Slice of Life

“James, don’t step on the cat’s neck.”
“I wasn’t! I was petting his throat..with my foot…uh…It was all on the up and up!” (he loves the cat, really.)

I was chatting with my father t’other day, and found myself saying, at one point, “I think I was in middle school before I realized that it wasn’t completely normal to have small mammals in the freezer.”

As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

My mother was doing this series of still-lifes with dead animals, so she kept foil-wrapped roadkill, dead birds, mummified squirrels and so forth in the freezer. This made getting hamburger an adventure. (Some of it stayed for quite awhile, too–I was dating James, he was helping her fix dinner, and she sent him out to the freezer to get something or other. He came back green, saying “There’s a dead–something–the freezer–!” It was a half-decayed raccoon. But I mean, it was frozen, c’mon. Wuss.) They were gorgeous still-lifes. Kinda dark, though, in retrospect.

At the same time, my father was raising boa constrictors, which like all reptiles are finicky buggers in captivity and tend to sulk and not eat randomly because their rock is too hot, or too cold, or the lightbulb is the wrong wattage, or they saw something upsetting on TV two years ago. For something with a brain the size of a dehydrated pea, those things have real angst. He had some quite large beasts–some of the big females were getting up in the ten and twelve-foot range, and were thicker around than my thigh–and at one of his homes, he just snake proofed the house and let them roam around more or less at will. This never particularly bothered me–due to said upbringing, I have no fear of boas, and shit, I was six or seven, I thought this was the way all households were run!–but it would occasionally scare guests when a slow, hulking wedge-headed muscle of snake would quietly slide through the balcony, hang like an enormous mottled liana over the stairs for awhile, and then slowly descend to the ground, the last few feet of tail eventually falling with a scaly “Whump!”

So he had to feed these snakes, and if they didn’t feel like eating a live rat, he’d toss ’em in a coffee can and freeze them. Freezing’s not a bad death as such things go–rather better, one assumes, than a hideous rib-crushing asphixiation, which would otherwise be their fate. Frequently he’d do a few at a time, so there’d just be a coffee can of dead rats next to the tater tots. And if you had to forcefeed a snake–never fun–you took a frozen rat and thawed it out and dipped it in egg yolk, and then you got someone (on one occasion, your daughter) to pin the back end of the snake and you pried the jaws open and shoved a yolky dead rat down the throat, which gives your daughter really amazing anecdotes to tell when she goes back to school, believe me. (My father did a lot to contribute to my coolness factor in grade school.)

So c’mon! I mean, both parents were keeping small dead animals in the freezer–of course I thought this was normal. When I got my own place, I almost wanted to go buy a deceased gerbil just because that’s what you KEEP in the freezer–ice tray, ancient frozen burrito, popsicles, small dead mammal.

I just felt like sharing that.

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