I’m not really sure where Smoky came from in the first place, and I’m even fuzzier about where he ended up, but it all started with him.
I was five years old when Smoky came into my life. He was my first kitten. He was small, all-black and had those little bright kitten-eyes that win you over along with those irresistible squeaky mews from a little pink-tongued maw.
From a very early age, I exhibited a love of animals. At the Immaculate Heart Day Nursery where I spent my happy pre-school days, I was known for my commanding performances of “Clarence, the Cross-eyed Lion” from the television show, “Daktari”, which of course involved crawling around on all fours and roaring.
I also loved to visit the animals at the small zoo at High Park in Toronto, and feeding the ducks of adjacent Grenadier Pond was the highlight of my days.
The very first movie I was ever taken to see in a theatre was the 1966 flick, “Born Free” about George and Joy Adamson and their pride of lions. I was five years old and it made a huge impression on me, so much so, that I desperately wanted to have my very own cat. That was when Smoky came on the scene.
All I can recall about the little black fella was that he loved to scale the drapes and secret himself away in the T.V. set to sleep beside the nice, warm tube. I have no idea how or when Smoky disappeared from my world, but he did! What I rather suspect is that there was some sort of overheating issue inside the old G.E. television set that nobody told me about.
In any case, we moved from Toronto to the suburbs and it wasn’t long before my whinging got to my dad’s soft heart and another creature came to live with us. This was the start of many a phyla to grace our home at number #### Triangle Road.
After Smoky, the first cat to come calling was a stray. She was a short-haired gingery tabby and she was hanging around our back porch. This had nothing to do with the fact that I was putting out saucers of milk every night, honest.
I begged to be allowed to keep the stray, but despite my pleas, my mother held firm against the idea. My dad was a bit more pliable.
It was Good Friday and I was at the bottom of the street visiting with my friend, Frances when the telephone rang. Her older sister, Rachel said it was for me. When I took the receiver, I was surprised to hear my mother’s voice say, “Come home, we’ve got a surprise for you.”
Well, no points for guessing what the surprise was; the stray-cat was in our kitchen lapping up a bowl of milk when I walked in the front door. I called her “Tammy”. I don’t remember why.
Tammy had a short and infamous time at our house. Looking back now, I can see it was because my mom had issues with a non-existent condition she believed Tammy had. The cat merely cleaned itself fastidiously, as felines are wont to do, but the excessive licking of her fur drove my mother to distraction and one day, Tammy was swept up and taken to the nearest shelter to be adopted by a more tolerant and deserving family.
A number of critters were introduced to erase the loss of poor Tammy from my memory: there was a fish called, “Goldie” or something equally inspired, and a turtle named “Sam”. Why a turtle would be deemed to have such a name is now beyond me, but that’s what I christened him. Perhaps it was taken from one of my favourite books, “Green Eggs and Ham”.
I can still recall the almost tender feel of Sam’s teency claws pinching my flesh. He had a very inauspicious life of floating about in his plastic dish, clambering up his plastic ramp and sunning himself under his plastic palm. It was sad when one night he hoisted himself over the plastic wall of his dish to make his big break for freedom and ended up dried out under the sofa. Of course you know what happened to “Goldie”—belly-up and the old flusheroo. Sam, being easier to handle, was buried in a cardboard box, in the backyard.
When my best friend Janey, next-door, got a kitten and named it Elsa (after the lion in my beloved “Born Free”), it wasn’t long before I had my dad driving me to the house where they got her so I could pick out one for myself. So began the “Misty” era.
Misty, was what they call a mackerel-tabby, in England. She was blackish grey with prominent striping—a real beauty! She was a lovely puss with a friendly disposition and when she was old enough we got her fixed. Problem is, the “fix” didn’t really take. When the “heat” was on in the Springtime, the local males were still getting a whiff of Misty and coming around to leave their calling cards—a bit of their singular scent along the sides of the house, in the bushes—everywhere! It wasn’t long before my mother got wind of the situation and started working on my father to do something about it. Before long, Misty was taking that all-too familiar trip down our driveway, and out of my life! I still swear she was sitting in the back window meowing for my help. I cried all night long.
You do get over these things and it really helps when your dad lets you get not one, but two budgerigars in their own fancy cage with perch and seed feeder and some sort of bone-thing to sharpen their beaks. Of course, being from a Catholic family, they had to be Christened with the names of saints (that’s the rule, didn’t you know?) and so they were called Peter and Paul(ine), after two of the most important apostles.
Budgies are fun. They are noisy and chipper, they sing sweet songs and you can carry them around on your index finger or your shoulder or even on your head. My birds were a beautiful cerulean colour with black and white striped heads and long tails. They had a good life. We treated them well, kept their cage free of their grey poop and fed them all that birds love to eat. Everything was just dandy until my dad thought they might like to go outside in the backyard for a bit to get some fresh air. He carted their rectangular cage out the door, through the garage and into the backyard and rested it on a chaise longue.
The fresh air went to P & P’s heads because they went mental! Somehow, one of them sprung the latch on the door and the other one beat it open. Off they flew, never to be seen again. Well, at least one of them was never seen again. The other one ended up on a neighbouring street in the house of a girl who lived across from my one of my school-friends. I know this because, while I was visiting Jane T. and we were playing outside, a neighbour-friend of Jane’s started talking about how they had found this blue budgie outside and now it was in her room and she was keeping it. It was hopeless to explain; she was never going to give it up and how could I prove it was my Peter, or Pauline?
That’s how why we turned once more to cat ownership. We’d just come back from a vacation visiting my mom’s family in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and I got the notion to have another cat. There were lots of kittens at a farm near my cousin’s cottage on the Bras D’ Or Lakes, and I came back from the trip with a bee in my bonnet. My father, helpless against my pleas/tears gave in and we got a gorgeous silver tabby and called him Fourchu (sounds like For Sha) after a small town in C.B.
Fourchu (now “Forche”, like “Porche”) was a real charmer of a cat. He was cuddly, loving, fun to play with and would let you do anything to him. Sadly, he didn’t live too long because he developed a urinary problem that plagues many male cats and at the time, we (and apparently vets) knew little about how to treat it. It was recommended that we add tomato juice to Fourchu’s food, but I know now, that’s probably what did him in. After a hellish time, he had to be put to sleep.
One of my memories of Fourchu was how he used to sit atop the aquarium that housed our gerbils. My dad outfitted the glass case with a wood-frame, wire-mesh cover and Fourchu would lie on the mesh and make whimpering noises while the inhabitants bounced up and down and bumped his belly with their nubby noses.
In fact, that may be how Sneezer got his nose infection. He used to rub his nose furiously with his front paws until it bled. It would scab over and then he would start again. He was one of a trio of gerbils. My dad named them, “Caesar, Beezer and Sneezer”, partially after one of his favourite off-colour ditties from his British Army days. I googled it and can’t find any reference, so maybe he made it up. It went something like this: “Julius Caesar lit a beezer, off the coast of France”. I don’t know anything beyond that because whenever he started to tell it, he would end up gasping with laughter and not being able to go on. It was his little private joke.
In any case, Caesar, Beezer and Sneezer were so-monikered and they became playmates for me and my sister, Nancy. We didn’t buy plastic runnels and pods for our pets—no! We made them from scratch with empty tissue boxes and toilet rolls and our sleeves and pant-legs. If you’ve never had a gerbil run up your pant-leg then you’re missing out! It’s tickly and it makes you giggle and as a kid you actually believe the gerbils are having a whale of a time, but that’s probably just sheer panic that’s making them run like the devil, isn’t it?
Our poor trio came to bad ends. We had switched their abode from the aquarium to a nice wire cage with spinning wheel and Caesar got his foot caught and had to bite it off to free himself. He bled to death on the floor of the cage. We found him on Sunday morning upon returning from mass and running downstairs to check on our pack. I don’t know how many times he went around on his last ride; it doesn’t bear thinking about.
Beezer didn’t fare much better. My sister took him and Sneezer to school so they could be observed by her classmates and some bright spark of a thug-child dropped the brick that was holding down the lid right onto poor old Beez. I’m so glad I didn’t witness that.
Not really sure what happened to Sneezer. He probably just expired from sheer loneliness, or maybe his nasal infection finally killed him.
We had many pets in our house, and there’s more tales to tell, so watch this space..