10 July 2016

Albert 1: Granny and the Gator

Albert and Pogo
Albert and Pogo © Walt Kelly
Those who frequented the Alfred Hitchcock / Ellery Queen original forum might remember an appearance of Albert the Alligator, a family pet for 25 years. Recently friends asked about Albert and, since the Dell Forum is no longer available, I’ll recount the life and times of the riparian reptile.

A farmhouse is headquarters of a working farm and its kitchen is its nerve center.  A farm’s kitchen serves as boardroom, family conference center, planning office, homework study hall, lab, small parts repair shop, hospital, and oh yes, cookery, cannery, bakery, and breakfast room.

For my family, our farm’s ‘new’ house was built during the Civil War,– not the structure before that or the original log cabin built by my mother’s distant ancestors. Antique houses don’t have central heat, which meant two things: (1) the main kitchen (as opposed to a scullery or summer kitchen) provided the main source of heat during winter, and (2) peripheral rooms might or might not have stoves. Bedrooms weren’t heated at all. You’re a wuss if you haven’t slept where hot-water bottles freeze overnight.

Granny and the Gator

My sophomore year of high school, a local college student brought home an alligator from his university lab. It was a little less than two feet long. After showing it off during his autumn break, he realized his mother wasn’t going to give it pet treats or, for that matter, treat it to small pets. The student didn’t know what to do with it. I volunteered to take it off his hands.

I rose early, met him and picked up the gator. Carefully. Anything that isn’t armored on an alligator is a weapon… teeth, tail, and talons. I drove back humming to myself. The gator, tossed in the trunk like a common mafioso, was not amused.

Back at the ranch, I pulled into the farmyard and opened the trunk. One of the barn cats sauntered up… you know that saying about curiosity and the cat. I deposited the alligator on the ground and learned– along with a surprised feline– an important factoid about certain reptiles. When their elbows are bent, they drag along slowly, but when they straighten those legs and rise off the ground, they can run.

As the rubber met the road, the cat levitated off the ground, its wheels spinning like a cartoon character. It screamed something about “holey sheet” and took off like it had a rocket in its bum. The gator, in an immense show of self-satisfaction, buffed his nails and said, “That’s all you got? This joint maybe got a beer?”

I escorted him indoors. The bathroom was the only place that could at present accommodate him. I ran an inch or two of water for him to soak in.

Instead of appreciation, he complained. “You station me next to a toilet? Where people do their business? Oh please, gouge out my eyes now.”

My father typically slept only two hours; my mother could sleep ten or twelve. Unfortunately, I inherited her sleep genes. When she got up later that morning, I gave her a word of warning as she blindly stumbled toward the bathroom.

“Mom, er, there’s something in the bathtub.”

“What, an alligator?” I swear, she actually said that and to this day I can’t imagine how she guessed.

Thing is, I knew my mom pretty well. She and my father accepted the latest addition to the household. (You can’t imagine the range of creatures over the years.) Dad named the beast Albert after the friend of the cartoon character Pogo. The Indianapolis Zoo shared dietary information with us. Hamburger contained too much fat, so they recommended ground horse-meat. I insist that any missing ponies were not the fault of my dark-green-and-yellow friend.

Things went swimmingly until my grandmother arrived for her seasonal Christmas visit. She feared only two things, God and reptiles and possibly not in that order. We hadn’t yet figured out hotel accommodations for Albert, so he continued to doze in the bathtub between baths.

Granny sat in the living room, endlessly crossing her legs until she’d finally ask, “Will one of you boys pleeeease remove that… that creature out of the bathroom so I can go?”

“Aw, granny. It can jump only three feet.”

But we loved our granny so while she was untangling her mistreated bowels, Albert grew used to the living room. Poor granny didn’t get her share of baths. The idea of her tender parts sharing the same tub as a hardened, cold-blooded beast didn’t sit right with her.

Just before New Year’s, disaster struck.

My dad woke me about six; he’d risen a couple of hours earlier. He said, “Son, I’ve got bad news. A power glitch last night caused the stoves to go out and the alligator froze. I pulled him out of the ice and have been thawing him, but I’m afraid he’s gone.”

He’d ignited the burners and, to speed warming the kitchen, he’d turned on the kitchen's gas range. Albert lay lifeless on a tray, a trace of water drooling from his mouth. Rural folks test for signs of life by touching an animal’s eyeball. Albert never flinched.

I picked him up awkwardly, kind of upside-down. As I did so, a trickle of water dribbled from his muzzle. I squeezed his abdomen and again water seeped out. Compressing his chest like a pump, more water drained. Suddenly, his little abdomen moved once on its own.

Dad and I stared… 10 seconds, 20… 30… then a faint tremor. I squeezed again and once more. Slow and laborious, the billowing of his lungs took agonizing ages. We waited on edge, not sure if the next breath would come, but he began to breathe on his own, one or two ragged breaths a minute, then three, then four.

But Albert was clearly not conscious. We hoped his primitive medulla and the severe cold might save him, but brain damage was not only possible, but highly likely.

Other household members rose and made their way to the kitchen wrapped in blankets and robes. Granny was conflicted. She didn’t like the idea of living in a house with a cold-blooded carnivore, but she also felt badly because her grandchildren’s pet lingered on the verge of death.

During that day, Mom marvelled that Grandmother sat holding a heat lamp over the comatose critter. By evening, it began showing further signs of life and its eyes flickered open. Like many birds, some reptiles have two eyelids, a protective outer one and a transparent lid. Within a couple of days, Albert was ambulatory and Granny went back to tucking her feet up in her chair.

Next week: Scratch my tummy… Oh yes, right there


  1. A great story. I hope Albert had a long and happy life.
    You know, this would make a charming children's story.

  2. I love gator stories! Also Pogo. I think it's time to revive the "I Go Pogo" campaign.

  3. Thanks, Janice. He lived another 25 years, but more about that next week.

    Bill, many would agree, especially my father. Although I grew up with Pogo, I particularly remember the Agnew critter.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Bi8ll, I wholeheartedly agree! I Go Pogo. I well remember the 1952 campaign, Ike vs. Adlai. I proudly wore my "I Go Pogo" button wherever I went. I wish I knew what happened to it.

  6. Hurray for Albert! Good story, Leigh. I look forward to hearing the rest of it.

  7. A Broad Abroad10 July, 2016 16:40

    I’m with Janice – Albert’s story and other similar anecdotes from your childhood** on the farm deserve a wider audience.

    [**Note my restraint at not saying 'in the olden days' :-)]

  8. LOVE this. And I betcha' lots of other adults would, too, if you put it in book form. The image of the poor frozen gator with water dripping out of him, then his little tummy moving -- side by side with the claws in the bathtub and Grandma being understandably skeeved out -- but then it all comes together in the end. WONDERFUL! I join in the accolades and also the suggestions you write a book of it all.

  9. Thanks, Vicki. I’d have to imagine a plot, although Albert had an adventure of his own. We briefly took in another gator we named Alabaster, hmm…

    Herschel, I can’t remember the I Go Pogo campaign, but it sounds like a winner. I hope your button turns up! (It was so nice when politicians– and Pogos– were highly regarded by both parties.)

    Thanks, John. Albert was a great pet. Best of all, he didn’t scratch furniture or bark… much.

    ABA, thank you! And I’m so glad you didn’t mention the olden days. Where did they go?

    Anon, it looks like I’m going to have to consider turning Albert into a story. Thanks for helping to steer my thoughts here.

  10. Great writer, as always! Your creative side matches your math wizardry. Sue Ellen mentioned Albert just the other day. We couldn’t remember what happened to him but maybe now we’ll find out! ��


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