The Marshall Plan: ‘Red Beard’ is alive and well

Buy a pet, take the wacky ride.

He’s a four-inch peacock of a minnow with fins that resemble fluttering ribbons. Small in size and overpriced, it has the spirit and heart of a sailfish.

Pets, like relatives, are often loved before they are understood.

Let me just say that it’s a fish with issues, hell-bent on ending it all from the first hour we bought him. Initially he survived a short drive down Interstate 95 and a short trip to the grocery store for milk.

“Red Beard” as we named him is a Siamese fighting fish, a rumble fish, a certified bull male Betta fish.

Like a jumbo shrimp this finny fellow’s name seemed a little exaggerated.

My 10-year-old son only wanted a Corn Snake or a Ball Python, but my wife wasn’t completely sold on that plan. So we decided on a fish, a relatively cheap fish.

“Red Beard,” as it was named, was the newest family pet for all of three hours when my two-year-old daughter decided to check on it one last time before bed.

“Where is he daddy?”

“What?” I responded.

Panic and a horrifying premonition of two sad little faces flashed before my eyes. Then I spotted a tiny crumpled fish lying motionless upon a kitchen floor tile.

I scooped him up even though my head said, “he’s history…a bit dry. I’m a bad pet owner.”

Mr. Red was quickly tossed into his water-filled bowl. He sank like a pebble, just like my daughter’s little heart. Then by the grace of Neptune and Sponge Bob Square Pants this little minnow popped back to life with a few laps around its bowl. We marveled at how a fish could dodge the icy-grasp of death.

I told my story to a wide range of friends. They then proceeded to tell me their own tales of pet terror. The young lady at the pet shop later told me they mockingly call Bettas “suicide fish.”
As a child my family had a virtual Noah’s Ark full of wacky pets.

In third grade, I was was the proud owner of a six-foot boa constrictor. I proudly wore him around my neck Tarzan-style to impress all the cute girls that lined my backyard fence.

I used to feed “Moe the Boa” live mice sometimes. On one occasion a brave mouse managed to dodge the hungry snake and leap into the aquarium’s light system, a feat that would be the equivalent of a man jumping 10 feet in the air.

In honor of its courage my brother and I decided to grant this mouse amnesty.

We named him “Beanie Weenie” after one of our favorite canned foods.

This mouse became a family legend of sorts and a pet to my younger brother.

A few months later life took an ill-fated turn for the plucky mouse. While on vacation my snake escaped his tank and extinguished Beanie Weenie’s legendary life. This was a cruel and unfair final chapter for a noble mouse.

Upon further review my family had a bounty of odd pets and stories. My grandfather, a retired World War II Navy captain, had a standard poodle named “Jacques,” that smoked a corncob pipe, a Boston terrier named “Nippy” that was a survivor of a German U-boat attack and a monkey named “Kim-Kim-Poo.”

My first dog was a stray Border collie named “Tramp” from the streets of Baltimore. He adopted my family and lived alongside side us for 13 wonderful years.

How or why a pet enters our lives is simple fate, the memories they create within our families often live on for generations. So here’s to all the fallen dogs, cats, guinea pigs, snakes, fish, ferrets, hamsters and monkeys who travel through time alongside us as family members.

If you buy a Betta, buy a lid.