I suppose most of you folks reading this have had a pet or two over the years, you know, a dog or cat or horse or hamster or rattle snake or some such. Well I’ve got to tell you about the nicest little pet a fella ever did have. It was years ago, and I still get choked up just thinking about him.
When I was just a little shaver, my grandpop used to take me fishing on the streams and lakes in the north mountains where I was raised. Grandpop was a great trout fisherman. Sometimes he even caught ’em legal like. One day, when I was about ten years old, grandpop said, “Let’s go fishin’. It’s about time I got you a proper pet.”
Well we had an old coon hound, and a couple of beagles to chase us some rabbits, and of course a couple of barn cats around the place. But I guess they weren’t really pets in the proper sense of the term. I sort of liked the idea of having a pet of my own.
Grandpop got the lines and a bait bucket and we set off. It was a pretty good day as fishin’ goes. In no time at all we had us some nice big trout for the skillet. Grandpop said, “These fish are nice, but they’re too danged big to make a proper pet. You can’t teach a big trout nothin’. What we got to do is catch you a nice little trout.”
Not long after he said that, I caught a little six-inch brook trout that was just the prettiest thing you ever did see. Nice little round head, pretty colors, and the brightest looking eyes you can imagine. Yep, that little trout looked like he was a right smart fish. Grandpop took a look at him and said, “Yes sir, that’s the one.” He carefully took the trout off the hook and put it down in the bait bucket.
We fished a little more, caught one more nice one to take home, then headed on back. When we got home, first thing grandpop did was to take that little trout out to the barn. He took an old half-barrel, said he used to store grapes in there, and bored a little hole near the bottom and whittled a little wooden plug to go in the hole. Then we filled that barrel with spring water and put the little brookie right in.
Then we just sort of ignored the fish for a few days except to throw in some meal worms now and then. In about a week, grandpop started going out to the barrel every night after dark when that little fish was asleep. He would pull out that wooden plug and let an inch of water out of the barrel, just enough so as the fish wouldn’t notice. He did this night after night, real quiet like. It wasn’t long before that fish had been in an empty barrel for about a week and hadn’t even noticed. “Yep,” said grandpop, “now he’s ready to be trained.”
You know that little fish was smart – learned real fast too. Of course he never learned to fetch the paper or catch a frisbee or anything like that, but he would come when he was called, and would follow me around wherever I went. Folks thought it was kind of cute to see me going about my chores with this little fish just wigglin’ along after me. Sometimes he did get snug up if the grass was too high. He even followed me to town one day when I went to the store to get some things for grandma. Yep, he was a grand pet.
I don’t know how long a fish lives, but I had that little guy for about two years before it happened. It was mid-November and there had been several days of rain. There was a little river of water flowing through the south pasture where it was usually dry as can be. Grandpop had put a couple of boards over the water so’s I could get down to the end of the pasture to bring the cows back up. Well it was a frosty morning and those boards were slick. I was tippy-toeing over the boards, trying not to fall in the water. The little trout was right behind me as usual. Well, I made it across ok, but wouldn’t you know, that little fish slipped on the icy board and fell right through the crack.
It had been so long since that little guy had been in the water that he forgot how to swim, and folks, I have to tell you, my little pet trout drowned right there before my eyes. I pulled him out but it was too late.
You know it was a long time before I ever wanted another pet of any kind. I miss that little guy to this very day!