Beloved pets merit remembrance on holidays, too

There’s a legend that animals are endowed with the gift of speech at midnight on Christmas Eve. If that were also true for reptiles, there would have been very few silent nights around the our house, and any mouse in residence would have been running for its life.

Worse, there would have been no barking or meowing from cute puppies or cuddly kittens, just a whole lot of hissing. It started when son Greg was in junior high. He was a proud member of the Kansas Herpetological Society, and husband Ray and I decided the perfect Christmas gift for him would be a snake … and not just any snake, but a 6-foot-long Burmese python.

During a recent dinner with friends Darlene and Don, Darlene mentioned the snake gift and recalled me saying, “I don’t think I’m looking beyond Greg tearing the big red bow from the Styrofoam ice chest, flinging off the lid and exclaiming, ‘Wow, a SNAKE!'”

I certainly didn’t envision Greg coming into our bedroom Christmas night saying that Asclepius had escaped from his large terrarium, scaled a bookcase and broken my grandmother’s prized antique hand-painted dish. Asclepius eventually attained a length of 14 feet and remained with us until Greg, preparing for his wedding and a move to a home of his own, sold him to someone who promised not to make boots out of him. (He turned down an offer of four times as much from someone who wanted to do exactly that.)

Fast-forward to fatherhood. Greg admits that “once a snake geek, always a snake geek.” It’s apparently in the genes. That must be why granddaughter Sammi’s gift one Christmas was a 6-inch bearded dragon. An avid reader of Harry Potter, Sammi immediately dubbed him Norbert. Norbert has doubled in size and spends his time contentedly stretched out on a log in his terrarium sleeping and waiting to be fed crickets and lettuce.

Grandson Gabe, to his delight on another Christmas morning, ripped the paper off a large terrarium and discovered three huge African horned frogs. While Pixie, Melman and Jar-Jar-Blinks are interesting to watch and listen to, as carnivores their diet leaves a lot to be desired. Nothing is creepier than watching a big-mouthed frog devour a mouse.

Unless, of course, it’s a snake doing the mouse eating. The family’s three colorful cornsnakes have consumed a bunch of those critters. Grommet, the largest, is copper-colored. Cornelia, called Cornelius until she laid eggs, is albino. Granddaughter Zoe’s snake, named Blossom after one of the Powerpuff girls, is — you guessed it — pink.

For those readers who are looking for sweet stories of cute kittens and winsome puppies, I wish I had some to tell. I remembered that Katie, a border collie/springer spaniel mix, was a Santa gift to my nephews. What I didn’t know, until I called sister Vicki, was that her mother-in-law kept Katie until brother-in-law Steve picked her up early Christmas morning. Alas, the puppy was busy being sick from both ends. The veterinarian diagnosed parvo and kept her for a week. Vicki thought, “Oh no, Santa brought Chris and Ryan a puppy, and she’s going to die!” Thankfully, Katie lived a long, happy life.

As for kittens, the only holiday activity of Zebby, Greg and Val’s long-ago pet, was shinnying up the Christmas tree trunk and batting ornaments across the room. Current cats Rameses and Panda are better behaved, as is Brody the dog. No reports of them speaking, though.

Except for Susie/Pepper, our vicarious dog owned by our neighbors, Ray and I presently have no pets to verify whether they speak at midnight on Christmas Eve. But we frequently hear the mooing of cattle, braying of donkeys, neighing of horses, howling of coyotes and trumpeting of swans. If any of them say something in English at midnight on Christmas Eve, I’ll let you know.

Merry Christmas!

— Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence whose latest book is “Human Nature Calls.”