Monday, March 26, 2012

PET CEMETERY

It was a blustery Sunday in early June. I had just turned 10, finishing the fourth grade, (I hoped) and all was well in the world . . . at least in my world . . . or so I thought. As the school year was winding down, I was looking forward to a two month vacation to Britain and Europe with my parents and my brother Dave. The lilacs had finished blooming and were beginning to turn brown. Gardens were in full growth in the neighborhood. The days were long, the nights short and it felt good to be alive.

That Sunday my brother and I took our usual places in the back seat of the red Ford Falcon and off we went to church. As we passed the Three Hills hospital on our way east out of town, I spied what appeared to be a dead rabbit in the center of the road. Its coat not fully turned from the snowy white of winter, it lay lifeless on the black asphalt. I pointed the roadkill out to the family, Dad avoided the carcass and we continued on our way.

Pets played a very important role in our home when I was growing up. Both of our parents realized the importance of animals and went above and beyond the call of duty to indulge our whims for various creatures. I have often quoted the saying, "watch how a person treats an animal and I will know a lot about their character". While I realize that there are exceptions, this has proven itself to be true many times in my observation. Neither Mom nor Dad grew up with pets and Mom was not a big fan of most of them, even on a good day! At any given time, we had turtles, fish of every description - goldfish, guppies, sword tails, angel fish, cats, dogs and rabbits. We even tried to keep minnows alive that we had caught in Pine Lake. This doesn't count the creatures we brought home like salamanders, butterflies, bees, beetles and anything else that moved that we could stuff into a box or jar.

As we were leaving the parking lot after church, Dad pulled the car over to the side of the road."Boys", he said. "I have some very sad news to tell you." Dave and I sat in the back of the car wondering what on earth could be so life shattering that Dad needed to tell us right then and there. He continued, "You know that dead animal we saw this morning on the way out of town?" "You mean the rabbit?" I said. Dad paused, "I don't think that was a rabbit," he said. "I am quite sure that is Blue Eyes." We sat there in shock. Blue Eyes was our very favorite Siamese cat. Ever the optimist, I declared, "I don't think so." I knew that the rabbit coats were still changing from white to the brown of summer and thought for sure that's what it was.

Mom chimed in, "We really hope it isn't, boys, but Dad and I felt we should tell you before we went home. He didn't pull over and check this morning, because he didn't want you to be upset all through church." We were speechless . . . Dad slowly pulled the car back out on the road and we continued back to town. That five miles was stone silent. They seemed to take forever. As we approached the spot on the road, Dad pulled over and got out of the car. He walked over to the carcass lying on the road and lifted it up. He was right, it was Blue Eyes. Dad gently placed the lifeless little body into the trunk. Opening the car door, he told us how sorry he was for our loss.

Siamese cats have gotten a bad reputation in certain circles and in come cases, rightly so. They can be territorial and temperamental and have been known to attack on occasion. They can also be extremely smart and loyal. Ours was the latter. We boys bonded with Blue Eyes. He could open the door of our bedroom at night by getting one paw underneath, and shaking it until it opened. He would then jump up on one of our beds. We received Blue Eyes as a small kitten from Doctor Paulsen, the local optometrist. At the same time, my friend Stan Kirk and his family acquired male and female kittens that they named Ahab and Jezebel. Our name was not nearly as creative, but Blue Eyes was intelligent and affectionate and we loved our cat. He even had his 15 minutes of fame, starring with my brother Dave on the cover of the school's magazine, Young Pilot. Not quite Rolling Stone, but it was a start!



This was the first time that either of us had dealt with any serious loss. For those of you who have loved a pet and lost it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. We did lose two box turtles when I was about 5 and Dave, 3. Dad brought them home and we decided the was no better thing to do than to hold a turtle race. Taking them outside and placing them on the same line on the sidewalk, we waited for the action to begin. On your marks, get set, go!  . . . nothing. The turtles didn't move an inch. In fact they didn't even stick their heads out for a look around the neighborhood. We were so disappointed. Then, all of a sudden one of them poked its head out of the shell and slowly began to inch forward. We got so excited we began jumping up and down, screaming and laughing. Unfortunately for the turtles, neither of us were very good dancers even then and our clumsy steps resulted in our little shoes making contact with the turtles and they came to a sad demise. But our beautiful Siamese cat? That was something altogether different.

Over lunch, we decided that the dignified thing to do was to give our beloved Blue Eyes a proper burial. The four of us gathered out in the ditch, about 60 feet from our front yard at 102 Prairie Crescent.  By now Dad had put the body in a cardboard box. He dug a hole, put the small casket in and covered it over with dirt. Dave and I cut some beautiful pink peonies from one of Mom's favorite bushes, and placed them on the little mound of dirt. We put a small stake on the grave with a little placard that simply said, "BLUE EYES".We stood in that grassy ditch in the wind and rain, we boys in our little yellow raincoats, Mom holding her blue umbrella, trying to come to terms with our grief.

I took my place in class that Monday morning a little worse for the wear. After the events of Sunday, I hadn't slept very well.  Just before class started, a boy who sat in front of me made a very loud proclamation. "Yesterday when we were driving out of town, a cat ran out in front of our car. My Dad hates cats, so he sped up and hit it. He killed the cat!" This was all said triumphantly, almost like someone was announcing a battle victory. I couldn't believe my ears. A light bulb went on in my head as I had never realized that there were adults who held such disdain for animals. Choking back tears, I sat at my desk in stunned silence. I didn't have the emotional fortitude or the words to say anything to this boy. So I said nothing. Not at recess. Not even after school. Actually, not ever.

I ran home at lunch and blurted out the whole story. I had found the murderer of our cat. I wanted Dad to do something. While both Dad and Mom were extremely sympathetic towards us, Dad wisely counseled that there was very little he could do. The man could very easily say it was an accident and there was no way of proving his son's rendition of the story. Dad said if the man did do it on purpose, we would both need to work at forgiving him and suggested maybe we could pray that in the future he would be kinder to animals. (I am still working on the forgiveness part!)

Enjoy your pets. Appreciate them. Be kind. Care for them. If you don't have a pet, consider it . . .

Maybe don't start with a turtle.

www.prairieboy.com

© 2012 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.



My brother Dave with Blue Eyes our favorite Siamese cat.

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