“BLESS THE BEASTS AND CHILDREN”

      Sunday was brisk and sunny, a perfect day to visit The Baltimore Zoo. I’m not completely back to normal — no more congestion, but still too tired, and I now have a very dry mouth, especially on waking in the morning. But I try to stay active, and it was a good time to further explore this beautiful part of the country.

I owed my son and his wife September birthday presents, wanted to get them something original. When I asked for ideas, my daughter-in-law suggested a family membership in the zoo. Done! They’ve taken my grandson there several times recently, and I’ve got a darling picture of him and his mommy looking joyous as a giraffe bends down to eat out of his hand.

So I drove to the zoo to inspect my gift, and bought a senior membership for myself. I often enjoy myself on my own, people watching and sightseeing. Would have loved to bring Honey with me, but only service animals are allowed. There’s a danger that dogs may disturb the animals — and some people are comfortable only with creatures in cages or behind barriers.

I miss my friends on Long Island, and try to keep in touch by phone, mail and e-mail. When I was in New York City in March I was happy to see Therese and Christina again, and enjoyed meeting Kathy in the Hamptons last August. But I haven’t seen Anne, Eleanor and Kris for over two years.

Residents in my building are friendly acquaintances. I’ve gone to parties at the condominium, but people come early, save seats for their friends, and get right down to eating. Not really sociable. A group of condo ladies eet monthly for lunch at restaurants on on Thursdays, the day I mind my grandson.

Courses I’ve taken at the senior center — zumba gold, line dancing and digital photography — were too fast for me, and I dropped out after several weeks. While I was still trying to figure out which foot to use, others danced like pros, having taken beginning classes multiple times. The camera class was over my non-tech head.

My Honey’s always up for an outing — forever cheerful and lively. She thinks I’m wonderful and never disagrees with me. A New Yorker cartoon caught my eye a while back, and I taped it to my refrigerator. My thoughtful son transferred it to my kitchen here, along with other clippings and optimistic fortune cookie predictions. A woman sits at a dining table opposite a dapper dog dressed in jacket and tie, each with a glass of wine in front of them. Underneath it says: “Pehaps I’m asking too much of you in the way of companionship.”

Now my faithful friend is beginning to show her age. She’ll be 12 on January 20th — 84 in people years. Besides diabetes, she has cataracts, her back legs are bowed and sometimes wobbly with arthritis, and she wears doggie diapers at night. I know it won’t be long before we’re parted — if I go first, my son has promised to take care of her. And I’m hoping God has arranged for people and their pets to be together again in spirit.

Animals can teach us. So can children. St. Matthew wrote that Jesus said: “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Children, with their open eyes and hearts, seem to see some heaven here.

At the zoo that day I watched rhinos, penguins, chimps, gazelles, cheetahs and lemurs going about their natural, innocent lives — and the children’s natural, unaffected response. As a chimp swung gracefully from tree to tree, little ones squealed with delight, and a boy cried out: “Look, look what he’s doing!” I breathed “Wow.”

In the Farmyard area I asked a volunteer standing near an fenced enclosure if I could pet a donkey. “Yes,” he said, smiling, “but not too close to the mouth!” So I took my turn with excited youngsters to stroke the gentle animal’s back. The zoo invites you at certain times to bring a brush and groom a goat. Will try that another day. I’m thinking of volunteering in the spring when training sessions begin again. Sounds like more fun than work. There are perks for volunteers — and you get to be helpful and feel virtuous, too. I didn’t continue the story-times at daycare centers this fall because of my ailments.

It was a pleasure to see so many people of different races, colors and ages together in a happy, bustling place — lots of toddlers and babies, had to stop and admire several. Next Saturday I’m going with my son and his family to a Halloween event with a children’s costume contest — my angelic grandson will be dressed as a vampire!? I’ll be wearing long black hair extensions under a witch’s hat.

Which reminds me — I’ve been meaning to compose a post: “Double, double toil and trouble.” When I was a librarian I worked at various times for three credible candidates for covens. That scary story will be my treat on Halloween.

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