While more-refined children took dance and violin lessons, we five mastered the "art" of capturing critters. Dr. Doolittle times five. And, the slimier the better. Confession: all of my siblings except me became adept at it. I drew a hard line after doodle bugs and beetles or cicada shells. It was fun to clip the exoskeletons to my Flintstones tee or gingham skirt. A fashion statement? Perhaps. The other creepies and crawlies freaked me out. Walter and Jesse, though, would catch green anoles and wear them on their earlobes like reptilian earrings. Somehow, they forced their tiny green mouths open and let them snap their ears. Their own fashion declaration, I suppose. Move over Ralph Lauren.
The Parker Five went so far as to build a “pond,” or so we thought, behind the corrugated boat shed in the far, far end of our yard, beneath the huge pecan tree that spat the nuts that I had to shell too often. Excited, we captured turtles and put them in their new home. Not calculating evaporation and seepage into the equation, we awoke to a big empty hole. And so ended our elaborate water feature dreams. My parents did wonder why the back hose was running for a while. No one squealed, however. Instead, we utilized the oft-used shrugs. No idea. I don’t know.
As far as traditional pets go, our bursting family kept an assortment of dogs at all times. Purebred, mutts, you name it. Yes, we were that house. Keep your bitches (in the scientific nomenclature) close and your garbage cans closer! On any given day there were at least three canines sniffing, peeing and pooping around the backyard. And, that was the minimum.
At some point, my daddy had three German short-haired pointers, or bird-dogs as they were sometimes called. He would grab the excited ornithological explorers and stuff them into crates in the back of his Chevy truck. Those dogs knew where they were headed. Tails wagging like windshield wipers in a Cat Five, they knew. To the woods! To the woods! they barked and howled to their more responsibly-kept and furry pals in the neighborhood. Trying to make them jealous, I guess.
I only remember the name of one of the bird-dogs, Duke, who was named after John Wayne. Of course. My dad like to fancy himself like The Duke, probably why he so readily adopted the nickname Big Jake. Other dogs, not hunters—unless you mean looking for a hot babe—included Ring, Bill, a mutt, a favorite of mine when I was around four or five or six years old.
A medium-sized mixed breed, Bill had floppy ears like a hound dog and the coloring of a rottweiler or a black and tan coonhound. When I was five, Bill disappeared for a few days. I didn’t know at the time that Bill was probably out looking for a girlfriend, and so one night I cried myself to sleep missing him. At the same time, I prayed, “Oh, please God. Please let Bill come home.” Just then—I kid you not--I heard a bark, and Bill had returned. Say what you will, but from that day on, I had faith. Real faith. I have taken that little God
wink to the bank again and again. When I get weak, I think back on that and many other answered prayers.
Unneutered was our motus operandi. Balls, balls, balls everywhere. Testosterone spread around the neighborhood like bad gas, as they went off to find any port in their doggie storms. Bill was one of many of the unneutered pooches that trotted around our backyard. And beyond. My daddy was a Mississippi country boy at heart, and his theory was “they’re animals, just let them be.” And let them be we did. Much to the neighbors’ chagrin. We were old school. Heck, we invented old school. If our male dogs disappeared from time to time, sojourning to nether regions to find girlfriends: not to worry, they would return. And happier! Likewise, we sometimes kept unspayed females who attracted many male suiters who would hoot and howl and circle our front yard, like sharks to chum.
At one point in my early childhood, we peaked at sixteen (16!) dogs, which included pups of a juvenile momma who may have been six months old at best. This is what happens when you do not fix your dogs. Babies havin’ babies! It wasn’t a problem for me as much as for my poor momma (who I’m certain did not approve of any of this—not fixing dogs, having more dogs, etc.). She would throw down puppy food soaked in water or milk and place it in the top of a garbage can. This way, all of the pups (probably eight?) could eat at once. If you look up bliss for a small child in the dictionary, this would be the definition: having at your disposal eight puppies who you can pick up and squeeze who whom you can watch lap up puppy food from a garbage can top. Then again, I didn’t have to care for them.
Later, I learned that when dogs aren’t taken to the vet ever. For anything, they are quite susceptible to heart worms, especially in the swamps of New Orleans. I saw more than one die of heartworms, which is a picture that stays with me to this day. And this, friends, was the down-side of old school.