Life Lessons Began in My Family’s Ark

I was a weird kid. I was talking to Sarah this morning about things I did when I was a little girl. This conversation was sprung off an earlier conversation about funny things kids do during church musicals. I recounted a story to Sarah about a little girl who lifted up her dress during a church musical to show another girl her Barbie underwear (thanks to Jen, who told me that hilarious story).

I thought about funny things I did as a kid, which included singing directly into microphones during church musicals, making up new names for myself and answering only to those names, putting my guinea pig in a baby carriage to talk her for walks (one time an eldery neighbor wanted to “see my baby” assuming it was a doll. She screamed, “It’s a rat!” when I proudly uncovered my baby. I vehemently replied, “Darcy’s not a rat; she’s a guinea pig!”), and looking for buried treasure and dinosaur bones in my backyard. Part of being a kid means doing weird stuff, right?

Then there was the advocacy side of my life, which started very early with writing a letter to President Reagan. In the letter, I outlined the bias our nation, especially the women of our nation, have against snakes. A week or two earlier, we found roadkill snake on the road while on vacation and I was deeply offended. In my younger years, roadkill used to make me cry (seriously). In order to alleviate this crying disorder, my dad invented a game where he would imitate the expression on the face of roadkill, which was hilarious. Generally, roadkill still gets a chuckle out of me, unless it’s a pet (dog/cat), fox, bird, or reptile.

These are my dad’s turtles. The first is a male and female box turtle about to do what you think they’re about to do. I mean, they’re playing piggyback…yeah, that’s it. The second is the same male box turtle peeking out of the leaves.

The other thing that must be understood is this–my dad ALWAYS stopped for reptiles and amphibians. Part of my childhood was spent trooping through the woods with my dad turning over rocks, staring into rivers, and driving around on fresh summer mornings looking for critters, specifically turtles. My dad was a quiet kid who was fascinated by the natural world, so he acquired all kinds of pets–a trait he carried into his adult life. Growing up, it was great to have so many animals. He had a wide collection of turles (like 30), a handful of lizards, and a few snakes. We had a couple toads and frogs as well. Since the age of 5, our house always had a rodent or two. We always owned a guinea pig and sometimes Siberian Dwarf hamsters, gerbils, hedgehogs (that was cool! I’d love to get another one!), and a rescued rabbit. Seriously, it was like living on Noah’s ark at times. My family finally got a dog when I was in second grade–a Yorkie I named Nicky. We had this demented Carin terrier for 6 months named “Damian”. My parents found him through an ad in the classifieds so he came with the name, which pretty much said it all.

I secretly think my parents were trying to make up for the guilt of making me an only child. Yet it was an amazing experience to grow up with all these animals, which has given me a sensitivity to the wonder around us in the natural world. I do feel my pet count is sparse with only two dogs and a cockatiel, but I’m OK with that.

Back to my letter to the President–my dad originally stopped the car much to my mother’s chagrin because he thought it was a live snake. Yeah, it was like growing up with a tame version of that Crocodile Hunter guy. One time he picked up a ginormous snapping turtle–I thought I had just about the coolest dad in the world that day. The snake was dead and we moved on with our lives. Except for me. I thought someone deliberately harmed the snake and the President needed to do something about it (in retrospect, I see how it would be hard to spot a snake slithering across the highway in Maryland. Being five and trained with keen skills of observation, I didn’t consider that. It’s not like I could drive–I just got the training wheels off my bike for crying out loud).

I stated my case–snakes were good and misunderstood. I was only a little girl who had held many snakes and they never hurt me. I mentioned that snakes get a bad rap because of the Fall of Man, but that’s unfair because snakes clearly don’t talk these days. I even drew a crayon pictures of a snake and a turtle on the side of the letter for effect. I remember addressing the envelope amazed that my mom knew the President’s address. I’m not sure if we mailed the letter or not, but if we did, President Reagen never had the decency to write me back or draft legislation that would prevent people from deliberately running over reptiles with their automobiles.

A picture I took of a brilliant sunset in our glorious world. This is actually from the balcony of my apartment building…there really is so much beauty if we only see (That’s a line from Grey Holiday’s song “Glorious” from their album The Glorious Revolution).

As much as I blame my parents for screwing up my life, I think back to memories like this–where I was encouraged to express my thoughts (however silly) to the President of the United States. I believe this taught me I was able to talk to the God of the Universe. My dad and I would get up early summer mornings to go “Turtling” (that was our term for driving around on back roads looking for box and wood turtles). Not only did I learn to pay attention to small details, gain great skills of observation, and rock out to Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys, I learned to love God’s creation and the creatures He has placed in it. I also carried with me skills of responsible pet ownership, which was one of the first commands God ever gave humans–“Take care of the earth”.

This set a foundation for my faith in God. When I doubt Him, I only need to walk outside and be amazed. Some days that’s not enough, but most days, it is. I grab my camera to capture the obscurities people take for granted or sing with my cockatiel or race through the grass with my dogs and that little girl who cared so deeply about roadkill is alive in me. Plus, I do have great taste in music.

Yes, my parents made mistakes and continue to do so, which is the flip side to being human in this fallen world. Plus, some of their genes didn’t help either. But there are good parts, too, which can never be overlooked. Some of life’s greatest lessons happen when we simply stop on the side of the road to look for snakes (or write letters to the President about national concerns).

0 thoughts on “Life Lessons Began in My Family’s Ark

  1. Amy, where did you get that first photo? I have one like that of me with a doll instead of a dog in the buggy. In fact, a buggy like that was your grandmother’s plaything and then resided in the eaves of our family home on Federal Street in Allentown. Occasionally, as a child, I was permitted to play with it. So whatever happedned to it? I have no idea. Sad, isn’t it?

    This essay is a lovely tribute to your father’s influence on your life. Be sure he reads it. Thank you, Amy.

  2. Amy, where did you get that first photo? I have one like that of me with a doll instead of a dog in the buggy. In fact, a buggy like that was your grandmother’s plaything and then resided in the eaves of our family home on Federal Street in Allentown. Occasionally, as a child, I was permitted to play with it. So whatever happedned to it? I have no idea. Sad, isn’t it?

    This essay is a lovely tribute to your father’s influence on your life. Be sure he reads it. Thank you, Amy.

  3. Amy, we mailed that letter to the President, but he never responded.

    It was not my fault in making you on ONLY child. I wanted other children, but … it takes two to tango. so to speak.

  4. Amy, we mailed that letter to the President, but he never responded.

    It was not my fault in making you on ONLY child. I wanted other children, but … it takes two to tango. so to speak.

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