MY PET ALLIGATORS
When my sister and I were kids in the late 60s and early 70s and so many things were different. Things that are unthinkable and Politically Incorrect now were just everyday things back then. Like forget about seat belts, I’m not even sure the car had them. We climbed all over the car while we raced down the highway. Dad would yell for us to get off the shelf above the back seat that most cars had back then. He didn’t care for safety reasons, he just couldn’t see out the back window. The car was full of Dad’s cigarette smoke, we were hanging over the front bench seat with our feet of the ceiling of the car and Mom was adjusting the several hair pieces that she needed to get her hairdo 8 inches high.
While on a family trip to Florida, we stopped at an Alligator Farm. There were these old cowboy looking guys that wrestled the alligators and made them do tricks. My sister and I were mesmerized. At the Alligator Farm Gift Shop they actually sold baby alligators that we could take home for our very own. We just had to have them. We NEEDED baby alligators! We were sure we could teach them better tricks then these old guys did. Our first plan was to teach them to ride Barbie around the house and then maybe when they were big enough, we could walk them to school. Mom was horrified. There was no way she would have live alligators in the house and anyway, how would we ever get them home? Dad liked the idea. Let the kids have some fun! What harm could come from a couple little alligators??
Mom finally gave in to one small alligator. I think she was hoping it would not survive the drive back to Jersey. Kimmi and I squawked. We had to have at least one each. What kind of mean parents would make their daughters share a single alligator?? In the end dad bought three. One was a back-up alligator, just in case. They were so cute, only about a foot long and they always seemed to be smiling. We had them in a big glass jar for the long ride home. When we stopped for dinner we dropped pieces of our hamburgers and fries into the jar. Somehow they made it home alive.
Mom hated the alligators. When we got home Dad put them in the garage in an aquarium with gravel in the bottom and a small cup of water. We rushed home from school to poke them with sticks and try to train them to do tricks. Mom bought them ground meat and we dropped it into the aquarium hoping to see them devour it. Unfortunately the alligators preferred their meat somewhat rancid. They ignored it for a few hot summer days in the garage before they ate it. The smell in the garage was getting pretty bad. By the end of the summer we could smell the alligators and the rotten meat all over the house
Mom would not stop complaining about the alligators. She was sure we were going to get bit and only let us take them out to play when Daddy got home. I wanted to take one to school but no, Mom said a big no to that one. (I thought she being a very mean Mother). I was disappointed because they were so cute, but since I had not been able to teach them even a single trick, I was eventually ok with it.
The alligators grew really fast. They outgrew their aquarium by late fall. The alligators started to climb and jump trying to get out of the aquarium. Dad put a piece of wood on top, but they just pushed it off. He put a brick on top of the lid, but the wood lid just kept popping up. He added another brick. Mom was out of her mind. What if they get loose? If they get into this house Ed, I will never speak to you again! We all kind of knew something had to be done. One alligator even took a few nibbles from another gator. Mom had had enough. The alligators had to go.
One day after school the alligators were gone. Dad said they had moved back South to a very nice swamp. We missed them but were glad they had a nice new home. I never found out how the alligators had gotten back to Florida. I have a suspicion they made their way back South through the sewer systems of South Jersey, but I guess I’ll never know for sure.
After the alligators were gone we started bugging Mom and Dad for another pet. In the pet department at Grants Department Store they sold little bitty turtles. They were so cute and they didn’t eat rotten meat! Could we get some turtles? Pleeeeese? (They were later outlawed in 1975 due to the spread of salmonella) Mom gave in pretty easy on the turtles so Dad took us to the store to buy our own wonderful TURTLES!
Kimmi and I quickly picked out our turtles, their little plastic tray to live in and a good supply of turtle food. But wait…..what are these things over here?? Dad said they were chameleons! They changed color to blend in with their background. OMG, how cool is that! Dad, Can we get chameleons too? We only need two or three and they aren’t that big! Dad said sure! He agreed chameleons were very cool and he didn’t think Mom would mind since she was OK with the turtles. Kimmi and I thought that this was a super cool day and we couldn’t wait to bring our new friends home.
Mom was not so happy. She made it very clear over the next few days that she did not think the chameleons were as cool as we did. I thought maybe she didn’t know about the changing color trick chameleons can do without even being trained! I tried to show her how they changed colors by putting a chameleon on the sofa. Mom shrieked and told me to get it off the sofa. She told us we could only keep them if we did not take them out and handle them unless Daddy was there with us. Wow, she was getting meaner all the time!
One day I was watching TV and looking at the chameleons in their plastic container. It was a show about this lion that was raised by people, but since the people loved the lion, they brought it to Africa and set it free. Wow, that’s really nice I thought. I kept looking at the chameleons. They didn’t smile the way the alligators did. Maybe they were unhappy like that lion. Maybe I’ll take just one out and give him a little freedom too. I opened the box and pulled out my favorite chameleon. I put him on the carpet and he started to change colors! I stared in amazement. It was like slow magic. Then the show came back on. The people went back to visit the lion and she remembered the people and they were all happy, just like my chameleon I thought. Hey, where did the chameleon go? I scanned the carpet. Hmmm, I don’t see him anywhere. This might be bad, I thought.
How would I get him back? They didn’t answer to their names so I couldn’t call him. Maybe he would come if I got another one out and they would find each other. I took the other chameleon out and watched closer this time. Suddenly the chameleon started to run! He was so fast, but I thought he went under the sofa. Maybe if I got a stick and poked around under there………
Mom walked into the room. What are you doing down there! Why is the chameleon cage empty! What did you do???!!! I tried to tell her about the TV show but she started to go kind of crazy. She beeped my father and told him to come home IMMEDIATELY that I has set the chameleons free and they were somewhere in the house and he was in BIG BIG trouble.
Mom made us all go upstairs until Daddy got home. We could hear him moving the furniture and cursing. It took a long long time for Dad to find them. He was pretty pissed too. In the end, I didn’t get in too much trouble but they made it very clear to me not to set them free again. I don’t think they sell chameleons any more either, but if you ever get one Do Not set it free. They are very hard to find.