Friday, February 13, 2009
All creatures great and small - a celebration
Hot on the heels of my rather jaded post on "lurve" comes a Friday Five which invites us to celebrate the unconditional loving companionship of those animals who add so much to our lives. I was baptised on St Francis day, I would really struggle with a home that did not include at least one beloved animal, - so this is the perfect antiValentine's celebration for me.
Sophia writes My son's tiny beloved lizard, Elf, is looking and acting strange this week. His skin/scales are quite dark, and he is lethargic. We are adding vitamin drops to his lettuce and spinach and hoping and praying that he is just getting ready to shed his skin--but it's too soon to tell. Others in the ring have also been worried about beloved pets this week. And, in the saddest news of all, Songbird has had to bid farewell to her precious Molly, the amazing dog who is well known to readers of her blog as a constant sacrament of God's unconditional love.
So in memory of Molly, and in honor of all the beloved animal companions who bless our lives: tell us about the five most memorable pets you have known.
I was the sort of child that really REALLY needed a pet. My earliest memories of trips to the corner shop with my mother involve the dogs that I stopped to pet...A slightly timid child, I would always find the courage to ask complete strangers
"Does your dog like being stroked" and an affirmative answer would delay our progress for hours if I had my way. Things came to a head when, shortly after I started school, I attempted to unleash a black cocker spaniel who was tethered outside the newsagents, on the basis that clearly he wasn't wanted by his owner if she was willing to leave him outside...and I was so very ready to tell the world that he was mine, all mine.
A serious conversation with my father followed, and with it the promise that when I was six (SIX) I might just be old enough to have a dog of my very own.
Endless months crept past...My 5th birthday was marked with chicken pox, which was just as well as I was thoroughly miserable anyway. I had so hoped that my parents might relent and allow us to hurry things by just one year...but finally the day came when a parcel at the birthday breakfast table contained a small yellow collar and lead, and I knew that parents did, after all, keep their promises. Robin, a liver and white springer spaniel, came into our lives a few weeks later and was all that I had dreamed and more. He adored me and my father in equal measure...was constantly ready to share in whatever I was doing...took a leading (if non speaking) role in all the historical dramas which filled my childhood games (did YOU know that Mary Queen of Scots had a springer with her when she went to her death? Well, she did...honestly) and provided the perfect excuse for long Sunday afternoon walks with my father.
As a gun dog by breeding he was devoted to all the wettest and muddiest pools...and Daddy used to spend long hours combing out his tangles and dealing with the periodic infections that troubled those floppy ears. When I think of my father, it tends to be with Robin at his heels - for the dog was never sure which of us he loved best, and his death during the scorching summer of 1976 marked the beginning of the end of my childhood. The cancer that claimed my father began to show itself that same year...
After Robin's death and that of my parents I was a student, a nomad, clearly an unsuitable person to own a pet...I took a hamster called Antigone with me to Cambridge (necessitating, I was told, a special change in the college statutes, which had hitherto permitted only the Master's cat and Byron's bear)...which made her pretty memorable for her short life.
Next came Gerontius, (Grimble) the tabby kitten that shared my post grad lodgings in Durham, accompanied me to London and was part of the early years of married life. He was my first cat (Daddy had been a bird-lover, so pleas for a kitten fell on deaf ears) and I loved the novelty of a pet who claimed my bed as his right, who would be companionable on his terms, and who (atypically) seemed as happy as any dog to come out for the evening with me, attending all sorts of student suppers and, once, accompanying me to the pub of his own accord. When we were planning our move from London, he suddenly and abruptly disappeared. Frantic searching and enquiries finally revealed that, since the advent of Hattie Gandhi, he had been a frequent guest at our neighbour's house. As we were moving to a building site, and he was by then 10 years old, we accepted her offer of a new home for him...He would have enjoyed country life hugely, but not the disruption of a house filled with chaos for the next two years.
The departure of the builders and our rooting process at Lower Farmhouse involved a whole host of pets through the years. Cats, rabbits (oh Heather, the lop eared bun...you really were a treasure), hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs...the lot. All were loved. All contributed to our family life and I could name and describe each of them had you but world enough and time to listen...
But five it is...so next has to come Maisie.
It's my suspicion that each of us has one particular pet who, no matter how much we love the others, is The Best Dog Ever. For me, that was Maisie...A rescue terrier with a curly coat, an endlessly loving nature (her first reaction on meeting anyone was to lie down in order to encourage the rubbing of her tum) and an endearing habit of trying to walk on her hind legs, in a way that rather resembled a meerkat. She acted as nanny to the Dufflepud, sleeping beside his Moses basket or pram in the early days...She taught nervous visiting children that dogs could be friends...She attended church regularly, and loved and was loved by all the old ladies in the congregation. She was, I suspect, my Molly and her death through kidney failure in December 2003 was probably the beginning of the end of childhood for my teens, just as Robin's death had marked the end of mine twenty five years earlier.
Meanwhile my children were growing into teenagers, and horsey ones at that - so number five must be Nipper, the pony who saw the Dufflepud through the transition from primary to secondary school, who took him safely round the Cotswold countryside (and allowed me to follow, recalling those childhood walks with Robin and Daddy), kept him safe in all sorts of unlikely adventures but had most assuredly a wicked sense of humour all her own. She didn't turn a hair in thunder storms, allowed the big scary rubbish cart to pass her with only a quizzical glance, and in one "Family pony" class at a local show astounded the judges by allowing her rider to pull on a rustling nylon kagoul while riding along...coping with the combined excitements of no hands on the reins, the noise of the showground (where motorbike scrambling was going on in an adjacent ring) and Maisie trotting along beside her with no more anxiety than a bored commuter in rush hour. She was the sort of pony that every horse mad child dreams of, ...the one I would have loved for myself or for Hattie Gandhi...and I'm so glad that for 4 years she was part of our our lives, before moving on to teach another family how to ride.
All those lovely animals...Haven't I been blessed! And, though they are, thankfully, not yet the stuff of memories, I must also celebrate the animals who share the vicarage today...Teddy, the three legged pirate cat, Tallis the magnificat (left) , his fluffily handsome nephew, Mufti the gentle Australian terrier bitch and, of course, the irrepressible Libby.
I have friends, good friends, who cannot understand why I complicate my life so by the addition of so many animals, but for me, they are the greatest joy. I happily look forward to a batty old age spent chatting away to my cats! If I'm not too decrepit for at least a little dog, my joy will be complete.