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11:17 PM Tue, Nov. 20th

Column: Father's Day

I was nine or ten, an age when my attraction to white rats was at its zenith. I was responsible for cleaning their cage twice a week. That was one of the conditions imposed by my mother if I wanted to keep them inside.

Another, as you might imagine, was that when I cleaned their cage, each rat was to be transferred to a large box I brought up from the basement. That was part of the deal.

Anyhow, my mom was out visiting with a neighbor so I took the chance that I could keep an eye on them while I scoured the cage and put in fresh water and shredded paper. Perhaps I should mention that she really didn’t share my attraction to my little friends.

So I was busy doing my cleaning and watching them play beneath the dining room table believing I could keep an eye on them when the doorbell rang. It was my friend, Jimmy. I invited him in and before I could run back to the dining room, the rats had scattered as rats are wont to do.

“We’ve got to find them before my mom gets back!” I exclaimed. I didn’t have to explain why. Jimmy’s mother liked rats even less than mine and wouldn’t let him have any. He knew I was on thin ice if they weren’t back in the cage when mom returned.

“I found one,” I yelled. Snow White was under the coffee table in the living room. I caught hold of her tale and put her back in the cage. Quickly I found two others. Then Jimmy called out that he saw something move under the china cabinet. When he stuck his hand into the darkness, he let out a large shriek.

“There’s a snake under there,” he screamed.

“I’ll bet that’s Benjamin,” I responded cooly. “He escaped this morning. Thanks for finding him.” I don’t think Jimmy heard that last comment; the front door slammed just as I said it. I guess I forgot to tell him about Benjamin.

I got Benjamin back into his cage just as Mom walked in the back door. “Everything okay here?” she asked.

“Just fine,” I replied.

Actually I told a small fib. Whitey was still missing as well as my other snake, Herbert. I kept my eyes peeled while I helped mom prepare dinner. No luck.

Fortunately, during meals mom sat at the table with her back to the living room. I had a clear view and dad could scope the area if he turned his head just a little. So I was the one who saw Whitey stick his small head around the corner. I stayed calm. Neither parent caught my sudden head movement.

That is, until Herbert slithered around the same corner. I must have flinched because dad looked at me, then glanced at the now crowded corner. Sipping her coffee, mom missed the smile dad sent me. Then while I was trying to figure out how to prevent mom from discovering that Whitey and Herbert were headed her way, dad asked me to check the front door. “It may have been blown open by the breeze.”

So, I checked the door, picking up Whitey and Herbert on the way and dropping them off in their cages. Dad didn’t say a word about the collusion, but I never have forgotten his help.

Which is why on this Father’s Day I think it’s appropriate to spend a while recalling some of those moments when a dad came to our rescue or did us a quiet, special favor, or gave us a small gift of understanding.

The precious words, “Thanks dad” in my case, would have the enthusiastic endorsement of Whitey and Herbert.