by John Hall

Living on the edge of a big woods gave me lots of chances to see birds and animals of all kinds, and like most kids of my generation, I wanted to own pets and did. Sometimes my enthusiasm carried me away however, and my pets were not those most kids were allowed to have. My parents supported me in my desire to be kind to animals, but there were occasions when they had to draw the line and Blackie was one of them. You see, while he was gentle and even affectionate, Blackie was a good sized rat and most people are afraid of rats and don't want to be anywhere near them. I don't know exactly how I got Blackie, I think I traded something for him, probably two or three comic books or maybe several marbles, but whatever it was, I think the kid who traded with me probably was told to get rid of 'that rat', just like I would be several months later.

While I named him Blackie, my rat was only part black, the remainder snow white. Blackie had a black head and shoulders, but the rest was totally white. He had intelligent, although somewhat beady eyes, large ears, and wide, white whiskers. He used his front feet almost like hands and his nose and whiskers were continually twitching. He had two very large teeth in the front, but he only used them for eating and never offered to bite me or any member of my family. He was always curious and stuck his nose into every nook and cranny that attracted his curiosity. He would go up my sleeve and pop out my neck, sitting on my shoulder to look about with his nose in the air and his whiskers twitching. I thought it was fun, but my mother just didn't like rats and Blackie was no exception.

As time passed I noticed Blackie was sometimes listless and would often sit just staring off into space. I thought he enjoyed life with me, but something was missing and I realized he was lonely for other rats. I wanted him to be happy and so I went looking for another rat to be his friend and I traded two Big Little Books for a pure white rat which I was told was a boy rat for sure and being young I didn't know how to tell the difference, but Blackie did. All of a sudden he was the friskiest rat you ever saw and it was easy to see that he liked his new friend. In a very short time I noticed 'Whitey', as I had named him, had made a nest and was feeding several hairless creatures which appeared to have neither eyes or ears. I thought they were over grown worms, but as the days passed they grew and turned into miniature versions of Blackie and it was evident that Whitey wasn't a boy rat as I had been told. My two original pets were soon surrounded by young off springs who were multiplying at an astounding rate and cleaning the cage became a daily chore which my mother made sure I did without fail. In time, my father told me something had to be done with my rats as there were just too many of them and they were increasing daily. I made every excuse I could think of to keep them, but I knew sooner or later, my rat population had to be decreased or my father would take drastic action to get rid of them.

The kids in school, especially the girls, didn't believe me when I told them I had pet rats so I decided to show them. I thought I would show them just how friendly rats were and then maybe, just maybe, they might want their own pet rat and I could give them some of mine. I decided to take Blackie to school and show everybody he was friendly and let them pet him. I had a small cage with a door on the front and a carrying handle on the top and I carried him to school one morning. I went into the cloakroom, opened the cage and put Blackie up the sleeve of my sweater and told him to stay put. This was a game we had practiced many times and Blackie went up my sleeve and stayed there waiting for me to say, "Now, Blackie." I went to my seat, sat down and waited as Miss Thompson said good morning to us. When she finished she said "Now, class I left you last day..." and Blackie, hearing the magic word 'Now' ran up my sleeve, came out of my shirt and sat on my shoulder. There was a slight pause and all hell broke loose with every girl in the room screaming her head off. Miss Thompson let a shriek out of her and in one leap from a sitting position, landed on top of her desk yelling at me "Get that thing out of here!" Poor Blackie had never heard screaming or seen people running like mad in all directions and he became frightened and jumped from my shoulder to the floor and took off as fast as he could go. The classroom door had been left open by the escaping female members of my class and he took off down the hall. The commotion was heard by other teachers who opened their doors to see what was going on and were confronted by a large rat who was as frightened of them as they were of him. To Blackie the first open door looked like an avenue of escape and in he went only to be confronted by more screaming people who soon ran for the hall and escape from the school.

It didn't take long for the school to empty and I was frantically trying to find my pet when Miss Thompson yelled, "John Hall, you come in here this minute, I want to talk to you." I went in and received a tongue lashing which I guess I deserved, but I didn't really see why people were so frightened of one small rat who wouldn't harm them in any way. After she cooled down, Miss Thompson asked me to tell her what happened and I did, making sure that she knew Blackie was gentle and wouldn't hurt anybody. She finally agreed not to tell the principal on the promise that I would never bring any of my pets to school again.

Years later, Mr Jordan, the principal, told me he had found out about Blackie and me from one of the other teachers, but he had taken no action even when the other teachers insisted, because Miss Thompson told him I had made her a promise and she had made one to me. If he punished me, she would be breaking her promise and so he decided to support her. I searched for several days, but I never found Blackie again. A short time later I gave my rats to the SPCA who said they would make sure they would be well treated and looked after, but I didn't ask what would happen to them. I missed them a lot for awhile, but I've never forgotten Blackie, the gentle rat who just wanted to be friendly.