Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I Want Wednesday

Today would be my uncle's 72 birthday. He was very sad and ill when he died almost three years ago. But that's not how I want to remember him.

I want to remember him happy, and his pets made him happy. So here's a "10 on Tuesday" I wrote shortly after he died.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Ted. I think of you every day.

10 on Tuesday

My uncle loved pets. So today I'm remembering him by looking back on 10 that held his heart for a time.

1) Horseface. In Chicagoland in the late 1940s, cats were allowed to wander at night. They also weren't "fixed." These two unwise practices led to my uncle's first cat being called Horseface. Quite the Lothario, he cut a wide swath through the neighborhood and got into many fights over his many girl friends. Because he came home every morning with his face looking the worse for wear, my very young uncle christened him "Horseface," and it stuck. Today no one could remember this much-loved old fellow's original first name. He was "Horseface."

2) Dumbo. The unfortunate offspring of Horseface and Snoozer (my mother's calico). Because Horseface was such a randy dude, Snoozer was forever pregnant. My grandmother was a single working mother in the 1940s and trips to the vet were simply not in her budget. So, whenever Snoozer delivered a litter, she put the wee ones in a cigar box, drowned them in the laundry tub, and disposed of the unopened box in the alley. One kitten did not die and made his way out of the cigar box and back into the yard. Snoozer reclaimed her baby and protected him fiercely. The thing of it is, the time under water and in the cigar box did quite a bit of damage to unfortunate Dumbo. He looked odd -- with incredibly over-sized ears -- and he swayed when he walked. These special traits made both Snoozer and my young uncle treasure Dumbo all the more, and he survived to live a happy life.

3) Rover. A huge St. Bernard with a heart to match. Unfortunately, he also had jaws to match. He was very protective of my uncle and this got them both in trouble. While rough-housing, my uncle found himself at the bottom of a pile of kids. He called Rover to help. Rover did, lifting one of the children up with his teeth and removing him from the pile. The big dog didn't mean to hurt the kid, but then, didn't much care if that was the outcome, either. The boy's back looked as though he'd suffered a shark attack and his angry mother went to the police station and demanded Rover be put to sleep. It took all my grandmother's powers of persuasion to bring Rover home, alive and well, but never to be let off his leash.

4) Mr. McDuff. My uncle was very fond of this German Shepard, and was sad that the dog didn't return the affection. It had something to do with my teen-aged uncle first accidentally setting McDuff's tail on fire, then accidentally squishing the poor dog's tail under a rocking chair. McDuff learned to avoid him -- which, while sad, was probably wise.

5) Countless fish. Until recently, he always kept tropical fish and loved watching their lives unfold in a big aquarium. He gave both my kid sister and me guppies which we kept for a long time. And not that long ago he set my young nephew up with a fish tank. My nephew became terribly attached to one of his fish (christened "Hungry") and was inconsolable when he died. Hungry was not flushed but was buried in the back yard. This is the cornerstone of my nephew's relationship with his great-uncle.

6) Dog. A ginormous turtle who required more care than my uncle could give him. It was with a heavy heart that my uncle donated old Dog to the Morton Arboretum. That was about 30 years ago. It occurs to me today that Dog may still be happily paddling around out there. I hope so.

7) Corky. This little old terrier already belonged to my uncle's second wife when they married. His wife kept Corky relegated to the "mud room," not understanding that pets are members of the family. Since my uncle encouraged Corky to enjoy full use of the entire house, they became fast friends. My uncle had many photos of Corky sitting proudly beside the recliner in the livingroom, wearing a variety of neckties. I don't know how this practice began, but it cracked my uncle up that Corky would sit still so patiently, submitting to having a perfect windsor tied around his neck.

8) Brandy. Corky's successor. A huge, big-hearted girl -- part golden retriever, part yellow lab. She died unexpectedly of an undiagnosed heart ailment. By this time, my uncle was already suffering from Parkinson's but he valiantly gave Brandy a proper burial beside the garage, the area she most loved to patrol.

9) Miss Kitty. A tortoiseshell cat my mother found while on vacation in Wisconsin. Since the stray looked so much like her cat, Snoozer, the one she had as a little girl, she really wanted my uncle to have her, and, since he had a great deal of fenced-in land, he was happy to take her. The thing of it is, unfortunately, Miss Kitty turned out to be pregnant. My uncle and his wife found good homes for most of Miss Kitty's offspring, except one ...

10) Bennie. So named because she's striped like a Bengal tiger. She was my uncle's most pampered companion at the end of his life. Now partly blind and a little frail (she had many surgeries related to her thyroid a few years ago and she remains tender at the incision sites), but with a very loud purr, she now lives with my mother. I wonder if, now that my uncle no longer needs her, she will decide to join him in Heaven.

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