“There will be no pets in house!”
Thus was the mandate from on high. Even though we lived out “in the country”, there were to be no pets inside the house … and to this point my parents held firm, at least throughout my entire childhood.
The early years, back when the house was first being built and after first moving in, everything was just too busy, no pets at all … and honestly, I don’t recall wanting one early on. I believe I breathed in one too many black flies back then. Let’s face it, our backyard, especially in the early days, was just a wildlife refuge for pests … bees, black flies, deer flies, horse flies, wasps, hornets, mosquitoes … you name it. They even had some damn dragonflies. The point being, pets weren’t on my radar.
The first time I recalled wanting a pet, it was a black kitten. From whom I got it, I don’t remember. All I can recall is an adult figure had asked me if I wanted a kitten. I could remember asking my mother if we could get a cat … probably at the dinner table … “No. No cats.” Short, direct and to the point. This was going nowhere, so I change strategy immediately. I left the kitchen, walked out in the garage.
“Gary … hand me that hammer over there … hurry up”
I go over and grab the hammer from the toolbox and bring it back to him. The garage overhead door is opened and he’s working on a tractor motor. Motor parts are all over floor, WD-40 cans off to the side, hands covered in grease, cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
“Dad … ”
“ … Well, don’t just stand there, hand it to me and grab hold of the other end of this. I need an extra set of hands.”
I move over to the mower, hand him the hammer and grab the two wires. My dad raises his right knee to prop a foot on the motor. He grabs the pull cord and it sticks ….
“I was wondering what you’d think about …. “
He reaches down and pulls again …
“… having a pet around the … “
The coil gives way, turns, and I get sparked through the wires I’m holding onto. Side note to the readers, I believe this may have been the root to that fashionable cowlick I sported in my younger days. I don’t know all the science, just saying. I can’t ever remember having a cowlick before that time …. That’s all.
My eyes grew big and I dropped the wires, wondering what the hell was happening. I just sort of stood there stunned. I look up into my father’s face and he’s laughing. He’s laughing so hard that tears are coming out of his eyes.
“…. What? Just hold onto those wires, it’s not going to kill ya … I want to see if this thing’s getting spark ..“
“Yeah dad … it’s getting spark. I’m not going to grab that again. About the … “
“No pets.” No more smile either.
So, the next day, I get on the school bus, I return to the woman, whose name and location I no longer remember, and I say, “Yes. My parents said that it would be all right with them if a have a kitten. The black one please.” She said something, I said something and I’m provided one black kitten, in a small box, a little blanket, air holes in the box top. I carry it and my books onto the school bus ….
Bringing the kitten home on the school bus I remember. I remember because just as the school bus door closed and it started to pull away, her voice was coming from house.
“Gary Michael … what’s in the box?”
I start walking down the driveway toward the house. “Nothing … “ My head is down and I’m trying to make sure the top doesn’t flop open. I look up and there’s my mother … one hand leaning on the front door. A dish towel slung over her shoulder.
“… That damn well better not be what I think it is! If it is, it can go right back!”
The kitten, remaining in its tiny 4×4 box, spent one night. The following day, the kitten and myself were rounded up into the car to see the woman who gave me a kitten. But the seed had been planted.
This brings us to the period in time that I like to refer to as the Comins Family Series of Unfortunate Animal Events. For some reason, that winter seemed very cold and there was an abundance of feral cats around. My grandfather, Nelson, had a barn cat that my grandmother would allow us to feed … outside … when our family visited after church.
One day I remember going out to the car after a late Sunday morning visit and it was cold. My father slides in the driver’s side of the car and starts it up … It was a green Plymouth wagon, the car that would be destined to be my first vehicle several years later. Anyway, it starts and there’s a big thud and it stalls. My father turns the key again. It starts to turn and stops … starts and stops. So he pulls the hood release to check it out and the inside walls of the vehicle are covered with cat parts. He must have crawled into the motor for warmth and ended up into the engine’s fan.
We get back to the house and few days later, we see a stray starting to hang out on the front porch.
“Mom … can we keep it?”
“No … You’re not going keep that damn thing. Who knows where it’s been. Don’t even touch it. Keith …. Gary, I said don’t even touch it! Keith …. What the hell’s wrong with you … don’t you listen when I speak to you … Keith get this damn cat off the porch.”
I tried to sneak him out some food from time to time, but not in direct eye contact with my mother. Still, try as she might, every morning that cat was sleeping on the chair on the front porch. Eventually, my mother wore down and slipped her a little something, but that cat was not coming in the house. One night the temperature was dropping and I pleaded for the cat …. I mean not actually down on my knees, hands clenched and speaking in sobs kinds of way, but more like …. “Mom, I think that cat is going to freeze.”
“It’s an outdoors cat. That’s why they call it an outdoor cat … because it lives outdoors.”
But then the Catholic kicked in … “Alright, throw him out that old torn up blanket in the bottom of the closet. That will keep in him warm.”
Morning came. My sister and I get dressed for school, opened the front door and there’s the cat. Frozen solid. I touched him and he was hard as a rock. I could pick him up by his tail and he remained frozen in place … like a New York City street mime.
Of course commotion ensued which ended with my mother saying, “Well, she was probably a pretty old cat and just died in the night. Now throw that thing over the bank.” Yup … old. That was it. Nothing at all to do with the icicles hanging from its paws. Just old age.
Over the bank. In the country, that was where all the crap went …. Over the bank. If it could burn, it was burned. Tires, leaves, garbage … it makes me feel a little guilty now, but that’s just how it was in the country back then.
Anyway. Over the bank I went, swinging the cat around by its tail, still amazed that it retained its shape no matter how I tossed it up, caught it and tossed it again. My sister, tattling to my mother through the screen door, “He’s playing with it. Mom, Gary’s playing with the cat.”
“Gaaarrryyy …. Gary Michael, you better not miss that bus. I’m not driving you. You can walk to school. Now toss that damn thing and get your ass over here!”
So I tossed it … by a huge dead goliath tree … over the bank.
Easter morning arrives and my parents ask my sister and I to get something out of the garage. Garage door is down, cars are outside, in the center of the floor is a box, a blanket stuffed inside, a heat lamp over the box and about half a dozen baby chicks. They are instantly our focus for the day. We check on them that night, lights are on, everyone’s nestled in … off to bed.
The next morning … it was like a scene from the Night of the Living Chicklets. We opened the garage door and the light had gone out … both literally and figuratively for the chicklets. Strewn across the garage floor were chicklet carcasses ….. all lying on their backs, feet raised straight up into the air. A mass murder site!
My sister began crying and I could hear my mother from the kitchen. “Chickens weren’t meant to be pets anyway. Gary Michael …. throw them over the bank.”
Skunks, raccoons, you name it … they met their fate and over the bank. This goes on and on until finally my sister and I are surprised with a dog. A male Siberian Huskie. I can emphasize male because that dog would aggressively hump anything within eyeshot. The first night, a blanket and the garage.
Now mind you, by this point, I am pleading to let the puppy inside the house. The holey blanket and the garage had already been proven to be a death sentence. Our house was becoming the live version of the board game clue. It was Miss Plum in the garage with the cold air. No, no. It was Colonel Mustard with the .22 and skunk by the shed.
“No pets in the house. He’ll be just fine in the garage. He’s a husky, they’re used to cold weather. They pull dog sleds in Alaska for God’s sake …. “
The next morning … I throw on my clothes … run through the kitchen … swing open the doors … and tears began to flood my eyes. “He’s …. alive! Mom …. Dad! He’s alive!”
My mother … “He’s not gonna be alive for long if he keeps barking like that all night. All night long he whined and whined …. “
“That’s because he wanted to come in the house …. “
“No pets in the house! Animals pee all over the floors and you’ll never get the smell out. No!”
Within days, construction on the new doghouse was well under way. My father made a pretty nice house: rolled roofing on the top, holey blanket inside, door flap … better than respectable for the elements. Then a lead was run from the side of the house way down into the back yard … the home positioned at the top of the hill. Don’t think for one moment that I wasn’t aware of how close the dog house was positioned in relationship to “the bank”. I was sitting outside next to the dog house with Skipper and I could see my mother through the bathroom window screen … watching me. Although there were no words spoken, it was eerie her always keeping an eye on me and I could imagine the words she was saying to herself …. I’ll get you and your little dog too!
Skipper lasted a little while. He was just wild. Maybe he sensed the old lady in the bathroom window … just watching him … waiting for him to slip up. And he gave cause. He would run down to the end of the lead … tear ass up the hill as fast as he could until either the rope or his collar snapped. When he reached the end of the lead, his whole ass end would swing out in front of him as his collar remained taut, stretched to the maximum distance from the tree. He would do this again and again until he was loose and running wild.
We went through all kinds of different thickness of rope, then the line was changed to wire and a metal link chain was used. He even broke a few of them. Eventually, that poor thing looked like a prisoner from Les Miserables. Of course, when he got off the chain, he did what any other male of species would do … chasing and humping anything that moved. Eventually this turned to nipping and biting and … although not with us kids … Skipper had started to go after kids walking down the road.
One day we got home from school and “Skipper had run away.” A few days later and “Skipper been hit by a car.” In all reality, it was probably more likely Skipper found out that he was not faster than a speeding bullet. Whatever happened that day, Skipper was never to be seen again, although I had a sneaky suspicion that I might find some portion of the truth over the bank.
We didn’t have another pet at the Comins house until after I moved away.
Today, we would have to paint a completely different picture. The most current dog, Buster, is completely a 100% house dog. Not only allowed in the house, but on the furniture and even in the bedroom! Buster will also be picked up and set on the kitchen table! He’s half an IQ point away from filling in at poker, he sits on my father’s lap so much.
You can hear my mother say things like … “Keith, did you give Buster his ice cream tonight?” That’s right. Nightly ice cream. Table food … pets during my time at the Comins’ homestead would sing and dance like cast members of Oliver for just a table scrap!
Alright, so you’re thinking that was a different time back and then … and I would agree. Everyone with cable has now logged a few hours of the Dog Whisperer under our belts at one point or another. Maybe we’ve binged viewed an Animal Planet marathon on a holiday … We’ve evolved and so forth.
But my parents now dress Buster up. Yes, he has doggie clothes for all seasons. Even a few Halloween costumes thrown into the arsenal for good measure. Alright … still you’re saying to yourself. Gary, yeah it’s out there, but a lot of people dress their dogs.
How about this, my father has fabricated a little side car off of the tractor so the dog can ride with him while he mows the lawn and putters around the yard. The dog will actually wait for my father on the golf carts so they can go for their daily ride.
The Goliath tree has been cut down and the bank has been bulldozed, leveled and seeded but under that hallowed ground, there are many animals that complain at night about Buster being the luckiest animal they’ve ever seen!