We’re talking pets this month on Main Street, and boy howdy! I’ve had some memorable ones.
For example, growing up in what, at the time, was a rural area of Long Island, my parents raised chickens and ducks.When I was a soon-to-be toddler, our family also had a St. Bernard who was instrumental in teaching me how to walk. I would pull myself to a standing position on his haunches and hold his tail to take my first steps.Unfortunately, on one of these walking adventures in my backyard, I tripped over a white duck named Donna. From that moment on, Donna Duck tormented me whenever I stepped out the back door. She’d chase me and flap her large wings at me and nip me. And let me tell you, those nips hurt! It reached the point where I refused to go outside, I was so terrified of her. Finally, my parents took Donna to a poultry farm, much to my relief. My husband swears my love for duck as an entree is rooted in those terror-filled days. He claims it’s my way of gaining revenge on my tormentor. I can’t deny the possibility.
When I was six, my older brother came home with a squirrel monkey. Yes, you read that right. My family had a pet monkey. Sugar was not your typical adorable monkey. She was nasty to everyone but my father (including the brother who brought her home). She bit, she clawed, she screeched all hours of the day and night. My mother had to make her oatmeal every day (she hated bananas) and we had to pin up plastic sheeting because a lot of her food wound up thrown against the wall. Oddly, though, when I wrote my first book, THE BONDS OF MATRI-MONEY, I included a character who had a pet squirrel monkey (though I made “Honey” a lot sweeter in nature than Sugar.) My editor balked, claiming in this day and age, it was probably illegal to keep one as a pet. Honestly, it was probably illegal back in the 70s when we had one too, but, at the time, no one cared. To appease my publishing house, Honey the squirrel monkey became Buttons the cockatiel. But if you read between the lines, the bird still has a lot of monkey-style characteristics. Like this scene:
“You want to get the door while I clear the table?”
He shrugged. “No problem.”
Yeah, sure. No problem. With halting steps, he walked to the door, opened it, and saw no one. Then a screech pierced his ears, and his gaze traveled downward. He blinked twice, looked up at the ceiling, then down again, but the view didn’t change. Beneath a scrap of white gauze lay a pair of feathered cheeks with what looked like circles of heavy orange rouge.
“Um, Renata,” he called over his shoulder. “I know we didn’t have wine with dinner, and you’re probably not going to believe this, but there’s a bird in a bridal veil out here.”
Her laughter sent butterflies flitting across the base of his back. “That’s Buttons. Lillian’s probably on her way.”
“The woman has a pet parrot?”
Lillian’s responsive cackle sounded like the scratch of an old phonograph needle. “She’s a cockatiel, Connell. A gift from an admirer many years ago. And speaking of gifts…” She appeared in the hallway holding a large box wrapped in white paper with a giant silver bow.
“Here,” he offered. “Let me take that from you.”
“Thank you.” As she passed the parcel, she poked a bony elbow into his ribs. “Actually,” she continued in a raspy whisper indicative of someone who had smoked heavily at one time, “the original Buttons died in 1968. This is Buttons III.”
With her signature whistle, Buttons hopped inside and sat on the back of the sofa.
“You must really love cockatiels,” he said, staring in fascination at the creature peeking at him through the gauzy white veil.
Lillian shook her head. “I loved Oscar.”
“Oscar Hammerstein. We worked together in the original Broadway production of South Pacific. I was a chorus girl then. He gave me my first Buttons as a token of his affection. When I brought her home, the owner of this building was less than enthused about having a cockatiel roaming around.” She winked. “I used my powers of persuasion to gain his permission to keep her. But he insisted once she died, no more birds. Thus, every time a Buttons dies, I replace her before the landlord finds out.”
“So he and the owner think you have the world’s oldest living cockatiel.”
“It’s the only way to keep the memory of my dear Oscar alive.”
The Kindle version of BONDS is currently on sale at Amazon for 99 cents. Pick up a copy and see how many monkey characteristics Button got away with!
We also had the usual cats and dogs, including Kismet, my bionic Labrador retriever. When Kismet was about three or four, she tore her ACL while playing ball with my husband and required surgical repair that included a titanium part. She was known as the six-million-dollar pup from then on – with good reason. Don’t ask about the cost. Let’s just say my boss was thrilled because it meant I wouldn’t be leaving my job anytime soon. Kismet passed away last year, just a few months’ shy of her sweet sixteen birthday. ‘Til the end, she was a companion, a playmate, and a guardian for both my kids.In fact, my daughter loved her so much, she had her favorite photo of her beloved Kismet made into a tattoo.
These days, we live with Zoe the Wonder Pup. She’s a shelter dog, of cocker spaniel descent, and just too darn cute for words. So cute, in fact, she was featured in advertisements at the NY Daily News for the 2015 Puppy Bowl. You can see the video and photos here. At the time, she was the cocker known as Lily Rose, the younger of the two featured (the one in the ref’s lap). She’s grown since then, of course, and now looks like this:
As you can see, she’s still a big football fan. You know what this means, though, right? No matter what I do in life, I’ll never be as famous as my dog.