a child, I was not allowed to join the Brownies. My father, a young university
professor, ex-Marine-turned-pacifist, took one look at the uniforms and deemed
(and therefore my mother as well) also decreed the Barbie doll "sexist"
so my sister and I were denied the sleek, buxom beauties; forced, instead, to
make do with the "Sunshine Family" -- an interracial, multi-generational
collection of dolls whose females had politically correct flat chests and zero
fashion sense. Also off limits were comic books, commercial television, and Oreos,
all categorized as "trash."
was able to satisfy my Barbie doll craving at a friend's house, the comic book
and television ban didn't bother me too much, but the inability to don that brown
beanie really hurt and I was vigilant in protest until finally my parents relented.
Sort of. Instead of the Brownies, I was permitted to join 4-H.
the Brownies, and their older counterpart, the Girl Scouts of America, 4-H is
a national organization that sponsors various youth-centered activities, but it
lacked the slick, media savvy flash of the GSA. I wanted uniforms, merit badges,
and sleep away camp. Instead, I got a lousy 4-H patch featuring a green, four-leaf
clover, each leaf representing a different "H" (hand, heart, health
and a membership to 4-H Chapter Number X with a focus on
seems that in Delaware, Ohio, the small town where I grew up, the local 4-H Chapter
catered to the outlying rural areas of Delaware County whereas the Delaware
City girls were all members of that urbane, hip, cookie-selling inner circle
I was barred from entering.
begrudgingly attended my first 4-H meeting, held in the den of "Kim"
Somebody's house -- a nightmare of calico and needlepoint pillows -- where I learned
that I was the only one who didn't live on a farm, who didn't know how to sew,
and who didn't own a pet that weighed over 100 pounds. This last distinction became
an important one as I was told that the focus of this group, indeed its very raison
d'etre, was to prepare for the Youth Division of the "Livestock Competition"
at the annual County Fair. Along with pumpkins resembling Abe Lincoln, and 18-foot
sunflowers, my 4-H compatriots would be displaying their husbandry skills by showcasing
award-winning Palomino ponies, Yorkshire swine and Holstein cows.
did not own livestock. I did, however, own a guinea pig.
acquired my first guinea pig when I was seven years old. I ingeniously named it
"Blackie" because it was -- brace yourself -- black. Blackie lasted
all of about seven days, falling prey to some mysterious disease that seemed the
fate of many an animal coming from the "Fish and Feathers" pet store
on Sandusky Street. Blackie did not exactly up and die, but lingered on in a Terri
Schiavo-like state until my Father decided to put it out of its misery. Rather
than squander money at the vet, Dad figured we could just as well DIY it, and
he enlisted the help of our neighbor, Godfrey, a visiting biologist from Guyana.
Dad had gouged a hole in one end of a shoebox, which now contained the comatose
guinea pig. I sat on the front porch, eating applesauce, and watched as Godfrey
gamely held the shoebox to the exhaust pipe of our bright orange Volkswagen Camper
while Dad repeatedly revved the engine. Periodically, Godfrey would peer beneath
the lid of the shoebox and then call in his lilting accent "Not yet!,"
and Dad would give the engine another go. Finally, Godfrey pronounced Blackie
dead and we buried him in our back yard, marking the grave with an ersatz Indian
arrowhead from Cedar Point Amusement Park.
next guinea pig, Queenie, lived to the ripe old age of six. However, she was marginalized
by the fact that her hind legs were paralyzed. When I bought her as Blackie's
replacement, the pet store owner told me to feed her "pellets" (manufactured
food which I also purchased) but neglected to tell me that the diet should be
supplemented with fresh greens. So Queenie got rodent rickets, or scurvy, or a
similar malady, which froze her hind legs. She could still drag herself around
by her front legs, and she could move pretty fast too, but I opted not to "show"
her as I felt the paralyzed hindquarters might prove a disadvantage.
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