Monday, September 19, 2011


The Flying Poodle, a symbol of Joy

The story of the Flying Poodle is one that keeps growing.

It’s actually the funniest story I’ve ever told...the first time.  The re-tellings are missing the thing that made it hilarious in the first place: uncontrollable laughter. 

We used to have a van (virtually a bus) that could seat eight people, and when we made long trips we often were nominated to take other people.  So, I was the designated car-pool mom more often than not, or for sports events, or fireworks shows, etc.

The day I told the story we were on our way to Los Angeles from Sacramento.  it was Mario and I with our daughter, our niece and two other friends making our way to an event in Southern California.  The car was pretty fun, everyone munching on snacks and telling stories.  It was then that I told the story of the flying poodle, about another story that my boss’s wife wrote...

My boss was a good, solid guy: an older man near retirement when I worked for him.  His wife (I’ll call her Agnes for the sake of this story) stayed in a home across the street and often would come to see him.  I liked them both, especially the way they related to one another.    

One day, as I accompanied my boss on a trip to the Post Office, my boss had a stack of his own mail in the front seat, next to him, that I noticed as I got in the car.  It included several 8”x10” envelopes, addressed to various magazines, and being curious, I asked what they were there for.  He told me that they had just lost a dog, and that his wife had written a story about it. 

“It turned out to be a spiritual experience for her,” he said, candidly.  I asked which dog it was, and he told me it was their beloved poodle, whose name I now forget.  I gave condolences, and we went ahead with our day.

About two years later (I had since left the job, my boss had retired) a mutual friend bought her own house and asked if I wanted to rent one of the rooms.  It was perfect accommodation, and she was awesome company.  One night we began to talk about our old boss, and I mentioned the story to her about the trip to the post office.   She looked up at me and asked, “Did you get to read the story?”

I said I hadn’t, so she (master of organization that she was) went into her filing cabinet and retrieved it for me.  At the time I read the story I was a lapsed Catholic.  I knew little about the Bible, angels, or the Old Testament.  What I did know was there was a particular sect of Christianity filled with absolute nutcases who claimed to have dreams and visions and gave themselves elaborate titles and bought themselves Rolls Royce’s with the money that they duped out of people. 

So...I read Agnes’s story, and by its verbiage and punctuation, the first thing I could tell was that her reading pile was probably all romance novels.  The language wasn’t particularly creative, but never used the same adjective twice (my precious poodle,  my trusted friend, my docile poodle, etc).  I plugged along.
Agnes had just lost her beloved, trusted, docile poodle  and was grieving  outside of her home one day.  She was watering her garden and began to cry (“as many tears flowing as the water from the hose”) and decided to go inside.  She dropped the hose and had a good cry in the privacy of her home.  When she came back, she saw, in the puddle of water, an image of her poodle flying up to heaven. 

She knew no one would believe her, so she fetched her Polaroid from inside and took a picture of the apparition.  Underneath the photographs she had a caption: “These photos have NOT BEEN ALTERED in any way. They were taken of the puddle just as I found it!” 

There, in the Polaroid was a picture of a puddle.  I didn’t see a poodle, so I twisted the paper in different directions for different perspectives.  


Then, from the angle I began in (right side up) I saw maybe a figure of a quadruped with limbs lifted higher than the rest of its “body”. it.  But it made me laugh.  Agnes, I thought, was a nut. 

Still, it brought comfort to her.  So much comfort that she decided to do it again the next day.  She watered the garden and dropped the hose in the dirt, returning after the same allotment of time as she had allowed the day before.  There, lo and behold, was another image of comfort.  In the next Polaroid (with the same caption) was an image of a woman looking over a grave.  This, Agnes said, was proof that her pain was known and that her grief was noticed by God.  I rolled my eyes. 

The second picture was much clearer.  In fact, it actually looked like Agnes looking over a small grave (“Should I be worried if I see this?” I thought) .  The rest of the story wasn’t as good as the pictures.  It was the pictures that made me worry about Agnes’ time management and mental well-being.   I looked up at my friend and we spontaneously laughed. She shared my opinion of the story.

The day I retold the story in the van, the day we were driving to Los Angeles,  I couldn’t get past the description of the first picture without laughing.  It was especially hard when I was trying to illustrate how the poodle was flying up to heaven.   Since they hadn’t seen the picture I was trying to show how the blob was maybe having hands that stretched toward the clouds, finished with his life here on earth.  The whole thing was too funny, and I gasped for air between words.   We were all unable to breathe (as I lifted one hand slightly higher than the other) through raucous laughter, even Mario, who was trying to manage driving. 

I really didn’t intend to make fun of the story, it was just the re-telling at the time I re-told it that was funny.  We were on our way to a conference and the drive was definitely one of the best drives I ever remember. 

Why?? Because of laughter!!

 In Norman Cousins’ memoir Anatomy of an Illness, he wrote that he battled heart disease, two ways: by taking massive doses of Vitamin C and, by training himself to laugh.  He began research onto the biochemistry of emotions and found that comedies, like those of the Marx Brothers, helped him feel better and get some pain-free sleep.

Laughter helps the pituitary gland release its own pain-suppressing opiates – and is why children get much better sleep than adults.  Do you know how much children laugh in a day??  Compare this to how much adults laugh in a day. 

According to the research that Cousins studied, laughter has these benefits:
  • Lower blood pressure,
  • Increase vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood,
  • Give a workout to the diaphragm and abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles,
  • Reduce certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline,
  • Increase the response of tumor- and disease-killing cells
  • Defend against respiratory infections–even reducing the frequency of colds–by immunoglobulon in saliva.
  • Increase memory and learning (or so says a Johns Hopkins study where humor during instruction led to increased test scores),
  • Improve alertness, creativity, and memory.
My friend, Sue Jameson, is a JOY ACTIVIST... and says it even works if you practice when something’s not funny. 

Yesterday we were in the middle of honestly great paella when a laughing fit came over me as I was re-telling a story.  Our whole table of friends were (again) gripped with laughter and we were lightened by it, even though it seriously challenged my bladder control.   I tried to write out what we were laughing about...the words seemed contrived and not funny. 

Know what’s funny??

Today Agnes seems less demented to me.  Her story brings tears to my eyes.  She experienced the death of a poodle, and instead of running out and getting another one, she allowed herself some time to grieve.  On a day of tears, she chose to find comfort in that water puddle, and she wrote about it.  She delighted in the retelling of the story, she later told me, even though “Nobody bought it.”

I always liked that lady. 

Terri and Roger do "The Flying Poodle" - a sign of great joy.  

Flying Poodle pin available through Angel Pins by Rosemary.  I felt obligated to advertise her link here, since I used her image, which looks just like Agnes’s flying poodle.