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"What kind of Navy officer sits on his ship in the middle of the Mediterranean dreaming of gerbils?" That's the question that Holly Robinson sets out to answer in this warm and rollicking memoir of life with her father, the world's most famous gerbil czar. Starting with a few pairs of gerbils housed for curiosity's sake in the family's garage, Donald Robinson's obsession with the "pocket kangaroo" developed into a lifelong passion and second career. Soon the Annapolis-trained Navy commander was breeding gerbils and writing about them for publications ranging from the ever-bouncyHighlights for Childrento the eruditeScience News. To support his burgeoning business, the family eventually settled on a remote hundred-acre farm with horses, sheep, pygmy goats, peacocksand nearly nine thousand gerbils. From part-time model for her father's bestselling pet book,How to Raise and Train Pet Gerbils, to full-time employee in the gerbil empire's complex of prefab Sears buildings, Holly was an enthusiastic if often exasperated companion on her father's quest to breed the perfect gerbil. Told with heart, humor, and affection, The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter is Holly's ode to a weird and wonderful upbringing and her truly one-of-a-kind father. From the Hardcover edition.
HOLLY ROBINSON, an award-winning writer, has been a contributing editor to Ladies’ Home Journal and Parents, and her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Good Housekeeping, and More, among other publications. She lives in northern Massachusetts with her husband and their five children.
From the Hardcover edition.
Table of Contents
The Gerbil Whisperer
Even Girls like Gerbils!
A Navy Man in Kansas
Doin' Time in Leavenworth
Trading My Bikini for a Horse
Dad Buys Himself a Gerbil Farm
Who's Going to Marry Her Now?
My Sister the Time Traveler
Welcome to the Poor Farm
Nobody's Business but Ours
Do It Yourself or Die Trying
The Man Without a Nose
My Mom Wears Jodhpurs
A Lady Always Wears Underpants
Saving the Blond Gerbil
What a Gerbil Farmer Does for Fun
The Gerbil Czar Retires
Epilogue: The American Gerbil Show
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.
One cloudy Monday afternoon,
I came home and found my family gathered in the garage. I'd been pedaling my bike around the neighborhood after school, pretending that the bike was a horse I was racing around the cul-de-sacs. I'd ridden so hard through the soupy Virginia heat that my short bangs were glued to my forehead and my knobby knees were shaking as I dismounted the bike and walked it up the driveway.
My brother Donald raced outside when he saw me. Donald was eight years old, skinny and quick and so blond that he looked bald in most lights. It didn't help his looks any that Mom buzzed his hair like a Marine's, which only called attention to the fact that Donald's head was so long and narrow that everyone, even our parents, called him Picklehead.
"Dad got boxes from Air Express," Donald said. "Now he's opening them!"
I dropped my books and lunchbox down on the cement floor of the garage and went to stand between Donald and my mother, who carried my little sister, Gail. We stood close together in the dim oily cave of the garage and watched in silence while my father-a methodical man who never went anywhere without a list, a map, and a pocketknife- unpacked the boxes with his usual precision.
As Dad slid out the contents of that first box with the help of a metal ruler, I saw that it was a plastic cage with a wire top. The wire top had two dips in it, one for a water bottle and the other for food. Dad held the cage high up like a holy chalice to admire its contents. Through the opaque bottom of the cage, I could make out two dark, round shadows that skittered this way and that. My mouth went dry with excitement.
"What do you think of them, Sally?" Dad asked.
Mom wrinkled her nose. My mother was thirty-two years old that summer, but she often dressed in shorts that showed off her figure and tied bright scarves over her short brown curls. She was girlish and lovely, like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, but without the scary violet eyes. "They look like rats to me," she said. "Look at those awful tails."
"What are they, Dad?" Donald asked.
There were four cages in all, in four separate Air Express boxes. The process of meticulously unpacking the boxes and examining their contents took Dad so long that by the time he'd lined the cages up on the metal shelves installed along the back wall of the garage, Donald and I were giving each other Indian burns and Mom was on her third cigarette.
At last, though, the gerbil cages were on the shelves and I was able to stand on tiptoe to peer into them. Each plastic bin held a pair of palm-sized animals with long tails. The tails had tiny black tufts at the ends, like miniature lion tails. The gerbils were a warm sand color with creamy underbellies and shiny black eyes; their eyes looked just like the buttons our grandmother Keach sewed onto sock monkeys for her gift shop in Maine. I wanted to put a gerbil on my bed and kiss it.
"Where did you get them?" I asked.
Dad handed me a catalog from inside one of the boxes. It was Creative Playthings, a toy catalog that Donald and I routinely fought over until we reduced it to confetti, even though we knew that Dad would never buy us anything from a catalog except school clothes from Sears. The gerbils were advertised in the "Discovering Nature" section for $5.50 a pair, a fortune.
Donald yanked the catalog out of my hands and asked Dad why he hadn't gotten the Tom Thumb greenhouse or the egg incubator, too. I pushed my face close to the plastic side of one cage. The gerbils inside it surprised me by bounding around on their hind legs like tiny, caffeinated kangaroos.
"Can I hold one?" I asked, tugging on the pocket of Dad's khaki uniform pants. He had taken off his brass-buttoned Navy shi
Excerpted from The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter: A Memoir by Holly Robinson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.