I was six when I went to my first funeral. It was a painful, palpable heartbreak. Goldie had come into my life at the Henry Adams Elementary Family Festival in an air and water-filled plastic bag after I successfully cast my plastic rod over the blue sheet hanging in the doorway to Mrs. Aycock’s 5th grade class’s GO FISH booth.
Goldie was the first pet I’d ever had that was ALL MINE. I spent hours listening to Danny Kaye reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales on my Mickey Mouse turntable as Briar Rose, Rumplestiltskin and Clever Gretel faced their challenges on the crackling recording. These were dark stories of strangers and real dangers, the consequences of greed and the power of love. I took it all in while staring into the fishbowl on my dresser and of course I melodramatically related to the clever servant girl outwitting her master and plotted how I, too, might get out of the miserable chore of setting the table. Goldie starred back, her round lips opening and closing, telling me everything was ok.
And Goldie was right, until she wasn’t. I came home from school one afternoon, about six weeks after she joined my bedside menagerie of a dozen stuffed animals and one once living fish, and there she was floating belly up in her bowl. I was devastated, especially when I learned of my father’s plan to flush Goldie down the toilet. I myself was flushed from several hours of sobbing, when I talked my mother into helping me give Goldie a proper burial.
We put her in a Russell Stover’s sampler box and found a spot between the shed and the garden. I carefully buried the box under a lasagna of dirt, kitchen mulch and pine straw. My family gathered around as I stuck a popsicle stick cross with the crayon tribute BEST FISH EVER onto Goldie’s resting spot and I spoke of her kindness and importance in my life while my little brother, required to wear his Sunday best, drove his matchbox car up daddy’s leg.
"Goldie was loved by everyone who met her,” I declared as I flashed back to the two friends who’d visited since Goldie joined the family, and the glances they cast in her direction enroute to my basket of barbies.
Then we all retreated to the house for a refreshing glass of orange-like-Goldie Tang and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers in Goldie’s honor.
More fish with popsicle stick markers would join the Goldie Graveyard over the next few years, and I mourned each passing with poignantly expressed agony, hosting more and more elaborate services with increasingly lengthy eulogies and more extravagant receptions enlisting my mother’s baking and encouraging my dad to fire up the grill for a funerary feast. Finally, after about a dozen burials, mom declared there would be no more pet fish adopted in our household.
That Easter we got a rabbit. Fuzzy and white with silky pink ears and bright pink eyes. We couldn’t believe the Easter bunny gave us one of his brethren as our new pet hopped around the living room leaving a trail of tiny round poop balls on mom’s Karastan rug. My brother and I were instantly in love, but as soon as we set about naming him, the battle was on. Our love was for our bunny and not each other. We just couldn’t agree on anything. With his little nose crinkling like Samantha in Bewitched, “Sniffy” seemed the obvious choice to me. But he was peeking around a chair leg when my brother declared his name should be “Peeky.” Stupid, I know. We argued for hours before my mother stepped into the living room ring to call a truce, and Sniffy-Peeky became his name.
Oh, how I loved Sniffy-Peeky. As soon as I got home from school, I’d rush out to the two-story rabbit hutch that our father built in the backyard to hold his soft body in my arms. He was a fast hopper and often escaped my watchful eye, hiding under the back porch until my father got home and used a rake to prompt him out from under the army green metal row boat. Neighbors would bring over salad scraps for Sniffy-Peeky to eat and, like his personal waitress, I’d dump carrot tops and romaine hearts onto the dining room floor of his hutch.
A pet rabbit can live for eight to twelve years. The lifespan of cognizant childhood is far shorter. It wasn’t long before I got caught up in teenage extra-curriculars and boys, and I lost interest in Sniffy-Peeky.
One afternoon, Mrs. Lucas came over with a baggie of greens for our bunny. “Knock knock!” she announced through the screen door. I met her in the entry hall, calling for my mother, who came around the corner from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron as her friend handed over the baggie.
“Oh Joy, Sniffy-Peeky is no longer with us.”
“Dottie, I’m so sorry.”
“What?!” I cried, with tears instantly tumbling down my cheeks, “But I love Sniffy-Peeky!” I fell to the floor sobbing, after all, I’d lost my best friend. “How could this have happened?” I wailed, looking to my mother for comfort.
“You obviously didn’t love him that much,” said mom, a little too matter-of-factly.
“He died three months ago and we were wondering how long it would take you to notice.” Then she called to my father in the den, “Hey Bill, guess who just realized her rabbit died?”
Dad joined us in the entry hall and the three adults stood there laughing, as I was crumbled on the floor, devastated, not just at the loss of my little friend and the flood of guilt I felt for ignoring him, but also that I’d become a joke to my parents. AND I’d been ripped off on giving him a proper funeral.
“Where is he buried?” I whimpered.
“He’s in your goldfish graveyard,” mom said. I immediately got to work on his marker. The service was my own private penance, his empty hutch serving as a constant reminder.
As shared at Story Salon on January 24, 2024.