In the early 50's when postwar prosperity and the advent of bigger and faster planes brought tropical vacations within the reach of the masses, my parents became fliers, first to Bermuda and then eventually to the Bahamas, Haiti, and the Virgin Islands.
It may seem quaint today but back then, with still-fresh memories of wartime newsreels of bombers knocked out by little bursts of flak, responsible parents often decided to fly separately--in two planes to the same destination--so that if one plane dropped out of the sky, the children would not be orphaned.
My children are long past the age where we need to worry about their being orphaned and left alone in a cruel world--not that my wife and I have ever flown together or even vacationed together. Since our marriage in 1969, we have owned many dogs and horses, and we don't quite see how we can go off together and lie happily on a beach while some stranger takes care of our (current) six dogs and three horses.
So, I go to England and walk for a week or to Portugal and ride horses, and then my wife goes to England and tours cathedrals for a week or to Iceland and rides horses. Separate vacations, glorious homecomings....
Glorious homecomings...always late at night after one of us has driven up from Portland where the bus from Logan drops us. We hug, maybe even kiss. Then we talk for hours, each of us describing our week apart--that's where the real glorious is: tales of travel and home, troubles, meals, problems, aches and pains, dog stories.
And truly, between the kiss in the last paragraph and the talk...come the dogs. They cannot be ignored or denied. Scooter, who is usually very aloof, whimpering and trying to sit on my lap. Silent Chloe, who almost never wags, now wagging hard, barking excitedly, staring up at me. Boca crying and snarling at any other dog who tries to come near me. Timmie with a slipper in his mouth, popping up and down, trampoline-style, over and over. Maddie barging past everyone (she is three times their size and weight) shoving her sharp collie nose at me, insisting that I stroke her head.
As I said, my children may be past the age for us to worry about their being orphaned. In fact, the chances are good that one of these days they may well find themselves orphans because my wife and are both class of 1945, the very first burst of baby-boomers, and our pull-by dates are eventually coming due.
But my dogs are not past the age for us to worry. They will never be past that age. If they were suddenly orphaned, they could not grieve and then carry on their lives as my children could. Their lives as they know them would be completely over.
Who would turn Boca out at 3 in the morning to check the cat food dishes? Who would leave slippers around for Timmie to lark about with on his mental health breaks? Who would understand why Chloe might be walking on her two hind legs and what the correct response is? Who would protect 70 pound Maddie from 10 pound Boca's infuriating lip-licking? Who would take Scooter and Timmie on the hours of walks their bodies and minds have come to expect? Who would know how to deal with deaf old Max's snaggle teeth and short fuse?
I'm not such a fool as to believe that their dog-souls would be forever blighted with grief for my wife and me. But routine is everything to dogs--and they would be distressed considerably to be separated from their pack, to be taken to new homes, to live under different routines, to learn new tricks. They could do it because dogs are resilient, but it would not be easy or fun for them.
I can't help any of that. I'm mortal and so is my wife. Anything can happen. What worries us is: how do the dogs get to their new owners, new routines, new homes? Who will take them? Will they be treated, if not as wonderfully as we treat them, at least decently?
I suppose we could write a will that ties up in a foundation every cent we might otherwise have some day left to our children. The foundation's sole purpose would be to install a couple of dog-loving walkers in the house so that the dogs could continue to live in this familiar spot. The couple would be paid a modest stipend in return for walking the dogs so many hours a day, leaving slippers around for Tim and socks around for Boca, providing laps for everyone when it thundered, and so on. Eventually, either the dogs would all die or the foundation money would run out.
It's the same problem people near retirement face. Do we have enough socked away and do we trust the people in charge of our pensions enough--to retire? Or would the money dry up before we do?
Of course, only really really eccentric people write wills like that. The headline reads: "Pampered Pooches Lie In Lap of Luxury; Couple's Children Fail to Foil Will." We are only eccentric enough to have six dogs, not eccentric enough to create a Perpetual Steak Fund for them.
So, what happens if we both are dead? We've talked to our kids about this, and we've told them it's important, but neither of them are dog people, and so their sympathy and understanding can only go so far. We suggest various people or groups who might take various dogs, and they nod. They assure us the dogs will be cared for, looked after, placed with people who clicker train and walk daily and read Jan Fennell and hate Cesar Millan--and not abandoned to the lottery of shelters and our worst nightmare scenarios of cruelty or stupidity.
And I know my children would do their very best. But I wish somehow the universe could guarantee my wife and me separate planes.