When I go

Lilly, nickname Doodle, came to us a little over nine years ago from a breeder in upstate New York. She’s a black and white border collie with a little snippet of brown, and she spent her first day at home laying on my feet in the kitchen while I cut and sliced strawberries for jam.

Within a few weeks amid trips to the vet for her first round of shots we discovered that Lil did not travel in the car well. Almost every car ride ended up with her drooling, shaking and vomiting. Not a fun mess to clean up. Still we tried to include her on trips to the cabin in New Hampshire and other adventures. On one such trip I developed a plan. I decided that if we skipped her morning food her stomach would be empty for the truck ride to New Hampshire. Doodle, we discovered, had other plans. As we rode to New Hampshire Lilly reclined on my lap, a plastic bag ready to aim her head into just in case she lost her stomach. When she did lose her stomach we were all gagging and holding our noses. Evidently, she had spent her day grazing on manure from the horse stalls, one of her favorite snacks. I don’t think any of us were prepared for the foul smell of warm horse manure vomited by a dog in a hot truck.

We decided that Lilly wasn’t meant for travel which suited her just fine. She loves life on the farm. She doesn’t have much in the way of herding skills, but she’s always been great at protecting the animals that make their home on the farm. One morning I was upstairs doing yoga when I looked out the window and glimpsed Lil making a beeline for the house. Directly behind her in hot pursuit were three coyotes. I ran down the stairs and threw the front door open. Lilly ran through the door and straight up the stairs obviously grateful for a way out of her predicament. As a farm dog, Lilly patrols our property, our neighbor’s property and our oldest daughter’s home; to her it’s all one big farm. It’s a lot of work for one small dog keeping track of numerous people and animals. Occasionally she takes time out for some fun, though, and she’s been caught more than once swinging on the horse’s tails as my daughter tries to walk the horses out to their pasture in the morning. Early on Lil bonded with our neighbor, Bruce, and they became the best of friends. Bruce’s retirement meant that Lil had a constant companion outside, and every morning as soon as we let her out she would make the trip next door to see if Bruce was out and about. One day I happened to look out an upstairs window and was surprised to see a well-worn trail from our front door to Bruce’s garage. Hanging on the walls in Bruce’s house are framed pictures of him and Lil. One unfortunate day as Bruce drove down the driveway one of his truck tires bit Doodle’s nose (tire chasing is one of her bad habits). Lilly didn’t speak to Bruce for over a year, and he was heartbroken. Every day he inched closer and closer trying to win back her affections, but for two years she held that grudge until she finally let him back into her heart. She has always spent her days roaming between the houses looking for someone to throw a rock, a ball or a fresh pile of manure to douse herself in. A few years ago she took a stroll down our long laneway and disappeared. My husband and I were away for the weekend and our daughters and niece searched frantically for her hoping to recover her before we returned. As a last ditch attempt my niece decided to check Craigslist. Someone had found our Doodle and kindly listed her on Craigslist: One lost border collie a bit dirty with manure in her coat. We were happy to get her home.

Much of what I’ve learned over the years has come from the animals on our farm, and recently Lilly has shown us a few tricks of her own. Lilly and I are very close to the same age. For the record she’s a few years older. Over the last year or so she’s started to slow down a bit, and I’ve noticed a few gray hairs in her coat. She no longer jumps as high as she used to or runs quite as fast, and I think she’s gotten a little more cautious in her coyote hunting. She’s also reduced the perimeter of her patrol area spending most of her time on our farm. My husband and I spend most summer weekends on our old boat slowly motoring from port to port, and a few months ago while we packed the truck to leave Lil jumped into the truck. She seemed intent to tag along. Remembering her horrible experiences with travel sickness we were confident that the ride to the boatyard, and a weekend on a rocking boat was not the place for a dog with a weak stomach. We removed her from the truck and told her we’d be back in a few days. We told each other that if she did it again we’d have to give her a chance on the boat. Sure enough the following weekend Lil lodged herself into the back of the truck again. A bit apprehensively we packed some extra dog food, her leash and headed off. Remarkably Lilly made it through the truck ride, the dinghy ride and the entire weekend on the boat without once losing her stomach. Over the next month or so Lilly made many more trips on the boat. She has become a pro at riding on the bow of the dinghy enjoying the ocean air. She loves parading through Newport and other harbor towns soaking up attention from strangers that stop to pet her. It seems that the boat is a place that Lilly, away from the responsibilities of her farm, can finally relax. There have been a few hiccups. At first Lil wasn’t familiar with things like cars, traffic, pavement, or even walking on a leash. The first couple trips she couldn’t bring herself to do her business on the leash. So we look for parks and grassy places that remind Lil of the grass on her farm.

A few months ago I was contacted by a woman in her mid-seventies. Married for almost fifty years, she had always let her husband assume full responsibility for all of their finances and tax filings. It was time for a change she told me. Her husband was getting older his eyesight was failing, and she wanted to lighten his load. As a young woman she had been fascinated by numbers and spent some time doing some bookkeeping. She asked me to show her how to collect the forms needed for their tax preparation. We talked about some online bill payment options, and a basic bookkeeping system. She was excited to take over their finances, and we’ve met a few times since our initial meeting. In the last few months she’s done a QuickBooks class, started paying all of their bills online, and found areas in their finances that she’s improved upon. She enjoys the challenge of managing their finances, and her husband is thrilled with the changes she’s made. Recently I met with another new client that had not filed her taxes for quite a few years. Her previous accountant had made the experience so unpleasant that her and her husband simply stopped filing their returns. The stress and financial complications involved with not filing their returns had started taking a toll, and they were looking for an easier way to complete their tax filings. Unfortunately, not all such stories have happy endings. Many years ago a long-term client passed away after a brief bout with cancer. Both his wife and I were shocked to discover that although he had been filing his tax returns every year he had not made any payments towards the tax. As a result his wife was left to struggle with a tax debt that exceeded several hundred thousand dollars. He had gone to great lengths hiding his tax debt from everyone, and I can only imagine the impact this must have had on his health. It’s never too late to take an interest in or start learning about your financial situation, and it’s never safe to assume that someone else is securing your financial future.

As for me, I started piano lessons three years ago, and as much as I love playing I know that I will probably never be a concert pianist. It was, however, something that always fascinated and intrigued me, and learning something new feels great. And Lilly’s about to learn a few more tricks of her own too. Tonight we are heading off on a road trip to Florida, and she’s coming along for the ride. Hopefully, she can hold her stomach for the long trip, and there will be a host of new things for her to experience when we get there. She might be an old dog, but I think she’s still up to learning a few new tricks.

WHEN I GO

I recently met with a new client whose husband had recently passed. She had spent the last few years caring for him while he was ill, and was stressed about having missed the recent tax filing deadline. She told me that in fifty-four years they had never missed a tax deadline, but the last year had been particularly rough. She showed me a calendar; the days filled in with doctor’s visits and hospital stays. I did my best to alleviate her fears assuring her that I would get the taxes done quickly and told her that I often prepared tax returns for clients that had missed multiple tax deadlines.

 

We chatted while I reviewed her documents, and she shared some of her life with me. Her husband had retired about fifteen years ago, and they had spent the first chapter of their retired lives traveling the world together. She said that in their early retirement years they traveled so frequently she kept a suitcase for each of them packed and ready filled with their traveling clothes.   Traveling was a dream they had both shared, and they had worked hard to make it a reality. The early years of their marriage had been spent working hard, saving for retirement, and raising a family, but their retirement years had been all about traveling to the places they had always dreamed about. They had had a good run of it until he had gotten sick about five years ago, and she was happy to have spent the last few years taking care of him. After all, she shared with me, the ride through life together they shared had been truly wonderful.

 

As she collected her things to leave I asked her how she had found me. She settled back down into her seat. It was easy, she said. You were in his “When I go” letter. He had spent the last few months of his life writing her a letter recounting pieces of their lives together. Little glimpses back to their early years, the births of their children, and memories of holidays with young children. He reminisced about a home they had built together in which they loved and lived and then sold to make way for retirement. He forgave her for shrinking his favorite wool pants and asked her to forgive him for any of the times he had forgotten to tell her how beautiful she was. The last part of his letter was a list of things she needed to know for when he was gone. He had some money hidden in a sock in his closet. Not a lot, but enough for an emergency. Be sure to get the gutters cleaned, the septic pumped, and make sure to get the boiler cleaned he said in his letter. He included names and phone numbers of the people that could help her with these things, and on that list he had included my name and number. She’s nice, and you’ll need help with the taxes when I am gone, he had written.

 

Later that night as I worked on her tax return I looked for his name in my list of clients, and I found an invoice for a tax return that I had helped him with sixteen years ago. A distant memory pushed its way into my head, and then I remembered. A young retiree with exciting plans of travel and life. He was a proud do-it-yourselfer who had always done his own tax return but was a little intimidated by the changes his retirement brought to his tax situation. We had worked on the tax return together, and I had answered his questions about how his retirement would impact his tax return.

 

His wife had included with the tax forms she gave me a copy of the tax return her husband had prepared from the previous year; a handwritten return the numbers light and written by someone who’s writing revealed a shaking hand. He had prepared the return exactly as we discussed all those years ago, and it was wonderful to have this man’s life circle back towards me as I began the process of preparing his final tax return. It made my heart smile to know that he had gotten to live his dreams of travel and nice also to meet the woman who had shared those dreams.

 

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