Josie's Hamster Summer

A tale of Katy's granddaughter's experience with hamsters.
written June, 1967

Dear Nephew Ray,

The last day of school dawns sunny and cloudless. Raggle-taggle gypsy children go merrily past our house carrying bags of lunch, treats for the whole class, and bunches of flowers for Teacher.

The street-sweeper was out early washing and sweeping dust from the road. That damp smell mingles with the scent of flowers, green leaves, and sunshine to make a lovely late-spring perfume.

At noon the school grounds are dotted with picnics, baseball games, and groups of shouting children. Teacher's primary concern is to return to the classroom with the same number of children she had when they came out. Most rules have gone by the boards for the day but the children are too happy to make much trouble.

This is the day for cleaning out desks and lockers, finding lost mittens and library books, throwing away drawings and spelling papers, taking down bulletin-board displays, and shelving all the text-books. This is the day to carry home gym shoes, paint aprons, pencil stubs, and the fateful envelope which announces your grade for next year.

Saturday and Sunday are the same as any weekend but come Monday morning there will be no alarm clock going off, no Mother urgently insisting that you get out of bed, and no blackboard full of arithmetic problems awaiting you. It is summer vacation and there are millions of things to do, well, thousands. Hundreds? Would you believe half a dozen? And endless days to do them.

Privileged is the child who is chosen to keep something for his teacher over the summer. Plants, goldfish, hamsters.... yes, hamsters. Thereby hangs a tale, tail-less though those little creatures be.

Son Frank's daughter Josie's high school biology teacher had acquired two pair of hamsters to use for educational purposes. The hamsters, however, declined to cooperate and the whole school year passed without one litter being born in either hamster family. Finally one erst-while hamster papa made good his escape. They are adventurous animals but not too bright about coming home again. Even a sign reading "Herbert, come home. All is forgiven" didn't avail.

By June the teacher was heartily sick of the project and welcomed Josie's offer to keep the three remaining rodents during the summer. He even encouraged her to attempt raising a litter or two, IF it was at all possible, which he sincerely doubted. Frank and Sue were willing to add to the already sizable menagerie Josie and her twin Young Joe, kept at the farm, so home came hamsters, cages, and half a large sack of food.

Tentatively the hamsters were named Erma, Emma, and Herbert II. They lived, in their cages, on a work-bench in the cellar where it was quiet, moderately cool, and semi-dark. They are nocturnal in nature and preferred the cellar's gloom to the flooding sunshine of the class room. Also in the cellar they didn't disturb the family's rest with their late-night activities.

After the proper preliminaries, it became evident that both Erma and Emma were soon to produce their first off-spring. Josie fed them carefully, giving them fresh lettuce, potato peels, carrots, bits of celery, and hard-boiled egg-yolk along with their regular food and water. Frank built nesting boxes so that the new mothers might have a private place to keep their children until such time as they were big enough to meet their public.

When the first litter arrived, Josie sent a birth announcement to her teacher at his summer home on Cape Cod. When the second litter arrived she sent another announcement. However as the summer progressed and the little hamsters grew into big hamsters, she was soon too busy to send announcements, and decided to surprise Teacher with the size of his furry family.

When school opened in September, Frank, Young Joe, and Josie loaded the truck with cages, many of which Frank had built, and set off for school. There were somewhere in the vicinity of 50 hamsters, give or take an expectant mother or ten, which pretty well filled the biology lab tables with cages.

Teacher was momentarily speechless. When he was finally able to make himself heard over Frank's roars of laughter, his reply to Josie's mischievous-eyed innocent "But you told me to breed them if I could." was a rueful "This is the last time I'll trust -you- with anything over the summer. What do you expect me to do with all these animals?" Actually the little things proved very popular with the younger children. Many went to private homes and nearly every class in the grade school had one, and only one, hamster as a pet.

Herbert was Josie's favorite. She carried him in her pocket and let him wander within her reach in a clover patch or sit on her shoulder and groom her hair. Erma and Emma tended to nip and be excitable, but who could blame them with all those children to care for. Joe jr was amazed at his aunt's knowledge of hamsters when she presented him with a pair last year. Carrie was rather provoked that her sister-in-law didn't warn her how prolific, and precociously so, the little animals are.

But hamsters are clean, odorless, and comical pets so if your child has brought one home from school for the summer, enjoy it. If he has brought two home, keep them in separate cages even if they are supposed to be sisters or brothers. Mistakes can be made and the next thing you know you have eight hamsters followed at regular intervals by multiples of eight.

Uncle Jos sends regards as do I,

Your Aunt Katy