Monday, January 04, 2010

My Animal Family

When I was about four year old I had lots and lots of stuffed animals. I never wanted to hurt their feelings so at night I would put my animals all in my big double bed. Lots of times there were so many that I had to sleep on the mat beside the bed. One night my father came in to kiss me good night and found me sleeping on the floor. After thinking the problem over with me he thought the animals would be very sad if I had to sleep on the floor so we had to devise a plan. My father’s plan was that the animals took equal turns in the bed leaving room for me. That way no one’s feeling would be hurt and every one would get their turn in bed. I agreed with his plan and that is how I got to sleep back in my bed. I must say that there were so many animals that sometimes I didn’t always get the turns right. I had a few favorites and they seemed to get a little extra bed time than the others. My favorite was Chubby Cubby. I think he actually got a turn every night. I remember the Christmas I got him. I always told my mother I wanted a polar bear and if she bought me one I would never ask for anything else. She told me that after a long talk with the man at the zoo she was told that polar bears had very bad dispositions so we couldn’t have one. I believed her but when I looked under the tree that year there he was, bigger than me. I cried with joy and my parents couldn’t understand why I was upset, they didn’t know they were tears of joy... He was a big, white, soft cuddly polar bear and about my height just a little fatter.

Each one of my companions had its own character and likes and dislikes. Chubby Cubby liked honey in his tea while my large Siamese cat, which cleverly held my pajamas behind a zipper in her stomach, preferred milk. My father made me a table as big as my bed and low to the ground to put my farm on. I had been collecting for many years, at least it seemed to me, until I had the whole farm, with barns, a water wheel, pastures, fences and every kind of farm animal and their babies. They all seemed to prefer rice over tea.
My father traveled a lot with his business and so did we, so I had a collection of dolls from most countries in the world hanging on my wall. They were all decorative and not to play with but the Spanish donkey had baskets on it and I used to hide my money in the basket against the wall. Even years later I would have a dream and say that is where I hid it and in the morning go to look for my money but there was never any there; it had gone a long time ago.

My sister and I shared a wing of our giant house and we had a bathroom in the middle. My room was very large and light with big bay-windows all around for sitting in and there was more than enough room for all my stuffed animals. I had a large canopy bed and a desk, a table for tea parties, a vanity and so many drawers and closets that you could never fill them. One of the closets was built over a small staircase and had a door just where I could reach the handle because it didn’t come to the ground. It was my secret hiding-place and because it was built over stairs it had a nice wooden slide inside. I loved my room. My sister’s room, she being older than me, was more mature: she had two single beds and a desk but other than that quite stark. She hated stuffed animals and dolls so there were none in her room. There were only four years between us but we had nothing in common. The house had about twenty rooms and 2,000 acres for us to play on and ride horses. Our house was so big it even had a ballroom. It was one of my favorite houses, and we lived in a lot. In the huge basement was a large cooking pot hanging from the ceiling, it was big enough for three children to get into. We used to make up scary stories and tell our friends that in other times it was used for boiling children. Some of the stories we told even scared us. It was in this house and at this age that I began my life-time habit of collecting animal both stuffed and alive. I brought home every animal I found in the countryside, even on one occasion a skunk. It was around then when I got my first horse, Peaches. I also got my first lamb. My mother was at a friend’s house and a sheep had given birth to triplets and couldn’t care for them. These people had thousands of sheep so had no time for hand-raising. My mother volunteered that she had three children and would give one to each of us to raise. It wasn’t as much fun as you might think because in the cold and rain and dark before school we had to go out and bottle feed them then again after school and again before bed. I got the runt, a little girl and my brother and sister got the two males. Mine was so cute and followed me everywhere. As they grew, my brother and sister's sheep went out to join the herd, but mine was so little and friendly that we kept her around the house. I even took her to school for show-and-tell one day. She rode with me on the bus and stayed in the classroom and played with all the children at recess. I don’t think the teacher was all that pleased.

There were terrible electrical storms there and we used to sit in the window and watch lightning hit a neighbors barn or a tree; we were allowed to go out and play in the warm rain unless there was lightening. I saw several terrible things that the lightning did. On one occasion, a ray hit a neighbor boy bringing the tractor back in, killing him and the other was when we were on the bus coming home from school one day we stopped at this one girl’s house. The firemen were there but the house was gone: only a piano was sitting on the lawn in front.
We had our land rented out to cattle so there were over two hundred head of cattle roaming the pastures where we used to ride. Our closest neighbor also had 2,000 acres and ran a riding school where my mother and I volunteered in the summer at a camp for riding for the disabled. That is where I first got my interest in working with animals and the disabled. At this farm they were all Down Syndrome teenagers making them perfect for me because they functioned at about my level so I was able to teach them about grooming and leading and basic care of a horse. I have never stopped collecting animals both stuffed and real and have continued my work with animals and the disabled to this day.

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