The animal surgeon had just finished opening up the chest cavity of a large German Shepard. The beloved pooch was intubated, completely unconscious, scrubbed clean and shaved for the surgery that hopefully would save his life. The surgeon had just put down the scalpel used to open him up when his vet nurse gasped in surprise. The surgeon instinctively looked about trying to quickly pick out what was wrong. His nurse would not gasp at a surgery – she’d seen hundreds, but nothing seemed amiss. Vitals were strong, there had been no power glitches or earthquakes or even strange loud noises.
“What is it Gail?” the surgeon asked, “Is something wrong?”
No longer startled, she smiled, looked to his left and pointed with her chin, “You have an audience.” The surgeon, confused, held his gloved hands up in true surgeon form and turned to see what she was talking about.
“Well, hello! Gail did anyone tell you about the Wilson’s Golden Mantle? – Well, he’s here for a checkup. Completely tame so I was told, but when someone walked into the waiting room with a large dog, he got frightened and ran into a hole the large built-in couch and wouldn’t come out. I finally had to tell the family to leave him and he’ll likely come out today sometime and here he is. Okay, we’ve got a patient ready for us. Lets put on a good surgery for our friend here.”
I just knew my mantel was lost for good and fretted all night until the next morning when the vet called and told my mom how my mantle, curled up on the counter next to a box of tissues and watched the whole process. The dog came through fine BTW. My mantle even cooperated when the nurse pulled off her gloves and retrieved a small cage for him.
I know most of you have great memories from both your two sets of grand parents. Well, One of my grandfathers made my grandmother nuts enough that she divorced him. We were all shocked, but she was not the type to ask for any unwanted opinions or advice. She simple did what was needed and shooed him out the door.
The both remarried and, to our good fortune we loved both the incoming step-grand father and mother. My step grandfather was a ongoing strange and entertaining guy. One day he told my dad he had a sure-fire way to make some money.
That idea turned into a big deal camping trip in northern California somewhere. He had built lots of wooden boxes with lids that easy snapped shut whenever a small creature crawled inside to enjoy the sweet smelling slice of apple that baited him in.
By the end of the first day, we had over 40 Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels, 1 Gray squirrel and 1 chipmunk. It took us the better part of the evening to recapture just the Gray and the chipmunk because we opened all the traps into a large cage and then had to somehow capture just these two stowaways. The Gray squirrel was almost twice as large as the mantles, full of energy and never stopped racing around the large cage, scaring the daylights out of all the other smaller critters. The chipmunk was by far the smallest and moved like a bullet, but he was too scared to stop. They both had to go to preserve the palm-sized mantles.
Once they were gone, the mantles settled down nicely into the torn up towels we gave them to hide under. We had a whole huge cage of the cutest critters around.
When the hunt was over, we packed up and left for home. We had been out to some ranch with my grandfather to build mid-size cages of wire mess and with these we visited all the local pet stores. If you’re following this, you already realize and are somewhat surprised that back in the 1960s, you could walk right into a pet store and sell wild animals. They all sold quickly and we all were a few bucks richer.
But my sisters and I were more enthused by the new pets we just acquired. Dad gave each of us our own Golden Mantel to keep. I confirmed memories with my sisters and my youngest sister named hers, “Caramel”. My older sister named hers “Goldie”. For reasons that run the statute of limitations and no longer exist, I named mine, “French Fry”.
But could we tame them…? I answered that question by taking French Fry into the smallest bathroom and letting him out of his cage. He disappeared behind the toilet and I curled up with whatever book I was reading. I sat so I could see him from the corner of my eye each time he poked his head out. I talked to him and after several hours of not seeing me actually move towards him, he came out for short investigations of his situation. Food and water were back in the cage so anytime he crawled back in for a bite or sip, I considered if I was ready to quit for the day. Finally, I was and pulled a small string from where I sat to close the cage door.
I repeated this process for several days and by the end of the week, he was comfortable coming up to me to see if I meant him any harm I didn’t and we became great friends.
We moved all three of them to a large cage in the side yard, with a cleaned out Clorox bottle with its side cut open for a door and various sticks and branches for them to climb and play on and lots of rags for them to make a nice bed out of.
My sisters were envious. I could come home from school and my mantel would come to the cage door and jump out into my hands and we’d go play somewhere. Their mantels never really did get the whole being tame thing so they pretty much stayed in the cave.
French Fry used to do all kinds of fun things. My mom heard piano racket coming from the living room one day when one of us were supposed to be practicing. She came to investigate what we were really doing and she found us applauding the mantel who had just discovered piano keys and was running back and forth making, we thought, the most wonderful sounds possible. Always practical – she announced that he could have 10 more minutes then we were expected to be back at our own practice.
He pretty much liked to ride around with me on my shoulder or in a big pocket. His favorite place to sit while I watched TV was inside my sweat shirt half-way in my arm pit. Warm, safe and well-fed, he was one happy mantel. He never had to work for food or water, so his life was one of play or kicking back and enjoying whatever the giant food gods brought him. French Fry was a great pass-around pet. Everyone loved to hold and pet him. He loved all the attention.
Until one day –
It was a cooler and gray day when I got home from school and, as was my practice now, I stopped by the cage to pick up my mantel for the afternoon, but where was he? He was always here waiting for me. Worried that he may have escaped, I checked the cage and there was no sign of a breakout. My sisters maybe? No, they never came to pick him up and theirs weren’t tame anyway, and say, where are their mantels?
Finally I opened the large cage door and fished around. I found all three curled up and sleeping in the Clorox bottle. Say what? What’s with you guys. It’s only 3 o’clock. I carefully picked out my mantel and brought him into the house and held him and nudged him until he began to wake up. He finally did, but he remained sluggish. What did you do all night? What would mantels do once they were fed and tired of exploring their cage. . .? Oh. Oh no. . .
We might need a bigger cage.
The next day was the same thing, but I was still able to wake him. By the third day, he was almost fully non-responsive. He was breathing fine. He was just passed out. I was mystified and kinda scared. Mom and Dad weren’t home yet to ask and our WiFi was down, so I tried to figure out what dad would do. Loud music or a cold shower made no sense to me, but a different type of stimulant might work.
Okay, here’s where you have to recall that I was only in 5th grade and was used to trying my own ideas to solve problems. Often they worked so I decided to – come on now, you’re already laughing at me but this made sense at the time. I dug out an eye dropper and dad’s bottle of Wild Turkey and gave French Fry a few drops of bourbon. . .
And – yes- it worked! He opened his eyes and licked his lips and showed real signs of being himself in just a few minutes, except he was moving kinda slow and unsteady. Well I’d seen bourbon do that to a person, why not a mantel?
But of course, from your much more adult perspective, you already know what was happening. The poor guy was just trying to settle down for his winter hibernation snooze. How was I supposed to know this back then? I knew that bears hibernate, but my mantel didn’t come with an instruction manual and Warner Brothers didn’t do any instructional cartoons about mantels.
My dad enjoyed a good laugh from my sending my pet off to sleep with a most unusual night cap for a small mammal. From that day on, French Fry seems disappointed with the water we limited him to.