As a parent, sometimes the opportunity to teach your child a lesson comes very unexpectedly. Such was the case when in the fall of 1992 my 10-year-old son, Michael accompanied me on a trip to the Poconos. Stan Vitale, a friend and customer of mine, had invited me to visit him and his wife Sally at their lovely mountain weekend/vacation property. I felt this would be a fine opportunity to spend the day with my son and have him meet these two great people. Mike had never been to the mountains so it would also be a nice chance for him to witness the beauty the area had to offer.
The two-hour drive was very pleasant. The foliage was at its peak and the colors of the landscape blazed through the abundant sunshine. On family trips, as a little boy, Mike had the ability to fall asleep almost immediately upon being strapped into his car seat. Now at the age of 10, he stayed awake, preferring to pepper me with a barrage of questions ranging from the Phillies to the Pope. In addition, he loved to tell me about ideas he had to make the world a better place, like supermarkets offering a delivery service to customers. Years later, they actually did it!
When we arrived at our destination our hosts were not home. Stan had told me that they may be at the store when we arrived but would return shortly. Knowing we had a little time to kill, we decided to take a walk around the development to check things out. We noticed a small pond a short distance from the house so we headed that way to see if we could see any fish or turtles. As we approached Mike saw some little things scurrying around the bank. Upon further investigation we realized that there were no fish or turtles evident but the little guys we saw running around were salamanders about 3 inches long and as cute as pie. We had no pets at home and Mike took this opportunity to ask me to increase our family by two! I reluctantly agreed after explaining that if he wanted these as pets, then he would have to take care of them. That was the deal. He agreed and after a nice visit with our friends, we went back to the pond, caught two of the salamanders and placed them into a clean mayonnaise jar provided by our hosts.
The next morning we went to the pet shop, bought an 8-gallon fish tank, a bag of pebbles for the bottom and a container of dehydrated meal worms. Mike decided to name the salamanders Stan and Sally, in honor of our friends. The little guys seemed to enjoy their new home, walking on the pebbles in about an inch of water and gobbling up the meal worms. Occasionally, we would toss in a housefly or a few ants for variety. In addition to feeding them, Mike’s job was to clean the tank each week. That meant draining the tank, washing the inside glass, and cleaning the pebbles. He (and we) quickly learned that the amount of waste produced by his pets was unbelievable for their size. As the weeks went by, Mike became quite disenchanted by this responsibility that he had agreed to. The grumbling finally resulted in his asking me if we could get rid of Stan and Sally.
“What do you want to do with them, Mike?”
“We can let them go in the back yard.”
“I don’t want them anymore. They’re too much trouble.”
“What was our deal?”
“I said I’d take care of them.”
“Did we get them in the back yard?”
“Do you think they could survive in our back yard? Do we have a pond?”
“So why would we allow them to die just because you don’t want to keep up your part of the deal?”
Young Michael got the message. He realized that he made a commitment and it was his responsibility to live up to it. I told Mike that we could let Stan and Sally go but they would have to be deposited exactly where we got them … in the pond at the Poconos. Since I didn’t know how long it would be before I could go back there, he would have to continue to take care of them until we could take them “home.” About a month later, we returned to the pond and safely released Stan and Sally. The other salamanders were delighted to see them.
Mike and I have spoken fondly of that story on many occasions and today he has two young boys of his own. It’s a blessing to see him teach them right from wrong, instilling good values from a loving father. They are now old enough to be able accept responsibility and I’m sure in the near future, they will learn a valuable lesson, about living up to their commitments, just like their daddy did years ago.