Monday, September 13, 2010

The Exterminator

"What about Pip and Freckle???"

This was the question demanded of me by my two youngest daughters several weeks ago, when I announced that we would be spending a long weekend at my parents' house in Stratford.

"What about them? Dad's staying home to work, and he's going to look after the pets, " I tried to soothe my children... And yet, I was feeling a little bit nervous about leaving no fewer than ten pets in my somewhat absent-minded husband's care.

"HE'LL FORGET. The hammies will die if he forgets to fill their water bowl!!"

My little girls had a point, there... We had discovered that Pip and Freckle were so minute, they were incapable of using a regular tube-style water dispenser. Their little mouths simply couldn't budge the ball bearing in the mouthpiece, no matter how hard they tried. We had resorted to a dollhouse-sized water dish, since anything larger would have seemed like a swimming pool to them-- and given them the opportunity to drown themselves, as well.

For a few brief moments, I was highly tempted to declare a hamster road-trip weekend. But a cooler head soon prevailed, as I imagined my parents' reaction to bringing rodents into their pristine home...

Years before, my sister had brought home "vermin", in the shape of a small and extremely cute black rabbit. Sis had had the (mis)fortune of being a lab worker at her university, where she studied biology. This tiny rabbit was slated as one of the creatures that would be used for various experiments, and my highly sensitive sister simply couldn't bear the thought... On the day that she left her job, she left with a tiny, black, furry bundle under her jacket. Jazz the bunny lived very happily with her in her apartment for nearly a year... until my sister was accepted at an international university for graduate studies.

Sis managed to talk my mother into looking after Jazz for the year that she would be away. However, when my father heard about this promise, he allowed his emotions to get the better of him. Always one to take advantage of the opportunity for a good rant, my dear old dad loudly and fluently cited every reason imaginable under the sun NOT to allow vermin in the house... It would keep him and my mother from being able to travel freely. It would force them to be slave to a feeding schedule. It would need endless looking-after and coddling. It would make a mess. It would smell.

My father carried on in this manner for several weeks, driving my kind-hearted, guilt-ridden mother to distraction. However, at the same time, my father was dividing his attention between nurturing our ancient and much-beloved Little Cat, who was ailing at the time... and planning and constructing an elaborate, multi-level bunny hutch, which resembled a large chicken-wire-and-wooden palace, in the basement. He planned for that rabbit's every need: exercise, bed, and bath. Jazz would even have a good view of a television set, should he be so inclined.

My parents drove in to Toronto to pick up my sister, and mum, dad, and the bunny bade her good luck and farewell at the airport, before making the long trip home. Jazz was lovingly transferred from his travel case to his new abode, and fed gourmet greens for dinner, before it was time for everyone to retire to bed.

My mother swears that she did not have any inkling of what would happen during that night... Jazz had eaten well, been treated with the utmost TLC, and had behaved himself in a normal, bunny-type fashion.

The horror of finding Jazz stretched out on his soft, "livingroom" floor, dead as a doornail, was more than a slight shock for my mother the next morning.

There were a flurry of phonecalls, in which my mother was consoled, and my father was told in no uncertain terms that Jazz was NOT "a completely ungrateful little $#@! of a rodent".

It was decided that my sister should not be told until the stress of settling into her new life had settled down a bit...

And poor little Jazz was "put on ice" until his mistress returned for Christmas, and could be interred under the big pine tree in my parents' back garden. I will not go into further details... Except to say this: that for the next several months, whenever one of us was sent to the cellar to fetch something-or-other from the enormous deep freeze, my mother would shriek, "KEEP TO THE RIGHT-HAND-SIDE OF THE FREEZER!!!" as we tromped down the stairs, in a voice so alarming, it nearly caused us to trip up and fall the rest of the way down.

Unfortunately, this is not the only time The Angel of Death has decended upon small animals in my mother's care. Only a few months ago, my nephews left their hamster, Rosie, with my parents when they went on holiday. My mother enjoyed Rosie's company tremendously, and even my father showed a poorly-concealed enthusiasm for watching the hamster roar away in her wheel in the evenings.

The day my sister and her brood arrived home to collect the hamster, it was clear that Rosie was not long for this world. Her wheel-roaring had stopped for good, and it was determined by a vet that a resperatory virus had killed her, in only a matter of a few hours.

My sister was inconsolable, while my nephews recovered more quickly, with the purchase of their current hamster, Dots.

We were, however, beginning to wonder about my mother.

Our doubts was all but confirmed when she confessed that another hamster in her care, who belonged to a neighbour's child who had gone on holiday, had suddenly and inexplicably expired. Bob the Hamster had been elderly, it is true. Very elderly, in fact. Still...

Child Number Three put it most eloquently:

"Gramma's the EXTERMINATOR."

And so... with our weekend away looming before us, I reflected upon the track-record of hamster survival under my parents' roof. It was not that they did anything deliberate to seal the fates of their small, furry guests... but it was undeniable that they seemed to induce the "touch of death" among all who visited.

"I don't know, girls... I'm thinking that this hamster holiday thing might not be such a good idea, after all. I think Pip and Freckle might have a much better chance at surviving a weekend with your father, than a weekend at Gramma's. Don't you?"

I watched as the penny dropped for Wee Three. She turned her enormous brown eyes to me.

"I don't think I want to go to Gramma's, either."

After assuring her that it was only small ANIMALS that were at risk, not small PEOPLE, it was agreed that Pip and Freckle would remain at home, in Child Number Two's bedroom, with the door firmly CLOSED.

"KEEP THIS DOOR CLOSED" read a large sign, scrawled in orange crayon, scotch taped to the door.

"Don't ferget to giv Pip and Frekle water and CLOSE THE DOOR," read a hand-written note, left on the kitchen table.

Wee Three even insisted on telephoning her father's cell phone every half hour or so, to leave messages reminding her father of all his various weekend duties. (As well as being the Hamster Police, Wee Three also patrols the activities of Maude and Charlotte, the cats, and administers love and attention on guinea pigs Toot, Puddle and Cupcake. She's our resident Doctor Doolittle.)

We had a blissful weekend. Perfection. The weather was lovely, the theatre was in full swing, we visited all manner of toyshops, chocolate emporiums and farmer's markets. Then, as daylight faded, we lay on our backs on the grass in my mother's back garden, listening to crickets chirping, and watching shooting stars streak across the sky.

It could not have been better.

To top it off, the husband was reporting complete success on the home front: no animals had yet perished, and everyone was happy and well fed. Doors that were supposed to remain closed, remained closed. Everyone was present and accounted for.

We made our triumphant return on the Sunday evening. Husband was helping me to haul the luggage from car to back door, as the children went pealing into the house to greet their furry friends.

"Everything REALLY ok?" I asked, as we crossed the threshold.

Before my spouse could respond in the affirmative, their was a blood-curdling shreik from upstairs.

"PIP!! Mummy!!! My hamster is GOOOOONE!"

oh, God...

1 comment:

Nan Sheppard said...

Ok, I've been alternately snorting with laughter and gasping with sadness here...

Need to know what happened to Pip!

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