the formative years: A+B=C...
Way back in the dim dark past, when i was about 7 years, brother Bruce brought home 2 white rats, A and B. They got along well and soon mama A gave birth to a fam'blee of what i recall to be on the order of 20 little ones. Bruce gave me papa B and two of the kidlings whom i named Asa and Rahmbo. i don't bebember how, but Asa and Rahmbo didn't last long. B however, enjoyed a good long life.
When B, who became "the First", left this place, i was very saddened without his daily company. So began "dave's line" of rat friends including B the Second, B the Third, Trash, Roscoe, Clean & Dirty, and Stripe. This was the lineage up to the time i left home to finish hi skool as a "boarder". Later in college, just plain Rata. Later back east, Manny-Magpie, who's name became Mug-pie-low, and then Pierrot. Somewhere after this the name Fettund came into being as a result of my exposure to feta cheese in Greece and the fact that rata was quite fat and rotund. Tund was a shorthand derivative of Fettund. Later in Bolinas (north of S.F.) it was Rata again, who's name became Lucky-Lata became Latahno became Latanos became Latanios, became Tawno became Tillo became Mr. Tillo. Mr. Tillo's name was some sort of pinacle of rat naming as all the rats i had after him also bore the same moniker (as well as some interchangeably being addressed as Fettund and/or [Mr.] Tund).
The images here are of Clean and Dirty with me on the front lawn. This my one experience with having two rats at the same time. i think the reason was i was concerned about my rat being lonely and when i went to the pet store to find my next friend i decided these two were chums and wood prefer not being separated. They were so named because a day or so after i had brought them home, i discovered one was covered with fleas (and that these "hitchhikers" had already populated my room). So altho the flea powder ended the "tarnished" quality of Dirty's coat of fur, the experience left its mark in me mind.
These are the "earliest rat pix" i can still find in my own archives, though i imagine i may find more when i next peruse other's collections. The camera caught me wearing what appears to be a rather "pensive" gaze, although i'm afraid my clenched fingers more accurately convey the mind-space of a boy learning something about the shortcomings of the modern world's nuclear fam'blee paradigm.
So many happenings cascade effortlessly back into thought's foreground of life-times enjoyed with these delightful, furry, curious, and without-guile pequito amigos. (Even though i was raised in a culture that attaches an inordinate amount of importance to linear thinking, any such recounting of what follows is doomed in this regard. As with life, many threads make up the tapestry of this story and the manifestation of their "chronology" does not map itself into sequential or "longitudinal" traversal.)
Bruce raised another one of A's babies whose appellation, quite logically, was C. C was taught to do oh-so-many wondrous and astonishingly agile tricks founded on the nawl-edge that if human finger's tapping commenced, it was an Alert, Alert, Report to Base! message, "Base" being wherever the fingers were tapping. Once these coordinates were triangulated upon and arrived at, a Cheerio was tendered as payment for the feat. As Bruce recounted recently, a Cheerio was "just the right size, and quantized more than corn flakes. Right size meaning big enough for me to hold and also big enough for C (aka "Say-la", as term of endearment) to recognize as worth going to all that trouble to get. Also: I once proffered to C a finger with a bit of Crest toothpaste on it. She sniffed, and then BIT my finger! (Only aggressive moment in a long, happy life.)"
From Bruce's knowledge of Spanish, one of the generalizable names people in the fam'blee as a whole wood use when talking about or referring to any one of the rats wood be "rata". In different letters from Dad or Mom to me during the summers when i went off to camp they wood invariably refer to Bruce or whomever "feeding and taking good care of the ratas", or "the ratas are fine and being well fed". At some point i began interchanging "raton" with rata.
i wood make all sorts of rat mazes and castles with a marvelous set of wooden blocks we'd had for a long time. i liked to change my room around and did so quite often as a kid. There were about 10-or-so configurations i especially enjoyed centered upon where i wood position the bed. Much of the time i was in my room, i'd let rata roam free.
i learned how Bruce had taught Say-la to be hip to the "tapping-chawing delight" relationship, and turned B onto this same pavlovian trick. Over time, i changed the reward to be either a sunflower seed, filbert or even a whole walnut -- all still in their shell. It was enormous fun to "sound the call" and draw rata out of wherever he happened to be hidden or not visible. The easiest place to be called to, as far as B et al was concerned, was tapping on the "drawbridge door" of his cage. Early on i got a nice big squirrel cage with a large wheel in it and a door on one side with its hinge along the bottom edge. Using a length of clothes hangar wire i made a "hook" that held the door horizontal when open. If rata was out rumaging in some cupboard, cabinet, or inside the closet, tapping on the drawbridge was the quickest way to reel him in, and, if hungry he wood very swiftly close the distance between himself and me. (Seen here is Mr. Tillo in the same kind of cage doing "whatever it takes" to get to a piece of dried-out bread.)
At other times i'd start tapping somewhere out in the room. If hungry, he'd find his way quickly unless the room had recently been re-arranged. With each successive room-reconfig he wood soon know where everything was again and find the source of tapping with his usual rapidity. In this version of Calling All Rats, Calling All Rats, Alert! Alert!, when the food was found and taken, raton wood either "get down" right then-and-there and chaw merrily away, or in the case of such "rich booty" as a filbert or walnut, triumphantly carry it back home in his mouth. It was utterly delightful to watch him make the heroic and somewhat comical effort walking unsteadily homeward, the walnut in his mouth obscuring the line of sight in front of him. At times this wood make for what looked to be a drunken rat, stumbling but with steadfast determination, to return to his abode.
Rats see "monocularly." That is, each eye looks out from its own side like that of a lizard -- there is no "stereo visual" akin to the sort of optic sensors we enjoy. Such vision hardware is the norm for non-predatory animals (who may become dinner for a predator if they're not able to see 360° around themselves, hence side-seeing eyes). Further, rats are color blind. i came to feel their strongest senses are smell, then hearing, and only then "seeing", where seeing seemed merely to contain the capability of perceiving contrast between light and shadow. i don't think they are able to gather or take in much in the "visual focus" department.
Whenever finger's tapping was first heard, all else was immediately suspended -- even sleep (altho the alacrity with which the "beingness mode" shifted from slumber into triangulation-and-approach varied based on how full or empty tummy was) -- and the source was sought out with great vigor. It was endlessly enchanting to watch rata, in the blink of an eye, become a homing device and, especially when tummy was barren, adopt a rather manic persona searching out as rapidly as was physically possible the source of new culinary delights. (Mr. Tillo is seen here engaged in "Knawing Delight" with a Filbert.)
Bruce taught C to become "firewoman C" and both crawl/shimmy up a 1x4 plank, with rug tacked onto it, to the desktop where a morsel of food was waiting, as well as perform the superrat feat of jumping -- in a single, bursting bound -- from the floor up to the desk without any ladder! This was inspired teaching of the most sublime sort, and greatly stimulated my own imaginings of what might be "fitting pursuits" for rat activities in our household.
Often times i'd be lulled to sleep by giving raton a walnut when i went to bed which he turned into a type of "symphony" transporting me off to dreamland. (My how much things change -- these years sleep is SO MUCH lighter than ever was the case in those early years!) Other times he wood be in bed with me and upon awakening in the morning, i'd find him nestled down near the foot of the bed, where the sheets were tucked in underneath the mattress and above the box spring. Cozy'n'warm'n'dark -- "penthouse" living for a rat!