Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 10, 2006

A death in the family

Every weekday morning starts the same. At about 6, Art gets up and turns on the TV news. At 6:15, he makes sure Katie and Nadja are moving. About 20-30 minutes later, I roll out of bed and begin my daily routine. Among my morning tasks are making the bed, cleaning up any stray dishes that were left on the kitchen counter the night before, letting our cat Cookie out of the furnace room where she sleeps, adding fresh food and water to her bowls, and feeding our goldfish Dandelion.

One morning last week was different. I picked up the goldfish flakes and dropped them in the water at the top of Dandelion's fish tank. Usually when I approach the tank, Dandelion is right there at the top, mouth gaping open, ready for breakfast.

This time there was no movement.

"Uh-oh," I thought.

I looked around the tank, expecting to see the fish floating at the top of the water. Instead, he (or she - we never did figure out the fish's gender) was lodged between the bottom of the tank and the pump. He wasn't moving.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, six years is a pretty good life span for a goldfish. Still, that little critter had become a part of our family.

Katie won the goldfish in a game of Bingo at the school's carnival the spring she was in first grade. When she got home, she handed me the plastic container with the fish in it. In a matter-of-fact manner, she announced that since I had told her "no" when she asked for a fish, she knew I wouldn't refuse it if she just brought it home.

Ah, the wisdom of kids!

We set about preparing for our new family member. I put the fish and water in a plastic five-quart ice cream bucket and covered it loosely with a lid. Cookie was very interested in the proceedings. After I left the kitchen, she jumped up on the counter and watched the new resident swimming around in the bucket. I'm not certain whether she was welcoming a new friend or thinking, "Dinner!"

Katie named the fish Dandelion because of its intense gold-orange color - like the weed, she said.

We bought a small goldfish bowl, rocks for the bottom of the bowl and fish flakes.

We also bought "Your first goldfish," a booklet on the care and feeding of the fish. Katie immediately found the photo that looked most like her Dandelion. She drew a picture of him on a Post-It note, attached it to the page and referred to the booklet from time to time.

It wasn't long before Dandelion - or Dandy as I usually called him - outgrew the bowl. We bought a nice-sized aquarium - complete with more rocks, a light, a filter and pump to keep the water clean, a plastic pagoda for Dandy to swim in and out of and a sign saying "Beware of Jaws."

Although the fish was Katie's, more often than not I was the one to feed him. I often joked that Dandy knew who his mama was because any time I approached the tank, he swam up to the top and started wriggling back and forth. On gloomy mornings, I'd sometimes turn on the aquarium light to watch him swimming around.

Katie and I buried Dandelion in a bed of day lilies. In the spring, their gold-orange color will remind us of him.

But right now, that spot on the counter looks awfully empty.

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