Nights with Cabela


My dog Cabela is fourteen-and-a-half-years old, so in human years she’s ninety-and-a-half. Living with Cabela these days is like living with a very senior citizen. (I’m not sure I like that term. Maybe I’d prefer aged person. But maybe not. It’s February and I get cabin fever in February so I get moody. What sounds good to me one day, sounds awful to me the next day. But this post isn’t going to be about what to call old people. And by the way, winter doesn’t bother me. I don’t care how much snow falls or how many days it has been since the sun has made an appearance. But the quality of the daylight changes in February, and it awakens something in me, and I get cabin fever which recedes sometime in April when I return to ignoring the weather. But this post isn’t going to be about weather either.) It’s about living with an old dog whom I love dearly. And a hardworking grandfather who lost his sight when he was eighty.

Cabela often enters a room and stops abruptly. She stands still, not looking in any direction, and hangs her head, pondering. She’s asking herself, “Why did I come in here?” or “Where was I going?” It takes her a bit to figure it out. I know, I know, sometimes when I go into the basement, I forget why I went down there. But I usually remember as soon as I go back upstairs. And most of the time I don’t forget why I went downstairs.

At night Cabela’s more confused and she often paces. It’s called sundowning, which is not a disease, but a condition that can occur with dementia, and yes, dogs can get dementia. Sometimes I think Cabela has a touch of it. She knows all her people. She hasn’t forgotten when it’s time for her meals, treats, and walks. And she doesn’t mistake the floors for the yard. But she has changed.

On most nights, somewhere between midnight and two in the morning, Cabela begins the restless pacing, the waking up and wandering from the bedroom to the family room to the bathroom. The first time she does it, I get up and let her outside. Lots of older people need to get up during the night and pee, and if Cabela needs to go, she needs to go. It’s not good to hold it. But after she comes back inside, she can’t decide if she wants to sleep on her bed in the bathroom or her bed in the bedroom or on one of the couches in the family room. I hear her paws swoosh on the carpet as she walks by the bedroom on her way into the family room. I hear her walk by the bedroom again on her way to the bathroom where her nails click on the linoleum and her body thuds onto the sheepskin bed tucked between the end of the toilet and the cupboard. I hear her rise up and once again her nails click on the floor, but instead of walking by the bedroom, she enters it. I know she’s looking at me, wondering why I don’t get up. Because I believe she thinks it’s time to get up. Finally, she settles down for a few more hours, but eventually she begins pacing again before my husband and I have to get up.

Last night Cabela was more restless than normal. The only one who slept through it all was Ziva, our other younger dog.

Cabela, left; Ziva right

So my grandkids and I took Cabela and Ziva for a walk this morning before it started raining. Cabela can’t walk far, but we went slow. We walked three blocks up, one block west, three blocks down, and one block east. My idea was to give her more daytime activity, hoping she’d sleep better tonight. But we’ve only managed one walk because it’s still raining, and it’s cold, soggy, and windy. It’s not good weather for a “ninety-year-old” dog.

On our morning walk, I thought about my grandpa George who went blind at eighty years old. He didn’t have dementia, but he was restless at night. He kept waking my grandma Olive and asking her if it was time to get up. He’d fuss about who was taking care of his garden or about something that needed attention at his gas station. In the darkness of night, things are always a worry. And for Grandpa, who’d lost his sight, I imagine those worries became terrors.

Before Grandpa George went blind, he still went to work at his station six-and-a-half days a week. He pumped gas and tinkered in the garage. He’d been going to work at his station for over sixty years, rarely taking a vacation or even a day off. He planted a large garden and grew raspberries, strawberries, green onions, sweet onions, new potatoes, russet potatoes, corn, peas, beans, beets, asparagus, carrots, and a few flowers between the rows of fruits and vegetables. He did the sowing and the harvesting, even at eighty years old.

Olive and George, 1930s

But after he lost his sight, his life screeched to halt, like a pair of rusty brakes on a customer’s old car that he once would’ve fixed. Grandpa George, who got up every morning before six, ate at seven, and opened his station at eight, couldn’t walk from his bed to the bathroom without someone to help him find his way. Grandpa George, who raised the finest garden in town that provided food for his family throughout the summer, fall, winter, and spring, could no longer read the rain gauge or sort his seeds for planting.

Grandpa’s days and nights somersaulted. He dozed on the living room couch during the day when he should’ve been filling someone’s gas tank and checking her oil. He listened to the evening news when he should’ve been checking the corn and pulling potatoes in the garden. At night when he would’ve been sleeping after a day’s work, his mind raced and he kept his wife up with question after question, starting with, “Olive, you awake?”

Grandma Olive tried to keep Grandpa from falling asleep on the couch during the day. At first people came to visit, and he told them what to do at the station in order to close it down, and there were the last crops to reap from the garden, all activities Grandpa oversaw while sitting at the kitchen table, his calloused mechanic’s hands resting on a white oilcloth decorated with nickel-sized cherries.

Someone came and tried to teach Grandpa to read braille. Perhaps books would entertain him. But his hands shook slightly, and he couldn’t track the raised bumps on the page.


Someone decided pecans were the answer. Grandpa sat at the kitchen table and cracked pecan after pecan. He sorted the meat from the shells the best he could, but someone else, usually Grandma, needed to pick out the stray shells. Another job for her to take on, along with all her other chores that needed completing on a short night’s sleep. The pecans were stored in jars and given to family and friends, all of whom soon had more pecans than they could ever use.

Grandpa kept cracking nuts, but he didn’t sleep better. Nights were restless and his mind paced, although the rest of him couldn’t. Grandpa was certain dawn must be coming soon, even though it was hours away, and he would ask, “Olive, you awake? What time is it?” And Cabela, certain the day should begin even though it’s hours away, stares at me most mornings as if to say, “You awake? It’s got to be time to get up.”

9 thoughts on “Nights with Cabela

  1. Good story. The shift in sleep patterns and not knowing day from night reminded me of what my younger son is dealing with, with his youngest boy who is autistic. He has sleep issues as well and now that he is out of a crib, keeps waking his parents up and wanting to get up and play after he has only had a few hours of sleep (not near enough for his parents though).

    Liked by 1 person

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