And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Grandgirl Maya Mae is now ten years old, going on eleven. She’ll be in the fifth grade in the fall. And every time I see her, she’s taller. During the pandemic, when I couldn’t physically be in contact with her at all, she and I started meeting almost every night over Zoom. We read a book together. Over the couple years of the pandemic, we went through the entire Junie B. Jones series, all of Beverly Cleary, all of Lois Lowry’s Goony Bird Greene series, and so many more. By happy accident, when I googled books on cats (Maya is a devout cat person), I discovered the book Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. We then devoured every book of hers, culminating in friends finding Katherine at the Tucson Book Festival this year and getting me two books signed by her to gift to Maya. We’re now reading Manatee Summer, by Evan Griffith, and loving it.
As we read, one thing became very, very clear: Grandgirl Maya Mae loves animals. Cats are her favorite, no doubt, but whether it has two legs, four legs, no legs, fur, skin, hair, she loves it.
Which led to me, a few months ago, to offer to send her to a week-long Critter Camp at our local humane society. Maya lit up like a disco ball. This is the week that she’s there.
This is the same humane society where I worked as a kennelworker from the time I was a junior in high school to my sophomore year in college. When I was sixteen years old, my family moved to Waukesha. I would attend my third high school, due to frequent moves. Because I was sixteen and knew college was on the way, I wanted a job. So on my own, I went to the library at my soon-to-be old home, found a phone book (remember those?) that included Waukesha, found the humane society and its address, and wrote to them, telling them I was moving there and was looking for a part-time job. Much to my surprise, they interviewed me as soon as we moved in and I got the job, working on weekends, and during the week during school vacations.
Like Maya, there was no doubt I loved animals. From the day I was born, there was a pet in the house. I was lucky enough when I lived in Stoughton to have several friends who lived on farms with horses, and so I was in the saddle as much as possible. The first “book” I ever wrote was called The Deer That Went Boating, and was about a deer that accidentally fell into a boat and makes friends with a frog. When I began to write about people, they always had animals. And you may recall that my novel, If You Tame Me, is about a woman who owns a green iguana named Newt and a man who owns 6 parakeets, Lucky, Plucky, Ducky, Aristotle, Blue Boy and Butch. There is also a character that owns a pet store.
Through my years at the humane society, I fell in love with too many animals to count. While still in high school, I began to write for a magazine called KIND, which stood for Kindness In Nature’s Defense. It was the kids’ magazine published by the Humane Society of the United States. At one point, my father accused me of loving animals more than I loved people. I was stunned; I didn’t know I had to choose.
I didn’t choose. I love them all.
Throughout the years post-job at the humane society, a steady stream of animals have made it through my home. Cats: Pavlov, Jake, Einstein, Cornelius, Edgar Allen Paw, and Muse. Dogs: Cocoa, Blossom, Donnie, Ursula Le Guin Giorgio. Guinea pigs: Rover, Ginger, Fido and Butch, while I was in college. Several more plus hamsters who belonged to my kids. Parakeets, some of whom bear the same names as the ones in my book. Fish. Oh, and now we have Olivia’s African leopard frogs. I have grandcats. Hightop, Charlie, Alfadore, and Spice.
I just can’t imagine a life without animals.
And now, here’s this young girl, ten years old. Her hair is long, straight, and brown, parted in the middle. Like mine was. She loves animals, like I do. And she’s a reader. When I message her that I’m ready to head to Zoom and read, she always texts back, “Yay!!!”
This week, she’s regaled me with stories about Precious, the fat white cat, Ginger, the teeny dog she’s walked, Meatloaf, the bearded dragon (Meatloaf?), Snowball, the rabbit, Rosie and Roxie, the kittens. She went on a field trip to a farm and saw horses, including a miniature horse, and goats named Mike and Ike. She’s just bubbled over with enthusiasm.
When I drove her home yesterday, she told me that maybe someday, she can work there. Or at least be a volunteer. Because she just loves animals.
Last night, when I texted her that I was running late, but would still let her know when I was home, so we could read, she answered, “Great!!!” And when I said I was on my way, I got my “Yay!!”
A grandchild who loves to read. And yes, she sometimes writes stories. And she loves animals.
Nothing and no one could be more perfect.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.