Once in a while we run across book with a title and cover so beguiling that we take it home if for no other reason than it caught our eye. A WIDOW, A CHIHUAHUA, AND HARRY TRUMAN is one of those books. At first glance, it looks like one of those 'I love my dog' books. It is that, and more --- author Mary Beth Crain does love her Truman, but her story goes much further.
Crain met her husband, Adam Shields, while she was researching an article for the Santa Barbara Magazine. A widower in his sixties, Adam lived alone, grieving the death of his wife. They fell instantly and hopelessly in love. Although she was young enough to be his daughter, they married. They "...lived in a rarefied atmosphere of complete delight." When Adam died of cancer three short years later, Mary Beth doubted she would ever be happy again. She wasn't even sure she wanted to be. Her grief cut so deeply, it was two years before she felt that life had anything to offer. Shortly before her first Christmas without Adam, she found herself in a pet store, captivated by a tiny and very expensive Chihuahua. Against her better judgment, she bought him along with all the necessary pet accouterments, promptly named him Truman, in honor of her favorite president, and began her roller coaster adventure of being a new puppy owner. Truman forced her to connect with something other than her own grief.
Crain weaves her story of the trials of puppy ownership and her personal trip into the bottomless well of grief with humor and good taste. She wonders what to do with Adam's ashes. How long should they sit in a box on the shelf? Her answer: as long as you feel like letting them sit there. You'll know when it's time to move them. She has the ability to put into words how painful the loss is that we've all felt. She also tells a very funny story without being silly. One of the best is Truman's first (and last) attempt at obedience class. Rounding out her story are frequent quotes by Harry Truman; Crain's favorite source of advice.
Think of A WIDOW, A CHIHUAHUA, AND HARRY TRUMAN as your own personal grief counselor. Think of it as a precious source of humor and optimism without all the overused bits of advice we read so often in the growing number of 'how to do grief' books. Mary Beth Crain provides the perfect blend of humor and wisdom. Highest recommendation.
Reviewed by Mary Louise Rohner on May 30, 2000