When my aunt was born, my dad’s parents had to get rid of their dog, Spot. In my dad’s own words, the dog’s name was Spot, because… well… he had spots. I suspect my grandfather was involved in the naming. He was original like that. My dad grew up in a small town that is nearly as small now as it was back then, and the dentist has a farm just on the outskirts, and lots of horses. My aunt is so allergic to animals that, when visiting her parents’ home as an adult, if the wind blew in from that direction, she would have to stay inside with the windows shut, or risk her throat closing up. One time, a plane was emergency landed for her, because the company ignored her when she said that there could absolutely be no animals in the cabin, and allowed someone to bring on their tiny dog in a carry on.
My dad was three the last time he’d had a pet. He didn’t have another pet until he and my mum married.
My grandfather kept cats – stray farm cats who found their way to him, and who were willing to continue living their lives outdoors, visiting with my grandpa on the porch. He couldn’t invite them in because my aunt would then no longer be able to visit. Frankly, I’m not sure if most of them got more of a name than ‘cat’, or possibly ‘gray tabby’, ‘calico’, and ‘black cat’. The one I remember best was, in yet another highly original choice by my grandfather, named Tom. Short for Tomcat. Another original. I’m sure my uncle Tom appreciated the sharing of names.
My grandmother grew up on a farm, and was terrified of the Clydesdales her father used for farmwork, and equally terrified of the cows and their horns. Those work horses are one of my dad’s few memories of his grandfather, and he agrees – to a small child, they were immense and immensely terrifying. My grandmother grew up with chickens as well. She doesn’t eat eggs, though she will use them in baking. She grew up poor, and always said, “You don’t eat the chicken if it’s still laying eggs. You eat a lot of eggs that way.” When we took riding lessons near her house, she would stay as far from the horses as possible, despite their considerably more petite size.
One of the strangest old family headstones at the cemetery near where my dad grew up has a small photograph in it. I wish I had a picture to share with you, but I’m only ever there for funerals, and frankly, that is not the time for photography. The main thing you need to know is that everyone on that side of my family has a very distinctive look. When in a room full of us, it’s very clear who is ‘us’ and who married into the family. Pictures of my grandmother at 17 look like pictures of my aunts at 17, and probably would remind you a great deal of her mother, and grandmother at that age. The men in the family are even more obviously the same. So this photograph is of a man who looks like my dad. Dead on, in fact. It looks like my dad… if he were to grow out a full and magnificent handlebar mustache. And, while I have never met this dearly departed distant relation, I think we’d understand each other just a little bit. Set into his gravestone is a picture of him and his cockatoo.
Stay tuned – next we look at my mom’s childhood!