgettable.

We eventually surrendered the birds to a parrot rescue facility on Vancouver Island in 2007. It was just too much work for her maintaining them and to say that this was a painful time is an understatement. The macaws had learned to raise their wings and say good bye to anyone leaving their presence and the day we tried to sneak out the back door of the rescue facility they both raised their wings and hollered “goodbye, goodbye”. We both wept as the door closed behind us thus ending a remarkable time in our lives.
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Lorraine had actually owned a scarlet macaw in Germany named Koko that she was forced to surrender to the Berlin Zoo when she left with her girls for Canada in 1971. She also owned a beautiful afghan hound named Kashila. She claimed the villagers in the town of Baden Solingen were suspicious of this woman, with waist length red hair, walking an afghan hound with Koko riding on her shoulder. She told me of an incident when our daughter Tracy brought home a little duckling she had found drowned in a small pond. To all intents and purposes the duckling was dead but somehow Lorraine, with warm cloths, massaging and a little sip of whiskey, brought it back to life. It was returned to the village farm from whence it came, much to the astonishment of the farmer’s wife.

This apparent magical resurrection established her as a sorceress and she said that villagers hid behind their curtains and peered out at her as she passed by. Lorraine told me they referred to her as a “rot haare hexe” or red-haired witch. She said that an older German man came up to her in a hofbrauhaus once and said, “I know you are a witch but its okay, you are a good witch.”

In 1992 Lorraine decided she should rescue a racing greyhound and that initial rescue eventually led to 11 more liberated racers with 4 of them staying with us permanently in our little 1,000 square foot bungalow in Fernie. Again her gentle nature and innate ability to foster trust folded these remarkably quiet and loving dogs into our crazy household. The greyhounds brought her such joy and to watch them open up in a ball diamond and hit 45 mph was always thrilling. When Lorraine learned that a dog as beautiful as a greyhound was cast off by the racing system because it didn’t win, place or show in its first 8 races she was moved to save as many as she could. Her rescue efforts stopped when the track near Post Falls, Idaho finally shut down in 1995.
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Lorraine built winter jackets with turtle necks for these thin-coated speedsters and specially padded beds for their lounging. The greys all developed après racing issues and, as is the case with a lot of larger breeds, did not make it past 10 years of age. All animals in her care while in Fernie were eventually released with compassion and dignity when their age and health issues caught up with them. God help the person who starts digging in our old back yard in Fernie. They will probably call the cops.

Our move back to the Pass was strategic and got us closer to family and into a larger home. When we walked into the Vander Linden house in Coleman in 2005 she knew it was perfect. She was so excited. Huge living room and bedroom, double lot, covered breezeway and located on a dead end against a hill where the deer passed by daily. After all those years of moving across Canada and being stationed in places like Germany, Lorraine finally felt she was truly in her forever home.

Once again the dog legacy carried on, this time with long-haired Chihuahuas. She had raised and placed several litters of these adorable chis in Fernie before we left and continued breeding them here until 2007. Pups were carefully placed across Alberta and BC to the delight of their owners. It is very easy to bond with these sweet puppies and each release to its new owner was always hard for her. Considering how quickly animals bonded to her it was confusing for them also but she knew they would all have wonderful lives and they did.
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In 2008 our lives entered a new stage in which travelling in a large motorhome with six of the Chihuahuas was the order of the day. It was a lot of fun as we wandered about Western Canada with our troop of chis. In the process we discovered dance jamborees that were happening all across Alberta throughout the spring and summer. It became a regular scheduled part of our summers to travel to places like Condor, Eckville, Hannah and Warburg where as many as a hundred motorhomes would show up for a weekend of great music, dancing, pot luck suppers and fireside jam sessions. Lorraine was truly in her element there and made dozens of new friends that she reconnected with each year.

She would say dancing is good for the soul and pretty good at keeping you in shape. Many have remarked at how wonderfully young she looked for her age. I would often plead with her to eventually sit down at most events, as her dancing energy knew no bounds. We were as one on the dance floor, as many have testified. I knew in my heart in March, as she set aside her walker and we stepped onto the dance floor in Pincher, that it would be our last dance here on earth together. What I wouldn’t give to hold her in my arms once more and swirl her around the floor to Earl Scott’s beautiful sonorous voice.
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As the years went by in Coleman she surrendered one by one her beloved chis to age. This included her Boo Baby, who was her special project for six years. Boo was born hydrocephalic and was basically dead on arrival. Lorraine pulled her back to life, hand fed her and despite Boo’s precarious condition, gave her a wonderful life. The whole house was rearranged to make sure Boo never banged her head as she would slip into a spastic state for a time if she did. When Lorraine left me this May we were down to one Chihuahua named Angel. Unlike their Fernie counterparts, the chi gang’s remains reside on a shelf in my office in little cedar boxes with their names engraved on brass plaques.

Another remarkable part of Lorraine’s legacy was her ability with house plants. As with all things she touched and cared for, her plant family always flourished and amazed visitors. Her specialty was a beautiful member of the Gesneriad family known as a streptocarpus or Cape Primrose. They are a spectacular broad-leaved type of violet with blooms that bring joy to all who behold them. I used to drive her nuts by calling them strip yer carcass plants. I will carry on maintaining her streptocarpus legacy and will be splitting some soon, so if you are interested I will share a small part of Lorraine’s favourite plant with you.

Author’s Note: I have one more column on my beloved’s story that must come out of me. It is important that I share with you, the reader, Lorraine’s trademark pink hair story and her journey through her cancer. I also want to acknowledge, as best I can, the remarkable attention given to her by our first-rate health care system, from beginning to end. I will have some important things to say!

Read: Part III - A Moment in Time The Game Changer

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June 24th, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 25
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