With his ears flying, Sandy ran free, frolicking through the fields with the children. A Retriever-Setter mix, he was a special dog. A sweet guy, he would gently place his nose on one’s knee and look beseechingly for a bit of petting. (A flirting girl with eyes like his would have had the guys lined up to the next farm.) We adored him, but we gave our beloved Sandy to a farmer when we moved from the country to the village because, in town, Sandy would have to be tied up. We couldn’t do that to him.
In town, as the number of our children grew, so did the number of our pets. Dogs, cats, fish, gerbils, birds, and a turtle, to name some of them. And we adored having baby animals: kittens, puppies, guppy babies in a little netted corner of the aquarium, and darling baby finches. As Indu would always say, “So cu-u-u-te!”
Once, in a pet store, when we bought cat, dog, bird and fish food, the clerk said, “You must have a lot of pets.”
I responded, “Yes, we have a cat, dog, bird, fish and gerbil, but we don’t have an elephant.”
Poor clerk. Not too bright, she just looked at me, puzzled—no sense of humour, poor thing.
Our pets gave us much pleasure but also two calamities. Sweet Cocker Spaniel Jessie (midnight black coat, unfortunately for him) replaced Sandy. Indu adored him because Jessie could jump up onto her wheelchair and snuggle up to her. My husband, John, showed his strong doggie-love by insisting it was cruel to tie up Jessie at night. We had numerous discussions (the raised voice wasn’t my husband’s). The problem finally did go away, but not in a way that met my approval.
One night, driving home and into our dark driveway, I passed through shadowy patches cast by the streetlight cutting through the lilac hedge. One of the shadows had a bump. Yes, it was our dear Jessie. Mercifully, he died quickly. I was sick. I was devastated. I was also angry. Why did it have to be me who drove over the dog, and why wasn’t he chained to his dog house? I had the painful task of going into the house to tell the family. And poor John. A sharp-tongued, angry, “I told you so!” is not a kind thing to say to a man who has just lost his cherished dog. I do regret that.
Our second calamity was with our canary. We had given Pete to Grandma for some company when Grandpa died. When Grandma left us to join Grandpa in heaven, we got Pete back. Petey was a fantastic singer. After taking some time to warm up to us, he sang just as beautifully as he had done for Grandma for a long time. The children took turns caring for Pete: weekly feeding, watering, and cage cleaning. And no, John, the musician, who loved Pete’s singing, did not free Pete from his cage.
One day I was in the veggie garden when I heard, “Mom, drop everything! Just come in dirty, mom. Hurry! We need you. It looks like Pete is dying.”
Wobbling on his tiny feet, poor Petey was on the bottom of the cage, unable to fly to a perch. Before I could do anything, suddenly and dramatically, that little thing flipped upside-down, onto its back, with its feet and legs pointing straight and stiff, up into the air. I couldn’t believe it. In an instant, those little claws reached for the sky. The only thing missing to match the Looney Tunes effect was a little “X” on each of Petey’s eyes—but dead he was. Poor Pete!
Mom, drop everything! Just come in dirty, mom. Hurry! We need you. It looks like Pete is dying.
What had killed the wee thing? We checked the cage and found that the shields on the food and water containers were down, preventing the bird from accessing them. Someone didn’t push them back up in the last birdie-care session. And who was the guilty one? One little daughter’s face showed her guilt and hurt. I took the bird out behind the garage, buried it, waited a few minutes to regain my composure (for I loved that bird) and returned to the kids.
“I thought you had an appointment this morning, mom,” reminded son number one.
“Oh, no. I need to be in Fonthill in 15 minutes, and I’m in my filthy garden clothes.”
Now this was an understatement: mud-caked pants, shirt, hands, jacket and boots. I kicked off my garden boots; my jacket flew off as I ran upstairs to change and wash. A few minutes later, I came down with clean hands and clothing, grabbed a coat, and ran for the car. I arrived at the optometrist’s elegant waiting room, where two refined ladies sat. I felt a little low class, but at least I was clean. Except, upon looking down, I realized that I had on my outrageous garden jacket —filthy, broken zipper, ripped pocket, and sleeves caked in mud from the morning’s weeding. Oh, no! I yanked it off, turned it inside-out, and shoved it under my chair. No eye contact with the ladies, as I was too embarrassed. At least I had remembered to change my pants and shirt.
After seeing the doctor, I went straight home to make sure everything was all right. The house was quiet, without Pete’s singing. We would have to buy another bird. But a problem from my doctor’s appointment came up.
“Mom,” said our son, “I don’t think you realize it, but take a close look. You have your shirt on inside-out!” ◆
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