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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Childhood Pets

There was Nickle, the cat with a hole in his neck.

Nickle lives among my earliest memories. I have less memory of Cookie Roe, the kitten who joined the household after Nickle was gone. I do not know if Nickle arrived to the family before or after I arrived. Nor do I remember him without a gaping hole in his neck. My parents told me a rat had likely bitten Nickle during one of his many tom-cat outings through the night, but nobody knew for sure. For me, Nickle was simply a cat with a hole in his neck. I've asked older sisters, and they remember him more vaguely than I. Perhaps that is because none of them witnessed Nickle's traumatic departure. Only Mom and I were there. It was so traumatic that Mom vowed to never again call the 'pound', or 'humane society', or 'dog catcher', or 'animal rescue', or 'animal control', or MSPCA or whatever we called it at the time in Saint Paul. The only other pet my parents had reluctantly to 'put down' would die quickly by a bullet administered humanely by one of my uncles—and we did not have to witness that. I do not remember which pet that was.

Mom and Dad concluded that Nickle was never going to heal and the humane thing to do was to have him 'put to sleep'. Mom called the animal control people and asked them to pick up Nickle. A scruffy man drove up in a small panel-truck—the kind then used for deliveries of groceries and other small goods. When Mom gently handed Nickle to him at the front door, the man grabbed him roughly by the back of his injured neck and carried the terrified, screaming cat to the truck. The man struggled for several seconds to stuff our fighting, frightened cat into a gunny sack. The man won. He tied a knot (with Nickle now screaming and clawing at the sack from the inside), opened the back door of his panel-truck, threw Nickle in, and drove off down Van Buren Street. That's all I remember, but how can I forget. 

There was Buster, the dog who bit someone. 

We didn't have him long. He came from the farm, I believe, as a tiny pup. We said he was a Collie-Shepherd. Still more pup than dog, he apparently bit one of the Nelson boys who lived on the corner. I remember sitting on the curb with one of my older sisters as we pondered the fate of a dog who had bitten someone. Apparently he and we survived that test, but, not long after, Buster was gone from the household. He died. I believe he was hit by a car

There was Rusty the cat and his goldfish. 

We had goldfish off and on over the years. The ones I remember best, however, were the ones we had when we had a cat named Rusty. Rusty was one of those orange tabbies with some tiger-like markings. He and I spent a lot of time lying on the carpet near and under the table in the dining room. I loved to get my head of hair next to him as he was grooming. Almost always I could get him to give me his raspy-tounge treatment. It was not pleasant because the tongue was so rough, but I loved this bonding experience with Rusty nonetheless. What most endeared Rusty to the family, however, is his sitting up tall for long periods on top of the sewing machine cabinet where our two goldfish had their bowl. Occasionally, Rusty would raise his paw—poised as a statue sculpted in readiness to extract a fish. He never did extract a goldfish nor splash water around in an attempt to do so. We gradually relaxed and decided Rusty was not a competent fisherman. He and his goldfish became a source of fascination and entertainment. 

There was Rusty the dog and another cat.  

We had a fine cat—whose name I do not remember—when Rusty the dog came into our lives. First, A stray, golden cocker-spaniel-type dog showed up and adopted us for several days. Dad was adamantly opposed to our having a dog. (I later learned during the running of errands together around town that Dad had a fear the of dogs.) Also, we all knew the dog might have a real home. So, we got the him to abandon us. Likely we went off for a long weekend to Wisconsin. Problem solved.

A few days later, however, an ad for “found dog” appeared in our newspaper posted by near-neighbors about five blocks away. We got Dad to soften enough for us to go check out the dog. Was he the same dog? We were not 100 percent sure, but those neighbors urged us (the 3 or 4 kids who were our family's investigation committee) to take him home. We did, and Dad finally gave in on the condition there would be no feeding of the dog from the table while we ate. We named him Rusty.

Rusty was a vainglorious, cowardly, blowhard. When he saw our cat perched on the folded-up steps of our kitchen step-stool, he charged and barked angrily until the cat's claw sent him away with a muffled whimper. Rusty was not about to admit that the cat was going to win this contest of primacy in our household, so he would pretend to harass the cat—from a safe distance.

After that cat-dog contest mellowed, there came the question of food from the table. It took six of us several suppers to figure out why Rusty was always begging for food near Dad. The two bluffers had found each other. Dad would slip Rusty some tidbits under the table “while nobody was looking.”

We had Rusty longer than any other pet. His personality did not change. I was a teenager. There was no longer a cat in the family. One summer day, Rusty went out from our back door as a neighbor's cat paraded through our back yard. Rusty roared out at full chase. The cat ran even faster for safety to the top of our 3-foot, wire fence. I presumed the cat was headed for the security of the neighbor's yard. Rusty presumed the same, because he unnecessarily continued charging toward the fence--apparently to flaunt his victory . The cat, however, stopped at the top of the fence and turned around to face Rusty who skidded to a halt as best he good. Then, Rusty apparently wanted to convince me and himself that he had gone blind. With the cat on the fence just a few feet in front of him, he started looking up, down, and around for the cat. Eventually, with the cat still clearly visible sitting on the fence, Rusty turned and walked away seemingly telling himself and me that he had shown that cat, wherever he was, who was boss. After a few more moments, the cat seemed to be bored and crawled down the far side of the fence—in no hurry. 

There was Peepers the parakeet.  

Another pet who always got the best of Rusty was Peepers, the parakeet. He was often free from his cage and would fly from a mirror in the front hall to his cage in the dining room or to my mother's glasses when she was sitting on the couch in the living room. His flight trajectory always took him down to a level where Rusty could jump and try to grab him out of the air with his mouth. We swore that sometimes Peepers actually flew through that mouth. It always ended the same way, Rusty landed unceremoniously on his side or backside on the floor, and Peepers wound up peeping from his next perch.

           I remember Rusty the dog and his Peepers
                as I do
           Rusty the cat and his goldfish
               for their

Among us kids, Judy was most attached to Peepers. She was with Mom and Dad and me as we drove east across Canada to deliver me to my first year of College at Dartmouth in New Hampshire. From a motel along the way we called home and found out the Peepers had died quietly in his cage. Perhaps because of the timing, I remember well that feeling of loss.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

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