Azul in the Corner, the turkeys strutting in the new year and Azul giving Jim the eye, photo © 2008 by Jim. All rights reserved.
I remember spending Easters at my grandparents’ farm in northeastern New Mexico. My cousins who lived nearby invariably got among their chocolate rabbits and Peeps those live pink, blue, and green dyed chicks and ducklings. I longed for such an exotic pet.
Grandpa raised rabbits, sheep, and pigs for food, and before we loaded ourselves into the Caprice for the long drive back to Albuquerque, I’d begged my parents until I was blue in the face for a baby anything we could take home with us.
We lived in a bucolic neighborhood where, although it wouldn’t have been the norm, it wasn’t out of the question to have a pet chicken or rabbit hanging out in the backyard. But for the most part, people in our slice of suburbia owned dogs, cats, the occasional hamster, and for a short period of time while they were all the craze, a tiny turtle in a plastic aquarium.
I had two such red-eared slider turtles. I named them Gertrude and Henrietta. They lived a boring and tortured life on my bedstand. I regularly let the water in their dish evaporate until the poor turtles nearly dried out. Either that or I picked them up constantly, their little legs flailing in the air.
Eventually Gertrude and Henrietta died. Tiny turtles as pets came to an abrupt end when the adorable reptiles were linked to salmonella and banned. From that point on, I was allowed no pet more exotic than our black mutt, Gilligan. Even my tom cat, Tiny Roy, was secretly exiled to the animal shelter.
As an adult who is now free to have any pet I want as long as it’s legal and I can care for it emotionally, physically, and financially, I’m finally in a position to live my childhood dream. So it is with some sense of bafflement that I look around me and see that, besides the bullsnake we inherited, our pets consist of two dogs and six turkeys. Well, and one duck. (OK, we also have a horse, but he won’t be living here with us until spring.)
I guess I thought that by now I’d have a wildly diverse menagerie. Talking birds, giant lizards, colorful fish in a big glowing tank. A hedgehog, pot-belly pig, pygmy goat, and miniature donkey. Not to mention a herd of mustangs and possibly two llamas. Maybe even an ostrich.
What happens to a kid’s sense that anything is possible? Do we grow up and figure out that nothing is pragmatic?
Sure, turkeys are unusual. I always heard that they’d peck out a child’s eye thinking it was a shiny button. Ours are not nearly so dangerous; they won’t let you get close enough to their beaks to poke out your eyes.
I suppose there’s still time to grow our petting zoo, although I have a feeling it’s as big as it’s going to get. My own kids aren’t begging for any animals other than what we have. By satisfying their wishes for chickens, turkeys, and ducks, we’ve inadvertently pre-empted the kind of longing I had as a child for something — anything — more exotic than a dog or cat.