James Joyce, Gay Talese and T.S. Elliot were inspired by cats. While Rupert Pole, one of Anais Nin’s husbands, was inseparable from his beloved spaniel, Tavi. He was so devoted to the dog, he (the dog) was the subject of many letters between them. He (the husband), and the dog, lived on the west coast, while she was in New York. Actually she was a very naughty girl. She had two husbands at the same time. Pole was one, Hugh Parker Guiler, the other.
Dickens had a raven named Grip, who sometimes showed up in the writer’s fiction. Unfortunately he (the bird) swallowed a paint chip and died soon thereafter.
There must be something to it, because I write about my cats often. And God knows, I’m devoted to them. I’ve been called “crazy” more than a few times, I should tell you. But reading “Literary Pets: The Cats, Dogs, and Birds Famous Authors Loved”, by Maria Popova in this past week’s Brain Pickings reassured me.
It seems I’m not alone. In fact, I’m quite sane by comparison.
Over the years, I’ve had a fair number of pets. As a child, before my father and I convinced my mother I couldn’t survive another day without a dog, I had a turtle, several gold fish, and a blue and grey budgie named Binky. I’ve always been into cuddly animals, so I must say I was never overly attached to the turtle. Or the fish. Or even the bird. But at least I could touch the bird.
I came home from summer camp one year and the turtle was gone. Nobody ever told me what had happened, and I never asked. Some things are just better left unsaid.
Sadly, the gold fish never lasted very long. I suspect we over-fed them. My mother would flush them down the toilet and we’d head back to the pet store. We’d buy bigger, more elaborate bowls for them, and fill them with more ‘stuff’. We figured, incorrectly by the number of deaths we had, if we decorated their place nicely they’d live longer.
So much for that theory.
My pet craving was definitely not being satisfied. Yet again I enlisted my father’s help. I was only about eight or nine years old at the time. But I knew how to play the game. My mother was still having none of it, though. In an attempt to distract me from what I really wanted, she convinced me a bird was the way to go. It took a bit of convincing on her part but eventually she won me over. It may have been the excursion to shop for cages. Or the story she told me about the woman who was responsible for my parents meeting each other. She was a friend of my father’s sister’s and also my maternal grandmother’s. And she decided my parents should get together. So she set them up on a blind date.
Clearly she was right. They became engaged after they’d been out together only three times; and they had a long and happy marriage. ‘Til death did them part.
Anyway, her other claim to fame was her talent with budgie birds. She’d had three and she managed to get all of them to talk. On that score alone I decided I was ready for a bird. Enthusiastic, even.
We took Harriet (the matchmaker) with us, to help pick out a good one. Good meaning, he (or she’d) be a talker. Obviously she was the resident authority. All of her birds spoke. Who better to find us a bird?
In hindsight we probably had the makings of a reality show. Imagine the three of us (Harriet, my mother and me) charging off to choose a bird. Like we were on some sort of weird safari. In my mind’s eye, I see the three of us, wearing khaki pant suits, with pith helmets on our heads.
Wisely, my father wanted nothing to do with it. When we got to the bird store — yes, all they sold were birds — I immediately gravitated to the parrots. That was predictable, right? The budgies paled in comparison. And even at my tender age, I knew we had a much better chance of someday having a conversation with a parrot than with a budgie. I was also much more taken with their colourful plumage. It took quite a while for my mother to talk me down from that ledge.
Yes, I’ve always been stubborn.
Eventually, after some poking and prodding, some whistling and cooing, the expert in our midst (Harriet), made her final selection. He was pretty enough, but to be honest I’d started to cool to the idea. My mother, however, was a woman on a mission. She wanted this pet obsession dealt with, for once and for all. So we marched around the store getting Binky (don’t ask me how or where the name came from) a lovely cage and all the other paraphernalia we’d need.
Our sales person suggested we let Binky become accustomed to his surroundings for a few days, before we let him fly around. “Fly around”, my mother squeaked, blanching slightly. She hadn’t figured on that.
So initially he was confined to his cage. Then we let him out, for little bits at a time. Just in one room. And then gradually let him fly around the house. My mother decided the best place for him, was the den. Process of elimination, I guess. She was crazy clean. There was no way she was having bird shit in the kitchen. Even if it was confined to his cage. The bedrooms were out, because she felt he’d be lonely in there all day when I was in school, my dad was at the office and she was busy doing housewife-type stuff. She also said the basement was way too isolated.
As you can see, my insanity is inherited.
Poor Binky’s flying days were numbered. Shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. The first time he flew straight for the living room drapes and clawed them, he’s lucky he didn’t end up being braised and served over rice. And when my mother spotted bird droppings here, there and everywhere, she clipped his wings.
Hang on. Hang on. There’s no need for the humane society. I’m speaking figuratively. He rarely left his cage again, let alone the den. Nor did he ever utter a word. If he had, I’m sure it would have been a very bad word. A swear word. Directed at my mother.
The only time he was truly happy was when he went on sleepovers to Harriet’s house. She looked after him when we went out of town. He’d sit on her shoulder, and she’d literally take him wherever she went in the house. She’d talk to him all the time. Endlessly. There, he could fly wherever he wanted. He could poop wherever he wanted. And Harriet finally got him to say a few words.
They whistled at each other. They adored each other. They understood each other. And one day, Harriet suggested to my mother, she’d like to keep him. He probably begged Harriet not to send him back to jail again. As you might imagine, my mother needed no convincing at all. Little Binky’s bags were packed and delivered within the hour. My mother was finally able to walk around the house without a roll of paper towels and a spray bottle of Lysol tucked under her arm.
Harriet and Binky lived happily ever after. And so did I. Because my mother finally relented, and we got a dog.