Clair’s Goldfish – Jerry’s Grand Theft.
Claire Green kept two goldfish in a glass bowl on top of the chest in her front room. Jerry really admired them, and loved to watch them swimming around their little world. One day Claire came home from town to find her goldfish missing from their bowl. Only a small puddle of water on top of the chest indicated that the fish had not disappeared into thin air. She thought that our cat Tillie, although never being guilty of coming into her house before, had probably had the goldfish for lunch. While she was questioning Lois and all of us about which of us had let Tillie into the house, Jerry’s downcast eyes aroused her suspicion. He was too unschooled in criminal behavior to stand up under her intense questioning. When asked if he knew where the fish were, he ran out the door and returned carrying a tin can he had carefully washed and filled with clean water, and into which he had placed Claire’s goldfish. To our knowledge, this was his only foray into criminal activity.
Tillie, the Blue Maltese Cat
Tillie, who had been the innocent suspect in the goldfish napping, was our Blue Maltese cat. She was both beautiful and smart. Until they saw it for themselves, few people believed that she could open a closed door when she wanted out. She would leap from the floor and wrap her paws around the doorknob, shift her weight from one paw to the other, and drop to the floor. Her shift turned the doorknob just enough to release the latch, and after dropping to the floor, she was able to use her claws to pull the door open wide enough to get out. She was a good cat, never bothering anyone, and the neighbors liked her and fed her tidbits from their table. She disappeared without a trace a few months after Jerry’s fish adventure.
Someone told us that John Gurley, who ran a little community grocery store next to the Southern Railway tracks in front of the mill, was upset that cats had been getting into his store’s trash cans in the alley beside the store, and had threatened to kill them if he caught them. Although we had never known her to go that far from home or to get into trash cans, we were sure that Tillie had been murdered by John Gurley. Since we knew he cut meat, we discussed in horror the possibility that he had cut her head off with a meat cleaver. Of course he likely had nothing to do with Tillie’s disappearance, but in our own minds my brother and I tried and convicted him of murdering our pet.
The Talking Bird
One day while Jerry and I were playing at the top of the bank in front of the house, probably anticipating our slide to the bottom, a bird lit on the grass close to us. It hopped just out of reach each time we attempted to touch it, but did not fly away. Then it said “Hello.” We could hardly believe our ears. Perhaps remembering Uncle Roy Hill’s fable of being able to catch a bird if you could put salt on its tail, we were very excited, and Jerry ran to get Daddy. It would be wonderful to have a bird that could talk, and we begged him to catch it for us. He told us that we could not keep it because it was someone’s pet. We suggested that it may not be, but he insisted a bird could not talk unless someone owned it and taught it to do so. It soon flew away, and we were disappointed, but later learned that the Myna bird belonged to a man over beyond Harmon Street.
Billy, the Goat
One summer, probably about 1942 or 1943, Daddy bought a goat. It may have originally been acquired to help clear the upper part of the spare lot across the little access road, but we named it “Billy” and treated as a playmate.
Although Billy ran free when we were playing with him, he was tied in the garden/field area across the little access road behind the house to graze while we were busy at other things. In the fall when we returned to school, he was tied with a long rope to the stump of a bush. He was smart for a goat, but did not have a lot of common sense, and once walked around and around the bush to which he was tied, winding his rope tighter with each round, until he almost choked himself to death. I got home from school to find him lying with his head against the bush, foaming at the mouth, unmoving. The knots were too tight to untie, so I ran to the kitchen, got a knife, and cut the rope. In a few minutes, the goat revived.
After that, Daddy did not want to leave him tied up, in case it happened again. Then, Mr. Lynch, who lived on Church Street a couple of houses above Eva McKinney, offered to trade us three pairs of rabbits for Billy. He said he had a fenced lot to keep Billy in, so he would not have to be tied. Daddy told us this was our choice since Billy was our pet. Not wanting to chance having Billy choke to death, we agreed to the trade after Daddy said he would build us a rabbit hutch if we decided to swap pets. We were excited because we had heard rabbits had lots of babies. We could envision the hutch Daddy would build just filled with soft bunny babies, but I do not recall if the rabbits multiplied as we hoped.
A week or two after the trade, we decide to go to visit Billy at his new home, which was only two streets over from our house. Mr. Lynch did not come to the door when we knocked, and we did not find Billy in the lot behind his house. One of Mr. Lynch’s neighbors was outside in his backyard, and we asked if he knew where the goat that had been in the lot was. He told us that Mr. Lynch had the goat butchered to eat because of meat rationing. Billy had been killed and put in packages in Mr. Lynch’s locker in the community freezer locker. We felt like murderers for trading him.
The Un-named Alligator
I’m not sure we had the alligator long enough for it to qualify as one of our pets, and know we had not given it a name. Daddy’s sister Mary Ellen, who served in the WACS, had somehow acquired a small alligator. I am not sure if she brought it with her when she came home on furlough, or if a friend who was reassigned to a base in Florida sent it to her, either as a gift or a joke. She did not want the alligator and Grandpa Prewitt felt his children were too young to have it, so when Jerry and I asked if we could have it, surprisingly, Mama and Daddy agreed. We kept the alligator in a round wash tub in the back yard for a couple of weeks, but he had little room to move about.
One afternoon after Daddy left for work, we decided to give the little alligator a treat. We would take him from his cramped quarters in the tub and let him have a swim in the little pond beyond Spruce Street where we went wading. We did not ask Mama for permission because we knew her answer would be “No,” rationalizing our plan because we would be within sight of our house, and could hear Mama if she should call us. Although it was a foolhardy project, we did show some forethought, if not good sense, since we tied a strong cord around his neck to prevent him from escaping. We were careful not to tie it too tightly, though, remembering how our goat, Billy, had almost choked to death when his rope was wrapped around and around a bush. We then headed off to the pond, each of us grasping a front and a back leg of the alligator, carefully carrying it between us so it could not bite us.
Since he did not struggle a great deal on our way there, we did not realize how strong the little fellow was, or how mightily he would struggle once he smelled freedom. We waded into the water and set him down in the shallows near the bank, holding tightly onto the cord around his neck. He immediately flipped over and pulled his head free, leaving us holding the limp, empty cord. Our feet had muddied the water when we waded in, so we were unable to see where he went when he submerged. We knew we had to either find and recapture him quickly, or we would have to return home and confess what we had done to Mama, which we dreaded doing, since we knew she would tell Daddy. We searched for as long as we felt we could without Mama discovering we were gone, but didn’t find him. We had to trudge home and tell her that we not only had slipped off without permission, but had also lost the alligator. I do not recall if or how we were punished, so maybe they felt the loss of the alligator was sufficient punishment. More likely, they were glad to be rid of it.
I always wondered if the alligator made its way down to the bigger creek, then on into a river, and then on to who knows where, or if he stayed there, hiding in the pond and swampy area, and froze to death during the next winter. In any case, no one ever reported seeing or being attacked by an alligator when they went wading in the little pond, so it was unlikely that he remained there for very long.
The pet I remember best, and the one we loved most, was our small, mixed-breed dog, Cricket. We always said she was a Feist, although we had no knowledge of her real ancestry. She had jumped from her owner’s car at a service station in Forest City when he was passing through town, and when he was unable to find her, he left without her. When she returned to the service station, the owner caught her and gave her to Max Walker, but Max’s father would not let him keep her. Max brought her to our house and offered to sell her to Daddy. Daddy asked how much he wanted for her, and when Max offered to sell her for a dime, Daddy bought her for us. We named her Cricket, and she was our well-loved pet for almost 17 years.