I got a pet long after I wanted one. I wasn’t allowed to have pet. There were a variety of reasons, all of them good. Now that I am old enough to appreciate the situation my family was in at time, I realize that. You see, I was raised in a military family. By the time I was seven we had moved seven times. From ages five to seven we moved from Nancy to Pont-à-Mousson to Toul-Rosières (France) to Augsburg, Germany.
“We” included a set parents, three daughters, ages six, five, and four, and infant son. Now, that I think about it, how much more trouble would it have been to throw a puppy into the mix? But, my parents, thinking like parents DO, didn’t go that route. Obviously, they weren’t entirely risk aversive, but somehow their taste for adventure excluded pets.
Unfortunately for me, I was born an animal lover. I was the, “Can we keep it? Can we keep it? Can we keep it? Can we keep it? Why can’t we keep it? Why can’t we keep it? Why can’t we keep it?” child. Needless to say, I was not the favorite.
I remember my first pet. It was the only pet I could manage for myself at the time. I was about six years old and determined to get one. We were living in Pont-à-Mousson at the time, a town that suffered destruction in World War II, before being liberated by the US Third Army under the command of General Patton, supported by an active local resistance movement. I was young so I could not fully appreciate the town’s history, plus I was distracted by my desire to have a pet.
We lived in large stately home that looked like a mansion to me. It was three stories. Many rainy days my sisters and I amused ourselves by sliding down the winding banister from the third to the first floor. The house was in a state of decay as one would expect in post-World War II France. The gardens were overrun with weeds and bramble. A garden pond, made of stone, was filled with stagnant water, deep green with algae. My sisters and I would frequently debate the depth of the pond. One day, to settle the issue once and for all, my older sister pushed a friend into the pond. We didn’t get an exact figure, but we knew for sure that the pond was over three feet in depth and perhaps bottomless.
In addition to the enchanted pond, the yard was infested with snakes. My father made sure that the snakes were non-poisonous so he could force us to, “Go outside and play” guilt-free. Sometimes I wonder if he wasn’t a little disappointed when he got the news that none of the hundreds of species of snakes lurking around our backyard posed no threat to his charming daughters. The aura of the house was one that brought to life the Brothers’ Grimm fairy tales. It was the perfect place for a childhood in all respects except one. There were no pets. So despite all the enchantment, ennui set in.
One rainy, pet-less day as I sat wishing I was dead because I wasn’t allowed to have a pet, I spotted a fly on one of our windows, the fly was buzzing around there seeking freedom from the captivity of our home. Unbeknownst to the fly, a genius of an idea sprung into my mind. I COULD have a pet. It was possible even without my parents’ permission.
I ran upstairs and rummaged through my mother’s things. I found a small perfume box amongst her belongings and took possession of it. It was the perfect size for a fly kennel. I dashed back to the window and found myself in luck. The fly was still there. I cupped my small, supple, six-year old hands over it. The next thing I did was cruel and selfish, but I really didn’t see it as in any different than docking a puppy’s tail or clipping a Great Dane’s ears. Consumed by my selfish desire to have a pet, I plucked the wings off the fly and put it into the perfume box. I undoubtedly named it, but I don’t remember what. I like to think I named it Buzz, a nice unisex name, because for the life of me I could not determine its gender. I do remember showing my pet to my mother. She told me it was disgusting and didn’t I know those things carried germs? She was a nurse and so she had special knowledge about germs, not just the ordinary knowledge about germs that non-nurse mothers have. As a child born to a nurse mother coupled with an OCD father, germs –the never ending fight to be rid of them and the battle to avoid them would plague my childhood.