The animal surgeon had just finished opening up the chest cavity of a large German Shepard. The beloved pooch was intubated and completely unconscious for the surgery that hopefully would save his life. He had just put down the scalpel when his nurse gasped in surprise. The surgeon instinctively looked about trying to determine what was wrong. She wouldn’t gasp at a surgery – she’d seen hundreds.
“What is it Gail?” the surgeon asked, “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 little fellow! Gail did anyone tell you about the Wilson’s golden mantle? He’s here for a checkup and shot, completely tame, but when someone walked into the waiting room with a large dog, this little guy got frightened and ran and found a hole beneath the waiting room couch and wouldn’t come out. They had to leave him, but we knew he’d likely come out today and here he is. His name is, ‘French Fry’ Is that a great name or what?
“Okay, we’ve got a patient waiting. Let’s put on a good surgery for our guest, Monsieur French Fry.”
– – = = ( o ) = = – –
Back at home, 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 he’d come out, 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 your two sets of grandparents. 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 simply did what was needed and shooed him out the door.
They both remarried and, to our good fortune, we loved both the incoming step-grand father and mother. My step grandfather was an 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 easily 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 mantles, one gray squirrel who was quite angry about this outrage and one chipmunk who was completely freaked out. They were all mixed together in one large cage, and it took us the better part of the evening to recapture and release just the squirrel and the chipmunk because we opened all the traps into that one large cage and could not tell what we’d captured until they came shooting out. Now, somehow, we had to capture just these two stowaways because they were not part of the grand plan.
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 smaller critters. The chipmunk was by far the smallest creature in the cage. The squirrel kept this little guy is a state of panic and he moved like a frantic bullet, too scared to stop. The mantels were more terrified of the squirrel and chipmunk ricocheting around the cage than they were of us, so both had to go to preserve the health and sanity of 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. They were pretty skittish of us, but now that the agitated squirrel and chipmuck were gone, they could settle down and just worry about what was happening.
When the hunt was over, we packed up and left for home. My grandfather took me to a ranch where I learned how to build smaller, wire mesh cages and with these we visited all the local pet stores. Even though I was there, I’m still surprised how 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 stressed the statute of limitations, I named mine, ‘French Fry’.
So, now we owned them, but could we tame them? I answered the 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 after school for several days and by the end of the week, he was getting comfortable coming up to me to see if I meant him any harm or grab a peanut from the stack I kept nearby. Thus, 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. Because, the girls never did the time of taming their mantels, theirs never really got used to people as French Fry did and just stayed in the cage.
French Fry used to do all kinds of fun things. You already read about his unique visit to the vet where he sat quietly and watched an actual dog surgery. I would have loved to have seen that.
Then another day, Mom heard piano racket coming from the living room when one of us was supposed to be practicing. She came to investigate and found us applauding French Fry, who had just discovered piano keys and was running back and forth making, we thought, the most wonderful music 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 hoody pocket. His favorite place to sit while I watched TV was inside my sweatshirt 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 collect French Fry 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 4 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. . .? It was then that I realized that we really didn’t know even the sex of our pets.
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 non-existent yet, 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, I’m telling you, 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, but I don’t think he liked it much. His eyes sprang open and he licked his lips and showed real signs of being himself, distressed by the taste, but animated, which was all that mattered.
I don’t like it either. I thought. Maybe he’s more of a beer drinker.
In just a few minutes he seemed to be almost normal, except for moving kinda slow and unsteady. But – I’d seen bourbon do that to a person, so why not a mantel?
“Hey Bud, good to see you up and about. Want a drink?”
But of course, from your much more adult perspective, you already know what was happening – right? 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 French Fry didn’t come with an instruction manual, and Warner Brothers never got around to making any instructional cartoons about them.
My dad enjoyed a good laugh from my sending my pet off to hibernate with the most unusual night cap ever for a small mammal.
From that day on, French Fry seems disappointed with the water we limited him to. He really was the cutest drunk I’d ever known.