Ancient History

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She’s coming in, 12:30 flight

We hadn’t meant to acquire a hamster on that spring day eighteen months ago. My philosophy regarding rodents was and still is they are good snacks for owls and foxes. They are the popcorn of woodland carnivores—plentiful, salty, can’t stop at one.

Doris Day was a sudden hamster. I’m still slightly surprised we bought her. The pet store was having a grand opening and our favorite openings are the grand kind. We visited, mostly to see the adoptable dogs and cats brought in from a local rescue organization. The kids zipped up and down aisles of fish, lizards, and rodents. For some reason, our heads were turned when we saw the big glass box of dwarf hamsters. They were adorable. They made us swoon and squeak. One in particular seemed feisty and more talented than the rest. If hamsters formed chorus lines, her kicks were the highest, her smile the brightest, her name was destined to be in lights!

Or, maybe she was just perfect for a little girl to care for with love and devotion.

Beatrix did. So did the rest of us. We continued to coo at her and she continued to be truly splendid. When we visited her garish plastic apartment, she’d rouse herself to say hello. She’d come up to the bars and sniff and seem to listen to our praises. Best hamster ever, you. Liking your new treat bar? How’s the tower working out? Noticed you pulled your bedding into your wheel again. Her only flaw, and one can hardly blame a poor little creature who is popcorn in the food chain, was she didn’t like to be held. That’s typical of her breed, though.

The past several days, I noticed she hadn’t fluffed her bedding up like she did after every other cleaning. She was drinking a lot and wasn’t as active. On Halloween, we realized we hadn’t seen her all day. My husband carefully scooped her bedding away and found her breathing, but not moving. She let him stroke her back. I did, too. She was soft, cool, and indifferent. It was a terrible sign.

He covered her back up. We put a heating pad under the cage, hoping she was just hibernating because of recent cold nights. A few hours later she died. Because the kids were happily celebrating Halloween, we decided to wait until today to tell them.

The news quieted everyone. Some of the kids were teary. Others had nice things to say about our sweet little Dorie. I asked if anyone wanted to do anything for her, Teddy’s hand shot up.

“We could send her to Africa.”

I was thinking more along the lines of having one of those pet funerals, where mourners place the little and the lost in a small box, bury it in the yard, and mark it with rocks and twig crosses. The kids didn’t know Dorie was already in a box. The box once held a cheap unburned Tuscan Orange candle and still smelled allegedly like oranges do in Tuscany.


Everyone thought Teddy’s idea was funny. Nobody suggested a self-styled backyard service. There was no doubt she’d be missed. Perhaps the sorrows of the past few months have birthed a perspective on death that ranks the death of a hamster as a wisp of a pang. It’s a sliver plucked out of a foot rather than a nail.

So long, Doris Day. Ninja. Clown. High-kicker. I sent you to Africa in a daydream.

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