Some people have a natural affinity with animals, as St. Francis of Assisi was said to possess. I’m like that with my pets, a dog and a cat, who follow me wherever I go. My mother, not so much.
It’s strange because the woman has a heart of gold. But for some reason, God’s creatures consistently keep their counsel around her. The ease with which she put down our golden retriever decades ago has my dad, to this day, sleeping with one eye open.
Putting our dog down was, in fairness, the merciful decision, and not the reason animals want my mom where they can see her. That distrust traces back to the summer of 1985. It’s the tale of a sliding-glass door.
For reasons obvious to any sneaky teenager, this basement door was my brother Jack’s and my preferred point of furtive egress and ingress. The problem was we invariably forgot to close it before turning in at night, especially during summertime.
This omission troubled my mom because our backyard fed into a forest. A light sleeper, she was convinced that all night long animals were roaming about her home. Canadian by birth, you’d think the woman would have had more street cred with woodsy fauna, but she didn’t.
Mom never chalked up the nighttime creaks she heard, as many would, to a house’s old bones. When she woke and found the sliding-glass door ajar, she’d give Jack and me the business for turning her home into a nocturnal game preserve.
I never complained for two reasons. First, she had me dead to rights, and second, she’d provided actionable intelligence. I just needed occasion to employ it. The opportunity presented itself later that summer, when a repairmen came to fix our HVAC system.
Note that these were the days before caller-ID, and I had a gift for disguising my voice. I called my mom at work, pretending to be the repairman with an estimate.
“We’ve discovered the problem. There’s a carcass in your main vent. An animal seems to have lodged itself there. A few days ago, by the look of things.”
“What kind of animal?” my mom asked, her voice one part concern and two parts I knew this would happen. “A chipmunk or something?”
“No ma’am,” I replied professionally, “more like a deer. A six-pointer, I’d say. Looks like he thrashed around a bit. I’m surprised you didn’t hear the ruckus...”
“Oh, I heard the ruckus,” mom interrupted. “I always hear the ruckus. But a deer? This is even worse than I imagined.” And then, unforgivably, she turned state’s evidence on Jack and me. “You know something? Every night I tell my knucklehead sons to close the sliding-glass door, and every night they ignore me.”
I was tempted to lecture how home security was a parent’s responsibility, but knew it would be pressing my luck. Instead, with the joy of a gymnast who not even the Romanian judge could deny had stuck the landing, I savored the moment.
Clearly, a deer roaming freely about her home all night long was more than my mom could bear. It was, for her, the sum of all furs.