Friday, May 7, 2010
A Family Condition?
(Shown above is Petey and my great-grandfather.)
It has often been asked if behavior is inherited or learned. My only contribution to this debate is an anecdote about my grandfather and his burro. In this way, one can see that my eccentricity about pets was a predestined trait that was an unavoidable destiny of genetics. A project of mine lately has been to scan every single photo my family has. So far, I’ve scanned over 1300 pictures and yet have a way to go. One of the photos I came across was a picture of my grandfather’s pet burro. I could see that my grandfather was a little weird when it came to pets. Could that weirdness when it came to how I treat my pets be somehow an inherited trait?
In the early 50s, my grandfather had a notion to buy a burro. Sure, the man grew up on a farm when he was a boy, but by his own admission to me in his later years, he hated farming and as a boy, he shirked his farming chores at every chance he could. Fortunately for him, his dad allowed him to pursue his academic talents, and my grandfather obtained his BS in chemistry at Wake Forest (this was while Wake was actually in the town of Wake Forest, which is in northern Wake County. Later, the Reynolds family, as in RJ Reynolds, gave Wake Forest a large endowment on the condition to relocate to Winston-Salem.) And he received an MD from the University of Chicago. The man worked and lived in a small town. There was no reason as a matter of practicality for him to have a burro. Nevertheless, he bought one.
How he found this particular animal puzzles me to this day. The burro, Petey, was from Mexico. There was no internet back then, so finding an animal like that from a place so far away is a mystery to me. Petey was shipped to NC via train. My grandfather picked up Petey at the train depot in downtown Raleigh and brought it back home in his car. Back then, cars were gas guzzling behemoths so large that they practically had their own gravitational field. Petey rode in the trunk along w/ my aunt’s boyfriend, Chissel.
Petey had his own shed in the back and a fenced-in backyard for him to roam around. The only traces of Petey’s existence are that shed which we use for storage and a few old fence posts from that old fence from over 50 years ago. Parts of that old fence are still around but have been overgrown by vines and other plant-life.
I heard bits and pieces about Petey when I was growing up. Some people rode Petey around the back like he was a horse. My grandfather and my aunt’s boyfriend often rode him. Petey could get temperamental by baying and bucking when he had enough of someone sitting on his back. My grandmother, understandably concerned, didn’t like her husband riding Petey. When my mom and her sister would play in the pool, Petey would come down the hill to see what was going on. He wouldn’t play with them, but he did like hanging out. As far as taking care of Petey, those duties fell mostly on my grandmother’s dad, Daddy Carroll. By this time in his life, my great grand-father had retired and moved down from CT with his wife to be close to their daughter who now lived in NC. He did many odd-jobs and maintenance work at his daughter’s house, so taking care of Petey fell in his lap.
There was one story that I had only heard parts of as a kid. The older relatives told us kids how Petey harassed the maid, Georgia. Whenever she would go out and try to hang the clothes to dry in the backyard, Petey would run out of his shed and make a beeline towards Georgia. Georgia would run screaming and yelling into the house when Petey did this. What I didn’t figure out until I was older was that Petey had a boner when he was chasing Georgia. Fortunately, Petey never caught Georgia.
Petey died several years after he came to my grandparent’s house. He contracted pneumonia on a particularly cold stretch of winter and succumbed to the disease.
I never bought an exotic animal like my grandfather did, but my behavior to my dogs has been eccentric nonetheless. Maybe I was fighting an inexorable march of eccentricity when I was a kid, but once Abby and Andy came into my life, a floodgate of quirky and offbeat behavior came pouring out.