Thursday, October 9, 2014

Trying to Remember Crabby Appleton

I recently read Barbara Kingsolver’s essay, “Hide Tide in Tucson,” in which she describes, among other things, how a hermit crab came to reside in her home in the Arizona desert.  Disappointed that her young daughter had not accompanied her on a trip to the Bahamas where she would have certainly enjoyed the varied seascapes, Kingsolver decided to do what her daughter would have done had she come . . . she collected sea shells to show her when she returned home.  Unbeknownst to her, a hermit crab stowed away in a whelk shell and announced its presence when Kingsolver arrayed the shells over her  dining room table when she returned home.  Deciding they would keep it, and unable to determine its gender let alone locate and inspect its genitalia, they named it Buster and housed it in a terrarium fitted out with clean gravel and a variety of shells from which Buster could select a new redoubt once he/she had outgrown the old one.

Reading this essay, I dredged up some memories almost forty years old, recollecting the time when SallyAnn and I shared our own Tucson apartment with a hermit crab named Crabby Appleton.  Certainly a more androgynous moniker than Buster.  Any of you who watched “Tom Terrific” cartoons on Saturday morning back in the day will understand where the name came from.  It seemed clever at the time although our hermit crab was in no way “rotten to the core.”  It was a crab, after all, and it liked to eat pieces of apple proffered to it.  In fact, it seemed to eat just about anything you put in front of it.  We could have named him/her Manfred the Wonder Crab, but that would not have made any sense would it?

We came by our hermit crab in a far more pedestrian manner than finding it on a beach in the Bahamas.  Ours came from a pet store in suburban Milwaukee where we had gone to spend the Christmas holidays in 1975 and to celebrate our first anniversary.  I can no longer recall why we decided to purchase a hermit crab or the circumstances by which the transaction was completed.  Suffice it to say that only two of us flew from Tucson to Milwaukee while three of us made the return trip (with a few days in Tulsa, Oklahoma along the way) early in the new year.  Once we were back home we purchased a small terrarium which would be Crabby’s home for the six more months we lived in Tucson.

Like Buster, Crabby was “quiet, entertaining, and willing to eat up the trash.”  He fell into his own daily routines, and like Kingsolver, SallyAnn and I moved about our own without ever wondering how our little friend might be faring in his/her strange surroundings.  Crabby was a hermit crab pure and simple; mucking about the terrarium, moving things here and there, or retreating into his/her shell for long periods of time and doing and thinking whatever hermit crabs do and think.

Not that long after we brought Crabby to Arizona to live with us we took on two more boarders . . . gerbils we named Sundance and Moonshadow . . . in our shoebox-sized apartment barely large enough to accommodate our own modest belongings let alone a terrarium and gerbil habitat.  I am not sure what we were thinking, but this is all water long under the bridge.   Unlike Crabby, the boys (I think they were males) were by their very nature more energetic and had distinct personalities, and we found ourselves more interested in their activities while Crabby sulked (I can only imagine that is what he/she was doing) in his/her glass enclosed home.  The gerbils would scamper around their cage and run the wheels for what seemed like hours on end.  Such was the Rogers household in Tucson in the spring and early summer of 1976.

Soon came the time, however, when we had to make preparations for a transcontinental move from Arizona to the environs of Washington, DC.  In the scramble to tie loose ends in Tucson, we never came to terms with the future disposition of our house mates.  Were they going to Maryland with us?  I can no longer recall whether we actually tried to find new homes for them or not.  I do remember that once the movers had left in the late afternoon to begin their eastward trek with almost all of our worldly possessions, there was a terrarium and a gerbil cage wedged into the back seat of our ‘72 Chevy Vega (remember those?) along with what we would need for our own slow journey across the country with a few stops along the way.  The sun was setting in Tucson and the temperature was still over 100F, and there was SallyAnn using her plant sprayer to keep the guys cool as we headed toward Albuquerque on the first leg of our trip.

Kingsolver never said what eventually became of Buster; the hermit crab found in the Bahamas and brought to Arizona would serve as a metaphor for her own move from her native Kentucky to Arizona.  I wish there is more I can say about the saga of Crabby Appleton; the months in Arizona and his/her new Maryland home, one perhaps closer to the ocean yet still too far to away to encourage an escape to a more familiar habitat (crabitat?).  Any recollections are now hopelessly blurred by almost four decades.  At some point soon after settling in Maryland Crabby, Sundance and Moonshadow shed this mortal coil.  Yes, distant and faded memories only now dredged up for contemplation . . . and I am not really sure why, but there you have it.  I have searched for my own metaphor to assign to a long forgotten hermit crab but I just can’t seem to dredge up anything significant.  Crabby was briefly a part of our lives and then he wasn’t.  So perhaps he/she was a metaphor for the transitory nature of existence?  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

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