The Chinchilla Tale

chinchellaMy parents had a plan – a plan to pay for college for myself and my two brothers.

They decided to invest in chinchillas.  A chinchilla is a small South American rodent with a soft silvery gray fur.  It is said that the fur is so soft that a blind person cannot feel it.  It was made clear to me from the beginning that they were not household pets! 😦

My dad would raise them, breed them, kill them, skin them, and then sell their pelts.  Yikes!

It turned into quite an undertaking!

They began with three pairs and all the paraphernalia that goes along – cages, water bottles, bath tubs filled with very fine sand and a pile of hay for feeding.

It was the mid-1950s and our house was not air conditioned.  Chinchilla’s cannot take hot weather because of their fur coats.  My folks set up the three cages in the laundry/utility room and installed a window unit air conditioner.  We would keep the door open into the adjoining family room to take advantage of the cooling.

Chinchillas are prolific so my folks thought this was their golden opportunity.  In order to obtain the pelt, the animal (obviously) must first be killed.  My dad bought some chloroform and tried the procedure.  It did not go well.  Eventually he found a person to take care of this and sell the pelts.

Being prolific, as I earlier stated, the brood soon outgrew our laundry room.  My dad then enclosed half of our two-car garage and moved the air conditioner in there.  Soon cages were lined up on both sides.

Now the garage was the only cool place in the house and Philadelphia summers can be brutal.  My mother would set up the ironing board in the midst of the chinchilla cages on particularly hot days.  This worked well for a while but eventually, for some unknown reason, the chinchillas developed a dislike for her, or perhaps for the iron! 🙂   At any rate, if she would get too close to a few of the cages, the rascals would spray her.  You know what I mean:  lift their leg and let go!  And always their aim was impeccable!

Of course, that became the family joke for years to come!

At some point, while changing water bottles or sand or something, one even bit her!  That was the end of that!  No longer would she participate in the care, feeding and breeding of their “cash cows”!  My dad took over all the maintenance of the project.

I don’t remember where the ironing board landed next but am pretty sure it was away from the air conditioning.

Some chinchillas are fur chewers and it turned out that my folks had acquired quite a few.  It is passed on to the babies, making the pelts worthless.  Eventually they gave up and sold the business, basically breaking even.

And the air conditioner?  That coveted air conditioner?  It ended up in my parents’ bedroom.  So I think my mother came out the winner after all!







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