By Brandon HENSLEY
Having a couple of pets can make all the difference in someone’s world, but what if that person is 95 years old? What if she is a widow? And what if her only son recently died?
It might be a good bet to say those pets would mean everything and more to this woman. That would be mostly correct, but it doesn’t completely factor in the natural sunny disposition she carries with her.
It’s the same disposition she takes to the YMCA for daily pool exercises, or to church to exercise her faith. Or even down the driveway on a bum leg to pull up two green trashcans the 20 yards or so back to the side of her house.
You can see for yourself if you catch her right as she begins to grab them. Frances Clapp will let you inside the gate and offer to shake your hand, then ask if you can take the cans up for her, because it’s hard to do that at 95 and on a bum leg, after all.
This disposition follows Clapp with her into the house. She doesn’t complain about the walking, or the pulling of the trashcans, and she’s not looking for a cushy seat on the couch to plop down on, to let the drudgery of her day’s work dissipate into one of the six rooms in her house.
For the last 15 years, she’s had no husband to come home to (Earl died of cancer in 1998), and as of last month she has no son to talk to in Arizona on the phone (he died at age 70 of a stroke).
But it’s okay, because she can talk to Honey, her poodle mix that was thrown out of a car in Hollywood last year and picked up by a couple of writers who dropped him off at the Pasadena Humane Society.
Clapp’s friend at the Y told her about Honey, and Clapp, who has had many pets but never bought one, decided to check him out.
“He was curled up in a corner. He was a mess,” she said upon seeing Honey for the first time. “I looked at him, and I said, ‘He needs me and I need him.’”
Honey is a bundle of energy, especially at the breakfast table. He starts with a low grumble aimed at Clapp and, if he’s mimicked by her, he’ll go into a high register until he’s full-on yelping, throwing his head back, but always waiting for his owner to repeat what he said.
“Any noise he makes, he expects me to imitate it,” she said.
There’s also Jax, a cat that looks like an orange tabby but hard to tell because he’s afraid of anyone not named Frances Clapp, and trying to get a good look at him is like chasing a ghost down a hallway.
Clapp will talk about Jax’s relationship with Honey. When Honey is outside, Jax will move from room to room, window to window to keep track, and whenever Honey comes back inside they bump noses.
Jax is also the house alarm clock. He’ll climb on top of Clapp to wake her up and then get behind a recliner Honey is sleeping on and rock it back and forth until everyone is ready for a new day.
“7 o’clock, you don’t sleep beyond that,” Clapp said.
Jax’s story is less abusive than Honey’s but affecting nonetheless. One of Clapp’s grandsons used to have him, but he kept going out of town for work and Clapp would take him. Whenever the grandson took Jax home, he would start to cry. The grandson figured he couldn’t keep doing this to Jax, and so last year the cat stayed with Clapp for good.
The grandson is moving to Wisconsin this month, and it might seem like a lonely time is upon Clapp. But she takes things in stride.
“We’re not in control. God’s in control,” she said.
She’s a Brooklyn native, and her mindset is as strong as the New York accent that has never gone away (“Dea buddies!” she’ll say about Honey and Jax, and it conjures up an image of her on a stoop talking about her pets while her friends play stick ball in the street).
Yes, she’s surprised she’s still alive at 95 but no, she doesn’t mind putting off her reunion with Earl if it means spending another day with Honey and Jax.
“What more could I want?” she said. “I have my pets, my church and good friends.”
Then she asks you questions about yourself, about writing, and how her good friend Don Mazen writes, how he’s always written and how you should never stop writing, especially if it’s about finding the truth in things.
Then it’s time to go. It’s long walk out the side door and down the driveway to the gate, but you both get there. And through the gate she wishes you luck and says if you ever want to come back and try to get a picture of Jax, feel free.
And you’re left thinking, who is willing to walk down a driveway 20 yards on a bum knee every week to pull up trash cans when they’re 95, especially when there’s no husband waiting in the kitchen or son on the line anymore?
For Clapp, there’s at least Honey and Jax, and the promise of a new day in the morning, 7 a.m. sharp.