adams' fools

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Happy April Fools' Day! What an odd thing to say...especially since it was about six days ago. But forgive me for being slightly behind! Onward. It seems the only significant aspect of this 'holiday' is that every year, unfailingly, some member of my immediate family calls another member of our family and tries to convince them that one of our beloved pets has died. Welcome to another charming Adams' family tradition, folks.

Probably a really accurate depiction of us, actually.

Well, it actually started out that way - many years ago now, we began the hallowed practice on one of Dad's many deployments to Korea. Imagine, the scene: at the end of a long night, one father and husband, alone and far away from his loving family for a full year on the DMZ, hears the phone ring (surely, a trigger for happy, happy emotion). In very grievous and serious tones, he is informed that our dear old orange, fat tabby Toby had expired. Sweet, obese housecat Toby, who was prone to hairballs, and began life under the moniker 'Marmalade', and loved a roll on the carpet batting away at a Fisher Price toy fishing pole, and would drool on your foot for you to pet him, only to bite you when he was finished with your adulation.

Having raised Old Tobes from tender kittenhood, father was naturally grief-stricken and inconsolable, sweet mother giggling mischievously behind a hand clamped tightly over her mouth. Thankfully the horror was only short-lived as we fessed up in our equally short-lived guilt, and thereafter dissolved into giggles and manic joy. So goes another macabre Adams' family tradition (don't get me started on our Columbus Day Necromancy). 

But, because the not-at-all-sick-and-twisted pet-death ruse failed about five years ago (yet each year, we soldier on), we find ourselves in need of reinvention. In the case of this morning with my mom and brother, there was (what I can only imagine) a thinly-veiled and hastily-improvised, near-Machiavellian, rapid descent into both madness and morbidity. As I heard, their interchange went something like:

Mom: Dad and I flew into town for the weekend, hope you're ready. You better pick us up now!
Brian: Oh really? That's actually inconvenient, because I won the lottery last night and just bought tickets for a cruise that leaves later today...
Mom: Oh...well...well, in that case, Winnie died.

I was later informed that Winnie (our elderly, shivery Chihuahua/terrier mix) was the unfortunate target, because "well, she's getting really old...and she had that seizure a few weeks ago, and she's perfectly fine now, but still." How about that level of thought? Our traditions go hard or go home! I mean, they've got modus operandi and backstory for goodness sake. 

Anyway. Mom and Brian's attempt was, at the very least, marginally better than my poorly-acted, awkwardly-worded, and too-exclamation-point-rich attempt, which went like this:

Me: Hi Dad! You'll never guess! That plane ticket I bought! Was for today! I'm at the local airport! You should please pick me up!
Dad: Mmm hmm.

What sparse bit of knowledge might you glean from our tradition? Well, we're not the most convincing liars, evidently. And we probably have a really poor collective memory and cold disregard for our animals...except, as it were, the very opposite holds true. For all the gnashing of teeth, there exists an abiding love for our furry friends.

It's no coincidence that in any given picture of our family in the front or back yard, you just know there was always some type of animal nearby, some stinky dog or bedraggled cat who had somehow wandered into our fenced yard and stuck around for a while. How somehow, there was always food in the bowl and a milkbone to be slipped to a creature patiently sitting. How you find those small, but incredibly significant pieces of your family in those seemingly random, funny flashes of memory, remains a mystery. Take for instance...

That rainy afternoon when I was a kid and I don't even think Brian was a teenager. Holding a plastic baggie with a baby hampster inside, burying it in the compost heap and asking if there was hampster heaven. 

My sweet dog Bonnie, who I never played with enough and Mom, designated enemy of all smelly animals (yet who can be found, on not-so-rare occasions, petting said smelly animals. If she thinks no one is watching.),

Mom, yelling at my friend and me when we fed Bonnie colored Bandaids just to see if she would throw them up the same color. A childish lesson learned. Then, several years after, Bonnie getting a rapid tumor and needing to be put down. Mom and Dad picking me up after school and letting me be there to bury her, but not to see her sweet life come to an end.

Buster, the world's most charming yet bumbling Beagle, and his puppy battles with a disgruntled, cursing hair-tearing-out Dad.

Actually, Dad and his many battles with our various dogs throughout histories. Who knows, the number of cords chewed, socks taken prisoner (only Dad's, might I add), holes dug, boats destroyed. Yes, we had an evil dog who once disabled Dad's boat, in a mystifying act that convinced us they should've used dogs even more extensively in WWII.

Buster, for all his gentle dopiness, always followed Dad's commands as if he were the pack leader. And, eventually, Buster stopped disobeying (well, as much as his nose and voracious appetite allowed) and turned into the best type of dog, just slightly less destructive. 

But at the end of the day, it was always Dad who took care of the hellhounds the best. Made sure they were fleaproof'd, exercised, taken to the vet, had a warm house to sleep in when winter hit. It was Mom who always had a little snack from our dinner table to sneak to the prowling animals, who always made sure they were fed (just like every one of us). Mom who cared more about my little betta fish than I probably did, always asking if his bowl was clean and that he wasn't starving at my negligent hand. And I recall, with a strange and heavy heart, the few times that it was always Dad to shovel out a grave in a nice, sunny corner of our garden and bury them when they had to leave us.

As for me, I loved them in the most obvious way. I pulled on their ears, spoke to them in baby voices, teased them onto rooftops, begrudgingly scooped their poop, and one time chased Buster through underbrush after he got out. But I hold a few nights for myself, times when I was sad and clung to a warm, soft and patiently sitting body next to me. What started in selfishness, wanting a cute dog or cat, grew into lessons of companionship and responsibility.

So, you'll forgive us our seeming folly each April Fools' Day, when we take to the phones to connect us from our respective points in the country in a gentle, nudging reminder of an inside joke. To laugh, to somewhat darkly prod at the love and affection we feel for the little guys. The ones who snack on the figs that fall from the tree and chase butterflies and grasshoppers, who sleep on our grass under bright, blue skies, paws raised to the air in mock submission.

We make the jest year after year, perhaps in a way to ease the pain of knowing that we will, in all likeliness, outlive the pets we add to our family. The important thing is this: that we live and love each other through them. And, if one of our pets, if one our own really did die, the sorrow is actually tremendous. There may be a phone call, but there will definitely be a gathering to grieve, to surround ourselves in comfort, surround ourselves with each other. As for the sadness? It never disappears, but only diminishes to tiny grief at the remembrance of a dear friend lost.

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