I guess I have always liked animals. Although we didn’t have a lot of pets when I was a kid, I learned to appreciate the joy animals can bring to a family. There were enough dogs in my Southwest Philly neighborhood, both owned and stray, to play with. My father believed that a dog needed a lot of land on which to run and play, hence his lack of enthusiasm in procuring a canine to live within the confines of our rowhome. However, we did have a string of parakeets and one of them, “Whitey”, played a key role in one of my favorite childhood remembrances. More on him later.
As for me, the fact that we didn’t have many pets didn’t deter me from bringing the wildlife experience home during some of my more courageous moments. For instance, there was the time when I was about 10 years old. In the rear of our home was a set of 12 metal steps that led up to a metal catwalk-like landing that we shared with our wonderful next-door neighbors, Sal and Anne Barbella. The back doors of our kitchens provided easy access to the landing that provided a safe resting place for our garbage cans and several plants. I liked to sit out there and throw stones across the common driveway while watching the squirrels playing in the trees and foraging for acorns under the large oak that stood in our backyard.
One day I decided to conduct a little experiment. It was between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and our home was full of the wonderful food that typified an Italian-American household. Included was a large variety of fruits, nuts and pastries that topped off our Thanksgiving meal. As I looked at a large bowl of nuts, including walnuts in the shell, I decided to see if I could entice
a particular squirrel to partake of an easy snack. On Tuesday after school, I placed a walnut on the second step from the bottom. He ran over and grabbed it as soon as I went up to the landing. The next day, I put a walnut on the fifth step. Same result. The little guy grabbed the nut and took off. On the third day I placed the nut on the top landing. He climbed all 12 steps, snatched the nut and scooted down to the bottom.
Since there were no steps left, the next logical thing to do was to prop open the kitchen door and put the walnut on the floor. The squirrel saw me on the landing and started up the steps. As I went into the kitchen, he followed, jumping over the threshold, grabbed the walnut and ran out of the house. Of course, this maneuver and my animal training lessons were done without the knowledge of either parent. So, on Saturday I decided to show Dad how clever I was. Without telling him why the door was open I asked him to sit down at the kitchen table. He gave me a strange look as I placed the walnut on the floor. On cue, the squirrel climbed up the steps and came into the kitchen, took the nut and ran out. I don’t think I ever saw Ward Cleaver respond to Wally and the Beaver the way Dad did!
“What the hell are you doin’? Are you crazy? That thing will tear up the house.” I suppose Henry Sacchetti didn’t want any animal trainers in the family.
And then there was the time I was walking home from a night of playing basketball at my high school’s gym. It was about 8:30 and as I approached the corner of 65th and Buist Avenue, from about 50 yards away I saw a cat playing with something. He would paw at it and the object would become airborne for a few inches. As I moved closer I could see that the object was actually a mouse. The cat saw me and took off leaving his playmate all alone. The little mouse was not injured, just a bit tired. Actually, he was kind of good looking for a mouse that had been the subject of a feline juggling act.
I picked it up by the tail and carried him home about a block away. I figured I’d have a little fun with Mom, who was fearless. Instead of using my key, I knocked on the door so she would answer and become the brunt of my joke. Unfortunately for me, my father answered instead and was not amused. Obviously remembering my squirrel episode from six years earlier, he decided to give me a similar reaction! Only this time he questioned my intelligence level in addition to that of my sanity. I quickly released my companion in the front yard where he no doubt took a well-deserved nap.
Our aforementioned “Whitey” provided an anxious moment which occurred on a Sunday morning just before noon. Appropriately enough, he was a beautiful white parakeet that had been in the family for several years. We would allow him to fly around the downstairs every day for a short bit of exercise. Whitey was a great flier and loved to talk, mimicking words and songs of the day. His favorite line was “Come on baby, let’s do the twist.” He had heard my sister Kathy, playing Chubby Checker’s hit record so many times, that he naturally added that line to his vocabulary. On this particular Sunday, Mom had finished making the gravy for our Sunday dinner. The pot was uncovered as Mom was removing the meatballs, sausage and pork prior to boiling the water that would cook the spaghetti. Well, it was at this time that Whitey decided to change his normal flight path that included the parlor and dining room and ventured into the kitchen. He must have become disoriented, perhaps from the new surroundings and landed inside the pot of gravy. Thankfully, it had cooled and Mom was right there to pull him out. She quickly turned on the faucet and gave Whitey a quick rinse of cold water which served to remove most of the gravy. However, for a few weeks, Whitey had a pinkish tint and it’s a good thing for him that he wasn’t in the wild. Very few predators could have resisted the fragrance of Mom’s gravy on such a tasty morsel! Whitey was just fine, uninjured and lived a good long life.
Of course, this episode raises the question: Did Mom throw that pot of gravy away after Whitey’s brief encounter? I’ll let you speculate but I’ll give you a couple of hints.
There were no aristocrats among those wonderful residents living on the 6400 block of Buist Avenue.
Mom lived to be 94 and Dad lived to be 91. Kathy is in her 80s and I’m no spring chicken.
No harm, no FOWL!