Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Pet Shop

My mom’s first job out of high school was at a pet store in El Paso, Texas. She loved animals and really wanted the job. The owners of the pet store didn’t hire her right away, but she was persistent and kept stopping by the shop asking for the job until she got it.

Christina’s love for animals was inspired by the many pets her family kept over the years. As young girls in California, sisters Cindy and Christy received turtles and guinea pigs as their first pets. Later, a big white Samoyed dog named Bianco was added to the family. Sadly, the newest addition didn’t understand having rodents Christy and Cindy with their guinea pigs

as pets. Cindy’s guinea pig was killed by the dog, and my mom was forced to give hers away. Christy cried all day, but she was glad to give her pet a home where it would be safe.

Christy with Bianco, Cindy, and her dad Al

Despite Bianco’s bumpy start with the family, he became a cherished pet over the years. Later, my mom kept both fish and birds. One bird had full reign of Christy’s room. It would leave its open cage every morning to fly circles around the room – waking her up in the process. As for the fish, one tank wasn’t enough. Several tanks lined the walls. She had two 20 gallon tanks, one 10 gallon tank, and one 5 gallon tank. There was a place for large fish, small fish… even a “hospital tank” for the sick fish. My mom’s room resembled a pet store before she ever applied for the job!

A view of my mom's room.
Her bird is sitting above the "silent giant" that pumped oxygen into all of the tanks.

The store kept all kinds of animals: cats, dogs, birds, fish, snakes, lizards, tarantulas… even alligators. There was everything from the traditional pet to the live food of the more wild “critters.” Since the store was basically a hobby endeavor for the owners, the pet shop was able to obtain the more expensive and bizarre animals not typically seen in a local shop. It was the perfect place for the adventurous motorcycle riding girl that would become my mother.

Her first paycheck went toward a new leather KJV Bible. Her second major purchase was a motorcycle. Christy Gray was quite a girl.

My mom struggled with sickness and major allergies as a child. She was always in and out of the doctor’s from the time she was just a few weeks old. Christy was allergic to just about everything. After becoming a Christian at age 9, she put her faith in Jesus. She trusted Him for salvation and gave her entire life over to Him – including her poor health. She learned that God cared about her and wanted her to be well. He gave her wisdom to live a healthier life and gave her strength to act well until she was well. Instead of laying around and dwelling on her sickness, she got up and walked to school in faith regardless of how she felt. Amazingly, she would feel better and better the closer she got to her destination – often feeling as healthy as she had pretended to be by the time she reached her school desk! Over time, she was able to get off her medication and live in true health; one doctor who didn’t know her medical history declared her the healthiest girl he had ever seen!

My mom had few allergies left by the time she was 19 and working at the pet shop. A few did remain, however, and one of those was her allergy to cats. The cats were in a separate room by themselves, so she didn’t have to be around them all day, but she was responsible for their care. She would hold her breath before entering the cat room and work as fast as she could, but she did need to be around them. She was relieved when she suffered no ill effects. Was it possible she was getting over her cat allergy? She tested it out by going into the cat room for a brief time without holding her breath. She was fine. She gradually lengthened her stay until she was confident that the cat allergy was a thing of the past. The cats were all over her after that.

Christina got along great with the pet store animals. Animals traveled in her pockets as she helped customers and cleaned the constant mess that comes from keeping so many animals in a small place. When a customer asked to see the snakes, she would pull a small snake from her pocket and say, “You mean one like this?” This showed a transformation in what Christy could and could not put up with. One condition she had when she took the job is that she wouldn’t have to work with the snakes. That was fine with the owners; she would just do everything else. The longer she worked at the pet shop, however, the more relaxed she became toward the snakes. Eventually, they didn’t bother her anymore.

A chameleon escaped from its cage once and was missing for several days. A customer’s shrieks solved the problem. “There is a lizard down there!” “Oh, you found it! Thank you!” my mom responded. She was also responsible for picking animals up at the airport. Often, these trips would be in the middle of the night. She had good company on the drive back though, “Hello! Polly want a Cracker?”

The pet store was a good first job, and my mother worked there until shortly before her family's move to Massachusetts to follow her dad's new job.

Her love for animals carried into her life as an adult and homemaker, and I am so glad it did. My family has been blessed with many pets over the years.

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