She was So Young to Die

Two days ago my friend Dian asked me to the prom. Ok, it was the Westminster Dog Show but it felt like she’d asked me to attend the quintessential rite of passage event with her. She asked me the day before to go to Madison Square Garden with her to watch the Best in Show judging, but of course it was sold out. It’s prom, for crying out loud.

We decided to do what we thought would be settling, and that was to do to the piers where the judging and benching happens. “How bad could it be?” we asked each other, and figuring the $25 tickets were worth a gamble so we went for it. At the very least we’d get together and have a good lunch and catch up. 

Dian is the mother of Caraline, one of my childhood partners-in-crime and one of my favorite rediscoveries of adulthood. Dian still lives in Trumbull, where Caraline and I grew up, but has friends who share their uptown apartment with her, and so I met her on the 49th floor. I’d been up high in NYC before, but never so far north, up on 102nd St. in Spanish Harlem. It was so bright up there it was damn hard to see, but goodness it was nice to get a lift on my perspective. And who doesn’t love an up-high view of Central Park?


 Dian suggested we just sit for a moment (smart gal), but then it was time to go “see the dogs” though we really had no idea what we were going to see. I wanted to look for my friend’s mother who’d be at the Golden Retriever judging, and when we walked in that’s exactly what was going on but the ring was mobbed and it was hard to see anything.

Other than the fact that I attended Dian’s 70th birthday party last summer, I hadn’t seen her since (I’m guestimating) 1990, and we’d never had to navigate anything together but that didn’t matter at the dog show. We trusted our instincts and landed next to a Leonberger, the first of many show dogs we got to snuggle. We even got stickers to wear on our sweaters all day that said, “I met a Leonberger.” {we wore them through dinner.}

Yes. Lunch got bypassed. At one point I inhaled a croissant and Di had an iced tea, but we basically did the dog show equivalent of “shop ‘til you drop.” I’m telling you: the benches are where it’s at.

I learned that there are only six benched dog shows in the United States. At an unbenched show
the dogs only have to be present for judging. At a benched show the dogs have to stay on an assigned “bench” for judges, spectators and other breeders can meet the dogs. I guess that technically it’s to look at bite and gait and coat color, but temperament is a big factor for judging, and the temperament of the dogs at Westminster is (obviously) exemplary.

A few of the handlers were hyped up, but the judging was more than half over by the time Dian and I arrived, and the sense of calm in there was downright serene. It was an unbelievable experience to be in a space with thousands of dogs and feel so calm.

Di and I did the rounds, and we even went through a few rows twice. We pet, hugged, and talked to dogs. We said “congratulations” and “better luck next time.” I cradled the beautiful face of a Great Pyrenees in my hands, and an exhausted Anatolian Shepherd threw her sleepy head against my chest. It was so awesome. If tickets were available we could’ve spent close to $200 to go to MSG for the “big event,” but because that wasn’t an option, we spent $25 for a much more intimate experience with the dogs, their owners, and their handlers.

It was incredible  seeing the dogs up close, but it was equally awesome getting to talk to their humans some of whom were so exhausted they were sleeping in kennels or up against the dogs. It was also an excellent lesson in finding out that sometimes not getting what you want is the best gift of all. 

Here are some of the visual highlights:








Dian treated to a great dinner at Becco, and on the way there I stopped to take a photo of the house where my great-grandmother wad born. Mimi (my grandmother) often talks about the light-filled house with big rooms where her mother was born, and describes it as being on 48th Street and 8th Avenue, behind the firehouse.

I took a picture to show her what it looks like now, which I’m realizing is not a particularly effective exercise. The old firehouse has a new façade, and the house where her mother was born is now surrounded by chrome and glass high-rises. There’s a Thai restaurant downstairs, clearly something newer to the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood than what existed in the decades bridging the 1800s and 1900s when the neighborhood was home to working-class Irish-Americans.

Mimi has been looking for her mother lately, and last night was no exception. Maureen had gone to bed and I was watching the end of the dog show on television and writing an explanation/apology email to a friend (that’s a whole other story, though it’s shaping up to be a good one) when Mimi came upstairs.

It was 10:30—and odd hour for Mimi to surface—but there she was, looking for her mother. “Where’s Nanny?” she asked me, “Is she sleeping?” My emotions were tapped out, but I guess this is what it’s like to be a mother—you give when you have nothing left—and I said, “No, Maureen is sleeping in that bedroom.” There was a moment of confusion because Mimi clearly thought she was talking to Maureen.

I asked if she was hungry and she said yes, so I gave her a banana and a cup of Pellegrino and we went to the living room to catch the Best in Show event. And then my grandmother came back. “Oh! You went to the dog show today! How was it? You must’ve had the best time.”

Just like that we were having a conversation. So I told her all about my day and she told me how sad she’d been all day after hearing that Shirley Temple had died. She talked about how fun it was as a kid to go down to the Sharona Theatre (sp) on 9th Avenue with ten cents to see a Shirley Temple movie. She talked about laughing and about the escape that Shirley Temple gave everyone during the depression.

She was pleased to report that there was never any “naughty talk” about Shirley Temple and she didn’t get involved with any “smart guys.” She said it was sad when she disappeared from the movies, but good to know she was living her life like a regular person. “So young,” Mimi said, “She was so young to die.”

I reminded Mimi that Shirley Temple was eighty-five, five years younger than she is, and she said, “I know, she was so young to die.”

After that Mimi made a quick exit. She thanked me for being a great hostess, and said “Thank you for being so good to me. I love you. I hope you have some sweet dreams.”






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