ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY AT SANDSTONE GARDENS

(A Tribute To Mr. Bear Dog)

The story of how a Black Chow-Chow is memorialized
on the Sandstone Gardens showroom.

By
Max Richard Carr
Owner/Published Poet

I have always believed it is no accident that the word dog, in the English Language, is the mirror image of God. In my humble opinion, God uses dogs to minister and reveal Himself to us when we don’t have the time, or should I say—don’t take the time to hear His voice, or embrace His will in our lives. Such was the case with a dog named Bear, and this is his story.

Bear was a stray that hung about at a Mobile Home Trailer sales lot on S. Highway 71, a short distance from our home. On the morning of June 7, 1992 we noticed a black Chow-Chow across the highway, lying in the entrance driveway under the security chain. When the chain was dropped, an employee driving a pick-up truck drove up on the dog and pinned him under his right front tire. We could hear and see the dog yelping in pain. A few seconds later, what seemed an eternity, the driver backed off of the dog, which hobbled away and out of sight. We drove across the highway and took issue with the driver who with great indifference said “he’ll be alright, he’s been hit before.”

The next morning on the way to breakfast, the dog was on our side of the highway sitting in the ditch. While at breakfast, Vicki said she wanted to do something to help the poor fellow.

I was apprehensive. If ever there was a dog that might be aggressive it would be this guy. He was a Chow-Chow, and he was hurt! Much to my surprise, he had a very gentle disposition. Vicki’s instincts, as usual were right on point.

We took him to our veterinarian, and with his recommendation, took him to Springfield to a surgeon where a pin was placed to repair his hip. For obvious reasons we started calling him Bear.

Because Bear’s fur was so matted and mangled, we had to shave him all the way down. He was a pitiful sight. Chows are proud of their lion-like fur, and we had taken that from him.

After the surgery, we boarded Bear for a month to make sure his hip and leg mended properly. During that time Bear’s fur had grown out about 2 inches and absolutely glistened in the sunshine. To this day, I’ve never seen a coat on a black Chow that glowed like Bears.

My reservations about Bear quickly vanished as he adapted to all parts of our lives, both at home and our travel schedule with our business. We couldn’t have special ordered a dog that acclimated himself so effortlessly as Bear.

Vicki and Mr. Bear Dog

With Vicki at a show in 1992

 

After the healing was complete, I was thrilled the first time Bear put down all four paws when he walked. Because of his altered gate, you could say Bear had a little ‘attitude’ in his stride. Shortly after, while channel-surfing one night, I came across the opening scenes of Saturday Night Fever, with John Travolta strutting down the sidewalk; I couldn’t help but think of Bear—Stayin Alive, Stayin Alive! The first time I heard Aaron Neville sing I was reminded of Bear. Here was this brute of a man that looked like he could break you in half, but when he sang his voice floated like a butterfly. Such was Bear’s disposition. When his purple tongue hung out underneath that sleepy eyed smile, it was like a billboard that said “Hey Man—Life Is Good!

People of all ages, especially children, were drawn to Bear. Whether Bear was sitting up, or lying down, little boys 2, 3, and 4 years old would come up to him, squat down and gently stroke his majestic fur, completely captivated in the process. You would think Ponce de leon had just discovered the fountain of youth! Perhaps, Ponce de leon never had a dog!

The first time Bear traveled with us to an Art Show was at the Tulsa Fairgrounds. It was our practice to leave our F-350 Diesel trucks locked up and running, keeping the air-conditioning blowing on Bear. On numerous occasions, with his parents’ consent, a young boy about 4 years old would come up to me and ask “Can I go see Bear? Naturally I would placate him, and remember vividly how he would step up on the running board, lean in and stroke Bears face as he rested in the front seat. For the next nine years, Bear became our wonder, and our worship.

Vicki & Mr Bear Dog

With Vicki in Seattle Washington, circa 1996

As engaging as Bear was, he absolutely hated cameras, and had a sixth sense about them. If he was in a pose or position that I wanted to get a snap shot of, as soon as I walked up with, or reached for a camera, Bear would get up and walk away. The only decent photos of Bear are ones where he is in our grasp, or confined in some way.

In the first year or so, we would let Bear come and go as he pleased in the house and front yard. During this time was one of the ‘Ministries’ I received from Bear. One dark summer night, I noticed Bear had been away longer than usual. I called repeatedly for him, and became very worried! Finally I saw his silhouette slowly sauntering up to the light of the house. There you are! Where have you been? Get back in here where you belong! I soon realized, this is how our Heavenly Father feels when we wander astray and don’t hear His voice. From that day on we became more solicitous about Bear’s proximity, and fenced in the front yard.

As with any pet, the stories and memories are manifold, but I must now fast forward to the Spring/Summer of 2001.

In May 2001, while at the Brimfield Antique Fair in Massachusetts, Vicki and I noticed Bear was limping and favoring his right rear leg. During the next few weeks we gathered information from other dog owners who had hip replacements for their pets, mainly for arthritis. This made sense to us, and we scheduled the procedure in Springfield Missouri for the last week of June.

During this time, due to out- growing our South Rangeline location, we put property under contract for the larger Sandstone Gardens as it stands today. The day before Bear’s scheduled surgery, we took him out to the property site along with my stepdaughter Angie, and our future son-in-law Mike Parrish. In the remote case of complications, and possibly losing Bear, I wanted him to mark and claim this territory with us. I wanted his signature, as well as ours, on what was to be established. Bear nobly hiked his leg and performed the duty I required of him that day. We took pictures, and pondered the future.

Max, Vicki & Mr Bear Dog

At the turf-marking ceremony. The Boston Red Sox hat was a gift from my friend John Bentzinger, given to me at the 2001 New England Flower Show. John lived in Boston at the time, and worked at Channel 7 news. I wore it religiously for those few months. When people inquired about the hat, I always responded by saying “This B is for Bear”. I haven’t worn it since Bear’s physical passing.

 

The next morning we took Bear to Springfield, admitted him, and set our mental clocks appropriately. Unexpectedly, the surgeon came out sooner than we anticipated. As if the news he brought us wasn’t devastating enough, his bed-side manner only magnified the pain. He announced that the pin repairing Bear’s leg nine years earlier had spawned cancer, a radical sarcoma, and there was nothing we could do but put him down. He scripted pain killers until that time came.

It would be a couple of hours before the sedative wore off, and we could take our precious Bear-Bear home. Unable to manage our grief and emotions, we left and rented a nearby hotel room. Vicki and I sat across from each other, sobbed and cried in disbelief until the time came to retrieve Bear.

During this emotional upheaval, another dimension of Bear’s Ministry occurred to me; that God uses dogs, and their relatively short lives to remind us how much we will grieve when we lose our own flesh and blood, or as Rudyard Kipling says in the poem The Power of the Dog, “When it comes to burying Christian Clay.”

Shortly after, I went to visit my mother in Neosho MO, and explained Bear’s situation, and told her I wanted her to see the emotion I would feel for her at her funeral; to see, feel, and hear my grief for her passing while she was still alive. I had no misgivings with my mother. There was nothing left unsaid between us. We had a wonderful relationship, but still through the realm of Providence, this was something that needed to happen.

I knelt down in front of her reclining chair, put my face in her lap, held and kissed her hands. I asked and prayed, if there was ever anything I had done or said to hurt or wrong her, for her to forgive me. The tears flowed between us as we prayed in the family tradition. It was a spiritual and emotional cleansing– a time and place I will be eternally grateful for. I would encourage anyone who still has the chance to do the same.

Over the next two weeks we stayed true to our business commitments and the two shows we had scheduled in Newport Rhode Island, and Brimfield. We modified all we could for Bear’s comfort on the trip with the intentions of taking him to Angel Memorial Hospital in Boston for a second opinion while we were out East. Newport, which would normally be a time of joy and inspiration for the development of the future Sandstone Gardens, was reduced to one positive note that week.

We met Ed Lindleman, who was the main designer for the Philadelphia Flower Show. Ed loved our product and Vicki’s displays and told us he would get us into the Flower Show if we wanted. Later, when he stopped back in to revisit, we were at a low point with our dire situation with Bear, to which he gracefully said “I understand priorities, let me know when you’re ready to talk.” We’ve been doing the flower show for 17 years now.

Medicine Bottle

We went on to Brimfield for the week long engagement, of what seemed the meaningless, mundane movements of setting up displays. On the morning of July 14, I left Brimfield at 5:30 A.M. and headed to Angel Memorial Hospital in Boston for Bear’s appointment. For some reason I had the erroneous perception that the hospital was only for terminally ill animals. I was almost fraught with envy as the many families and their pets came in and out after check-ups, shots, and the routines of health and happiness.

While in the waiting room, the predictable thing happened. While Bear was on his side, a young boy about 4 years old came over and squatted down beside him and started petting and stroking his fur. He then looked up at me, and perhaps discerning the grief on my face asked “Will he be okay?” From the mouths of babes!

When the doctor came out to greet us, I hoisted Bear up in my arms, as I always did, to carry him into the examination room, to which the doctor asked “Are you sure you don’t want to roll him in on a cart, he looks pretty heavy.” I would have carried him across the state of Massachusetts if I could find a cure for him. I left that day with the emptiness of knowing there wasn’t one, and a script for more pain killers.

We departed Brimfield early, leaving it in the capable hands of my friend John Bentzinger and our trusted employees and headed to the University of Missouri in Columbia for two reasons. The first, we knew to put Bear to sleep, we had to get him closer to home, and the second—the desperation of a third opinion.

We were relieved to have the same doctor who had taken care of Bear years earlier. He was kind, articulate, and always optimistic. At one point he said in substance “dogs are basically three legged animals with an extra hind leg.”, alluding to the possibility of removing the leg, and the therapies to follow. In retrospect, I’m sure he discerned the sleepless nights and frayed nerves Vicki and I had hanging from our hearts, and wanted to give us a glimmer of hope, even if it was false hope, for the sake of a good night’s sleep. It worked! We left Bear there, knowing he was in caring and capable hands, and got some rest.

The next morning brought the same malignant results from blood tests and scans, and the possibility of another tumor. We knew it was time to let him go. We called Angie who drove up from Joplin, and had her stop and get a small container of vanilla ice cream. For Bear’s last meal, we wanted him to have something he loved, and if there was a remote chance of it, give him a moment of normalcy. Bear only took about 15-20 licks of something he normally would have devoured.

Accompanied by the hospital nurse, I carried Bear out to a grassy area and laid him down underneath a shade tree just off the sidewalk for the administration of his final breath. Vicki and I both on our hands and knees stroking and kissing his brow, and with the same Everest of utterances he had heard a thousand times before, showered with tears, we said goodbye to our fountain of youth. It was 5:00 on July 18, 2001. I’ve shared these details with you to bring us to God’s final and most poignant revelation to me through Bear.

Just a few moments later, a multitude of people; students, assistants, and facility, came walking out past us on the sidewalk, lighting up cigarettes with their fragments of small talk flying through the air as if we weren’t even there. I just wanted to scream, CAN’T YOU PEOPLE SEE WE’RE HURTING HERE? It didn’t take me long to realize that God was reminding me that all of us, each and every day, pass by those in need and hurting, without taking the time to help or intercede, or extend a helping hand, or even a word of compassion.

During the construction of the Sandstone Gardens showroom, Vicki and I wanted to memorialize Bear on the building and keep the spirit of the “Turf Marking” alive. Vicki collaborated with our friend and artist Nicole Hughes for a 2×4 ft. stone plaque that would be anchored above the six 4×8 ft. windows on the lower level of the showroom.

In his book Prayers in Stone, author Alexander Liberman writes “working with stone has been from the beginning of time a way to achieve permanence …and as such, it is the safest element through which to transmit society’s beliefs and aspirations”. Though Sandstone Gardens isn’t a cathedral of hand carved limestone, this is our way of stating our belief that Bear was and is a perpetual blooming bouquet of timeless affect; a profoundly individual gift and ministry from God that enriched our lives– this treasure found beside the road.

Cornucopia Plaque

Bears acanthus wings have placed him in a place of rest and remembrance that he richly deserves. Above his image is scripted in French ‘Monsieur Ours Chien’ for Mr. Bear Dog. Bear’s image is also under the “S” for Sandstone on the rounded roof line at the main entrance.

Bear Plaque

Also, as a tribute to Bear, my next book of poems, (working title—Old School) will be published under Bear Dog Books, and ‘Deadline‘ will be the introductory poem in Bear’s honor.

Cornucopia Plaque with Bear

 

Deadline

This typewriter

Still punches paper

After months of being tossed in throes

As useless baggage,

From den to different hotel rooms

All—

Now empty dwellings,

Like the owner who misses his dog,

Sitting down without fear

Of writing about him.

 

 

These few paradoxical words written in late 2001, even to this day remind me of the struggle to bring these thoughts together for the printed page. I still have reoccurring dreams about Bear, all of which begin with him being in my presence, and then I’m searching desperately to find, or catch up with him. I know there is far greater suffering in the world than the loss of a pet, but I would be remiss not to share this story with you.

I hope in God’s great scheme of things, there will be a time and place where He reunites us with these matchless spirits. Perhaps as we sit at the feet of our Heavenly Father, they will be sitting at ours; if for no other reason He can remind us, in the realm of servant-hood and loyalty to our Master—what we could have been.

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Note: During and after Bear’s reign, Max, Vicki, and Angie adopted or rescued 9 Chows, and rescued 10 other dogs at Sandstone Gardens.

More About Max Richard Carr

Along with being the owner of Sandstone Gardens, Max is a published poet whose poems have been featured in independent and college literary journals across the country. His poem The Clay Revered, dedicated to the Ronald McDonald House of Joplin Missouri in 1999, was etched in marble and mounted in the entrance hall of the house. Max had the honor of reciting his poem Proclamation of Restoration at the six-month anniversary ceremony of the May 22, 2011 tornado, which was held in Cunningham Park on November 22, 2011. At this same ceremony, a fountain he designed in memory of the 161 lives that were lost in Joplin during the storm was dedicated. Max’s speech, regarding the spiritual symbolism of the fountain, along with the poem, garnered personal praise from Governor Jay Nixon. In future blogs, Max will continue to share more insight concerning Sandstone Gardens, poetry, and other topics as well.

2 Responses to “ ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY AT SANDSTONE GARDENS ”

  1. John Bentzinger says:

    Great story…A MUST read! Miss you Bear Bear-

  2. Delmar Haase says:

    Max, we’ve both came a long way since the Gus Shaffar days. Both of us successful in our fields. I’ve had many dogs over the years, but I’ve had my Bears, too. I’ve currently got one of my versions, an English Setter rescue. The best dog I’ve ever had, he’s 10, or so, not really sure. He has his future space in the house, I will be in the rest of my life. I enjoyed your story, thanks.

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