Every year, in the frenzy of getting holiday gifts out to family and friends, and dreading standing in line at the Post Office, I think of this day. It may be the most significant Christmas memory this family will ever share. It is definitely a story worth telling again:
Price of a baby hamster: $8
Price of dinner for two at the Kennebec: $75
Price of taking mangled, chewed up Hamster to the vet: OUTRAGEOUS!!!
Just before Christmas, trapped in our house, watching the snow fall and fall and fall and fall, four young boys played. While we stared dreamily at the packed car, wondering if we would ever be able to leave for our Idaho vacation, human brothers and hamster brothers played in a wooden, rodent– sized Disneyland. Giving up on driving out of town for the day, I called the four boys out to breakfast. Two sets of human brothers came to the kitchen table while one set of hamster brothers realized that they had ended up in the same cage.
Bowen noticed that his friend had left the bedroom door open (a major no-no in a house with cats and hamsters), and ran in to close it. Just as he reached for the doorknob, he heard the angry lion-like roars of Sam, attempting to slaughter his smaller, runt-brother, Frodo.
Bowen began screaming and crying, apoplectic with fear. Everett and the other brother pair raced into the bedroom wondering what the panic was all about. There was blood spurting, fur flying and teeth gnashing. Children were howling, cats circling like sharks and the dog hid under the couch.
We managed to get Frodo out of the cage. He was still alive, but there was a lot of blood and not much fur. His right eye looked like it might fall out of its socket and his left leg was about to drop off.
Bowen, the animal lover in the family, wailed that not only was Frodo going to die, but that it was all his fault because he was the one who, in a distracted moment, put Frodo in the cage with his bully big brother Sam.
Yes, we have read “Lord of the Rings,” and no, the irony of the fact that OUR Sam and Frodo detested each other was not lost on us.
We recently had lost a dog, a kitten and two hermit crabs. Over time we had lost many more pets than that. This had taken a grave toll on the kids and the idea of another death was incomprehensible.
I called Don Schwartz, aka The Saint. He actually said that on a busy day, two days before Christmas, that he would accept Frodo as a new patient.
We took Frodo into Don’s office, cold, shaking and traumatized. The Hamster was too.
Stephanie and Don took a look at the poor little guy and slowly shook their heads.
“He has to be sedated”
“Go for it.”
“I need to know how much he weighs so that I don’t overdo it.”
Well, duh, weigh the guy.
Oh, except the scale is made for dogs and horses, not hamsters. Little Frodo didn’t even register on it.
Next thing we know, I am in the post office, bloody hamster in hand, pushing through the line of pajama-clad folks who were lined up for the last chance to get presents to their final destinations by Christmas day.
“Excuse me, Don told me that I needed to get my hamster weighed over here, can I cut in front of you?”
Yes, I was in Mayberry.
The very kind gal behind the desk put him on an Express Envelope while faces I know from the school and the library looked on. “5 ounces!”
Murmurs of ohhh and poor little guy rippled through the room.
“Do you want to put him into the Express Envelope to carry him?”
“No, thanks, I’ll just stick him back in my pocket.”
Can you imagine at this point how much Frodo must have wished that Sam had killed him?
Back to the vet for a sedative and a haircut. Just as Don was preparing to shave him bald, I sent everyone else on an errand so that I could say to Don that, “If this (was) ridiculous, then let’s just stop all the nonsense and let the rodent die.”
“I saw your son’s face. I am going to save this little guy, by God, if it’s the last thing I do.” Or something along those lines.
Once all of his fur was shaved off, we saw the damage that Sam had done. There was not one teensy little bit of skin that was not broken and chewed upon. Don bathed him, warmed him up and shot him full of antibiotics. The boys came back and Bowen looked as if he had single handedly tortured and killed his very best friend. When he found out that Frodo would live, he nearly fainted with relief.
It was this look that made me want to kiss Don Schwartz’s feet.
We brought Frodo home, definitively called off the trip to Idaho and began the process of nursing little Frodo back to health.
He was a bit scary-looking. The thing that makes a hamster cute is that he is fuzzy. Frodo only had a lion’s mane around his head. From the neck down, he was just chewed up and scabby. So not cute.
We brought him out for Show and Tell when we had friends over for Christmas dinner.
They didn’t laugh.
We showed him off to the kids’ friends and sent photos to our family.
One month and $102 later, he was healthy and well. He limped a little and his right eye looked a bit like a pirate. We had gotten over our collective anger towards Sam but each of us had a special place in our hearts for the priceless Frodo.
Suzanne Strazza is an award-winning writer from Mancos, Colo.