Recorded Sept/Oct 2020
[Dad is italics.] So you wanna hear about Rosemary?
I suppose this was our sophomore year of college, we got each other a Valentine’s present – a handsome Siamese kitten names Clawedious Lucious – and I kept him the rest of sophomore year, then took him to my parents – we got married and lived on Groustock – and we went to Austin for the summer of ‘69 – and when we went to look for apartments in Houston, no one wanted to allow cats! So Clawed was given to the Butts family – and we were bad, we didn’t fix Clawed, and he was famous for two things: as a mouser, and as a father. All the ranches near the Butts had these handsome little Siamese kittens.
[Momma is non-italics.] Clawed was a cat; Rosemary was a guinea pig.
It’s context, I’m establishing that we liked to look at pets together.
I don’t remember if Dad and I were married, but the first guinea pig I got, we named Rosemary. She was that short reddish hair, reddish with a white blaze over the top of her forehead – she was a very pretty guinea pig.
It was our senior year, we had some fish tanks, we got some guinea pigs… we LOVED to go to pet shops for dates. Once upon time we got a peach-throated lovebird, who was very, very loud. Our dear, dear neighbors, the Pinto brothers, were two twin brothers in the 40’s with a disabled younger brother, with Down’s Syndrome, they simply loved Uncle Allen…
I was trying to teach the bird to talk, so I set up tape records, one on either side of the room – “Hank’s a pretty bird!” *whistle* “Hank’s a pretty bird!” *whistle* – cycling constantly – it drove the bird even further insane, and made the Pinto brothers, err, less happy with us.
No, we never had a peach-throated love bird.
It was a parrot. I think it was a Quaker parakeet – I’m sure it’s the kind all around Austin – and it’s called a parakeet but it is a parrot. And it was so loud.
We took it back to Foley’s, to the pet department, and they said “we can’t take it back.” And we said you just have to take it back, so we left it there and ran away.
And when I see those parrots all around Austin, I just know, I know where they came from. Some poor person bought a Quaker parakeet and it was just so awful they released it. If I’d released ours, Houston would have parrots all over the place the way Austin does, now.
At that point, Betty/Bamaw was being treated for breast cancer in Houston, and when she stayed in the house, the bird drove HER insane – so we finally had to take the bird back to the pet store – and he said he could adopt the bird back but couldn’t pay for it – and we said, fine, we really need to get rid of that bird. And he said, you know, that’s funny – that’s probably the 4th time I’ve sold this particular bird and gotten him back.
So. Rosemary. I think I got her a pet store – I didn’t know anything about guinea pigs, but I thought they were cute. Dad and I used to go to pet stores as dates, look at the fish and all around, with no intention of buying anything – NO intention. Except we both liked going. We didn’t even have a fish tank at that point, I don’t remember which year, but I know I was a Rice student.
[I ask if Mom lived with Dad, and if that would narrow it down to before or after marriage, and she clarifies she did NOT live with Dad before they got married, she just can’t remember the Rosemary timeline.]
So those Pinto brothers, when I say they adopted Uncle Allen – well, we had a much nicer place for our senior year of Rice, and uncle Allen was a freshman at TAMU – and he’d come to see us on the weekends, especially when Betty was there. And the Pintos just thought Allen was so cool. He was pre-vet at TAMU, and they were animal lovers, so they’d take Allen to Astros baseball games – and they BOUGHT him BEER, and he just thought that was the greatest thing ever. The Pintos basically looked like Mario and Luigi – excellent mustaches – they dressed up and took real time on their appearances, and they took time on their brother’s appearance, and these two dapper Italian twins in their 40s with their handsome but disabled brother and then Allen, dudded out in denim.
So. We got rid of that bird, but we would still go to pet stores. And after Betty got better, and finished chemo and radiation – Grandpa Aaron came to pick her up and take her back to Littlefield, and he gave us some fun money, so we had a bit of cash in our pockets… and we said, let’s invest this wisely and get us a guinea pig.
The guinea pig cages hanging from the ceiling – that was MUCH later – after we moved to Austin. Rosemary was a Rice guinea pig. Dad says I took Rosemary to class but I didn’t take her to class! I did have a ratan purse, with a cotton lining – and ONCE, when I was taking the train home from Houston to Littlefield, I wanted to take Rosemary with me so I put her in my purse ONCE. There was a boy on the train that went to Rice; I didn’t know him real well, but we both recognized each other as Rice students on the train to Littlefield – and so we sat together. And it was a long train ride, like 8 hours, I don’t think it was overnight – but after MANY hours, I took a bit of food and fed my purse, and this guy thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen, even when I explained I was just feeding my guinea pig.
It was a great way to go home, it was nice. I like train trips.
Your momma was famous for carrying two purses – one with her billfold and keys, and one with her guinea pig. She had a pretty ratan purse, so she converted it to a guinea pig carrying case – it had a cloth lining she’d supplement with Kleenex. This was, of course, practice for parenting, and why, of course, you were raised so much like a guinea pig.
So, we got me a little male – mostly white, with some whorls of reddish brown and black – Otis was a handsome man.
Otis? Yeah, he was our next guinea pig – and he had one single whorl on the top of his head, so cute, like a little flat top. What is a guinea pig with those whorls called?
[We do some googling and establish they are Abyssinian guinea pigs.]
Now, when we say cages hanging from the ceiling – you’ve got to understand, guinea pigs can’t climb. So when we say cage, we mean like the bottom of a drawer.
Otis had this habit where he’d jump up and twist and it was just great to watch – and of course, when a guinea pig is noisy, we call it routling – and of course, the babies are especially attractive, they’re born with all their hair, all their features – they’re like a baby goat – the minute they’re born, they can stand up and walk and move around – and they’re able to scurry about at a very young age – so we didn’t want to take up too much floor space, so we hung a shallow wooden box – suspended it from the ceiling from molly bolts – and it would sway and swing, and we could clean it quite easily…
So by the time we graduated senior year, I think we had 3 fish tanks, a guinea pig arena … speaking of fish tanks, one of my best friends at Rice was Jules L—– – his daddy had a vending machine and games business, like foosball tables – Jules was also a football player, big ol’ guy, real smart – his parents had split up when he was young and he was kinda raised by his tiny Cajun grandmother – her husband had worked on the docks, been a longshoreman – so Mrs. L—- – raising Jules – would have sailers from all over the world swing by – so she had a wonderful assortment of people that would occasionally bring her animals
AND SHE HAD A GREENHOUSE – a good 6 miles from the Rice campus – and once upon a time she had a sea captain deliver her a Siamese Fighting Fish – direct from Siam – so he’d gotten 15 or 20 females and males back – and he gave a few to Mrs. L—- and she gave me one – a big ol’ beautiful female, twice the size of any male we had!
Mrs. L—- and Jules had a workshop – this was ‘67 or ‘68 – and it was getting to the point where you could buy a tank for less than the materials to make one
So we ended up with a big ol betta tank, and we got some males – and we were sure these would lead to big ol’ beautiful babies – so we separated the male and female like the books said and eventually removed the barrier, and then the male would wind up on the floor.
It took a long time to realize she might be a different species.
So anyways, when we left Houston, we had tons of big ol’ Angelfish – and we gave all that stuff – well, some of it we gave back to the L—-s – but we gave them all the fish supplies and fish.
Mrs. L—- had connections – sea captains from all over the world – so her greenhouse was a magical place, with especially succulents and cacti from all over the world.
One of the cool things about Jules’ dad – he had a circuit – that he’d run – he got an inheritance – he had a bunch of pool tables – the fancy ones that would collect the balls to charge another quarter – and pinball machines – so he had a collection of machines at all sorts of bars – and I would help out occasionally – and we would put new records in the juke boxes – I didn’t do much with the pinball machines – Jules was a good electrician and could fix most things that went wrong with a pinball machine.
[Dad comments on how he segued from guinea pigs to the L—- family, and then proceeds to head even further off into the weeds.]
So when we finished up college, we thought we’d head directly into the Peace Corps – I had a hernia that had never caused problems – so we took the guinea pigs to (Dooley Grandparents)
So I went through the Peace Corps physical, and they said I couldn’t go with the hernia, unless it was repaired, at which point I could re-apply.
So we stayed in a rent house in Christoval until I got the hernia fixed.
[And then he got the hernia fixed, reapplied, and moved to Africa.]
So most of our pets in Africa were chameleons – and insects we’d keep for a day or two in a jar – and Beboo the monkey!
We had some improvements made to our fairly new house where we stayed – a raised garden bed in the yard – ¾ meters tall – and we folded chicken wire over to make a smaller mesh – and we kept the chameleons in there.
And we had friends that kept cows, grazed, so their manure was not terribly rich – they gave us the manure that was very fiber-rich and not too nitrogen-rich – so our flower beds were full of manure – and they would attract a bunch of different bugs that I could swat with a swatter and feed the chameleons.
Lisa Sume – lisa was the name of the chameleon, but it was like saying Holy Lisa – so she could carry prayers from the base of the forest to the tops of the trees – so she was holy, she was a sacred creature, and people wouldn’t mess with them.
Even little boys would leave them alone – but they thought it was wild that I would catch them and take them home and feed them – two hats together make a great chameleon cage – I love the chameleon, they have a tongue about the same length as their bodies!
They’re spectacular and wonderful creatures – and if you set a mesh hat over a chameleon, then after a few minutes they’ll have a mesh pattern on their back – they have a wonderful ability to be still – one of their magic powers is stillness – they can blend in, hide, and here comes Mr Bug, and that tongue flicks out
A palapa is like a grass hut – a payote is french for pallapa – a grass hut – pai is french for hay – pai yote is like the hay thing – we had a round slab of concrete with not cedar posts but (spelling) – a local tree – fibrous wood – very resistant to termites – so we had a round cement slab with 8 posts around, with a peak formed from tree branches and vines and whatnot – and then thatch of thick grass, hay, reed – what we in Texas would call a brush arbor.
Mount Olive – where many ancestors and my grandmother (Fred’s) are buried – put green branches on it over the summer – so it blocks more light – but as the seasons progress the leaves die back, and there’s more light coming through by the winter.
So people would always swing by to show us things – especially students – and one evening 4 little boys showed up with a monkey! For sale! And two of the boys were bandaged up – and that shoulda told me something.
We think it was a Green Monkey, which is thought to be the animal vector for crossing HIV over species – handsome little monkey.
They wanted 1000 francs which was like $3.60 – which really wasn’t bad – and Momma could pick up the monkey and it’d be real sweet with her – and they boys took the money and ran – and it turned out that the monkey did NOT like men. Mom could pet it and even cuddle it – but if I got close it’d bare its fangs and try to bite – so we attached his little collar to the clothesline outside by the peyote – we gave it all sorts of fruits – it especially loved day-old banana – loved table scraps – seemed to be fairly healthy physically but was totally insane, mentally. It had probably been traumatized by boys, and had generalized to all men.
Maybe every 5 days we had a big market, where people would come in 20 miles or more to bring their wears – so when ladies would come to market, they’d come say hi to Beeboo, and it was adorable – but when boys tried to say hi, Beeboo acted like he was dying.
Our next door neighbors were from Taiwan – another volunteer project – none of those guys could get close to BeeBoo but no one was surprised.
Joe A—– was our buddy, our protector – and he said he had terrible news – and he opened his little fridge and there was Beeboo the monkey – Beeboo had gotten himself tangled up with the folding chair and tangled his collar/leash and hung/choked himself – and Joe was distraught because he’d found the body – so we carried him across the street and buried him in the forest.
But what amazed me – when I was 16 and first moved to Christoval – we had a lovely house on the edge of the school ground with a playground and field and trees for shade – and I could crawl up on the roof so easily and lie on the roof and watch the squirrels – and watch the show – what amazed me – I used to always think monkeys were so cool, and I wanted a monkey – and then I got to know actual monkeys – and they were pretty but so boring! While squirrels are never boring!
So we got back into the guinea pig business – when we got back into the states – and when Linda was accepted to medical school, we made another wooden guinea pig arena – we had a guest bedroom or guest area, and tons of guinea pigs hanging from the ceiling…
When we say cage, we mean like the bottom of a drawer – they can’t climb – so we mean the bottom of a drawer hung from the ceiling – AND WE WOULD SELL THEM
[I mention silly money-making schemes.]
Oh, no, it wasn’t a money-making scheme – it was just to get rid of the guinea pigs!
Remember, I was an intern.
Dad was working at the state school – a practicum – like a fellowship/apprenticeship – he didn’t like it because everyone smoked – Travis State School – I think he stayed on working there but I’m not sure, I think he did.
[How did you go from all the guinea pigs to no guinea pigs?] We sold them all at the same time – I don’t remember how far into Austin it was … it shoulda been sooner.
[How long did you live in Austin, approximately, before you had Susanna?]
We came to Austin in 1980, in June, we had a little condo (duplex) we’d found – I think 4 or 5 med school classmates came and stayed with me while we took the boards – it was covered with med students – I did a 3 year residency, to 1983 – then I took a job at south Austin clinic working with Paula – internships start 1 July – and my job started the day after – so not only did I start immediately – and then I had Susanna June of the next year.
I don’t think we moved any guinea pigs to Cedar Ridge – guinea pigs are not particularly stinky but we maybe eventually got tired of the smell.
[How long between having Susanna and going back to work?] Two months
[That seems crazy] Yeah.
[Dad, of course, argues that guinea pigs were training for human babies, and that they didn’t so much give up the guinea as they did graduate to the next level of critter. By this argument, of course, BlueAnnie is the ultimate in pet progress.]