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OPINION

Hamsters and storms

By Trevor Soderstrum

In an instant, there was complete darkness, a blackness where a person cannot see their hand in front of their face! My parents would stumble through the house bumping into furniture and tripping over toys their children had left scattered on the floor. Flashes of lightning illuminated the entire upstairs and then back to darkness. Feeling his way along the wall, my father would vainly push the light switch up and down.

Trevor Soderstrum

No power, again. This did not happen once, but many times in the house we lived in just off the golf course. Miraculously, my mother would find some candles in the kitchen. A match was struck and the candles lit. Sitting at the nearby kitchen table, over the faint candle glow, I stared at my siblings. My younger sister, a toddler, would be crying. She seemed always to be in tears because she was colicky. At least that is what my mother claimed. At the age of three, I was sure she just enjoyed crying. 

My older brothers were constantly squirming in their chairs. One of them would pick his nose and then wave his finger in another one’s face as if he was about to wipe it on him. There was the shouting and name calling that boys do in such moments, the things a parent would be horrified for a guest to overhear.

Worried about the dogs outside, I would try to garner my parents’ attention regarding their plight, raising my voice with each unsuccessful attempt. My father knew enough to grab my wrist when I would attempt to get to the door next to my bedroom to let them in. Occasionally, my three-year-old reflexes were faster than his.

The next thing my mother knew two wet long-haired, muddy, rambunctious golden retrievers came running through her clean house with me in hot pursuit.

As they waited for the inevitable sound of something crashing to the floor, there was a panicked scream from the basement. My dad never had to ask. He heard this scream before and knew what it meant. It would not be the first time or the last this wail demanded their attention.

Before the scream even stopped, my dad was on his feet, heading to the drawer where he had placed the flashlights, hoping they would still be there. Because his boys liked to play with the flashlights from time to time, that is a bet that a degenerate gambler would not place. There were times they would be discovered under a couch somewhere. If dad was lucky, they would still be there. If not, the candles would have to do.

The game was afoot. My mom and dad sprinted down the steps. The beams of the flashlights slowly moved back and forth along the baseboards of the walls. Often my parents ended up on their hands and knees, slowly moving around the room. Searching hands were stuck underneath beds, tables, and other places, which is not something one would recommend doing when there are several young boys at home.

In the darkness, even over the panicked cries of my brothers, my parents could hear the sounds of the furry predator stalking its prey. It did not take long for it to pick up the scent of its victim as its ancient instincts kicked in. For brief moments, its glowing eyes could be seen. A second later, they were gone. There might be a glimpse of gray hair, one of its legs or its side, shining in the flashlight’s beam.

There was no time to grab it. This bundle of fur and claws disappeared into darkness as suddenly as it appeared. A fine-tuned killing machine, there was no time to dillydally. Somewhere in this cold, basement, its would-be victims were clueless to their plight. They were fat and stupid. Even if they had spotted this vicious hunter, their DNA offered them no warning alarm that they should scurry to safety.

My parents’ rescue mission could take a few minutes or hours. Their knees would hurt from crawling around on the floor, the thin carpeting offering little relief from the hard cement beneath. They knew the trauma that would occur if they gave up.

There should have been a camera filming their efforts, because that footage could be shown in every high school sex ed. class in America. Every time some teenage girl wistfully talked about wanting to have a baby to love, the teacher could pull up pictures of Denny and Karen Soderstrum.

When my parents were younger, they were cool, amazing people. My dad as an 18-year-old dressed to the nines, was thin, and had a beautiful crew cut. He was the embodiment of the late 1950s. In every photograph of him from that time period, there is a glimmer of hope in his eyes. The possibilities ahead of him were unlimited. My mother, at the same age, was the embodiment of the girl next door, sweet and beautiful! She must have been a lot of fun! They fell in love, got married, and thought it would be wonderful to have children. This was something they proved extremely good at.

Along with children came pets; dogs, cats, rabbits, toads, horses, birds, goats, (please, do not bring up the goats in front of my mom), and almost every other creature one could imagine. My older twin brothers wanted hamsters. So, they got hamsters. These rodents were kept in clear plastic cages in their room. Connecting the cages was an elaborate system of clear yellow plastic tubes. It was fun to watch the hamsters crawl through the tubes from one cage to the next.

There were hours spent watching these beloved pets stand on their hind legs to drink from their dangling water bottle. They were so soft and cuddly. We enjoyed holding and petting them. There were the ritualistic kisses and coos of goodnight every evening. The love shown in those moments could bring a tear to a person’s eye.

Every storm, not just once, not just twice, but every storm, in the darkness, someone eventually bumped into a section of the yellow tubing and out of this wreckage the hamsters made their escape. The problem was the family cat! It immediately sensed the hamsters were on the loose. The last thing you want your young children to see is one of their beloved hamsters, or at least part of them, dangling from the mouth of the equally cuddly cat. That image could lead to therapy bills that would take years to payoff.

Picture parents crawling around on their hands and knees, dirty and exhausted. The sounds of screaming and fighting children are deafening. There are prayers for silence that will never come. Wet dogs rampaging through the house. Yet, everything in the world depends on finding a couple of rodents that maybe cost you $5 at the store.

Ask a parent; such a moments are not rare. Similar things happen all the time when you are responsible for a child. There are times a parent wishes he or she had a time machine so they could go back in time and slap their younger self who thought it would be wonderful to have kids.

Still, when you look back at your life, you would not want it any other way. Well, maybe you might not buy hamsters again!

Columnist Trevor Soderstrum was born and raised in Story City. He can be reached at tjsode@gmail.com.