Tag Archives: Animals

No Hamster

Today a coworker stepped into my office to invite me to a function celebrating World Animal Day. She handed me a flyer showing photographs of native wildlife, house pets, and exotic animals. I told her that might be fun and I laid the flyer on my desk.

“Hey, do you have any pets?” she asked.

“No, I don’t.” I answered.

I live alone in a third floor condo. Between work days and weekend travel, any pet I owned would spend most of its time alone. Unfair, I think. Before I could explain that to her, she had a question.

“You don’t like animals?” she asked, in apparent disgust.

I tried to respond, but she interrupted.

“Your parents never let you have pets.” she assumed, and rolled her eyes.

Again I tried to respond, but she had another question.

“You never even had a hamster?” she asked as she appeared to hyperventilate.

Seeing that my explanation stood no chance, I simply said, “No, no hamster.” and turned back to my computer.

She reached in slow motion to take the flyer from my desk and left my office as though I were a leper.

I really never had a hamster.

But as a kid at home we had several dogs I loved, like our Siberian husky, a spayed female. She once instantly befriended a pregnant stray dog that wandered into our yard. When the time came for puppies, although Daddy had built the stray a doghouse of her own, she chose our husky’s instead. While the stray had puppies inside, our husky stood guard outside and had to be physically pushed aside, tail wagging all the time, when Mama checked on the stray’s progress.

We also had a beautiful, faithful collie who was once bitten on the foot by a copperhead. The swelling, peeling flesh, exposed bones, and weeks of applying salves and medication while keeping the horrible wound clean was something I’ll never forget. Our collie did walk again, but always with a limp. We had some really great dogs.

But no, no hamster.

Stray cats appeared occasionally, much to Daddy’s chagrin. One came as a kitten and was still there twelve years later, loved by us all. Daddy continued to claim he disliked cats, even as this one slept on his lap. He wasn’t as fond of the stray cat who entered our garage through a broken door to have a litter of kittens in the Brunswick stew pot. Mama vowed to never eat stew from that pot again. Daddy joked that it only helped to “season” it. Once the kittens were given away, Daddy bleached the stew pot and repaired the garage door.

Mama was generally afraid to come into my room. The green snake I kept in a huge terrarium might have been the reason. The terrarium was temporary home only for a few days to the tiny snake, then I turned it loose again. Sometimes the terrarium housed a toad or a box turtle. All stayed only briefly before I took then back to where I’d caught them. I was always fascinated by any animal. The only lizard I ever caught proved himself a skilled escape artist. I awoke one morning to find him staring at me from the lamp on my nightstand.

But no, no hamster.

Mama wasn’t happy when I hatched quail in my room from a mail order incubator, but she hadn’t been fond of fowl in my room since the day she walked by and saw several baby chickens lined up on the footboard of my bed, preening in the morning sun. Finally getting their wing feathers, who could blame them for taking a first short flight to the sunny footboard? Mama was not amused.

People brought young animals to us they thought had been abandoned. Countless baby birds passed through my room to be cared for and turned loose. One spring I had nine tiny baby rabbits to be fed by eyedropper. Their nest had been run over by a tractor, their mother killed, and they were brought to us. All nine survived and were turned loose in the pasture by our house. For the next few years rabbits came from the pasture to sit at the edge of our yard.

But no, no hamster.

In high school I had to complete a biology project. We had several choices, but I opted for the one requiring the purchase of a mouse which I would then teach to run a maze. Mama was already at her wits end with the number of animals I had. In order to get one more I convinced her it was in the name of education. My teacher advised me to purchase a male mouse since a female would likely be pregnant. Naturally, I then asked specifically for a female but managed to purchase the only virgin. Babies never came. She proved a fast learner though, helping me get an “A” on my project. She then lived out a happy retirement in my room at home.

I once had finches, parakeets, and a wounded but recuperating pigeon in my room all at the same time. My fish tank was full of very prolific guppies. We had a big white rabbit for a while. Once, while bike riding with a cousin, I saw a dead kitten on the side of the road. I rode closer to see make sure it was dead, and it was, but another kitten then crawled from the ditch. I scooped it up and took it home. We had cows in the pasture for many years. Animals of many kinds were always a part of my daily life.

I would have told my coworker these things had she cared to listen. As I sat at my desk thinking back on the many animals I’ve loved in my life, I heard my coworker talking to someone at the copier.

“Did you ask Stuart too?” she was asked.

“Oh yes,” my coworker responded, “but I don’t think he’s into World Animal Day. He’s never had a hamster!”

No, I never had a hamster.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Hi Ben

During my walk through the cemetery this afternoon I noticed rabbits tucked here and there, watched countless squirrels skitter across gravestones, and heard two blue jays bicker with a crow as it picked something from an old paper bag. Acres in size, this cemetery is full of wildlife from backyard birds to a family of foxes living in a back corner where brush is piled. Once I walk into the cemetery all traffic noises are gone, no sirens blare, and I forget I’m only four miles from downtown D.C. Watching a pair of cardinals in the shrubs by the gate, I sat down at a bench beside one of the gravestones.

I knew from other walks in the cemetery that if I sat on this bench long enough, the family of chipmunks living under the granite base of the tombstone next to it would soon get the nerve to come out. I’m not sure how many live below since there is a constant flow out of the hole, in the hole, back out, two of them now, no wait three, all gone, no here they come again. Once I had four in sight as they scrambled over each other like kittens, paused, then dashed back under the granite, tails in the air. All of these animals today reminded me of the many, many times as a kid that we took in abandoned animals brought to us by well-meaning people.

Our house was always full of animals. Not just the cats and dogs we had, but baby birds, baby rabbits, and even a lizard with three legs someone brought in case we could help it. I currently live in a third floor condo so a pet of any kind is almost out of the question, but something as simple as an afternoon watching rabbits, foxes, and chipmunks can sometimes fill the void.

As a chipmunk bounded from the hole and headed towards a crepe myrtle, a plump robin landed beside me on the back of the bench. I instantly thought of Ben, the name Mama gave to a baby robin someone brought to our house years ago. Mama was usually pretty exasperated by the number of animals I kept, but for some reason she took over caring for Ben the instant he showed up in the bottom of a shoe box. He was just a chunky, fuzzy blob the day he arrived, but in no time Mama had him fat and feathered.

We had a huge screened porch where Mama kept Ben, so he was able to fly as he grew. Ben was satisfied to stay on the screened porch and land on the arms of neighbors who came to visit. People would always ask Mama, “Doesn’t he go to the bathroom on you?”

“Ben would never do that.” Mama always said.

As weeks passed and summer went by, Ben became an adult and began acting interested in other robins in the yard. Mama worried about it, but not wanting to hold him back, she decided she would let him go out to see what he would do.

He flew away.

In an hour he was back. Mama tapped on a can, something she’d done each time she’d fed him, and he flew back to the screened porch. He spent the night there but the next day the pattern repeated: Free to fly in the yard all day, sit on the gutter over the back door which was now favorite spot, then back to the screened porch at night. After a few days of this, Ben no longer returned to the screened porch at night but still spent a lot of time on the gutter over the back door.

“He’s going to sit up there and go to the bathroom on you.” Daddy would say to Mama as he laughed.

“Ben would never do that.” she maintained.

Mama would tap on the can, Ben would fly from the gutter to the porch railing to be fed, then off to the yard somewhere to socialize with his own kind. This new pattern continued for a few more days then we stopped seeing Ben waiting on the gutter. As weeks went by we saw the occasional robin on the gutter, or one in the yard that didn’t seem particularly afraid, but robins never really do. As fall and then winter came the robins disappeared and we wondered if Ben had adjusted well enough to leave with them. We hoped he could survive.

We thought about Ben often during the winter.  As spring came, the more robins that showed up the more we talked about him. One late spring morning I went outside to see a robin on the gutter above the back door. It didn’t fly away. I called Mama who hurried and started talking to the bird. It cocked its head at her but made no effort to move. She stepped inside, grabbed a can from the recycling bin, and came back. As she tapped the can the robin cocked its head again. When Mama tapped a second time, the robin flew down from the gutter to sit on the railing.

“Hi Ben.” Mama said. The robin sat still as she talked. “Hi Ben.” she said again. The robin cocked its head once more and actually hopped along the railing towards Mama. It sat still, staring at her. Then, in a flutter of wings it flew away over the pine trees and was gone. If it was Ben, we never saw him again that we know of. Mama still talks about Ben to this day.

As I sat on that bench in the cemetery remembering Ben and the many, many animals we took care of for short periods of time, I felt a little wistful. There’s a feeling we animal lovers get from having them around, the interaction, the bonding, and the comedy they can provide. There was a feeling of melancholy that came over me remembering Mama’s success with Ben and how I really do think that was him who came back for a visit the next spring.

Feeling full of nostalgia, I turned to the plump robin still sitting on the bench beside me.

“Hi Ben.” I said.

The robin cocked its head at me and just before flying off, it unceremoniously went to the bathroom down the back of the bench.

Ben would never have done that.

Stuart M. Perkins

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