TRUE STORY: Being a city kid, born and raised in
Brooklyn, New York, I had few opportunities to interact with
animals, domestic or wildlife. OK, the occasional teenage party.
Anyway, growing up we had a greyhound briefly. She ate off the
kitchen table so my father shipped her off to Florida. We did
‘have’ pigeons congregating on subway platforms. They could be
very bold. Prance right up to you. I fed them cracker crumbs.
There was a small zoo in Prospect Park. Went there once or
twice. Remember being startled by the long, gray ‘hose-like’
thing that poked out between metal bars. AND the monster it was
attached too: Tiny eyes, big floppy ears. Being four or five I
called it a “phant.” Its large, concrete abode sure ‘smelled’.
Not as bad as the lion and monkey ‘houses’. Couldn’t wait to
leave. The only other ‘animal experience’ I remember was when
Gary W. brought a small snake to school. In a shoebox with holes
in the lid. I was in the 5th grade. Gary had to show it off to
me. Asked me to hold it. “No!” But I did. It bit me. Not bad
really. But at the time fear, tears and revulsion all came
together as I dropped it. No problem for Gary who picked it up
and laughed. Later he ‘showed it off’ in class. Big man! That
reminds me of one other trauma: I was bitten on the nose by a
yapping little brown dog when I was 8. Rabies shots followed. In
the stomach. Not fun!! Except for the ice cream cone my mother
bought me afterwards.
So, as you can imagine, I was not enamored with creatures of any
sort. For many years. Fast forward. At thirty-nine I was living
with a potter in a small Central Florida town. She ‘threw’
vases. I glazed. We decided to take a six-week course at a zoo
that would enable us to become docents. We became well
acquainted with ‘wild’ animals and conducted tours at the zoo. I
stayed on for six years. Not only did I learn more than I had
ever imagined about hundreds of species but I brought animals
from the zoo to schools, libraries and nursing homes. Great fun.
Was pictured in the newspaper twice. Even made a television
appearance. I could go on and on about my experiences. Like the
time I was holding a baby alligator by the tail. A zookeeper had
brought it to me during a 96-degree day. We docents would stand
behind a small wooden fence and display various animals to the
public. After two hours with this very quiet twelve-inch gator,
I was ready to be relieved. No zookeeper to retrieve it though.
I walked through the zoo searching for him. Decided to enter the
reptile house, the only public, air conditioned structure on the
grounds. Zowee! The gator went bonkers! I had all to do to keep
its head from chomping down on my flesh. I wore shorts so you
can imagine the predicament. Quickly running outside, the
dangling, dancing reptile finally relaxed. Never forget that
these are ‘cold blooded’ creatures. Like my all time favorite: A
docile, Eastern Indigo snake, America’s longest. I enjoyed
displaying it to public. People were invited to touch it. Of
course some would recoil in horror. As of course I may have done
in years past.
Well, I did learn to love animals. Some more than others.
Particularly memorable was a baby spider monkey, Tina. Awfully
cute. I recall my fist encounter with her. Just before setting
out for a grammar school my boss gave me a fluffy towel. Told me
to sit in the van’s passenger seat. Moments later he placed Tina
on my chest. I cannot tell you how excited I was. What an honor.
This cuddling monkey holding on to me, a proxy parent for the
day. I gazed at the sky and said “Thank you God.” And meant it
from the depths of my being. Of course, on the way back to the
zoo a dose of reality: Tina peed on me. Oh well, a small price
Since those zoo experiences wonderment of nature’s offerings has
been with me daily. Birds most especially. I have breakfast with
a lively cockatiel each morning. He whistles constantly. I join
in. The joy I have received from opening my heart to all God’s
creatures has been priceless. Hope you are enjoying them too.
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