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Don’t Throw Away Memories

27 Aug

Last month when I was packing some personal things from my old office/job, to my delight I found in a desk drawer this very sweet and touching poem Ian had written for me when he was about 10 years old. Now that he’s 20, Ian may be very embarrassed to see it, but I will treasure it always and am so excited that I found it. 

I tend to be a bit of a hoarder as far as all four of my nieces and nephews are concerned. I keep informal scrapbooks/envelopes of things from our trips, lots of pictures, programs from their piano, dance and music recitals, and so much more.  They all have written me letters, notes, jokes, secrets and more. But this was my only poem. Reading it makes me very happy.

If ever there was an aunt,
who is as great as you.
I could never imagine,
all the things she’d do.

She’d take me to Florida,
California and New York.
And at the cinema movies,
she’d see Frodo & an Orc.

So I really guess
that what I’m trying to say,
is that you’re the best aunt ever
of the future, past or today.

-Ian
XOXOXO
      ♥

Here's the actual poem - Ian wrote it on some stationary he found in my desk drawer.

 
 
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“Don’t” Show Incriminating Pictures!

3 Apr

Elyse and Ian prior to the formal dinner evening - he's such a great big brother!

Three years ago about this time of year it had been another cold, long winter, and my sister and I were anxious to go somewhere warm.  Long story short, we decided at the last-minute to go on a cruise, so we got the ball rolling and in addition to my sister and myself, my Mom, my brother Tim, my sister-in-law Joanie as well as Ian and Elyse, we all went for a seven-day trip on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas. Spring break for schools was a little late that year.

My other sister-in-law Lucy, is a cruise agent extraordinaire with Ship-A-Hoy, and does a wonderful job of booking great staterooms, knows all the scoop on the excursions and ports of call,  and is awesome at handling all the in’s and out’s of cruising.  She’s our favorite cruise agent of course and we’ve been on many! She was able to find us a great cruise at the last-minute to the ports we wanted to go with some good amenities for teens.  Ian and Elyse had a blast (they were seventeen and thirteen then).  

Our ship, "Enchantment of the Seas" in port at Key West.

We left from Fort Lauderdale and sailed to Cozumel, Belize and Key West with a couple of days at sea in between before arriving back in Fort Lauderdale.  I won’t go into detail about the cruise, but want to share a specific event that involved Ian, and demonstrates what a good sport he is, and how easy-going and mature he can be, despite the fact that he was totally humiliated (so he says now!).   

Tim, Joanie and I decided to check out Royal Caribbean’s notorious “Quest” game that was scheduled one night, as we had heard chatter that it would be hilarious.  Mom and Deb didn’t want to go, so they kept an eye on Elyse, and finding out that we needed four people to play, we grabbed Ian, even though he was less than 18 years old and it was noted for “mature” audiences.

Elyse and Ian in tropical attire!

We didn’t know what to expect and it started as sort of a combination scavenger hunt with “Let’s Make a Deal” (where you won something if you had it in your purse or pocket) and you were among the fastest to get it to the emcee, with the chance of winning a cheesy Royal Caribbean trinket.  You had to appoint one guy on your team as your runner, and we elected Ian to do it. 

The game got progressively funnier and more challenging for the male runners and audience alike.  It started with innocuous things you’d find in a purse, but quickly took a raucous and embarrassing turn for the assigned runners, poor Ian.  First the team had to find a tube of lipstick (both Joanie and I had some), then Ian had to put some on and run to the emcee.  Ian then had to find a pair of earrings, put those on and race to the front.  Joanie and I both have pierced ears, but I had on a pair of grey pearl leverbacks, that he was able to put and keep on. 

Each task got a little more complicated – the guys had to take off their shoes (and socks for some), then put on a pair of high heels and once again, run to the front.  Seeing these men with lipstick and earrings on, running in high heels was a side-splitting sight!  Again, Ian was having fun, and wasn’t too self-conscious since men of all ages were doing this.  He just happened to be the youngest! 

Ian is somewhere in that crowd, I have close-up pictures, but promised him I'd never share!

But then the emcee announced that one of the women in the team had to figure out a way to take her bra off, without taking her shirt or dress off, then the team runner had to take his shirt off and put on the bra.  Then the runner had to find a purse and run to the front to get a number from the emcee (while still in heels, with earrings and lipstick on).  Once all the guys had a number, the emcee had them do a conga line dance around the room.  The best “dancers” were chosen and announced by number by the cruise staff.

I was laughing so hard I was crying and couldn’t catch my breath watching Joanie rapidly slip off her bra from under her dress and pulling it out of an open armpit.  My brother was laughing so hard as well.  Joanie and I quickly put her bra on Ian, snapping the back in place.  I gave Ian my purse to carry, and once ready, he flew over the chairs/section we were sitting in to go grab his number.  The music started and the guys all danced in a line, holding onto the hips of the guy in front, with the emcee leading the conga line.  Then each guy had to do a 10-15 second solo dance.  It was hilarious. 

All along I was taking pictures of course!  I’ve shared just one here of when all these macho guys rushed in their heels, bras, earrings with purses in hand to get their numbers.  But I also have several of Ian close-up which I “triple” promised him I would never show to anyone outside of the family.  Well I’m keeping my promise (at this time), but have kidded with him that I might pull them out for when he gets married one day.

Hmmm, someone should have color-coordinated this group! Doing the "Macarena" in the dining room one night, LtoR, my brother Tim, my sister Debbie, my nephew Ian and my sister-in-law Joanie.

I’ve heard that on some of the other Royal Caribbean cruises, the guys have to strip down to their skivvies while wearing the bra, heels, purse, earrings, lipstick and dancing the conga.  You’ll find evidence of this on YouTube.  Ian had on a pair of cargo shorts, but he and all the other guys on our cruise kept their pants on!

We caught up with my Mom, my sister and Elyse later, still laughing, showing them the pictures.  Ian lamented to his Grandma, “I’ve never been so humiliated in my life!”  Please don’t tell anyone about this! (He was a senior in high school after all.)  But he still laughs about it today, was such a good sport about it and had as much fun as anyone.

The game also set the tone for the rest of the cruise, where we continued to have a great time – and we continued to enter as either a family team or as solo entrants in the ship’s other contests, from “Name That Tune” (2nd place!) to karaoke.  But nothing was as funny as seeing Joanie slip her bra off through her armpit and then to see Ian put it on and strut around doing the conga in high heels. 

As adults one of the clearest and most positive memories we have of our childhood are of family vacations.  Hopefully this will be one to remember for Ian.  And if he forgets, I have pictures!

“Do” Keep a Roll of Quarters Handy

26 Sep

At one time or another, I imagine we’ve all tried those exasperating claw machines stuffed full of plush bears, cats and other animals.  Some of them also have toys, prizes, jewelry and more.  They are eye-catching and both children and adults are equally lured to try their luck.  You can find claw machines in many places – grocery stores, Wal-Mart, restaurants, arcades, movie theatres, Dave and Busters, carnivals, theme parks and more.   

Ian at the Disneyland Hotel

 

I remember Ian starting his way to becoming a claw machine champion when he was about 5 or 6 years old.  There was a machine in our local grocery store, and he’d love to go to the store with my Mom (Grandma) or me and try his luck.  At 5o cents a try/claw drop, we would give him about two to three dollars, and he usually never failed to walk out of the store with some cute little stuffed puppy or something else.  Sometimes he would win back-to-back, and would walk out of the store with two prizes, much to the frustration of other kids standing near the machine waiting for their turn.  

For Ian, it was never about winning the toy/prize.  It was about his skill beating the machine.  Often he would turn around and give the plush animal to his sister Elyse or another little girl or boy standing nearby, broken-hearted because they had spent their last quarter and hadn’t won anything.  As his skill grew on this particular machine, he sought out other claw machines in the city, and sometimes we would purposely drive to that place so Ian could try his hand.  I remember going to a Wal-Mart with him (and I really don’t like to shop at Wal-Mart) specifically to try out their claw machine.  After spending just eight quarters, he walked out with a tiny bear, a hot lips pillow and a dalmatian puppy with a fireman hat on its head.  Quite a crowd had gathered after he won the first one (because people are skeptical of these machines and most believe they are rigged), and after we left the area, people and their kids lined up to try their hand, but I doubt if anyone was as “lucky” as Ian.  

However, we soon realized that it wasn’t luck, but skill.  Before putting his quarters in he would study the position of various animals, noting if it was a four- or three-pronged claw.  He would then put his quarters in and quickly get the claw over the top of his target.  He would maneuver the claw so that the four prongs were positioned above and below both arms of the plush animal in his sights, with the central part of the claw close to the neck, or high chest area.   

Ian at Disneyland's Tea Cups

 

So his trick was to grab the chest of the animal, and not the head.  Often he didn’t get it on the first try, but he would use that first try to help get his target into a better position.  He had a different strategy for three-pronged claw machines.  In the period of one to two years, we amassed  bags full of plush toys.  We would eventually donate most, but Ian would keep some (for those claw conquests that had been particularly difficult).   

About 13-14 years ago, I was speaking at an industry trade conference in California, participating on a panel about media trends.  The conference was at the Disneyland Hotel, right on the Disneyland property.  While this trip was noteworthy for many reasons (JFK Jr. had just launched the magazine George the year earlier, and he was the keynote speaker so I was in great company!), it was especially memorable for Ian’s claw machine success.     

Because the conference was in Disneyland, ideally I had wanted to take all four nieces and nephews with me; after all, what fun is Disney without a child with you?  Nick and Katie couldn’t go because of school and a few other reasons, Elyse was too little (she had just turned two), so I took Ian.  Mom/Grandma came with us to watch Ian because I had to speak/go to the conference (which was on  Thursday and Friday, so we planned to stay through Sunday).  It was his first plane ride so he had the double excitement of going to Disneyland and riding on a plane on the same day.    

We checked in on the  Wednesday evening prior to the start of the conference.  I went to a quick committee meeting, then the three of us decided to walk the grounds around the hotel.  Low and  behold outside of the Disney store on the property was a claw machine.  Inside the store were all of the Mickey, Goofy, Pluto and other Disney plush toys a kid could only dream about.  But Ian first had to try his hand at the claw machine. (Which curiously did not have Disney branded plush toys, just your typical claw machine animals and prizes.)   

On his second try, he grabbed a pretty white cat with butterscotch spots on it and brown ears.  It dutifully dropped down the chute, and he picked it up and gave it to me.  “This is for you Aunt Sheree, for bringing me to Disneyland.”  I asked him what we should call it, and he said “let’s call it Rose, because I wanted to get you a rose for bringing me here.”  Oh yes, he was such a charmer, and still is!  

We weren’t planning on going to Disneyland until the conference was over on Saturday morning.  So while I was in attendance at the various sessions, Mom and Ian hung out on the hotel property.  I came back to the room the first day of the conference and they were watching TV, but sitting on my bed with Rose the cat were four more plush animals.  He had won all four that day on his visit back to the claw machine.  He was so excited to show me, and my Mom said he had won all four from the claw machine in less than 10 minutes.  

I secretly wondered if winning at the claw machine was part of the “Disney magic” – but it was in a prominent place on the property (near the Monorail station) and we saw other kids walk away empty-handed.  Ian struck the machine again on Friday while I was at the conference, and came back with another four more plush toys, so he now had a total of nine!   

The infamous Claw Machine at the Disneyland Hotel

 

Saturday came and we were off that morning to Disneyland and we had so much fun going to Main Street, U.S.A.; walking through Cinderella’s Castle; twirling in the Tea Cups; and making our way through the Pirates of the Caribbean.  We also found many characters, including Mickey Mouse and Goofy, and Ian captured all of their signatures.  We spent most of the day there and at about 4PM he was getting a little tuckered so we jumped on the Monorail back to the hotel.   

As we exited the Monorail, the claw machine was just about ten feet ahead, so of course before walking back to our room, Ian looked at me and asked, “just one more time Sheree, before we go back to the room?”   

I had learned to keep quarters in my purse for the kids – for gumball machines as well as for the claw machine.  So I handed him my last 10 quarters and said, “okay this is it, try it one more time.”  Well once again, he won, this time three plush animals.   

He was so excited and a bit proud of his claw machine skills.  A little girl walked by with her Dad, and looked at the machine wistfully, but the Dad said something to his daughter that with Ian having just won three, she wouldn’t be able to win, so despite her asking to try, they kept on walking.  Ian ran after them a few feet, and said, “here, you can have this bear, I already have one like it,” causing a big smile to break out on her face as she said thank you.     

Cinderalla gets a big hug from Ian

 

I went into the store to buy a suitcase or backpack to put all eleven of his plush animals won from the claw machine.  They wouldn’t fit in the suitcases we had, plus there were other Disney items we had purchased at Disneyland.  When we got back to Kansas City and dropped Ian off at home, he was as excited to show all of his claw machine animals to his Mom and Dad as he was to tell them about Disneyland!   

Ian continued to play claw machines as he grew older, but always gave his winning toy/animal to either Elyse or some other kid watching him play.  And by this time, he ceased playing multiple times, if he won, he would be done.  Just a couple of years ago while in high school, we were all going to the show together to see a holiday movie and while waiting in line to enter the theatre, he went over and played the claw machine for old times sake.  On his first try, he won a mini Chiefs football, and he promptly gave it to a little boy standing there watching.     

The little boy said thanks, and said, “if I give you my two quarters, can you get my little brother a football as well?”  Ian told him to keep his change, and said he would try.  There was one more football in the glass case.  Ian looked at its position, looked up at the position of the claw, walked back around to the front and dropped in two quarters.  He quickly twirled the claw apparatus around so it would hit the roundest part of the football, then dropped it down at just the right minute.   

We were all sort of holding our breaths, and the two little brothers were watching in awe.  The claw picked up the football, and barely kept it in its grasp as it made its way to the opening of the chute.  It looked like he would lose it at any minute.  But the football slid down the chute.  Ian had beat the machine again!   Everyone around cheered, and Ian picked up the football and threw a quick pass to the littler brother.   

We were so proud of Ian that evening, not for his claw machine skills, but for using those skills to make two little boys he didn’t even know very, very happy.

“Do” Come Together with the Beatles!

18 Sep

A week ago on Friday night I was sitting drenched in the drizzling rain between my two nephews Nick and Ian.  We were at KC’s Starlight Theatre (Kansas City’s treasured outdoor theatre) watching the last Broadway Show of the summer, the national tour of “RAIN – A Tribute to the Beatles.”  And we were having a blast!  

My two “boys” have been going to Starlight with me since both of them were about six years old, as have my two “girls,” my nieces Katie and Elyse.  Earlier in the summer, all four of my nieces and nephews had called “dibs” on going to RAIN out of the five shows scheduled for the season. Each of them usually goes with my Mom and myself to at least one or two of the shows, but all four wanted to see this show because of the Beatles.   

RAIN print advertisement that ran in the KC Star

 

Katie wanted to bring her husband because he likes the Beatles, but he had to work.  So they went the previous Tuesday night.  Elyse had also wanted to go, but she’s now a freshman in high school, and it was football night, there was an “away game” for her school, and she wanted to ride the “spirit bus.”  So it ended up being Nick, Ian, Ian’s Mom (my sister-in-law) and myself going to the show.  

I’ve always had a special connection with my nephews and music.  Whenever Nick or Ian were with me in the car (or for that matter with my sister) we would find common ground listening to either the Beatles or the Beach Boys on the radio or a CD.  Both of them are good singers, having performed in choirs and/or musicals during school, and despite their respective ages, both have a sincere appreciation of music going back to the 60’s.  

The forecast for the night we went to RAIN was not promising.  It had rained on and off all day, and about 5:30PM it seemed  to have cleared up a bit.  We decided to eat dinner at Starlight and after an enjoyable meal and conversation headed to our seats about 15 minutes before showtime.  

The show was just awesome!  The tribute group performed five sets of live music:  from the early days of The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, through Shea Stadium, the Sgt. Pepper era and on to the Abbey Road years.  RAIN is a multi-media, multi-dimensional experience…it includes historical footage and really funny  television commercials (a special treat!) from the 1960’s on video screens and live cameras zoom in for close-ups and occasional shots of the audience.  

However, about three songs into the first set, it started raining.  At first it was just a drizzle.  Then it became a little stronger, then the wind started up.  Miles away, but rapidly approaching, we could see lightning beneath the clouds.  It looked very ominous.  But we weren’t about to leave and as far as I could tell, most everyone at the almost packed show were sticking to their seats as well.  We were just having too much fun singing along to our favorites and watching the fun video clips (including a Flintstones commercial showing Fred and Barney smoking Winston’s!)  

So sometime during the beginning of the third set, the President & Executive Producer of Starlight came out and announced a 30-minute weather delay due to the lightning rapidly approaching the area.  I asked Nick and Ian if they wanted to leave, but no way, everyone wanted to stick it out.  We quickly made our way back to the area where we had dinner, and found a table under cover to sit out the rain.   

Incidentally, Starlight is a client of the ad agency where I work, and I’m very much involved with the account.  I knew that my client/friend was probably upstairs in her office, so I started to send her an e-mail to see if she wanted to come down and visit with us.  At the same time she was calling me and was worried about where we were during the rain delay and told us to come on upstairs to their office.  They had food, wine, etc., and it was fun to visit with all the Starlight marketing team during the break.  Nick and Ian thought having access  behind the scenes (and in all the bad weather) was especially cool.  What a great client!!  

The show started again so Ian and his Mom headed back to our seats, and Nick and I decided to stop at the Starlight store and buy some rain ponchos as none of us had any rain gear (I had brought an umbrella, but you couldn’t use it).  And by that time everyone was soaked and the temperature had dropped so we bought sweatshirts as well.   

The rest of the show started in earnest.  The lightning had stopped, as had the rain, but after just one song, the rain started again, but this time we were prepared!  The show had more of a concert feel to it versus a Broadway Show.  (RAIN is headed to Broadway and opening on October 19!)  The band was very touched and in awe that so many people were still there, standing and singing Beatles’ songs in the rain.  At one point Ian was on his feet and enthusiastically cheering the performance when the band member who is “Paul” (Joey Curatolo) pointed to Ian and yelled out “you’re the man!” (Our season tickets are dead center, about 10 rows back from the stage.)  

The show had started with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and ended with “Let It Be” followed by an encore featuring “Hey Jude.”   They sang many of my favorites including “Happy Just to Dance With You,” “Yesterday” and “Revolution” (which brought back memories of my 8th grade CYO dance mixers!).  However, the best performance of the night was “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” which I hadn’t heard in a long, long time.  It’s an amazing song, and the performance enthralled us all.  I could tell Nick and Ian were especially moved.  

That night, this Baby Boomer sang-along with my Millennial nephews (and my Gen-X sister-in-law!) to more than two hours of songs that crossed our generations and brought us together for an evening filled with fun and love.  We weren’t about to let a little rain destroy what RAIN gave us that night.

“Do” Give Them Experiences to Last a Lifetime

14 Aug

Ian at a St. Patrick's Day Parade, Age 10

 

Traveling with my nephews and nieces has been so wonderful – we’ve gone with and without parents to Florida, to San Diego, on cruises, short trips to the Ozarks or to Branson, or to Topeka (inside joke), to New York and Chicago, through the Rockies and more.  All of them are excellent traveling companions and we truly have had fantastic adventures together.  

In 2005, I did the first foreign country trip solo with one of my nephews/nieces without their parents – to Ireland with Ian.  My Mom and I had gone in 1998, and had a fabulous time, and Ian has always been our Irishman, appreciating his ancestry so much.  He loved going to St. Patrick’s Day parades, and can sing all the verses from “Danny Boy” a capella.  So on the occasion of his 8th grade graduation, we (Ian, my Mom and myself) went to Ireland for 10 days.     

We flew to Dublin and oh how he instantly flourished as a young man before my eyes!  He loved to read and write fiction, and of course Dublin was a haven for him.  He couldn’t fill his journal fast enough.  The city was beautiful and quite cosmopolitan, and we did all the sites from going to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College to visiting the Guinness factory and retracing the streets that inspired James Joyce.  After 4 days, our plan was to take the train west to Limerick, and then we were going to stay at Adare Manor for the rest of our trip.  But we found out hiring a driver to take us there cost the same, and would be far more scenic.  So we drove across the beautiful Irish countryside, while Ian sat in the front talking to the driver the entire way.    

Cliffs of Moher

 

We had an equally wonderful time in Western Ireland, and went to so many awesome places.  And staying at Adare Manor was a dream come true!  But the highlight of the trip was our visit to the Cliffs of Moher.  It’s one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth.  We spent hours there as Ian couldn’t take it all in fast enough.  We walked up to O’Briens Tower, which stands on a headland at the Cliffs, commanding one of the better views.  Ian climbed to the top to take it all in.  When we walked down the scenic trail, his video camera was hard at work capturing the magnificent vistas.  (Mom stayed at the Puffin’s Nest Cafe having tea and eating locally made cakes with our driver!)  

Ian at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

 

My mom and I have so many wonderful memories of our trip to Ireland with Ian.  I could write on and on about the places we went and the people we met.  During that trip I literally saw Ian grow up from a boy to a young man brimming with wanderlust, ready to start high school, already thinking about college and his life ahead.  We talked about so many things as we walked the trail, watching the Atlantic ocean crashing into the edge of this marvelous country.   

Graham Greene wrote that “there is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”  I believe that door opened for Ian in Ireland, at least a bit or a little further.  Because like what is all of Ireland he experienced the soul’s yearnings, the happiest of hearts, the enchantment of the past and the hope for the future.

“Do” Watch Silly Movies and Sing Sappy Songs

20 Jul

Blake Edwards’ movie, The Great Race has always been one of my favorites.  It’s an epic comedy starring Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate (and Crown Prince Frederick Hoepnick), Tony Curtis as “The Great Leslie,” and Natalie Wood as Maggie Dubois.  

I remember seeing it at the drive-in theatre when I was 11 or 12, and anytime it comes on cable I’ll watch it again because it’s so fun and silly.  It has a great plot:  a turn-of-the-century automobile race from New York to Paris (westward across America, the Bering Straight and Russia), with a little romance and lots of slapstick.

Ian was over one weekend (he was just a little under 6 years old), and we were watching some TV before he went to bed.  I noticed that The Great Race was on, and he loved movies, so I thought he would enjoy this one.  He thought it was hilarious – he laughed and giggled, and really enjoyed the action and pratfalls, the big pie fight and more. 

There’s a song in the movie called “The Sweetheart Tree.”  Natalie Wood sings it during one scene (actually I think she was dubbed), and it’s played during  the closing credits.  Ian just loved this song.  After the movie was over and I put him to bed, he asked me to sing the song to him.  It has very sweet and charming lyrics, almost like a lullaby.  Fortunately, it is an easy song to remember as it only has eight lines and the last four are repeated:

“The Sweetheart Tree” (Click to listen!)
(Lyrics by Johnny Mercer/Music by Henry Mancini)

They say there’s a tree in the forest
A tree that will give you a sign
Come along with me to the sweetheart tree
Come and carve your name next to mine.

They say if you kiss the right sweetheart
The one you’ve been waiting for
Big blossoms of white will burst into sight
And your love will be true evermore.

I must have sung that song to him three or four times that night, and as I finally kissed Ian goodnight, he put his arms around my neck and hugged me and said, “Aunt Sheree, I’ll always be your sweetie.”

“Do” Believe in a Little Magic

4 Jul

A picture of part of the courtyard (before the arrival of the toad house)

The townhome I lived in before my current home had a beautiful outdoor courtyard surrounded by a high brick wall to the west and then a wooden fence on the opposite wall.  I had planted all kinds of perennials in it, plus lots of annuals every summer.  It was a pleasant place to sit, read, cook out or entertain, and for Ian and Elyse, to play or just hang out and talk.     

I was reading an issue of Martha Stewart Living one Saturday afternoon in the courtyard – it was an article about toads and toad houses.  Basically it said that if you put a toad house in your garden, pest-eating toads would show up and find it – and then hang out in your garden.  So I bought a really cute toad house online (total price $35.00) and put it in a nice shady place under a tree in the courtyard.  However, after several days, no toads showed up.  

The next weekend Ian and Elyse were over and Ian said, “I know let’s go to the park and find some toads!  We can catch them, then bring them back to the toad house and they will have a really cool new home.”   He felt bad that no toads had showed up for my toad house and saw it as a big adventure/quest to go out and find at least one toad!

Ian was about 11 at the time and Elyse about 7.  Not having anything available to catch toads with, we went to the store and purchased a small net and a small plastic bucket with a lid (total price $16.50).  We grabbed some snacks (total price $20.00) and drove over to Antioch park, a very pretty and fun area near my townhome.  While we had a great time in the park as usual, we searched the pond area for several hours but found no toads.   

Ian reading Harry Potter in the courtyard patio; Elyse looking at a book on flowers

Ian was really disappointed that he couldn’t find me a toad for my toad house, so I said we’d go to a pet store and see if they had any.  Elyse had given up on the toad hunt and stayed home with Grandma, but Ian and I drove to the nearest pet store. 

The only person in the store was the cashier, who was a grumpy middle-aged guy with a scrappy beard.  I asked him if he had any toads and he responded, “why, what are you going to do with one?”  I thought this was a very curious question, and really none of his business.  Did he think we were going to use it to cast a spell on someone or something?  But he looked at me and said, “we’re all out of toads, go to Antioch park.”      

Once again, we were disappointed about not finding a toad, but Ian was still convinced that we could find one someplace.  Then he said, “I know the best place to go, it’s the  pet store by our house, they will have one!”  This store was about a half hour away, but I thought it was a brilliant idea, surely they would have toads as it was an exotic pet store and they had all sorts of fish and reptiles. So we rushed over there because it was going to close in an hour at 6PM (we had been toad hunting all day).   

Ian at Antioch Park, looking a little tired and disappointed after hunting for toads

Sure enough, they actually had a toad/frog section.  I asked the young clerk if they had any simple pond toads, and he said no, but they had all kinds of exotic toads from all over the world.  (I guess there are people who keep amphibians as pets.)  They were called everything from the Granulated Toad to the Great Plains Toad, from the Fire Belly Toad to the Egyptian Green Toad, ranging in price from $12.00 to $300 each!

Being an 11-year old boy (and at the time, reading the Harry Potter books), Ian was fascinated by all the toads and was so excited that we had found one, especially one that would be so special!  Instinctively, I knew these were probably not the kind of toads you throw out in your courtyard to live in the toad house, but I didn’t want to disappoint him.  So I rationalized that a toad is a toad, and that whichever one we would buy would stay put.  (But the prices of these toads did give me cause to pause!)    

So we walked out of the store with a Chilean Christmas Toad – he was sort of skinny for a toad, was blackish green and had red markings all over him (total price $29.99!).  He was the second least expensive toad but Ian knew we had found the most perfect toad.  He named him Trevor – after Neville’s toad (in Harry Potter) who was escaping all the time and made frequent attempts at freedom.     

We brought Trevor home and went out to the courtyard, with Ian peeking in Trevor’s box all the way home to see how he was doing.  Ian opened up Trevor’s box and gently scooted him towards the toad house.  Dutifully, Trevor jumped over to the toad house and sat in front of the door of it for several minutes.  He seemed to be looking at us, almost inspecting us, but didn’t look afraid.  He turned around and went inside the toad house, just like that!  Martha Stewart was right!      

Ian sat outside for several hours until sundown (by this time it was 9PM on a Saturday night), watching what Trevor would do.  Sometimes Trevor would pop out of his little toad house and roam around a bit, but Ian always coaxed him back over to the house.  Finally, Ian came inside, and he was confident that Trevor would be there in the morning.  

Unfortunately, he was not.  Ian had stayed the night and the first thing the next morning went out to check on Trevor.  Trevor was gone.  Ian was sad.  I felt foolish for spending by this time $81.49 on the toad house, the search for a toad and for Trevor, and the little thing just hopped away.  And now I had a sad little nephew.    

Trevor's toad house in its new location with its new toads

Ian convinced himself that Trevor escaped while he could (unlike in the book, Neville’s Trevor never managed to escape) and was on his way back to Chile.  Ian reasoned that Trevor would find a stream to follow and would just keep swimming and hopping South until he got to Valparaíso or someplace near there.  I secretly hoped Trevor would come back now and then and do his job at pest control.  But we never saw him again.     

So while I bought an expensive toad that was with us for less than 24 hours, the whole toad hunting adventure that day with Ian was priceless.  And like Harry Potter, and the lore around toads, perhaps Trevor was a very magical toad, and he was able somehow to make it home to Chile.      

In 2003, the toad house made the move to my new house, and it sits nestled among the hostas in the shade under the deck in the back.  I often see tiny little toads coming and going in and around it, and when I do, I’m reminded of Trevor and that magical day toad hunting with Ian.