This is not about catching a cold. It’s about my unique other West Side family, written about earlier, made up of five people and lots of critters. There were cats, field mice, guinea pigs, even a snake. The most important of the “pets” was Sniffles, a most kind and loving Lab. There are many Sniffles tales. They called him dark yellow, I always thought he was red. He was one of the permanent residents while so many humans came and went over the decade I was close.
This unique family was only made more so by this labrador. As one story goes, a guinea pig got loose in their West Side townhouse. The poor frightened creature was found cowering in a corner on the second floor with Sniffles sitting guard between it and the cats.
In contrast, there was the time in the garage at their country house near Williamstown, Massachusetts that a porcupine found itself cornered by this protective animal who snapped its neck with one lunge.
There was no one in the family or amongst the friends who Sniffles did not get along with in all the years I spent with them.
Other animals were not always as accepted as he, but most of us were trained to be reasonably accepting of the menagerie; when the snake disappeared from its terrarium many of us found it troubling and others recognized this as unfortunate for the field mice who had similarly escaped and never returned. The snake reappeared from its jaunt in the walls only to die on the floor.
Their Grandma lived on the top floor. The last flight of stairs had an “inclinator,” one of those chairs that ran up a track on one side of the staircase. We were all known to use it at one time or another. It was fun.
It was not only a young fellow like me who frequently visited or stayed with this family. More than one young woman was “adopted” over the years and it was not more than once that an attempt was made to fix me up.
During one winter visit to the cabins in the country I was shuffled off with one such female adoptee to the second cabin. She had the job of teaching me the ways of the world. I was informed, a day or two later, that I was her first tickle fight seduction failure.
Another attempt to connect me eventually resulted in a young woman dating one of my best friends who frequently visited.
I learned all sorts of things about NYC from my second family, like shopping for lighting on the Bowery or lumber on the East Side. I learned to fix a lot of things without the benefit of youtube. I stripped paint from century old interior door frames using paint remover and a spoon. At the country house I learned about building a fire and the critters of the free space of that part of Massachusetts.
My acquired fixing skills were applied more broadly when I was recommended to another West 83rd Street townhouse owner who needed some work done. The only thing that ever completely foiled me was the light with two switches (one at the top of the stairs, the other at the bottom), I could not get that wiring right.
That unique West 83rd Street family taught me much and helped me survive the complications of my own family, a home filled with alcohol and sadness. These are people I will never forget.