Baxter Black: Animals — even imaginary ones — make good pals
Most of us, rural or urban, can get attached to an animal. Our barn cat Jay Jay has a special place in my mind. Somebody dumped a litter of kittens on the church grounds. I took three of the little tomcats. We got them situated and when the time came, I castrated them in the tack room.
Within six months, only one was left. The others had been victims of coyotes or other predators that fly, crawl, slither or pounce. Jay Jay staked his claim and learned to move around the corrals and outbuildings “up high”. He travels from the shop to the tack room on the rock walls, pole fence, shed roofs, cross beams, feeders and hay stacks. During his reign, our leather tack has remained free of pack rat damage.
As a lad, I had many dogs, cats and horses that still remain in my mind. Our neighbors weren’t farmers but they, too, had a string of pets, real and unreal. Young Ty expanded on his herd by adding turtles, gerbils, canaries, fish, reptiles and an invisible pet named Chip. The family didn’t have any photos of Chip but he became a real part of the family. And it was fun for all of them to pretend.
“How’s Chip this morning?” they would ask Ty, five years old at the time, “Did he eat his breakfast?”
Ty would solemnly recite how Chip was feeling, such as, “He slept okay, but the dogs’ barking woke him up. And he doesn’t want Grape Nuts ‘cause they stick in his teeth. He wants to go for a walk and see the crawdads in the ditch.”
It was humorous and touching how Ty took care of Chip and the family played along. But his invisible pet began to complicate things. When they drove to town, Chip had to have his own baby seat, complete with seat belts. Taking Chip into the restaurant required a high chair.
The family began to worry that Ty’s little invisible friend would eventually divert his embryonic cerebrum to the point where the human instincts meld into virtual reality. Is he dreaming when he’s awake or dreaming when he’s asleep?
There came a point when they began to take it seriously. It happened when Dad walked across the wood floor, slipped and fell on his elbow! Ty started scolding Chip while simultaneously rubbing the floor with a paper towel.
“Sawy Dad,” he said, “I’m twaining him, but he dint make it to da poddy. Sawy.”
On that fateful day they had taken the family to the carnival at the county fair. Chip went with them, of course. He played the games, ate the cotton candy and looked at the exhibits, with Ty explaining to Chip as they walked along. Finally Dad said it was time to go.
Well, Chip threw a fit! He didn’t want to go…No, no, no! Mother tried coaxing Chip. He finally agreed to go if he just could take one more ride on the Big Tea Cup. OK. Afterward they loaded in the car and headed home. As they hit the tarmac, Ty suddenly cried, “We left Chip on the ride!”
Dad glanced out the window and said, “There he is!” With that he swerved sharply. All the passengers were slammed to the driver’s side.
“Got him,” Dad said..
The car straightened out and continued down the road. Nobody said a word.
It was the last time Ty ever mentioned Chip. That evening Mom commented to Dad that the lesson was maybe a little too harsh. Then she asked him what he would have done if Ty had raised a ruckus?
“Oh,” said Dad, ever the wise and practical man, “I would have said, “I missed him!” and gone back to retrieve the invisible Chip. ❖