DULUTH — I am, always was and always will be, an only child, born when my mom was 28. That meant that back in the day, I was considered a “late-in-life only-child.” Huge potential for being spoiled rotten! So, probably to compensate for my “alone-ness,” we had lots of pets. I’m talking not only puppies and kitties. I’m talking lizards, hamsters, ducks and chickens.
In 1944, when I was very little, some well-meaning relative gave me three baby chicks for Easter — a pink one, a blue one and a yellow one. The pink and blue ones had been colored with toxic dye and sadly, they quickly turned up their little toes. The yellow one was “au natural,” and she grew into a real chicken named Susie who followed me everywhere.
Susie wore the same size clothes as my dolly “Sweetie Pie” and even had the same taste in baby bonnets. She would patiently let me dress her up and wheel her around the neighborhood in my doll buggy. We were an odd pair. One morning, however, Susie was missing. My mom explained that Susie had grown tired of city life and had gone back to live on the farm. I often wondered just how she got there.
The town I grew up in was very small, 743 people in all, and boasted a little old Victorian train station. Our whole family was at the depot one Saturday afternoon, waving to my Uncle Claude as the train started to pull away, headed for Penn Yann, N.Y. Suddenly, down the street, honking all the way, barreled this large, tan duck, determined to make the train. Just as he dove under the wheels, my dad made a grab and got him by one foot. The duck was not happy about missing his train and really let him know it, hissing and snapping.
The story later came out that a young farmhand had brought him into the local bar with hopes of trading him in for a few beers. When the duck pooped on the gleaming mahogany bar, as ducks will do, the bartender scooped him up and threw him out the front door. Nobody seemed to want him back, so the duck came home to live with us, where he pooped and honked to his heart’s content. My mother stood him for as long as she could, but one morning, I awoke to find that “Uncle Ducky” had joined Susie out at the farm. My mother said he took the bus.
Then there was The Hamster Family — plural and more plural. You would think that my two sensible, adult parents would know better than to buy a little kid two hamsters: a boy hamster, Chucky, and a girl hamster, Doreen, a very chubby, fluffy little thing. My dad built them a tiny cage (singular), their new home. Next day, there were six hamsters, little Doreen evidently being not just chubby but very pregnant. So, my dad knocked together more cages. And more. It has been said that it is very difficult to determine the sex of a hamster, but they don’t seem to have any problem at all.
The pet shop owner was gracious and took our 23 hamsters in on trade toward a new puppy and, at 7 years old, I discovered dogs. That was Daisy Moppet, a fluffy, white terrier type. Since then, there have been Mitzi, Heidi and Tina, the dachshund trio who starred in my childhood doodles of their great adventures.
There was Clancy from the Minneapolis animal shelter, named after my kids’ TV hero of the time. Then came the Big Dogs, the English Sheepdog/black lab/poodle mixes. MacDuff the Mighty, twins Toby and Dudley (don’t ever go to get a puppy when there are only two left), Gus the Gorgeous, Rudy (from Peever, S.D.), and now Jordie. Every morning, Rudy would come with that “look.” “Is he leaving, yet?” And I can’t forget Rosie O’Grady, the only dog I ever knew who would bark at a jet trail and convince you she could see the plane.
Good dogs, every one of them. No matter how flawed your personality, how cranky your day, how awful your hair looks or that you have a big pimple on your nose, your dog will look at you like you have just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. They are amazed by everything you do and can hardly wait to see what’s next. If there is a shortcoming with dogs, it would be a design flaw that their maker should have foreseen: A dog should last for a lifetime — your lifetime.
I’m sure with all the early pets, my parents meant to make me a kind, responsible un-spoiled child who would become a kind, responsible adult. Maybe it worked; maybe it didn’t. I surely loved every pet I ever had, but I’m thinking the spoiled part was a lost cause.
Claudia Myers is a former costume designer for The Baltimore Opera, Minnesota Ballet and has taught design and construction at The College of St Scholastica. She is a national award-winning quilter, author and a local antique dealer, specializing in Persian rugs.