Animals in my life are limited, as in no pets. Our children's families have them. I've gone so far as to buy Mike and Christie's yellow Lab Christmas gifts. Since they introduced Buckshot to us as our "grandson" and used his picture as their holiday greeting that year, we felt obliged.
Don't get me wrong, I have a great respect for all creatures. I open the door to return ladybugs and spiders into the open air. I break for squirrels, wear a sappy grin watching neighborhood rabbits scamper, and pet other people's cats and dogs (on my own terms).
As a child I had only goldfish for pets, but they weren't very lovable. I remember being haunted for weeks by the white stain on the dining room's wood floor, after one jumped too high during the night. Mary and I spoke our fond farewells as the toilet bowl swirled Goldie away to waters unknown.
The demise of the gopher was a traumatic experience for me as a young mother. Mike and Joel had brought a live gopher to the front porch, caught in their trap. It was squealing and struggling. I had to be brave for my kids; I got a hammer. With every blow I jumped back and screamed, until the little animal was done for. (Did you ever find gopher's feet in a denim pocket? P U.)
This story is even more unpleasantly memorable because we lived on Fremont Street across from the Recreation CafĂ© at that time. As I limply retreated with hammer in hand, I looked up to see laughing faces ogling at the pathetic sight from the cafe windows.
Then there was Kelly's temporary alley cat Tuffy, aptly named due to her wanton lifestyle the summer we took her in. As she limped to our front door one morning after a night of apparent carousing, Kelly came to me screaming that Tuffy had been hurt. I didn't mention that I had heard the caterwauling in the alley across the street during the full moon night.
Several bald spots in her bedraggled coat, an eye swollen shut, and bloody scratches had terrified an eight-year-old. She ordered me to go after three mean and snarling cats lurking under a car parked along the street. Women are like tea bags - they don't know how strong they are until they get in hot water. Broom on the ready, I drove those wicked toms away never looking up at the glaring cafe windows.
That early morning when Tuffy jumped through our backdoor screen and pounced on me as I slept was the final blow to my patience. It was time to remove the adventuresome tabby to a country farm where, as I told my crushed daughter, she would be with her own kind.
The black Lab puppy Pat brought home, planning to work her into a fine hunting dog, never showed signs of any propensity toward fetching pheasant, just alley cats and mice. As I took the clumsy lug for walks, she pulled me along Lewiston's rough cement sidewalks and through alleys, where glass shards, lifeless brown birds, and wilting weeds seemed to nudge nostalgia for centuries old buildings from my youth. This time it was my husband I had to convince that Lady would be happier out in the open country (with her own kind). One Christmas Eve, as the rest of the family settled down for the night, tuckered out from Mass and Santa's visit, I went to turn off the light above the kitchen sink. There a mother mouse and her three brand new babies huddled together on the windowsill, in the frosty glow of a streetlight.
Ever the diligent protector to the rescue I fetched a shoe and, in a dazed holiday whirlwind, raised it for the onslaught. I don't remember what became of the Christmas mice, but I know I let them live that night. What mother wouldn't?
In my dreams I am a she-wolf howling at the moon.
Janet Burns is a lifelong resident of Lewiston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org