in Personal History


I grew up around animals.

Two dogs, the names of which I do not remember
When we first moved into the trailer house, we had two dogs, possibly labs. Perhaps their names were Prince and Lady? In any event, Dad shot them for some reason before I was very old. Mom cried.
Chickens, which had no names
When I was young, before the age of five, we kept chickens. We had chicken coops and roosters and collected eggs, etc. Then one day, Uncle Norman’s family came over and they tore the heads off the chickens and plucked them and we had chicken to eat for some time thereafter. (One of Dad’s favorite stories to tell, even up until the month he died, was how the butchering of the chickens caused me to wail and wail. When he came to comfort me I sobbed, “Daddy, you’re not going to tear off my head, are you?”) (Also: I remember Dad bringing home the baby chicks. Jeff and I greeted him at the front door of the trailer house and he showed us the box full of chicks. Jeff loved them. He wanted to hold one, but when he did, he nearly squeezed the thing to death (did he kill it?). He cried and cried, and Mom said, “What do you expect? He’s only two years old.”)
Rabbits, which did have names that I do not remember
The chicken coops became rabbit hutches. Dad bought several rabbits and he entrusted their care to two young boys, barely in grade school. This worked fine during the fall, but when winter came, the boys’ diligence waned. The rabbits, hungry, gnawed free of the cages and subsequently froze to death, starving, in the fields near the house. We received no end of grief for this, though I’ll bet that in some measure Dad’s anger was self-reproachment for not having cared for the rabbits himself.
A goat (Billy?)
We had a goat. Jeff does not remember it, and I remember very little. What I do remember is this: it scared the shit out of me. I must have been five years old, and the goat was bigger than I was, and terribly aggressive. If I was in back, in the goat’s territory, it would charge me and butt me with its head. Hell: it would butt me with its head no matter where I was. I remember standing on the back steps, screaming, unable to open the door because the damn goat was butting me, butting me, butting me. I hated that thing.
Wilma the Pig
After the chickens, after the rabbits, after the goat, we raised Wilma the Pig. She was a good pig, I guess, as far as pigs go. She started small but got bigger. She was always noisy and stinky and ornery. Did we eat her or did we sell her? I don’t recall.
Uncle Norman had too many cats, thus we ended up with Kitty. We must have been very young still when we got her because:

  1. We named her Kitty, and
  2. I remember Mom and Dad scolding us for not behaving well around her.

Kitty was a great cat and she bore many kittens. Here descendants roam the countryside to this day. Even Toto may be related to her.

Batman, Wonderman, Batgirl, et. al.
Kitty’s progeny. Our cats suffered through a series of unfortunate names, as might be expected when the naming is being done by small boys during the 1970s.
Charlie was a big, slobbery, shambling mound of a dog, a Saint Bernard, Jeff’s closest friend. Jeff was five or six when we got Charlie, and the two formed a close bond. I can remember a night in what must have been the Winter of 1978-1979, snow falling fast and furious, playing soccer with Jeff and Charlie in several inches of snow on the ground. Batman and Charlie were best friends: Charlie would curl up on the front porch, and the cat would snuggle on top of him and they would sleep together for hours on end. Charlie developed arthritis and had to be put down.
When Charlie had to be put down, Jeff was broken up. Charlie was his friend. To console him, my parents brought home Husky. Husky was but a puppy, and not even that for very long. I was in the car with Mom, and we were backing out of the driveway, when we ran over what seemed to be a log. A log that yelped. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was an early introduction to natural selection.
Flint didn’t have a problem with cars. He was just a jerk. I don’t remember much else about him except for after we got…
Smokey was a black lab. He was a bouncing bundle of enthusiasm, not a bad dog for kids in fourth or fifth grade. However, he and Flint could not agree on who was boss. They fought. When they fought, Jeff cried. Flint was a jerk, but he loved him. Once he tried to break up a fight, which made Dad furious with him. Ultimately, Flint left and Smokey stayed.
Indiana, Marion, Robert, and friends
When I was in sixth grade, we got a batch of kittens from someplace. They lived in the wood shed and they scrabbled around, climbing the woodpiles, doing kittenish things. They were cute. We loved them. Unfortunately, Smokey loved them, too. One by one, he loved them to death. Over the course of several weeks, we found each of them, covered with slobber, heads torn off. To this day I’m traumatized by the memory of Smokey tossing snow-white Robert into the air over and over and over again while I begged him to stop until it no longer mattered. (Robert, by the way, was named for a character in General Hospital. I was a huge General Hospital fan when I was in the sixth grade.)
Amanda was my dog, a loving medium-sized animal that I named after a character in The Bad News Bears. She wasn’t a great dog. She barked and barked and barked. In the country, the barking doesn’t bother the neighbors, it bothers you. Eventually I sold her to my father for five dollars (which I probably used to buy comic books) and he took her away. He never let me live that down: selling something that I ostensibly loved for a mere five dollars. What can I say? The Fantastic Four and the X-Men were more important to me in 1983 than a stupid barking dog. Come to think of it, they still are today.
We had Charlie for several years, but then we went through a rapid succession of dogs until we got Fuzzy. Fuzzy was a smallish mongrel, very cute, eager and playful. Did we have him when I was in junior high? I don’t recall. We loved him equally, I think, and he loved us. One Sunday, Tony had Ron Kropf over. The rest of us were gone someplace, so when Tony and Ron found the keys to the car, they decided to practice driving around and around the driveway. Fuzzy did not survive the experience.
After Fuzzy’s death, we got another small dog. Hairy, a smelly Shih Tzu, was more sedate than Fuzzy, but no less loving. He stunk, though, no matter what we did to try to help him. Jeff and Hairy had a close bond. During the early 90s, Custom Box Service employed a chubby Hispanic worker named George. He liked Hairy, so we gave him the dog when George’s time with us was over. Some time after, we heard that George and Hairy were still together.
Freddy was the first bird Dad bought during his bird-obsession phase. Freddy was a yellow-naped macaw, and vicious. I hated that fucking bird. His bite was painful. Jeff liked him, though, and they formed a bond. (In retrospect, it seems that Jeff was always forming bonds with the animals.) Also, for a bird, Freddy was stupid. I have nothing good to say about him, though Jeff might be able to relate a few stories in his favor.
Sammy, however, was a fine bird. He was a yellow-breasted Amazon parrot, and he was quite young when he came to live with us. I took it upon myself to improve his vocabulary. When I was finished with him, he could say “Superman!”, “I can talk, can you fly?”, “I’m a pretty chicken”, and many other such gems. We once counted his vocabulary at about one hundred words. (Dad’s favorite was when Sammy would shout, imitating us whiny kids: “Mom! Mom!”) My favorite Sammy story: There’s a huge window extending across one end of the trailer house upon which the curtains were usually down. One day, for some reason, the curtains were up. Sammy was at the other end of the trailer house, in this very room, I believe, when decided to go for a fly. He flew down the hallway, through the kitchen, into the living room, and smack into the window, falling like a stone to the ground (behind the couch). We were sure he was dead. We rushed to the couch and we looked behind and there was Sammy, stunned, struggling to his feet. He cocked his head and he looked at us and he said, “Hello.” “Hello.” “Hello.” As I’ve mentioned before, we traded Sammy to the local barber for one hundred haircuts, a not-inconsequential sum.
Gandalf was my bird, a parakeet, and the only animal I can ever remember loving as a child. Toto, my current cat, is Gandalf’s twin in temperament: petulant, opinionated, strong-willed. Gandalf took no shit from anyone. In fact, he and Freddy used to get in squawking and strutting matches for dominance. A tiny parakeet vying for dominance with a big, mean macaw? I tried to teach Gandalf to talk, but he never showed any interest. One day somebody left the window open in Mom and Dad’s bedroom and Gandalf flew away. I was heartbroken. Some time later (days? weeks?) I was outside and I swore to myself that I heard Gandalf’s chirp. I followed the noise to the Big Tree (a tree a few hundred yards from the house) and there was Gandalf, sitting on a branch with some finches. I don’t remember who managed to catch Gandalf, me or Dad, but he came back to live with us, but only for a short while. He developed a cold, and within two weeks I found him dead on the bottom of his cage.

There were other animals, of course—cats, dogs, and birds with names and personalities that I’ve long since forgotten. Mom had a cockatiel for a while. Gandalf had a little friend. We had a Basset Hound that we sold to Darren Misner’s family. Billy Cat, one of Kitty’s descendants, was one of our first shop cats, and Nick’s pal. Bandit was a cat that I wanted to love me, but which refused my overtures despite the fact that I spent many hours with hot dogs and bologna, trying to convince him of my charms.

And these are just the animals I knew before college!


On 20 March 2003 (02:25 PM),
Mom said:

No, the goat wasn’t named Billy, it was Jason. I can’t remember the reason right now. I can’t remember exactly when we got him but it would have been within the first year or two that we were in the trailer. (1972-3?) You would have been 3 or 4. He was such a stinker — I would leave the back door open on a hot day and he would run up inside the house and stand there in the hallway looking at me. I would chase him back out and he would run away, then as soon as I got busy doing something, would run back in again. I wasn’t getting much done chasing that goat out of the house! He was a nuisance in that sense but one day you were up on a bit of decking out behind the old woodshed that Steve had built up off the ground and he got up there and butted you off, and that’s when we decided we couldn’t have him around any more. We sold him to the Wrights in Needy, who had goats.

The dogs you are remembering were Sarah and Abraham, which we had at about the same time. We got them through an ad in the paper, I believe, and they were nice dogs except that they were so rambunctious that they were knocking you and Jeff down a lot, so we decided we couldn’t keep them. Rather than try to give them away, Uncle Norman talked Steve into killing them (which is what he did with dogs he didn’t want), with his assistance. They took Sarah and Abraham up here to Grandpa’s, out in the field, and Steve almost chickened out but since Uncle Norm was there, he felt he had to go ahead. He said it took all he had in him to shoot them, and that he would never do that again!

On 20 March 2003 (03:52 PM),
Scott said:

JD, Scott Smith here. You once told me you remember staying at my house for a short period while your parents were away. Do you remember the menagerie my father kept? When our families had contact through the Mormon Church, my father restricted his activities to St. Bernard dogs (about 20 at all times, he bred and showed the dogs all over the country) chickens and parrots (at one time we were up to about 30 including cockatoos, cockatils, mccaws, amazon greys, etc.) (this collection was later expanded into jungle cats (cougar, ocelot and others) rex rabbits, suffock sheep, arabian horses, ostrichs, emus and even a few goats). I wonder if our fathers ever went in on purchases or traded animals? I don’t know, but I will ask my father.

On 20 March 2003 (06:43 PM),
Mom said:

It’s interesting that Scott would mention his parents’ animals. We got Sammy from Scott’s father, Byron. We got him as a baby and I hand-fed him until he was big enough for regular bird seed.

On 21 March 2003 (08:44 AM),
Jeff said:

I have fuzzy memories of sitting on the floor in Scott’s kitchen eating iced graham crackers.

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