As Father's Day approaches, I find myself contemplating the veterinarians in my life.
You see, I've been blessed with two veterinarians – my father and my wife.
Growing up, I was always "Doc Reeder's boy." Together, we would ride from farm to farm across Knox and Warren counties. I observed and helped with countless surgeries.
Sometimes it was as simple as, "Hold the flashlight, Scotty."
Later, as a teenager, I was gripping the edges of a uterus incision as my father pulled a calf into the world during a Caesarean section.
I remember when I was in kindergarten, sitting cross-legged in a barnyard answering my dad's questions.
"How many stomachs does a cow have, Scotty?"
"Well, let's take a look at them, Scotty."
He then proceeded to perform a post-mortem, explaining the purpose of each organ in language a 5-year-old could understand.
I remember falling off my bicycle in the second grade and walking home with an injured arm. My father took a look at it and said, "It's either a fracture or a really bad sprain."
His next step was to take me to the veterinary clinic for an X-ray. I still remember him striding into Cottage Hospital's emergency room with me by his side. He hollered, "He doesn't need to go to radiology, I've got an X-ray film right here."
Animal doctors seem more direct and practical than their human counterparts. Perhaps it's not having to deal with lawsuits and hospital politics.
But it goes beyond that.
Animal doctors have such an intense love for creatures that their homes tend to become, well, menageries.
When I asked my wife for her hand in marriage, I made her promise: no animals would be added to our family, unless we both agreed.
She hasn't exactly respected this wedding vow. OK, perhaps she has won my repeated acquiescence by continually wearing me down.
I suspect the only reason I asked for the promise was because of childhood memories.
When I was 8, my dad came home with a billy goat. Dad was vaccinating cattle at a sale barn, and as a joke, bid $5 on a lonely goat that had no ears.
We ended up owning the beast that devoured newspapers, cigarette butts and just about anything else. The ruminant had no respect for fences or screen doors.
No sooner had the goat been put in the pasture than it jumped the fence, ran across our yard, peered through the screen door and baaed loudly. Apparently, it had once been a house goat.
My mother took to chasing Billy off of the porch with a broom – until he ate the broom.
Having no respect for fences, the animal took to sunning itself on the front porch, which caused more than a few drivers to nearly swerve off the gravel road that ran by our house.
Given this history, you'd think I'd have gone into marriage to a vet with my eyes wide open. Dream on. My wife brought into the marriage a cat that hated all men. Within a week, the cat marked my suit and every freshly pressed white shirt of mine hanging in the closet.
But marital adventures in felines didn't end there. A couple of years after we wed, my wife was more than eight months pregnant with our first daughter, and she came home with a kitten that was born without eyes.
Between sobs, Joan said, "They wanted me to put him to sleep just because he was born this way. I couldn't do it, Scott. What happens if our child is born without any eyes?" As my pregnant wife stroked the blind kitten, she added, "It's just a foster cat. It will stay with us just until we find someone who will give him a home permanently."
The "foster cat" lived with us for another 13 years. It had the floor plan of the house memorized, avoided the kids' toys on the floor with an eerie sixth sense and lounged on the window sill like a prince on a throne.
The current census in our home is: nine dogs, three guinea pigs, six birds, three sugar gliders (flying squirrels), two ferrets and one very overwhelmed cat.
Dad has been gone now almost seven years. But I think about him every day when I scratch a dog behind the ear, give the cat a tummy rub – or go to the hospital for an X-ray.
Scott Reeder, an Illinois Times staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].