I remember my second attempt at a pet. My third grade class was going on a field trip. We lived in Germany by then. I have to admit that for all the misery spending my early childhood without a pet was causing, we did go on some pretty cool field trips – not your garden variety, stateside field trips. This particular trip was to an open-air market in the town of Augsburg. I asked my mother from some money for the trip. As I left for school that day, she dropped some “foreign” currency into my hands in the form of jingling coins of unknown value.
At the market, I remember looking around for something that suited my fancy. Nothing really appealed, usually the scallop shells filled with hard candy or other indigenous candies of the region did the trick. That day, they held no appeal. Finally, I spotted it. I spotted the object of my fancy – ducklings, tiny, fluffy, golden-yellow, ducklings. I could picture one of them splashing happily away in our bathtub. My quality of life would be enhanced immensely with the addition of a duckling. So I approached the vendor to inquire about the cost. I asked in English. The response I got was in German. (“Hmmm, an unanticipated language barrier”.) There I stood just a few simple German phrases away from my very own duckling. The desire to have a pet is a tremendous motivator so I broke out my best broken German and inquired again about the price. Once I had least tried to speak in German the vendor was willing to communicate with me in English. Détente achieved, we could move forward with the transaction. I held out my hands displaying all of the coins my mother had given me before I left for school. The woman let know, in perfect English, that I did not have enough money. I had not yet developed the skill of driving a hard bargain, so I simply walked away.
I ended up with a miniature cactus that I gave to my mother to which she responded, “That’s sweet, but we can’t keep it.” “Why?” I asked. “Even, a cactus. I can’t even keep a cactus.” I thought to myself. “Sure, its a living thing that requires some kind of attention. But of all living things, what requires less attention than a cactus.” I really was starting to believe she had it in for me. I didn’t beg, whine, or promise to eat my broccoli or keep my room clean forever without any reminders, nor did I promise to forfeit my allowance. Truth is, I really didn’t care about the cactus. It was lame. It wasn’t a duckling, a kitten, a rabbit, or a puppy. Still, I stood there in a rather dejected state. “We can’t keep the cactus because we are going home,” my mother explained. That was the typical way I found out about major events in my life.
The sound of “home” evoked strange emotions. By then, I had few memories of “home.” What I knew of home was largely from my parents’ conversations about what they missed about home when we were traveling by car to cool places like Switzerland and Holland. I distinctly remember them missing Burger King and Dairy Queen. Their longing for these places set me up for tremendous disappointment once I got back to the states. (Not that I would refuse a Blizzard if you offered me one right now.) But after three years of no television, “home” started to sound pretty good. In addition to TV, I knew my odds of getting a pet were greatly enhanced once I got there. It wasn’t long after the field trip that my family and I returned to the land of television, fast food, and pets.