anyway it reminded me again to write down this story...
When I was about 9, my mom took me and the Little-Girl-Across-the-Street-Who-I-Thou
But anyway, when I was little, I enjoyed going there because it was pretty much always the same. There were raccoons in a pen, and a coati mundi that if you were lucky, you could see being fed by the keeper. If you were REALLY lucky maybe you'd get to feed an animal with a bottle, but I never seemed to be lucky enough to hit the right time for that. There were also a lot of interesting snakes under glass, which my mom didn't like AT ALL, and one time when our Scout troop went and they brought out a big python to let us kids touch the skin, my mom tried to be brave and touch it too, and its head jerked and she screamed and I was embarrassed and mad at her all the way home in the car, even though she pointed out that she was the only one of the troop moms who even bothered to try touching the snake. The rest were too chicken to even have it brought near. There was another time, not so nice, when my mom tried to take a sick pigeon, that she'd rescued from the driveway and put in an old cage, out there for medical treatment because it couldn't stand up, and she got mad and started yelling at the staff after a couple of them said "ewww, a pigeon" and "I'd just let it die." Someone finally took the pigeon away (and probably knocked it over the head in the back room) and my mother raved all the way home about how rotten those purported "animal lovers" were not to care about the poor pigeon.
I don't recall anything bad happening on this trip though. I remember it being extra fun and special because I got to go with Kelli. She was my favorite "friend" at the time. She was about two years older and was the definition of "Queen Bee" right out of the girl psych books. She always thought up the most fun games to play (half of which our parents didn't like) and told each of us, confidentially, bad stories about the other girls behind the other girls' backs, and then when all us girls compared notes and came whining to her and demanding that she choose one of us over the other, she'd deny ever having said anything and ask us what we were talking about. All the neighborhood girls wanted to be her best friend, except for her own mousy little sister who was jealous of all the attention Kelli got (probably from their parents as well as from the other kids) and would do things like put Kelli's best doll clothes in the gerbil's cage to chew and poop on, which we all gasped and said was horrible at the time, but in retrospect I can totally understand.
My mom didn't like Kelli one bit, having been the victim of various Kelli-precursors when she herself was a little girl, so it was very weird that she would invite Kelli to go anyplace with us. But just this once, she did, completely on the spur of the moment. So I had Kelli all to myself for the afternoon, and we had so much fun seeing the little zoo exhibits and telling silly jokes and probably giggling a lot in that annoying little-girl way. And then, for a special treat, we got to stop at the gift shop. This place had a little gift shop full of cheap animal toys and doodads and of course my mother would usually rush me past it because I would always be wanting Something and her not wanting to spend the money. But this time, she let us pick stuff out! I imagine she didn't want Kelli's mom to think she was a cheapskate. Or perhaps she was just in an extra-good mood that day. We each got the same things: a comb shaped like a fish's bones, which I still have somewhere, and a little fur mouse.
I thought that mouse was the greatest thing I had ever seen. Just a little mouse with a kernel of corn in its pipe-cleaner arms (I knew what pipe cleaners were because my dad smoked a pipe), but it was made of real fur (rabbit probably) and felt SO soft. Just like all the little mousy-gerbily-hamstery-guineapig-bunny pets I wasn't allowed to have because my mom hated rodents only slightly less than snakes. I was the kind of kid who wanted one or two of every animal. For years I wanted to be a veterinarian so I could be surrounded by animals at all times. (I only changed my mind after someone told me you also had to learn to doctor horses and that sort of thing, not just cute puppies and kitties and hamsters. I didn't like horses that much.)
I quickly made the fur mouse my pretend pet. I think I named it "Peek" because I had read a children's story book featuring a little wild mouse named Peek. Once we found a field mouse in the yard that my mom caught in a box and let me keep and look at for a day before letting it go, but I was NOT allowed to touch it or pet it or pick it up, just watch it. I named that one Peek as well. I remember Mom misspelled its name in the big reminder note she taped to the box, "DO NOT PICK UP 'PEAK'!!!!!!" I guess she thought I named it after Peak Toothpaste or something.
Anyway, I was enthralled with Peek the furry toy mouse. I made it a little nest in a basket, out of some hankies and Kleenex. I would carry it around in its basket, and take it out to play. I was thinking I might eventually build it a real little mouse house in a box. I talked to it. I brought it to the table for meals. I thought of Peek almost as real, or at least as one of the neatest toys I had ever come across, and figured we would be friends for a long, long time.
For about two days. On the third day, Peek met with a dreadful accident. I had brought him down in his little basket and left the basket in the living room while I went off to do something else in the next room. A little while later out of the corner of my eye, I saw our cat playing with something. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was playing with PEEK!!! This was years before fur mice were marketed in every pet store as cat toys, in fact Peek was the first fur mouse I had ever seen, so the possibility that the cat might enjoy such a play thing (as it undoubtedly was, flipping Peek through the air and pouncing on him!!!) had not occurred to me. I ran and yelled and screamed and hit the cat and got Peek back.
But Peek was not the same. He had been chewed. A seam had opened down his front. Half of his tail had been pulled off.
I tried to do some surgery and glue him back together, but it was no use. He just wasn't the same. He would never be the same.
Needless to say, this did not endear the cat to me. I already didn't like the cat very much because it didn't ever want to play with me or sit on my lap or go for walks with me or for rides in my bike basket. It liked my mom because she fed it, and it would follow her around. And it liked my dad; every night it would wait for him to sit in his La-Z-Boy and open the newspaper, and the cat would climb onto his lap unbidden and sit on the newspaper and my dad would pet the cat and it would purr, and it would only leave when it heard my mom opening cans of food for dinner. I would get angry and sad because the cat didn't sit on my lap, nor did it want to follow me around. That wasn't how I had envisioned it when I begged my parents for a kitten a few years previous. And now, every time I whined and wheedled for a new pet, one that would be MY friend and love ME and want ME to cuddle and play with it, my parents would say, "We already have a cat."
And now the nasty bad cat had chewed up Peek, the closest thing I had to a new pet friend. Oh, how I hated that cat.
I put the chewed-up Peek away in a drawer and didn't look at it very much because it made me too upset. I knew I wasn't going to get another fur mouse because we only went out to the nature center a couple times a year, and I'm pretty sure by the time we went again they didn't have any more. I remember when I was 14, dressed fur mice were in vogue and we bought a few from a vendor's stand in San Francisco, in little George Washington and Oakland A's outfits, but those were just to look at, not to play with, as the clothes didn't come off. And later when I was maybe 18, I found some newfangled fur mice in a toy store and bought one, thinking of Peek. But I didn't bond with the new mouse. It was a newer version with plastic limbs instead of pipe cleaners, and as collectors have noted, the faces were not as cute on these later-made mice as on the early ones made in Germany like Peek. Plus, I guess I was maybe beyond the fur-mouse stage, and about at the point of growing up enough to have my own pets. A guinea pig that Dead Guy got me for my birthday because I begged and pleaded for one and he was the second boyfriend I had asked to get me a hamster or a guinea pig. (The first one decided to get creative and bought me hermit crabs, which were OK but not what I wanted, not cuddly, not what I had asked for. Stupid boyfriend. I later dropped him in favor of Dead Guy who would get me just what I wanted. Oddly enough, my mom really liked watching the hermit crabs and feeding them. I think she enjoyed them way more than I did.)
The cat and I had reached a peace accord by the time he died, when I was about 25. He was never really "my" cat though. I didn't have a cat that loved Me until I adopted Tabbitha in 1992, who has always been "my" cat and will fight the other cats if they intrude on her "me" time. I have had a couple of other cats since Tabbitha who have shown some degree of attachment to me as well. I still find the old, chewed-up Peek from time to time in a random drawer or box at my mom's house. Lately I have considered "adopting" a new "Peek" off eBay, as you can sometimes find the old German mice, with the pipe cleaner arms, undressed, on there. I would not trust any of my cats, regardless of how much I love them, around a new Peek though. I see now how they skin the cheap fur mice that I buy them as toys.