Not counting the occasional stay over or short termer, we have here at westsound modern thirty-five animals (not including our two teenage boys) that depend on us for their daily care. For this I blame my father.
When I was four years old he brought home an hours old fawn orphaned when a doe had a fatal run in with an enormous steel and burled walnut 1953 Humber Super Snipe limousine that my father insisted, despite my mothers desperate objections, was a reliable and reasonable mode of transportation for a new family with two toddlers. Upon getting out of the car to inspect his crumpled fender he found the young buck, barely yet walking, hiding in the roadside brush. Knowing that he wouldn’t survive the night alone at such a young age, he scooped the tiny deer up and placed it onto the back seat of the massive English vehicle. He made the trip back to our rural Washington home wondering just how he was going fit surrogate motherhood of this wild four-legged beast around his tight schedule as a newly minted mechanical engineer at The Boeing Company.
Of course this duty didn’t end up falling to him. Instead, like most duties confined to the household arena in early 1960’s America, it fell into my mother’s lap who I assume felt more naturally gifted in this area. After a time of observing the fawns traits of innocent play alternating with bouts of intense false bravado, they named the deer Falstaff in honor of Shakespeare’s lovably buffoonish character. This scenario repeated itself a number of times in the two or three years that we lived in the rural cabin on the Cedar River. First with the young fawn which shadowed my sister and I for nearly a year, assuming we were its litter mates until succumbing to the call of the wild it wandered off one morning never to be seen again. Then with a fierce and very intimidating Great Horned Owl with a broken wing. I’m still not sure how dad managed to get a splint on that wing without losing an ear or an eye. Next was a de-scented skunk named Petunia whose best hours were between 2:00 and 4:00 AM when she would release herself on her own recognizance from her cage and mount a nightly full frontal attack on the cupboard housing our collection of pots and pans. A pair of common gophers named Chip and Dale acquired from a neighbor who not being able to bear the thought of killing the varmints that had been wreaking havoc in her vegetable garden, live trapped them and wordlessly presented them to us one evening. They did nothing special really. Unless acting like a gopher is special. Then there was Duke, an unwanted Bassett Hound that exuded some sort of oily petro-chemical like substance from every pore of his body that rendered anything he came even briefly into contact with slick as goose shit and almost as smelly. After a time he became unwanted by us as well so we gave him a good bath with a grease cutting dish-washing detergent and pawned him off on an unsuspecting neighbor. By the time Dukes oil glands had reactivated, my father had been offered a new position with Boeing at California’s Vandenberg AFB and we were gone before they could return the smelly pooch. I hope it all turned out well with them although as I recall the neighbor’s house was decked out in wall to wall white carpet with the furniture upholstered in some kind of cream colored fine silk like fabric.
My fathers promotion demanded a home better suited to his newly acquired status and we found ourselves in a fine new home in the foothills of Santa Barbara. While still a relatively rural area, the homes were large and the lots small and our new suburban neighbors seemed unlikely to be the types who would appreciate the sight of a deer or a gimpy owl traipsing through our easily viewed from the street living room, or of a skunk sneaking through a doggie door to perform a late night percussion session on their kitchen ware. Our days of collecting stray misfits had come to an end in the interests of dads career advancement.
As the years rolled by we would adopt and raise the occasional dog or cat as is customary in suburban America, and though I retained the memory of our days on the Cedar River and our menagerie, it was becoming a memory of the vestigial sort as I entered young adulthood. I now lived in the city and a dog or cat seemed too much responsibility for the young urban dude I fancied myself at the time. As I approached my forties still single I was happily solitary, seeing no pressing need for wife, kids or pets. As fate would have it I was soon to meet someone who had different ideas on all three fronts.
It’s been half a century since the days when my father would pile some wayward critter into the back seat of his British behemoth and bring them home to meet the family. After turning my back on this birth right for much of my adult life, it has come back in spades and I find that I am pursuing the passion of my father, a passion that he had given up as impractical those many years ago. I’ve heard it said that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I believe that this is true although sometimes it takes awhile for the apple to find the ground. Earlier I said that I blamed my father for this. What I meant to say was thank you. And thank you to that someone with different ideas who has now been my wife of fifteen years for reminding me of it.