By Ed Staskus
Every time Thelma found an animal, cat dog bird squirrel, anything, it didn’t matter, she would take care of it and nurture it. If they were hurt her dad, Fred, and she would help them out together. If it was an emergency, they took them to the Lake Erie Nature Center down Wolf Road.
It drove Alma batty. She barely liked animals, at all. Besides, she had asthma. Their dander, saliva, and skin flakes aggravated it.
“Someone’s going to have to take me to the people doctor,” she said whenever Telly brought another lost or hurt creature home.
If you’re born to love animals, then you love animals. Telly didn’t think it was anything you can make happen. Her dad had it. She had it. Her mom wasn’t good with it. Whenever she wanted a pet, she always asked her dad. She never asked her mom. They had cats, dogs, guinea pigs, and a poodle, thanks to dad.
Their poodle Coco hated Telly’s brother Brad. She never knew why, exactly, except she thought he might have been too rough with her when he was a crawler.
“Coco, get him,” was all she had to say if they were sitting on the sofa together. Coco would assault the hell out of him, growling and snapping and pulling off his diaper. She had fun making the poodle attack her little brother since she knew the dog wanted to, and because she could.
Before Patty moved out Brad and Telly slept in the same room. They both had big beds with posts and a bar across the back of them. They each had cherry wood dressers, a closet, and shelves for their toys.
Telly slept in the bed by the window and Brad slept closer to the attic. Her brother passed wind gusts of gas when he was a kid. They kept a window cracked even in winter. Sometimes it was so loud he woke Telly up.
“Are your butt cheeks still flapping from that one?”
She did love him, though. He was a good kid most of the time. When she was in high school, she took him with her wherever they went. They were Tom and Jerry.
Telly played TRIP! with him all the time when he was small. Wherever he was in the house, which was a split level, six steps up from the basement, or the five steps up to the kitchen, or the twelve steps up to the bedrooms, it didn’t matter, he never knew when his sister was going to suddenly pull a cord tight and make him trip.
Her sisters made her play LET ME HAVE IT! with them. They would be in Patty or Betsy’s bedroom and she would have to say, “Let me have it.” They would pummel her with pillows. Just pummel her, letting her have it.
A car hit Coco when she was a junior in high school. Coco had gotten older and slower, but none of them saw it coming. She ran up and down the street and into and out of the woods at the end of their cul-de-sac all her living days. The man who hit her stopped, picked her up, and went looking for the owners. When he found Betty, she came to the Bay Village pool where Telly was lifeguarding and got her. They had to put her down. It was awful.
When they got their Rottweiler, Alma claimed she loved the dog, but they had to get rid of him because she said the dog inflamed her asthma. Her sister Patty adopted him, since she had moved away from home, so she was still able to see the dog whenever she wanted.
Growing up in their house in Bay Village was not like growing up in your average house. You were either going to move out while you were still young, or you were going to be thrown out. Looking back, she thought they were all thrown out.
Everybody in their family got married when they were 19, except Telly. Her mom and dad got married at 19, her brother got married when he was 19, and both of her sisters got married when they were 19. She didn’t get married until I was 34, right after her dad died.
Before she got married, after she left her family’s house because of one thing and another, she babysat Patty’s Rottweiler whenever her sister went on vacation. His name was Wellington. He was a sweet dog, but a stupid dog, too. He wasn’t the kind of vicious Rottweiler everybody always thinks they are. He had a blanket he carried around. They called the blankie Betty. They would tell him to go get Betty and when he came back, he would be dragging his blankie behind him.
He loved people, just loved them. Patty lived in West Park, near St. Patrick’s, and when school let out, Wellington would sit at the front door whimpering to be let out.
“You can’t go out,” Patty would say. “You’re going to scare the kids.”
He was a silly beast and would cry no matter what she said. He learned how to lean on the door and swivel the knob and get out. Telly started thinking he wasn’t so stupid, after all. “No, you’re not going out there,” she told him every time she was at Patty’s house, but if she was upstairs dressing for work, he would burgle the door and the next thing she knew he was at the end of the driveway. As the kids walked by there were three big slurps for each of them.
They walked away wiping their faces and rubbing their hands dry on their pants.
He got out one day when two guys were playing Frisbee in the street. He had seen them through the screen. He couldn’t contain himself.
“You’re not going out there,” Telly told him firmly, wagging her finger. “I don’t know those guys.”
He banged up against the door and when it flew open, he took off. The guys were 18, maybe 19, and when they saw him running at them, they froze. Telly ran out.
“Throw the Frisbee!” she yelled. They stayed stuck in place stiff as sticks. “The dog will love you if you throw the damn Frisbee!” One of them threw the bright red plastic disk. The big Rottweiler hauled ass after it.
“Sweet,” one of them said.
They hit the jackpot, running the dog until the end of the afternoon. His feet were bloody when he got home. He was an idiot, after all.
Even though she loved animals and her mom didn’t, which was a disagreement between them that wasn’t getting resolved anytime soon, Telly was the only one of her mom’s four kids who forced her to show some love. The others gave up trying.
She would come home from parties or from dances when I was in 7th grade and plop down on her bed, sprawled out and telling Alma about the whole fantastic night, everything that happened. Her mom would stay on the bed with her, holding her hand, listening.
A dog will love you if you throw a Frisbee. In that family they had to plan scheme compel their mom to love them. It was the way Alma was. Telly used to wonder what it was like for her growing up in a small worn-out Pennsylvania town, her family poor broken ignored. She needed some love. Telly could tell. Maybe animals couldn’t give it to her, but she could try.
Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”