I tend to be single-minded when I am shopping, so, if she hadn't called my name, I might not have noticed my neighbor LaDonna as I passed her in the grocery aisle. LaDonna and her husband, Vic, care for a wonderful variety of critters, including Black Angus cattle, miniature donkeys, llamas, pheasants from all over the world, emus, trumpeter swans, hairy chickens, cranes, several dogs and a camel.
During our conversation, LaDonna told me that Clyde had died and, while I expressed sincere sympathy, I stupidly drew a complete blank on which critter bore that name. When I returned home and told Ray that Clyde had died, he exclaimed, "Oh, NO!"
"Was Clyde a bull or a dog?" I asked.
When Ray and I were building our home on a hill southeast of Lawrence, I often drove by Vic and LaDonna's farm and decided that when we moved into the neighborhood, I would introduce myself. That timetable moved up when I drove by one day and saw Clyde. I pulled into their driveway and excitedly asked Vic, "Is that a CAMEL?"
LaDonna appeared and said they had purchased the camel from a zoo in Philadelphia and had changed his name from Humphrey to Clyde because there was a song about Clyde the Camel. Knowing that, how could I forget his name? He was one beloved and well-cared-for camel, and I will miss seeing him.
Critters are one of the best perks of country living. Our neighbors across the road have longhorn cattle, llamas, big draft horses and tiny miniature horses. One day, during our daily walk, we saw a draft horse wearing blinders closely following a little horse. "Hey," I said to Ray, "it looks like he's got a seeing-eye horse."
A few miles up the road, someone has a whole herd of miniature horses, and when they foal, the colts are so small they look like dogs. I think one of them would make a cute pet, but Ray, who grew up on a farm, assures me that even tiny horses are happier in a pasture than a living room.
But long ago, a runt pig named Chet made himself perfectly at home in our living room. He was a cute little guy, clean and smart. He learned to stand in front of the refrigerator and oink for his Similac. Chet liked the bottle so much that he wouldn't eat solid food. He turned up his nose at the baby pig ration his siblings relished, and that was a problem because we couldn't return him to the farm until he ate solid food.
Then one day son Greg dropped Fritos corn chips on the floor. During the time it took me to retrieve a broom to clean up, Chet did the job for me, devouring Fritos with delight. Soon, I was buying giant bags of Fritos, which proved far too pricey to feed a pig who gobbled them down like ... well ... a pig.
Because Ray taught Chet to shake hands and "woof-woof" on command, I suggested we buy him dog food instead of the baby pig ration he refused to eat. I'm not sure Chet would ever have switched to pig ration had Ray not briefly brought home Chet's sister Ginger to nurse a burn she received from the heat lamp. Once Chet saw Ginger eat pig ration, he wanted some, too.
When Chet returned to the farm, he had gained acclaim as a performer in school classrooms. Yet he quickly adapted and was accepted by his littermates, proving that you can take a pig out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the pig.
Our empty nest is currently critterless ... unless you count the hundreds of wild native avians and mammals that we feed. Oh, and let's not forget the fish in the water garden. They gotta eat!
- Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence. Information about purchasing her book, "Life Is More Fun When You Live It Jest for Grins," is available by calling 843-2577 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.