Yesterday I wrote a piece about how, when we were kids, my sister Lynne would sing “Swans on the Lake” for a buck, often when my parents were entertaining at the house, and always while I accompanied her on the piano. I mentioned that Lynne performed it with a particular “panache” from which my eardrums may never recover, and that she always sang while hiding on the stairs between the first and second floor of my parents’ house. Back then I assumed she had stage fright. I now understand she just didn’t want to see the carnage after she detonated the high notes.
Whenever I write about a loved one, I try to get permission or at least give the person fair warning. I forgot to do that yesterday, and Lynne alerted me to my breach of etiquette by way of a comment on my Facebook page:
What??!! You couldn’t have written about our hamster debacle instead??!!! I remember the lyrics!!
Ignoring the fact that the last sentence was clearly a threat, I commented in jest that the hamster incident would be today’s post. A mutual friend of mine and Lynne’s immediately jumped into the fray with: “Hamster post! Hamster post!”
Sorry, Lynne, but the people have spoken, and I gotta give ’em what they want.
Like most card-carrying kids, my 11 year-old niece and 10 year-old nephew have spent years intermittently begging Lynne and her husband to get them a pet. Like most card-carrying parents, my sister and her husband had refused.
When a battle goes on for years, as this one has, one side usually weakens until it breaks down completely. And so it was that my sister and brother-in-law decided to surprise the kids with a hamster. One day, while the kids were at school, the parents brought home a hamster and a some-assembly-required cage. While my B-I-L put the cage together, the hamster hung out inside a makeshift cage comprised of two cardboard boxes.
My sister could hardly wait for my niece to get home to surprise her. My niece went over to the makeshift cage, peered in, and said, “Where is it?” My sister picked up the box and, to her astonishment, discovered my niece’s question wasn’t rhetorical. Somehow the creature, which they had named Cinnamon, ate through two layers of cardboard and had gone on the lam.
The family sprang into action, setting the kind of traps that made me feel like the hours I’d spent introducing my niece and nephew to cartoon classics like “Tom & Jerry” had been a good investment. The first trap consisted of wooden blocks arranged to form a long corridor on a few pages of newspaper. They had coated the newspaper with peanut butter, creating a Skippy trail that would lead Cinnamon right into a upside-down tupperware container. And sure enough, they caught something: ants.
On the second try they opted for flour on the newspaper instead of peanut butter, under the theory that Cinnamon would step in it and leave a nice, white trail that would lead them right to her. Cinnamon didn’t fall for that one, either.
At this point, my B-I-L concluded that Cinnamon had made it outside and was making an important contribution to the circle of life. He and my sister gave up the search and were about to abandon all hope until they heard a scurrying sound overhead. If Cinnamon hadn’t watched cartoons, she seemed to have seen her fair share of action movies because she’d escaped into the ductwork.
Unwilling to be outwitted by a rodent, my B-I-L took to the vents. He armed himself with peanut butter, a tupperware container, and a hammer, greatly decreasing the probability that both mammals would survive a confrontation.
Yet somehow, against all odds, my B-I-L not only zeroed in on Cinnamon’s whereabouts but managed to trap her and return her to the fully-assembled cage. Order was restored and the household went to bed, looking forward to a clean slate with Cinnamon.
When they awoke the next morning, they found the slate not only clean but flat-out empty: Cinnamon was gone again.
My sister texted: “She came, she ate, she left. I feel violated.” Operation Lam-ster was deployed yet again, only this time they didn’t find her, even in the ducts. Days went by and then weeks. Eventually they were forced to conclude that Cinnamon would go down as the Amelia Earhart of hamsters.
The parents bought a replacement rodent and the kids have moved on, but the whole episode still haunts my sister. I told her she shouldn’t feel like a failure. She and her husband might have lost the hamster, but at least they haven’t lost the kids. Yet.