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It seems like back in the fifties, every household had a pet parakeet and an aquarium, full of guppies or goldfish. Ours was no exception. For years, we were thoroughly entertained by our perky, blue parakeet, Pete. He really ruled the roost at our house. He was quite the socialite, appearing to enjoy our company as much as we did his. Knowing how my parents used to be such clean-freaks, it¶s hard for me to imagine how much they let their guard down, when it came to our parakeets,
especially Pete. This behavior on their part, seems completely incongruous, to how tidy and particular they were about keeping the house immaculate and germ-free. All of the parakeets we owned, throughout the years, spent most of the time in their cage. It was located in the dining room, between a window and the dining room table. The birds were often let out of the cage, to fly around the house. Pete, however, had special privileges. During meals, while we were seated at the table, he was frequently allowed out of his cage, to visit with us as we ate. This funny blue parakeet liked to perch on the top of the dark, thick rim of my father¶s eyeglasses. He would lean over, upside down, and look into Dad¶s glasses, pecking on the lens. I¶m not exactly sure, but I guess he could see his own reflection on the glassy surface, and was pecking at the ³other bird´ he saw. He also liked to perch on the brim of my father¶s coffee cup, and take a gulp of coffee. I don¶t think Dad ever actually drank after him, but it still baffles me, that Pete was permitted to even come near the dining table, much less participate in the meals, and perch on his coffee cup. Mom spent quite a lot of time working with Pete, and trained him to do a few tricks. He could nod and turn around on command. She taught him to say, ³Pete¶s a pretty boy,´ which he muttered repeatedly, with somewhat impressive clarity, and recognizable words. One green parakeet didn¶t survive an episode of eating some of the garland
off of our Christmas tree. Another flew to his fate, as he escaped out of the front door, over our mom¶s head, as she opened the door to answer it. I don¶t remember a time when we didn¶t have some kind of pets at home. One year, we got baby ducks, as Easter presents. Those precious, little yellow peepers were so tiny and cute, for a little while. Then they grew to be big, noisy, quaking, solid white ducks. We delivered them to a family, who lived down the road from our camp. They had a nice farm, and were delighted to get them for their pond. One of my pets, who I was quite fond of, was Kitty. She was a little pet turtle I had, back in grade school, for what seemed like a long time. I remember picking Kitty out, from the multitude of tiny turtles on display, in the basement of Young¶s Department Store. Each turtle¶s shell couldn¶t have been much larger than the size of a fifty-cent piece. Most of their shells were decorated, with decals of brightly-colored cartoon animals. The turtle I chose, had a decal of a hot pink kitty on its shell, hence the name ³Kitty.´ I loved that turtle. She never grew any larger, and lived comfortably in her shallow, aquarium home. It had a curved ramp, which she often crawled down, allowing her to get into the water, whenever she so desired. While I was home, I liked to take Kitty outside, and let her walk around the yard. The bright pink decal made it easier for me to keep an eye on her, as she walked through the green grass.
I could hardly contain myself one morning, when I woke up, and found Kitty lifeless. This was my first encounter with the uncertainties of death. So distraught with sorrow, I was sobbing uncontrollably. My parents had a difficult time, trying to decipher my words, as I attempted to tell them of her demise. Kitty was buried in a cardboard matchbox in our back yard. I offered profound words of gratitude, during her eulogy, as her friends and family gathered around for the burial. She was sent off to turtle heaven in style, getting the proper funeral she deserved. One day, when I was in my early years of grade school, Mom announced that she and Dad had decided to purchase a toy fox terrier, for our family pet. An ad in the newspaper, from a breeder in South Carolina, had caught her attention. She called and placed her order, and mailed them the asking price of twenty-five dollars. We anxiously awaited our new family member. After several days, we received the phone call, saying our dog had arrived. Mom, my sister and I excitedly hopped in the car, and drove across town to the train depot. A man in the office instructed us to go to the loading dock. We drove up to the dock, and walked through the large opening, into the dimly-lit, nearly empty, warehouse. A gentleman had our mother sign a piece of paper, then walked over and picked up a wooden crate, which sat by itself, next to the front wall. He handed
over the crate to us, and we peeped inside, to get a glimpse of one precious, tiny, scared, shivering puppy. He appeared to be quite relieved and happy to have some company, at last. We made a bed for him, in a cardboard box that night, and tucked a clock under the blanket, to sound like his mother¶s heartbeat. My mom¶s intuition, of knowing that this particular breed of dog, would make a perfect pet, has always intrigued me. Perhaps the ad was convincing. Time would tell, that he truly was a perfect match for us. We named our new member of the family, ³Skipper.´ His short-hair coat was white, with large brown and black markings. Triangular ears, a black nose on a pointed snout, and extremely large brown eyes adorned his small face. Being the toy variety that he was, he never got very big. He had such a good personality, getting along with every human and animal he met. He ran the neighborhood freely, as dogs were allowed to do back then. Everyone loved him, and made over him so much. He thrived on getting all of that attention. Shortly after we got Skipper, we took him on his first long car ride. During that trip, he began having convulsions. He was stricken with a severe case of distemper. The vet criticized Mom for buying a pet, ³Sight unseen.´ He gave us a discouraging prognosis, saying that Skipper probably wouldn¶t make it. We were all so glum after receiving such horrible news. Against all odds, and much to our relief, Skipper survived the disease. Impressive dedication, genuine concern about
him, and constant caregiving, on the part of our vet and mother, had paid off. He was to enjoy a long, full life, after all.
Skipper and I literally grew up with one another, spending many hours together. I took him practically everywhere I went, often strolling him around the neighborhood in a doll carriage. I don¶t know if, or how much, he liked that, but he never squirmed or attempted to get away. In our neighborhood, Skipper reached celebrity status, often performing in
an act with my mom. He was billed as, ³The Singing Dog,´ and was a real hit with the kids. They performed at our grade school¶s talent shows, and for our church¶s vacation bible schools. Mom sang ³The Happy Birthday Song,´ and Skipper tilted his head back, and ³sang´ along with her, howling at the sound of her voice. One summer day, in 1961, our family headed out for the ³Dam celebration,´ as everyone in my family jokingly called it. This was the official, Grand Opening of the Sutton Dam, in the little town of the same name. The dam was built across the Elk River, for the main purpose of flood control. People all across the state, were excited about the centrally located dam. The beautiful large lake it created, covered 1,440 acres, and stretched 14 miles along the Elk River. Swimming, skiing, boating, fishing, and camping, which the lake was to provide, were much needed and anticipated recreational opportunities. They were expected to deliver an enormous boost to the local economy. The opening of the dam was an event of enormous importance. Many people in the massive crowd were dressed to the hilt, decked out in their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and hats. Dignitaries and politicians were scheduled to give speeches, and participate in the ribbon cutting ceremony. They walked along the edge of the crowd, shaking hands with those in attendance. We watched, as Mom leaned over the security fence, and shook hands with United States Senator Jennings Randolph.
Skipper had been traveling with us that day, as he did practically everywhere we went. Unbeknown to us, he had jumped out of our car, on the way to the ceremony. As we were traveling up Route 119, we had pulled off of the road, to check on a carload of relatives, who had pulled off beside the highway. It wasn¶t until we had been at the ceremony for a while, when it finally donned on someone in our group, that Skipper was no longer with us. It was easy to put two and two together, and realize where we had lost him. All of us were sickened, thinking of what might be the outcome of this situation. We were so worried that he would get hit, or run over by a speeding car, on the busy road. Although he ran the neighborhood at home, he didn¶t have the street smarts or experience of dealing with so much traffic, traveling at highway speeds. We immediately left the ceremony, and started backtracking our steps. The forty minute drive, back to where we thought he jumped out, seemed to take forever. I¶m sure there was a lot of silent praying going on in that car. We pulled up to the exact place, where we had stopped beside the road, but to our dismay, no Skipper in sight. With a lump in our throats, and dwindling hope, we took out on foot, uncertain if we were on a rescue, or recovery mission. Dad knocked on one family¶s door, who lived beside the highway, fairly close to where we had stopped. The man who answered the door, said they had witnessed the saddest, most heartbreaking scene. For some time, they had watched
the forlorn puppy. Once we had driven off, and unwittingly left him behind, Skipper began pacing up and down the highway. They said he would sit at the exact place where our car had been, tilt his head back, and let out the most heart wrenching howl they had ever heard. Then he would run down the road, ³Fifty yards or so,´ do the same thing down there, then run back up to his original place. He repeated this over and over again. Having somewhat renewed hope, we all started loudly calling out his name. With a collective sigh of relief, and to our elation, someone excitedly pointed out a little white and black speck, in the far distance. It was flying towards us, at the speed of light. I¶m not sure who was more ecstatic, Skipper, or us. We were all so thankful, that this horrible ordeal, had a happy ending. One can only appreciate and imagine the angst, sadness and confusion our buddy had endured, during that exhausting afternoon. Skipper lived to be nearly twenty years old. Like many aging dogs, he became both blind and deaf. That never slowed him down, and he somehow continued to make his daily rounds about the neighborhood, for several more years. After I had moved away from home, his long, full, life eventually came to an end. He was hit by a most apologetic driver, who ironically, said he couldn¶t see Skipper, because he was so small. Of course, Skipper couldn¶t see him either, even
though his car was so big. Hamsters were the other animals we frequently had as pets. My sister recently reminded me of her favorite hamster episode. Our family had taken one hamster in the car with us, as we picked up my sister from summer camp one year. When we left her camp, we traveled to Elkins, to visit relatives. We left the hamster in the car overnight, in his cage, on the floor of the back seat area. When my mother walked out to the car the next morning, she had quite a surprise. She opened the car door to get her dress, which was hanging in the car. It was what she was planning on wearing that day. The hamster had reached through the bars of his cage, grabbed the dress, and pulled some of it inside the cage. Such a large hole was chewed through the front of the dress, resulting from his escapades. The dress was completely ruined, and could never be worn again. He may have destroyed Mom¶s dress, but in doing so, he sure was successful at making himself the largest, fluffiest king-size bed, any hamster could ever dream of having. Another hamster, who had escaped from her cage without our realizing it, stirred up quite a ruckus one night at our home. She made an unexpected visit, during what was probably the most important event of the year for my mother. Our church had a large network of women¶s ³Circles.´ Each Circle had around 15 members, and met in different people¶s homes, once a month. The women had
devotions and various programs, as they sat around in a large circle. I guess that¶s how the name originated. Mom hosted a meeting once every year. We always teased her about it, saying we could tell it must be time for a Circle meeting. This was such a big to-do for her, that the house had to be flawless. She always bought new throw pillows, washed the curtains in the living room and dining room, and had us help her clean every window in the house. For weeks, she toiled over what to serve the visiting church ladies, then carefully planned out and prepared the food for them. When the big night finally arrived for this momentous occasion, we were shipped off to someplace out of the house. This was my mother¶s moment. It was her night to shine. Everything was meticulously prepared, and had been planned to the nth degree. What could possibly go wrong? Absolutely nothing, except a ³rat´ running across the room. Our escapee hamster ran across the floor of the living room, just as the room was perfectly quiet, while the speaker was giving the devotion. The sight of a rodent running around their feet, scared the ladies so much, they screamed hysterically. For all they knew, it could have been a rat, since most of them didn¶t know we owned a hamster. Oh, well. As the saying goes, ³ The best laid plans of hamsters and women often go awry.´
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