When I was a little girl (an only child growing up in a small Vermont village), my parents seemed particularly concerned with not spoiling me. They started out a newly-married couple without much more than their degrees (Tuck Business School and Wells College), entrepreneurial spirits and a love of the country life. They weren’t handed anything from their own parents. They worked very hard to build a catalog business together and saw it reach great heights of popularity during the mail order boom of the 80s. Their business was launched in the basement of our house, then moved to bigger space in the neighboring one-light town, then they bought a big chunk of land, built their own warehouse and office space and grew right into that, too. More warehouse space, more land, more employees, more money. Eventually, my parents sold their home-grown business to a larger catalog conglomerate that was, at the time, very busy collecting other niche mail order companies (like Golf Day and Talbots). This left them with no business but a whopping big warehouse that became home to Burton Snowboards. Their story is a model of successful business building. And, they did it side by side. All day, every day — which I almost find even more impressive.
All the while, there was me. A baby in a #10 box, a toddler with a mailing tube trumpet, a pre-schooler in packing peanuts, a kindergartener in customer service. A middle schooler that thought…well, that thought she was pretty darn cool. And, pretty sure that things were really going to start getting pretty cushy in the world in which I was living. But the amazing thing about my parents is that, despite the fact that they were starting to do quite well, they never really showed it. We lived (and my parents still live) in the same house they stretched themselves to purchase in the mid-70s. My Dad has always driven a Ford pick-up truck and I think he likes his trucks better once they’re somewhat beat-up and rusty with dog scratches on the door and a, mostly unused, gun rack in the rear window. My parents purchased a wood burning system to forego oil in the winter and my Dad, at age 65 and an implanted defibrillator later, continues to schlep load after load of wood down to the basement to fire that sucker up every day because he prefers to “burn wood, not money.”
So, any thoughts I may have had of all the trendiest fashions, a car for my 16th birthday, big weekly allowances, whatever? Sadly misguided. I was not indulged. But, don’t get me (or them) wrong. I certainly didn’t want for anything I truly needed (and I admit to attending a tony private high school) but all the really superfluous spoiled only child stuff you might expect? Nope. Not even vaguely up for discussion.
But…there was one thing I loved. That almost every child loves. One thing that I was allowed to have. In excess.
In the time that I resided under my parents roof, they also accepted residence of the following: two cats, six dogs, two guinea pigs, two hamsters, a bird, an opossum, a rabbit, baby chicks indoors and countless varieties of backyard chickens.
And, I’ve probably forgotten some.
Sweet, huh? Letting their little girl have a menagerie of pets? Mostly, yes. But, there’s this one other thing about that. You see, the first pet that was officially mine was a kitten. A black, fuzzy thing as cute as a button and only about twice as big. And he was to be mine (all mine!) with one condition. My Dad was going to name it. Sure! I’d take that deal any day. I mean, how bad could it be?
Blackie? I suggested. Nah, said my Dad.
We’ll name him Dick.
Yup, Dick. That’s what my Dad named that cat.
You laugh, don’t you?
Want to know what he named my hamster? Dick the hamster. And the bird? Dick the bird. I kid you not. I lived with this. Repeatedly.
I laugh now, of course. And, truth be told, I’m a BIG FAN of giving pets human names. Our other pet names (you know, when we already had a Dick in the house – snicker) were Mickey, Bonnie, Sam, Sonny, Katie, etc.
When I was in college, I went out and got a guinea pig (my roommates were not so excited but they grew to love her. I think.) We named her Joyce. As an aside we thought we were naming her after that saxophone playing Muppet. You know, the one with the crazy hair? Turns out her name was Janice but whatever. Joyce stuck.
Ross and I got a dog together after we were married and named him Bernie (after #51). We’ve already decided our next dog will be Jorge (#20) although I plan to pronounce it “George” and Ross will likely drive me crazy by actually calling him “Hoar-hay”. Just rolls off the tongue, no?
I’ll bet there are a lot of things that my parents are proud they passed along. Things that I carry with me every day in the form of my happiest childhood memories. And, there are also probably some things they hoped I’d forget.
I wonder where the memory of “Pets Named Dick” stands in their minds?