I’ve been thinking about my childhood pets lately.
For example, when I was in elementary school, I had a pet frog named Flip. Flip lived in a bowl of water in our living room. His worldly possessions included a few rocks, a small plastic plant and a plastic house bearing a sign that read, “A very special frog lives here.”
In hindsight, “very special” was a bit much.
Flip was aptly named — he had a terrible habit of floating on his back, limbs extended and drooping, giving every impression that he had passed on to a much larger bowl and a much more elaborate plastic house. The moment you tapped the glass, however, he would flip over and pretend nothing had happened. Several times a day, I would hear my mother anxiously tap on Flip’s bowl, shortly followed by the exclamation: “Flip! Don’t DO that!”
Needless to say, in my house, we don’t reference habitual dishonesty with the colloquialism, “the boy who cried wolf.” The simple phrase “quit frogging around” is usually enough to extract the truth.
Unfortunately, this animalistic trickery resulted in one of my saddest childhood memories. Upon entering the living room one day, carrying a glass of milk and the latest installment of “The Boxcar Children” series, I observed Flip in his upside down state. As per my usual reaction, I shook my head at the flippin’ frog’s tomfoolery.
It took 20 minutes for me to come to the devastating realization: my Flip had flipped his last.
We buried him in the backyard, between the grave for Samson the dog and the communal grave for Chuck, Henry and Phil, my hermit crabs, upon whose shells I had Sharpied my name, á la Andy in “Toy Story.”
What is interesting about Flip is that, even though he tragically died floating upside down in a bowl of water, I mourned his loss very little. You may think I was a heartless machine child, but let me explain. As a pet, Flip had not endeared himself to me in a way that was tangible to my younger self. Hence, I missed his presence very little when it was taken away. Flip’s passing can be compared in stark contrast to the passing of my other dog, Oreo, who received a much more prominent burial place beneath the hemlock bordering Mrs. Ohler’s house next door.
Reflecting on this fact, I wonder how we as humans endear ourselves to one other. As I think about my childhood pets, I realize that pets are, by every definition, our friends. And isn’t it true that some friends are missed less than others when they are taken away?
With graduation looming, I know some friends will survive the impending transition, but many will disappear and not be missed. It is tragic, but true. We can only hope that, to the friends who matter, we have been emotionally endearing enough to receive a prominent burial place beneath a hemlock tree in their backyard …
This is what we call in the biz a “stream of consciousness” column. I only allot myself one article in this style every year. This week’s metaphoric journey has been a train wreck, I understand — the “dark comedy” of columns. I will do better.
Maybe, in my next column, I will tell you about my pet gerbil, Matthias. Matthias lived in an aquarium in our living room. His worldly possessions included a few rocks, a small plastic plant and a plastic house bearing a sign that read, “A very special gerbil lives here.”
We only shopped at the one pet store.