When I was sixteen, a work friend of my father’s got us tickets to see The Rolling Stones. He worked for Coke (or was it Pepsi?), and I think they were sponsoring the concert? Anyway, they were primo seats – my friend Heather and I were able to muscle our way up to the fifth row – and we even carpooled with him. (To Syracuse, maybe?) My parents went too, but they hung out with the other adults. It was pretty flippin’ awesome, all around. I still have the concert tee, all these years later.
My mom was really big on thank you cards, and this was an instance where I actually agreed with her policy. Of my own accord, I wrote him a thank you note, attached it to a pricey box of chocolates (not vegan, sadly), and tasked my father with its delivery. Apparently the Coke guy was so impressed that he shared it with his class (I think he taught a class, anyway; or was it his employees, maybe? I forget!) as an example of how to behave in the business world.
After Ralphie and Kaylee died, I thought about bringing a basket of home-made (vegan!) cookies to the staff and doctors at Blue Pearl, where we were regulars for most of May. Everyone was so kind to us, and I wanted to show them that it didn’t go unappreciated. (Especially that one vet tech who helped us carry Kaylee’s body to the car and then hugged me and let me cry on her shoulder. If you know me at all, you know just how damn out of character that is. I must have been a hot mess.) But between the grief and the heat, I never quite got around to it, and I still kind of regret it to this day.
These anecdotes bring us to Peedee. The Summer of Peedee, to be exact, in which the I-70 and Twin drive-ins played a prominent role. Maybe this letter is a little silly or sentimental, but it’s coming from the right place. As in, straight from my heart.
After Peedee relapsed, we started taking him to the drive-in with us…partially because we wanted to try new things with him, but also because we didn’t want to leave him home alone. (And I don’t think we did, not even once!) I was so nervous, since we’d tried it when he was younger and it was an epic failure. I thought for sure he’d make a scene and we’d be asked to leave. But he was okay and, perhaps more importantly, they were okay with him. The I-70 and Twin are really very dog-friendly; not only do they allow dogs, but they keep the ticket windows stocked with dog treats and sometimes host dog-themed events during the day.
I’ve learned not to take this for granted, particularly in light of the drive-in that opened in St. Joseph a few years back – and explicitly disallowed dogs. (They only lasted a season or two. You do the maths.)
Anyway, to get the point: they helped us create some really special memories with Peedee, and I’m forever indebted to them for that. And it certainly can’t hurt to tell them as much.
The 2016 season opens tonight, and though Peedee won’t be there with me in person, you can bet his spirit will do a little happy dance in my heart.
March 3, 2016
To the management and staff of the I-70 and Twin Drive-Ins:
My husband and I have been coming to the I-70 and Twin for more than a decade – ever since moving to the Kansas City area in 2002. My earliest (saved) ticket stub is from the Elf/Bad Santa combo; I still remember piling on the blankets and socks to stay warm that December.
We’ve adopted seven dogs over the years, many of whom we’ve tried bringing to the drive-in, with varied success. Dogs one through three (Ralphie, O-Ren, and Peedee) were entirely too loud and excitable to sit still through a double feature, at least in their younger days. Later on, Kaylee – dog #4 and my soul mate – became a constant companion. I don’t think she cared much about the flicks, so much as not letting me out of her sight. When we adopted Mags (#6), my other shadow, she started coming along too. Then Kaylee passed away and we gave O-Ren a second chance (she aced it!). For the past few years, we couldn’t enjoy a night out at the drive-in without my two little ladies.
In March of 2014, our oldest surviving dog, Peedee, was diagnosed with cancer. He had surgery to remove the tumor – along with part of his lung. Nine months later, the cancer returned. He started chemo, which worked really well … until the day it didn’t. Near the end of May, his oncologist gave him two to three months to live.
Inspired by Cane’s Bucket List on Facebook (Cane was a pit bull from Texas who went on a “bucket list journey” after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer), I made a list of all the things I wanted to do with Peedee before he passed away. Trouble was, Peedee was a little older, kind of grumpy, and set in his ways. Also, he’d developed a bit of a car phobia, thanks to all those awful vet visits.
So my list was rather short: Find new trails to explore. Take him out in the rowboat. Tackle some new puzzle toys. Make him a cake for his birthday (he turned 13 on August 30th). Give the drive-in a second try. This last one was the most daring, since Peedee is easily the loudest of our dogs – rat terriers and a dachshund, so that’s saying a lot.
That first trip was touch and go. I brought plenty of treats to distract him, along with towels to hang in the van windows so that he couldn’t see (and bark at) fellow moviegoers. When we pulled up to the ticket booth, he immediately started howling. The teller asked how many dogs we had – I thought uh-oh, this is it! Surely they have a limit of two dogs per car and we’re about ta get bounced! – and gave us biscuits for everyone!
I was so worried that Peedee would cause a disruption and we’d have to leave, but he was okay(-ish). His behavior improved every week and after a month or so he was an old pro. It even helped him to overcome his fear of car rides; by the end, he found them downright relaxing.
We made it a weekly thing, no matter what was playing. We saw some movies twice, and sat through combos we weren’t particularly interested in, all because Peedee loved going. As soon as I started to get the van ready – loading it up with blankets and pillows – Peedee, Rennie, and Mags just went wild. The second I’d let him, Peedee would camp out in the van and refuse to budge. Sometimes he was a half hour early. Those days when the temps reached 90+, I actually worried he might get heatstroke waiting for us out in the stuffy garage.
We arrived an hour early – sometimes before the gates were even open – so we’d have time for a leisurely walk around the grounds. On the hottest nights we crammed a cooler with ice packs and wedged them under the dogs’ bedding to keep them comfortable.
I shared my popcorn with them and brought homemade biscuits; and, when all the special treatment started to ruin Peedee’s appetite, I split orders of French fries and slushees with him. (Some nights I didn’t even want fries, but got them anyway, for him. I’m still trying to work off the extra few pounds I gained during the season!)
When you guys did the retro movie night in October, I dressed Peedee, O-Ren, and Mags up as characters from Rocky Horror and we had a little tailgate party. (They weren’t as into it as I was, obviously.)
In the end, Peedee doubled the oncologist’s best-case prediction; he lived another six months and three days after relapsing. At first we weren’t sure he’d be alive to celebrate his 13th birthday in August; but he did, and we had presents and cake and took a ton of pictures. He was with us for our annual horror movie marathon on Halloween, and he even outlasted the 2015 drive-in season. We were there on November 14th to help you close out your last weekend (Trainwreck and Crimson Peak, for the third and second times, respectively) – and, just four days later, Peedee’s health took a nosedive.
The cancer invading his lungs had made it difficult to breathe. He was exhausted and uncomfortable, but thankfully not in any pain. Peedee was euthanized, at home, on November 23rd.
It’s been more than three months, and I still miss him like crazy. My dogs are my family – not “like family,” but are family – and it feels like a piece of my heart died with him. Peedee was the smartest, silliest, most empathetic dog I’ve ever met. He always knew when I was feeling down, and was quick to offer a belly to rub or a shoulder to cry on. He was a giant goof who made me chase him all over the house to put his harness on – even though he loved walks. He was loud and bossy and exuberant and so full of love. His giant smile was simply infectious.
Even though he’s gone, Peedee will always be with me. I have so many wonderful memories to hold onto, many of them created during our last few months together. I see him at the park, running ahead and pulling on his leash (he always had to be in the lead!). He’s there with me when I watch the sunset in the sunroom, or milling around in the kitchen, waiting for a dish to lick.
And I’m quite certain that I’ll think of him, yet again, when we visit the drive-in with Rennie and Mags. He’ll be there, begging popcorn or barreling through the parking lot. Snuggling with his sisters and snoozing through the second film. It will hurt, but in a good way. The best way. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the new season.
I want to say thank you. It means so much to us that you’re so welcoming of our four-legged family members. You brought a tremendous amount of joy to an old dog in his final days – and gave his humans so many precious memories to cherish.
See you in 2016,
Kelly Garbato & Shane Brady
(and Rennie, Mags, Jayne, Finnick, and Lemmy)