Saturday, January 3, 2009

Friends and Feathers

Years ago people seemed to pay more attention to what animals did and how they acted around people. Mother’s family had a dog named Bob that everyone called “Barker” because he did so much of it. Bob announced every event on the place and probably a few off the map. For some reason he took it upon himself to be Mother’s guardian. Children back then ran barefoot everywhere they went, so when Bob pulled on her bloomers to get Mother away from a small mud puddle, it was somewhat exasperating to her. When the rain dried up later, the puddle place was filled with broken glass. Bob was a pretty smart German Shepherd.

Ownership of animals has long been a thing of joy as well as anguish. Pets were not as common once as they are now because of the expense of feeding them. An animal more or less had to prove its worth. The cats that kept snakes and lizards out of the house or mice out of the barn had less trouble proving their worth, but a dog such as Bob was more than a companion. Dogs were guardians. Only one event could remove every pet in a neighborhood: rabies. During those times, few people knew that animals could be locked up to see if they showed any sign of rabies. No, if one animal had rabies, everyone destroyed their cats and dogs to protect their families. It was a harsh solution and caused considerable anguish for those who had the job of eliminating all those pets.

Not every animal kept by a family deserved any affection. Back when my mother was a freshman in high school, a tornado dispatched their facility for elimination out by the chicken shed. Granddad K was a hard working man who worked from “can ‘til can’t” and he did not have time to rebuild that important facility right then. Therefore, Mother and everyone else had to take a trip to the barn for their daily constitutional.

Now Mother was a flighty thing and always busy doing something outside, but for whatever the reason, she had picked up a total enemy in her mother’s old rooster. Each day when she made her trip to the barn, that sneaky rooster would chase her and flog her for all he was worth. One day Mother was carrying her baton—she was a drum major in the band—and when the rooster attacked, she wrapped his scrawny neck around that baton a couple of times. When she came back from the barn she announced to her mother, “Well, I killed your mean old rooster!”

World War II had created some strange situations, but one that mattered that day was the first aid class that Granny Connie had taken. She gave that silly rooster artificial resuscitation and brought it back to life. It lived long enough to attack Mother’s brother out at the barn. Uncle T did a thorough job of killing the rooster—removing its head completely—so Granny Connie couldn’t use her first aid class that time.

Not every feathered creature causes so much havoc. The parakeets and assorted pet birds that have flown through our lives have given us hours of pleasure and entertainment. But the screech owls out in the old water tower won’t win any awards from our family. These owls regularly catch rabbits, small cats, bats, and elephants to feed to the fledglings. Then they leave the residue on the ground under our elm tree. And their noise causes every dog in the neighborhood to bark early in the evening and in the wee hours of the morning. Blasted birds!

Growing up with a brother who had some strange pets, I learned to take a snake or possum from his hands and hold it until he wanted it back. No, I would not do it now, but back then I thought my brother was infallible. That proved to be totally untrue one summer when we were picking up water bottles from Granddad’s chicken houses. Earlier in the day I had nearly stepped on a colorful snake and screamed. Granny Connie told me it was just a milk snake. She was not the least bit concerned by it. So when my brother and I saw another smaller version of that snake, I told him I thought it was like that milk snake that Granny Connie said was harmless. We took it to the house later and showed it to our granddad. He told my brother to throw it on the ground, and he killed it. It was a copperhead. Rolling eyes and still getting the chills after all these years.

My brother still did not give up his love of snakes. He collected black snakes for some reason and had one he called Blackie. How original, right? He was sitting on the front porch swing playing with Blackie when Granddad called to him to help with something. Of course, he left the snake on the swing. Granny Connie had been cooking all morning and came outside to sit in the cool air on the porch swing. She put her arm up on the chain above the arm of the swing and screamed for all she was worth. After Granddad explained about her heart condition to my brother, he told him that snakes were off limits to him the rest of the summer. Oh, the joys of being a grandparent!

Sam the Pos’ Sam left an impression on our lives when we were young. Possums are definitely not good pets. They roam around after dark and get in the least acceptable places. One morning Dad opened his dresser drawer to get some clean underwear. Sam opened wide his mouth and hissed his displeasure. If Dad had not already needed clean underwear, he definitely would have after that display! Sam disappeared shortly after that episode.

No, I guess dogs and cats make the best pets for most active children. In our neighborhood we had SIX black dogs—none related. It was strange, but they all got along just fine when they were together. Then the boys got the idea of making a dog team out of them. Now these six dogs were NOT equally matched. The Mahaechek’s dog was short legged and stout. Benny’s dog was tall and skinny. George, Jim’s dog, was just happy to have a place to hang out and slobber on everyone. Tar Baby was a boss dog—about the size of a Cocker Spaniel and with the attitude of a Great Pyrenees. Anyway, all the dogs were roped to the wagon and one of the boys rode while the others tried to get the dogs to pull together. Someone should have taken time to explain to the dogs that they were all supposed to go the same direction and more or less at the same speed. It’s a good thing that wagon was made of good tough metal or it would have been in splinters. As it was, the boys were pretty disgusted with their efforts. They decided the only way they would get the dogs to go the same direction was to turn a cat loose in front of them, and I wouldn’t let them use my cat. Boys!

Boys always come up with some strange ideas. One time my brother and his friends decided to bring a bucket of tadpoles home so that they could raise frogs at home. But that is another story.

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