I’m not sure how many tadpoles we killed in our efforts to observe the life cycle of a frog. We definitely raised them for long periods of time on two separate occasions. On the first occasion, we had two skimpy tadpoles. Since I was the oldest, I didn’t get to name one. My brother got the big one, which he named “Jon” after himself. My sister got the little one, which she named “Morningbelle.” Jon the tadpole died in the first twenty-four hours. We found him the morning after we caught him floating pale belly up in the mayonnaise jar where he had swum with Morningbelle just hours earlier. Since we had not grown attached to him, he was flushed, albeit with some ceremony—a prayer and perhaps a song (I can’t remember the details too well).
Morningbelle, on the other hand, lived nearly two weeks, until her tail started to recede. Nobody but Lisa called her “Morningbelle.” Since Mom always fed the tadpole, she christened it “Toady,” and “Toady” stuck. Unfortunately one evening we discovered that Morningbelle/Toady’s spirit had also passed on, although she left her body floating in the mayonnaise jar. It’s possible that my sister is just more sensitive than my brother, and it is certain that she is more dramatic. Flushing was not good enough for Lisa. That tadpole needed to be buried. With great ado, we searched for an appropriate casket. In the end, we emptied the matches from a tiny matchbox into the larger box of matches we used for the grill. Lisa lined it quite elaborately with tissues: one for the bottom, one rolled up as a pillow for Morningbelle/Toady’s head, and one that she had dotted with markers to make flowers as a blanket for the poor dear. The flowers bled a little as Lisa laid the tissue over Morningbelle/Toady’s still moist body.
Off we went to bury it. There was no question of where she would be buried: under the apple tree by the sweet williams where all of the dead bunnies, birds, and mice were buried. We were originally going to dig her grave with a trowel, but Merry, our poodle, was following. Merry was the primary killer of the bunnies, birds, and mice beneath the tree and also an accomplished digger. Mom decided that we needed a deeper grave to prevent exhumation and returned to the backyard with the spade.
Soon after (maybe a few weeks or even a year—I’m not sure. It all blends together in my mind), we were blessed with four new tadpoles that a neighbor caught from the creek for us. Even though we now had four, I was still cheated out of naming one. Lisa had Morningbelle/Toady, Jr., and Jon, who claimed he needed more tadpoles because his luck with his last tadpole had been so bad, named the remaining three after my father, “Rick,” “Rick,” and “Rick.” We left them on the patio outside the front door in a white, five-gallon paint bucket. We added river rocks from the decorative border around our back patio so that the newly formed frogs would have something to climb up on.
Those tadpoles lived a long time. Eventually, two Ricks died, and we found them floating near the sides of the bucket when we came to sprinkle rainbow colored fish food flakes over the water. They were flushed. Then the remaining Rick went missing. A day or so later, his rotting body floated to the surface. We surmised that he had gotten caught on a rock and smooshed. Mom wasn’t going to carry his corpse into the house, and he was unceremoniously tossed out in the yard with an “Ewwwww!”
We decided to move Morningbelle/Toady, Jr., to another mayonnaise jar. Lisa wanted something prettier than river rocks for “Morningbelle” to climb on, so Mom upended a green, cut-glass bud vase in the water for “Toady’s” pedestal. Somehow, those two managed to argue about that name every day.
Morningbelle/Toady lived to sprout all of her legs, and her tail was nearly gone when disaster struck. The mayonnaise jar had been jostled, and Morningbelle/Toady, Jr., had been squashed between the bud vase and the side of the jar.
Even Mom cried.
A matchbox was not good enough for Morningbelle/Toady, Jr. Lisa insisted on using a blue velvet jewelry box. She removed the necklace from its satin-covered card and threw it in a small drawer. She gently laid Morningbelle/Toady, Jr., on the satin in the velvet container. Lisa wanted to cover the tadpole with lace, but Mom had to draw the line somewhere. I think we may have used a piece of a paper doily.
With great ado, our funeral procession marched out to the apple tree. Merry followed once again, but Mom decided a trowel was sufficient for digging this time. She didn’t think Merry could pry open the hinges of the box.
When Mom stood back up, she delivered more bad news to us.
“You’re going to have to stop killing little animals,” she said with a meaningful glance at the dog who gazed up at her with feigned innocence. “Or find a new place to bury them. There’s no more room under the apple tree.”