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Making Do
By Anne Flanagan

As 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 them "Fascist."

Dad (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."

I 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.

Like 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…hymen?), and a membership to 4-H Chapter Number X with a focus on…animal husbandry.

It 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.

I 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.

I did not own livestock. I did, however, own a guinea pig.

I 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.

My 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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