Everyone remembers their first true love. Most of us start when we are young, and by the time we are old, we have had many. We remember their names, what they looked like, and even the place we met for the very first time. We love each one of them, and they love us back unconditionally.
I was in our local pet store when my first love gazed at me with black marble-sized eyes from behind the cold bars of his cage.
The pet store owner let me hold him, and immediately he gave me fuzzy snuggles and kisses while all the time squeaking, “Please take me home.” Dad called it a rodent. Mom called it a giant rat. My three brothers, The Sister and I called our new family member, the black and white guinea pig, Mr. Dents.
Mr. Dents continued to squeak his contentment from his cardboard take-home box as we left the pet store. Mom said having a pet to take care of would teach us responsibility. One of us kids would have to feed Mr. Dents twice a day, make sure he had fresh water and, of course, change his cage every couple of days.
When I told Mom we couldn’t change his cage because we’d only bought one, she chuckled. Then she explained what “changing” his cage really meant. I’m not going to go into it, but trust me, to a six-year-old, “changing” a guinea pig’s cage sounded really gross.
And what did our dad think? All the way home he grumbled, “Just another mouth to feed.” None of us understood that because Mom had already made it plain that one of us kids was gonna be responsible for feeding Mr. Dents, not Dad.
Once home, we learn a lot about our first pet. First, it is better to feed Mr. Dents often. Otherwise, he will chew on just about everything in the house. Doing so will make Dad mad and wanting to get rid of said chewer.
Second, his cage must be changed more than once a week or it will start smelling really, really bad. And Dad will want to get rid of Mr. Pooer.
Third, and perhaps the most important lesson I learned on that very first day, don’t get fingers near the mouth of Mr. Dents, or you will be running around the house holding your bleeding finger and screaming, “He bit me! Mr. Dents bit my finger!”
That first biting incident was followed by several more over the years we had Mr. Dents. And after each one, our loving dad smiled and said the same thing, “If it has teeth, it’s gonna bite.” I’ve never forgotten Mr. Dents nor Dad’s comment.
The Mom and our granddaughters, Little One and Sweet Caroline, moved out last month and got their own house. Even living only ten minutes away, they’re a little lonely without Big Papa and Gigi around all the time — so they got new friends.
Coco and Milkshake are their names; one is brown and the other is black and white. Both are short-haired guinea pigs.
When I asked the girls how they like their first loves, they replied, “Mine squeaks when I pick him up.” “Mine poops everywhere.”
I asked them if they had been bitten yet, and both girls said no. “Mine just nibbles; he doesn’t really bite.” “Mine gives me little licks but doesn’t bite.”
I smiled and told them what my dad told me when I was their age, “If it has teeth, it can bite.” Our granddaughters will never forget their first true loves: a couple of guinea pigs called Milkshake and Coco.
And they will never forget what their Big Papa said when they get bitten for the first time, “If it has teeth it can bite.”
Thanks, Dad, for those timeless words of wisdom that have traveled throughout the years to end up at your great-granddaughters’ new house.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]