Originally published February 24, 2012
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love animals – particularly dogs. But the first pet that I ever owned wasn’t until my last year of high school in 1968/9. My family had moved to Georgetown that summer, but I decided to stay – because I was in love – hopelessly in love.
I was working part-time at Agnew-Surpass Shoe Store at the shopping centre and figured that I could make enough money to pay the $12.00 per week for a room at Mrs. Simpson’s place. Meals weren’t included, so there were a lot of days that I had little or nothing to eat. Fortunately, my girlfriend’s dad owned a restaurant in town. She worked there as a waitress – after school and on weekends. After finishing work at the shoe store I would walk to the restaurant and get a plate of chips or a hamburger – in exchange for doing the dishes in the kitchen.
My room was actually the basement of Mrs. Simpson’s home. It had a bed, couch, small table and chair, hot plate and an old shower stall. There was a small mirror over the laundry tub, which is where I shaved and brushed my teeth. It wasn’t much but it was my place – and despite the hardship of living alone, with little or no money – I was very happy.
“But Danny, what’s this got to do with getting your first pet?”, you’re asking. Be patient Spanky!
Anyway, my girlfriend and I went to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) in Toronto for the day during that summer. I only remember two things about that day – going on the Ferris wheel and winning a game of Bingo. In those days, the Bingo hall was a popular place – one of the great landmarks of the “Ex”. And what made the place so unique was the huge, floor-to-ceiling cage containing hundreds of colorful budgies. The other prizes were items such as lamps and small appliances. But when I yelled out “BINGO!” and won the game, I remember going directly to the bird cage and choosing a blue budgie. The bird came with a fully-equipped cage and handles on the side for carrying.
On our way home on the Greyhound Bus, I chose a name for the bird – Wally. I always liked the name Wally, probably because I didn’t know anybody with that name, except for Wally Cleaver, the older brother on Leave It To Beaver. It was a cool name and it was always going to be the name of my first pet – regardless of whether it was a dog, cat, bird or gold fish.
I really loved that bird – he was seldom in his cage. And while I was home (as my room had become), Wally would fly around and then land on either my head or shoulder. And even though I could never get Wally to speak – I’m sure there was a meaning to his frequent chirping. Mrs. Simpson really liked Wally and she would often invite both of us upstairs to keep her company watching TV. I’m sure that while I was at school or work, she would be at Wally’s cage, trying to teach him to speak.
I had to part with Wally in August 1970 – but gave him to a good friend – who I know took good care of him. I never had another bird for a pet. But sometimes when I’m in PetsMart, buying food for my dog Holly, I’ll wander over to the bird section. And if there is a blue budgie, I’ll smile and whisper “Hi Wally!”
I haven’t been to the CNE since the summer of ’68 – wonder if they still play Bingo there?