Friday, June 22, 2012

Maybe Monkeys Shouldn't Be Pets!

    Horrible Harold


     I did it! I bought a squirrel monkey and I've named him Harold. When the husband's away, the wife will play. All my life I've wanted a monkey and now I'll find out first hand whether or not I made a mistake.
      Bob always frowned at the various pets I'd bring into the house. Eventually, though, he accepted them as part of living with me. There were snakes, pet rats, an opossum, literally dozens of mice because they kept breeding like rabbits. Which reminds me of the six wild rabbits we found abandoned under a bush. We tried to raise them and they seemed to be doing fine until one morning we found them all dead – never fool around with mother nature.
      As for Harold, I wasn't sure how Bob would react to his sudden appearance into our family life. Harold was a pretty rambunctious monkey, hard to handle. I kept him chained to his cage so he could move around on it but couldn't escape.
      I decided to remove the chain when Harold was locked in his cage. My reasoning? If Harold knew the chain meant freedom from his cage, he'd look forward to being out. Ha! When I opened the cage to put the chain back on his belt he escaped and daughter Barbara and I had to chase him all over the house. Lamps went down, books got strewn everywhere.
      When I finally got him back in the cage I still couldn't get the chain on him. He kept screeching and fighting me off. I was a complete nervous wreck. My blouse was soaked with sweat. My arms were all scratched from the sharp edges on the cage. After about an hour of this nonsense Harold was eighteen inches of indignant fury.
      And who walked in the door at that minute? Bob, back from his trip. He just looked at me and raised his eyebrows. “Something new I didn't know about?” Actually, to my amazement he seemed amused, not angry.
      Bob got his heavy work gloves, reached into the cage and amid screeches and howls from Harold,  grabbed him, held him firm while I snapped the chain back on Harold's belt. I'd never heard such commotion from such a tiny animal. Poor Harold really looked beat up when it was all over.
      There was one good thing that came out of all this. Bob was impressed with Harold's  spunky attitude and even  admitted Harold was cute.
      Unfortunately, Harold grew wilder each day. There was no way to control him. I eventually admitted defeat and wound up trading him for a six inch Capuchin monkey. Ah, but that's another story to be told.

Daughter Barbara on left, Me on right!

         The day I exchanged Horrible Harold for a seven inch Capuchin monkey I became the owner of a little bit of love. Baby (the name we gave him) took to the family immediately. He was rarely in his cage because I was at home all day.
         He'd sit happily on my shoulder as I made beds, straightened up the house, or even when I just sat down to have a cup of coffee. He'd cuddle my neck and give me  little monkey kisses. He also loved his small blue blanket and carried it everywhere.  When he wasn't cuddling a family member he'd cuddle the blanket and watch us from his perch on the rafters.
         He loved company and  would greet guests with lots of monkey chatter. He'd climb up to his favorite perch and watch what went on below.
        Daughter Barbara was one of his favorite people. I think he liked the smell of her perfume. After time with her, Baby smelled of perfume, which was certainly better than most animal smells. Yes, I decided, he was the perfect little pet, loving and sweet. When it was time for bed, there was no problem with him being put in the cage. He knew the next morning that he'd be back out with me.
        Then I found a job at the local hospital. I worked from nine in the morning until five. No time to play with Baby. After the first day on the job, I came home to the screams of an indignant, distraught monkey. When I opened the cage he leaped out and scrambled up to the rafters. His chattering was more like scolding. He eventually calmed down and spent the evening with the family.
         I didn't have much trouble getting him back in the cage that night. But each night after that it became harder and harder. His resentment of being cooped up all day changed his whole personality. He became belligerent and waged war with us every night.
         We made the decision that maybe Baby would be happier at the local zoo. So on my next day off, I carried him and his blanket down to the zoo. I explained my predicament and he just nodded wisely.
         “Folks shouldn't really keep what are basically wild animals. I get a lot of this.”
         He went on to explain that for a few days Baby would be kept in isolation, then placed on a little island where all the monkeys were kept. I left to the screams of Baby as the zoo keeper took him away.
         I visited Baby as often as I could. One day the zoo keeper approached.
         “Before you see Baby you need to know that a swan swimming in the island pond bit off his right hand. We fixed him up and he's fine now. Just wanted you to know.”
         I looked at Baby and a feeling of remorse swept over me. He had become impossible to handle and I had thought this would be the best solution. He really didn't know me anymore. He climbed the trees on the island and chased and was chased by the other monkeys. I guessed he was content. Still I longed for the loving Baby he had once been.
         That winter is was colder than most and lasted longer than usual. A call from the zoo advised me that Baby had gotten pneumonia and died. They said they would bury him if I agreed.
         My throat choked up as I murmured, “Yes, thank you.”
         Perhaps the zoo keeper was right. Wild animals shouldn't be kept as pets. Still, I'll never regret having the chance to bond with Baby. For a while he brought so much joy into our lives.

Bob and Baby

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Death Of Eggo


     Today is a day of mourning for me and I need to write my feelings down. Eggo was just a musk turtle that had hatched from an egg Pam found. He was so tiny and cute when I got him. I don't even remember exactly when, but it was several years ago.
      He was fun to watch as he wiggled around in the tank – he was a voracious eater and soon grew into a fat turtle. At the beginning he was shy and would wait until I tossed in the food and left before he would venture up to eat it. As time passed, the minute he saw me approaching he'd swim to the surface and gobble up the first bit of food I'd toss in.
      I loved to watch his antics as he push things around, and scramble through the tight spots. As much as you can love a turtle, I loved Eggo.
      As I headed out to the hairdressers this morning, the little bridge in the tank was knocked off the huge cup it rested on. I didn't think anything of it until I got back home and didn't see Eggo anywhere. I kept moving everything around and when I lifted the large cup, there was Eggo. I don't even understand how he got into the cup and didn't push it aside. Instead he suffocated and died. Right now I don't know what to do with him. I placed him on the righted bridge – my final tribute to him.
      I guess eventually I'll have to get rid of him, but for now, at least I can still see him and remember the small, but joyful moments his actions gave me pleasure.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Long Ago Letter

  I was going through some old photo albums when I came across this letter:

                                                                                               Ye Olde England
                                                                                                September 1944
Dear Audrey,
    Well, well, wipe the surprised look from your face, and take on a gay, carefree mood.
    Of course, you don't know me, but I do know you. Reason - “Jake”. That's the name Milton goes by over here. After having received a certain picture of you in a bathing suit, we (the fellows who live with Jake) noticed him drooling and swooning. Then we all took a look at your picture. You now have sixteen lovers. You're jus our lil' pinup gal No. 1.
    I know you will receive, (nope, I guess it's spelled receive) this letter in the same spirit as it's being written. Gee, if we can't have a laugh occasionally then it isn't much fun living.
    A letter like this isn't approved by Emily Post, but it is out of the ordinary, and doing things “out of the ordinary” really suits me.
    Jake didn't notice me copy down your address, so he won't know a thing about this until you tell him. But will you leave us fellows have a little fun with him? We'll heckle him good if you will. Here's the goods. Send another picture and label it  To the fellows I love of hut K-3. It's all for the war effort you know. Heh  heh, just appealing to your patriotic side.
    Again, I ask you to take this letter in fun. I'll really appreciate an answer to this, even if you reprimand me for being fresh.
        All in fun. Earl.

      That old letter brought back so many memories of the Second World War. We may have been engaged in fighting the enemy, but it was a different kind of war. There was so much patriotism and hopefulness that this would be the war to end all wars.
      When my father enlisted – you couldn't keep that 43 year old war horse at home – he had to be in the center of things. He loved being in the military. He loved the young men he trained. To him, they were like the sons he never had.  Stationed in Gulfport, Mississippi, he was in charge of  “Guadalcanal” an area at the camp where he trained soldiers to endure the hardships of jungle fighting. He worked their asses off, but he was right in there, side by side, struggling through the swamps and wild terrain. Those young soldiers had nothing but admiration for him because he never asked them to do something he couldn't do.
     We had rented a cottage in Long Beach and every Sunday my father would invite three or four young soldiers from his regiment to have dinner with us. We all swam off the dock and did a lot of crabbing just for fun.
      Every weekend there were different faces. At fourteen, I was having the time of my life, surrounded by all these handsome hunks. Of course, my father warned them that I was off limits.
      Then one weekend a young soldier named Milton was on the guest list. We hit it off immediately. He was a bit older than me, but I loved his warm, brown eyes and quirky smile. We swam away from the rest and I found myself underwater kissing him. When we broke to the surface he was blushing.
      “I – I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that, but you were so tempting. Your father would kill me.”
      I assured him I was fine with the kiss and we'd keep it between the two of us. I never saw Milton again but we did correspond until the war was over.
     Which brings me back to the letter I received. What a simple time it was that those lonely soldiers wanted me as their pin-up girl. Most soldiers wanted pictures of Betty Grable.
      I wrote Earl back and declined his offer. I didn't think it would be fair to Milton because, through our continuing correspondence, he began thinking of me as his girl friend.
     It's funny how war changes people in subtle ways. We become closer to those in service. Today, every time I see a soldier in uniform I walk over to him or her, shake hands and profusely thank them for helping to keep our country free.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fascinating Fireflies


 I can't remember when I last saw a firefly flit across a dusky sky. Perhaps they are still around charming country children, but those tiny, luminous critters seem to have disappeared for city dwellers. Did pollution cause them to die off? Perhaps pesticides in our gardens drove them away. Whatever the reason, most children today are denied the joy of catching fireflies.
      As a child, I loved the warm summer evenings when twilight was reluctant to let the dark enfold the night. The last glow of sunset turned the garden into a veritable fairyland. Hundreds of flickering lights darted from flower to flower. With mason jar tightly clutched in my hand, I would stalk those little pinpoints of light as skillfully as any safari hunter.
      Being careful not to hurt them, I would swoop the tiny critters into the jar that had holes punched on top. I couldn't risk suffocating those amazing little creatures.  I'd sit on the back steps watching their amazing glow. Sometimes I would carry them up to my bedroom, turn off the lights,  and pretend they were fairies come to visit. I had a wild imagination as a child. I was sure one firefly was a tiny fairy who had brought me her gift of light. At the end of the evening's visit, I made sure my little friends were put back into the garden. There would always be another evening.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I'm Not The Farmer's Daughter

     I’ve decided I’m too old and too frail to garden any more. Tonight I tried to re-pot a coleus plant into a larger container. First I couldn’t separate two large pots that were stuck together. I finally found a lone pot and decided to use that. Okay so far. Well I couldn’t lift the bag of potting soil so I scooped out dirt with a hand shovel. Got more dirt on the utility shed floor than into the container. No problem, Terri can sweep out the shed tomorrow.

     Okay, next step, transfer the plant. That didn’t go too well. More dirt spilled on the pavement until I finally got enough into the pot so the plant might survive. That was it. I’d just water the plant and hose off the remaining dirt. I went to stand up and somehow twisted my knee. I managed to hose off the dirt but now I’m limping.

     Hopefully my knee will be better by tomorrow. I’ve decided my gardening days have come to an end. What lives, lives. What dies, dies. The hell with the whole thing.

Geranium in better days

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Day I Almost Killed The Rat


     I’d been meaning to clean out Charlie’s tank for a week, but never quite got up the energy. Today was the day. I scooped out all the pine bark and threw it in the garbage.

     Then it hit me. I didn’t have any pine bark left. Well, let’s try cat litter. Bad choice. Within minutes I knew something was wrong with Charlie. His sides were heaving in and out as though he couldn’t breathe. I panicked and called the pet shop telling them what I had done. 
     The voice at the other end said, “There are chemicals in cat litter that can harm a rodent. You need to get some pine bark shavings.”

    Like a flash I was in the car driving to the pet shop. When I got home at least Charlie was still breathing, so I put him on the couch and cleaned his tank for the second time, being sure to get out every bit of cat litter.

     I had forgotten that Katie, my cat, was lurking nearby. In a flash she was on the couch sniffing Charlie. Oh boy, I thought, if the chemical hadn’t killed him she will. To my amazement, she gently put her paw on his tail but didn’t attack. She was fascinated with him. I decided not to take any more chances. I scooped him up and placed him back in the tank. Katie cocked her head, looking bewildered.

     Today he is his old fat self, happy to eat the cookie I give him. He’s just a pet, but he’s mine and I love him.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The "My Way"

    When our children left home, it was just two of us in our empty nest. We needed something to do together. I wanted an RV. He wanted a boat. Guess who won!
     We spent many happy times on the “My Way”. Bob was Captain. I was cook, deckhand, and anchor handler. I never had a chance to pilot our thirty-six foot cruiser, but I didn't mind. I delighted in his joy.
     Then Bob developed bone- marrow cancer. Six months later he was gone. Along with my grief, I experienced panic. What about the boat?  My first thought was to sell it. 
      “Nonsense,” my salty daughter Pam admonished me. “You can handle the boat. I'll help you.”
      It took a massive amount of Pam's goading before I finally agreed to make the three-hour drive from Albany, Georgia to Jacksonville, Florida. Was I crazy? This was Bob’s baby, after all.  
     As I reached I-10, calmness enveloped me. I felt Bob's presence. By the time I got to the marina, I knew he was near me. A subtle feeling, but there.
     “Hi, Mom,” Pam yelled, running toward me. “Ready for our big adventure?”
     The “My Way” bobbed gently in her slip. Her white hull and polished chrome glistened in the morning sun. That's a big boat, I thought. Am I sure I can do this?
     After I stepped down into the cockpit, Pam started pointing things out. "Remember, starboard is right, port is left."  
     I stared blankly at her. “For today can we just call it right and left?”
     She laughed. “First things first. Here’s where you put the keys.” Talk about beginners. “And this is how you move the throttles.”  She squeezed my hand. “Are you ready?”
     “I guess so,” I gulped. I hoped I didn’t look as terrified as I felt.    
     I turned on the engines. They roared thunderously, then settled down to a steady, deep drone.
     Pam cast off the stern lines and moved to the bow. "We're free. I'll fend off if I have to."
     I ran my tongue nervously over my lips. Flashes of adrenalin raced through me. I was going to do this! My hands shook as we moved out of the slip into the Ortega River. I didn't hit anything.
    Once we got fully into the St. Johns River, I relaxed a little.
    Pam grinned. "That was good. Now just set a steady speed and you can sit at the wheel."
    The seat felt good beneath my wobbly legs. I spied the first marker and headed toward it.
     “You don't have to follow the markers, Mom.” Pam laughed. “Dad liked to chart his route, but the river is so deep and wide you don't have to. Just take us out.”
     It was almost sacrilege not to do things Bob's way, but it made the trip a lot easier.  The day was glorious, perfect for an afternoon's cruise. Reflections of the sun flickered up from the water, turning and flipping with the movement of the waves. Seagulls followed us, squawking for food. I felt happy for the first time since Bob died.
     Pam had me practice maneuvering the boat in reverse. We were lucky not to have wind or tide changes hindering us. Then the moment of truth arrived. It was time to head back.
     Heart pounding, I moved the “My Way” into the marina. Slow, very slow now. I eased the throttles into reverse.  Neither of us said a word as Pam tied the boat to the dock and I shut down the engines. Then we looked at each other and let out one loud scream! I had done what I thought impossible.
     Maybe I had absorbed more than I realized watching Bob, but I prefer to think he was guiding me, his hands over mine on the throttles. We were at our best on the boat he so loved.
    I became pretty good at handling the “My Way”. For weeks, as I drove to Jacksonville, I sensed Bob's nearness. I felt him close when I took out the boat. Then one day he was gone, job done.
     Happy tears filled my eyes as I whispered, “Thank you, darling, for being my guardian angel. I'll be fine now.”  Bob knew I was ready to do it my way.