By Jenny Kalahar
My mother operated a daycare center when I was a girl in Michigan. My four older brothers and their friends were grown, or nearly so, and I think she missed the challenge and excitement of being around toddlers, tykes and preteens by the dozen. After a few years, she closed its doors so that her own elderly mother could live next door to us. Since I was Mavis’ daughter, it was naturally assumed that I would carry on the child care tradition. That meant that I was called on fairly often to babysit for those kids who used to come to her.
I would sometimes have a family’s pet as company for the evening or afternoon along with the children. Probably my favorite dog was a giant Saint Bernard named Bernard. He would be outside in his yard near his immense doghouse when I arrived, but as soon as the parents left the driveway one boy or the other would open the back door and wave Bernard in so that he could watch TV with us or listen as I read a story. I sat in a chair or on the sofa, but the boys always played bookends to that dog down on the floor. I remember that a movie we were watching was rather dull. One boy said, “This is so boring!” At that, Bernard flopped down onto one side and then rolled his eyes as if he agreed wholeheartedly. We let him pick out the videos from then on.
My favorite kids to sit had a wonderful brown lop-eared house rabbit named Marco. Marco, I had been told, was once the companion of a very old gentleman retired cardiologist, Dr. Steve. Dr. Steve left Marco in his will to this family, even though the doctor was a very distant relative who had only visited his third cousin once – on his way to a convention for retired gentlemen cardiologists. Marco had been a famous rabbit while he lived in Florida. He’d had a specially-constructed enclosed carrier on Dr. Steve’s golf cart (a golf cart that was made to look like a carrot, I was told) and the two of them rode in their neon orange conveyance from one golf course to the next every sunny morning. They handed out baggies of carrot sticks and leaflets to seniors on how to keep their hearts in “hip-hop” condition through exercise and proper nutrition.
When I knew Marco, he was a sociable yet subdued fellow. I was repeatedly asked never to offer him carrots. Apparently, a lot of the golfers he visited would dump their baggies’ contents through the top grates of his carrier and the rabbit had had quite enough of those crunchy veggies for one lifetime. When the kids and I sat on the living room floor for a game of chutes and ladders or slapjack, Marco would tug his homemade patchwork quilted bed close to the action and slowly munch slightly-wilted lettuce leaves in silence as he watched us play. Sometimes I wondered if he missed his golf cart and all of the attention he used to get from his elderly admirers, but, as is the case with a lot of other retired celebrities, I suppose he was happy living his new life of relative anonymity.
One young boy I cared for had an aquarium of five or six miscellaneous fish. They swam contentedly in, out and around a vast array of decorative items: a black pirate ship, two treasure chests overflowing with fake gold coinage and jewels, plastic aquatic plants, and other similar oceanic replicas. I remember that he led me into the corner of the den one night before he got ready for bed. He’d plopped in a large figurine of a white-and-brown Siamese cat. It had settled at an odd angle next to the pirate ship, its paws gripping the multicolored pebbles at the aquarium bottom. Every last one of those fish were then avoiding that section of their living quarters, whether out of an instinctual fear of cats or because that figurine in no way fit in with their decorating style.
I often think about Marco and about how life can change in an instant. One day you’re cruising around golf courses in a giant orange carrotmobile and the next you’re sharing snuggles with a happy family in Michigan. I often think about pets sitting in shelters, too, and how they’d so love to discover the change and happiness you could bring to their lives.
Jenny Kalahar, her husband Patrick, and their pets live in Indiana where she sells used and rare books and writes novels and poetry. Her two novels about fostering cats are Shelve Under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats, and The Find of a Lifetime: Another Tale of Used Books and Cats. Her collection of nostalgic and humorous poetry is One Mile North of Normal and Other Poems. For more, visit her blog, Bookselling and Writing with Weegee.
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