I don’t have a great track record with pets. I blame it on my early troubles with rodents: in particular, the family of gerbils I looked after during Christmas break in third grade and Christopher’s pet rat, Martin.

Actually, third grade might have been the problem.

Our third grade classroom featured a family of gerbils—a pair of “girl” gerbils that reproduced somewhat surprisingly. Gerbils are pretty cute but baby gerbils are even cuter. We were clearly the luckiest class at Lowell Elementary.


I was thrilled to pieces when Mrs. Garbe chose me to help care for our classroom pets during the winter break from school. She actually selected two of us: I shared the honor with Ramona, who I was deeply envious of for two reasons: she had a swing set in her yard and she had her own set of Cray-Pas, which she carefully wiped clean after every use.


Ramona was assigned the first week of break and I was given the second. She lived a half a block from school so my brothers accompanied me on the long five-block walk to her house on the day designated for gerbil handoff. I don’t remember Ramona handing off the cage—Was she friendly? Did she offer words of encouragement?—but I do remember that I felt she hadn’t done a good enough job keeping the cage clean during her week. So the first order of business was to clean the cage.

At that point we lived in a house on E. Denny behind the Jack-in-the-Box (which still featured a creepy clown theme) and with a back yard overlooking the liquor store parking lot.


The kitchen at the back of the house had a pantry area with shelves, which is where Christopher’s pet rat, Martin, lived. Although Martin had a cage, he was what you might call a “free range rat” in that we allowed him to range freely about the house. The cage was more of a suggestion than a method of confining him.

So we brought the family of classroom gerbils into our house, cleaned the cage carefully, and then set it up in the pantry alongside Martin’s cage. My youngest brother, Jesse, who was about three years old at the time, was naturally entranced by the gerbils.


Jesse probably didn’t understand that although Martin’s cage door could remain open, the gerbils really required more of a closed door approach. So at some point that week, he left the door open and every last one of the gerbils escaped. Which is how I ended up standing in the doorway of my third grade classroom on the first day back to school in the new year holding an empty cage.

I think I’ll save the companion story of Martin’s untimely demise for another day.

Offering: One opened but mostly full bag of rodent bedding



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