I was working in the laundry room one summer day in 1989, when Lou and the boys passed me on the way out the back door.
“I’m taking the guys to the pet shop,” Lou announced.
“We don’t need another pet,” I warned.
“Oh, we’re not going to buy anything. We’re just going to look, just something to do.”
“Uh, huh. Right.” Brave man. Three little boys - ages eight, seven, and three - loose in the pet store. What a relaxing way to spend the morning. “Just remember,” I called after them, “If you buy anything, I’m not taking care of it.”
Some time after I had finished my work in the laundry room I heard Lou and the boys returning from the pet store. Three excited voices were babbling all at once, saying something about a lizard, and Lou gave me a sheepish look as he carried a glass cage into the house.
“You bought a lizard?” I was incredulous. There were hundreds of lizards for the taking outside in the yard.
“This one is special.”
“He’s a tokay gecko...”
“From Southeast Asia!”
“People there keep them in their homes to kill bugs.”
“We got a good buy.”
“He’s real pretty.”
I looked. The cage was a lot like a big fish tank except that it had a screened lid on top. On the bottom of the cage lay a lizard about six inches long. It was gray with bright orange spots all over it.
“That’s an interesting lizard,” I admitted.
“We got a heat rock and everything!” The boys began pulling supplies out of a sack.
I watched as Lou set up the new lizard home on my laundry room table. One of the boys brought in a big chunk of wood and some rocks to put in the bottom of the cage so the gecko would have a more natural environment.The heat rock with its electrical cord was settled amidst the other rocks so the lizard could keep its cold-blooded heart warm.
“Lets call him Spot, because he has spots,” Mark suggested.
“No, that’s a wimpy name,” Sam objected.
“I think we should name him Spike,” Josh said.
“Yeah, Spike. That’s a good name.” Sam agreed with Josh.
Mark protested, “Those are spots, not spikes!”
“Well, Spike’s a better name than Spot!”
I could see this conversation was headed for battle, so I offered a diplomatic solution. “Why don’t we call him Spot-Spike?”
Silence. Then Josh nodded his head. “That’s cool.” It was agreed, but in reality, as the years went by, Spot-Spike came to be known simply as “the lizard.”
That first day, I asked an important question. A nagging suspicion had been growing in my mind. “What does it eat?”
No one answered at first. I looked at my family. “Tell me it eats fruits and vegetables,” I said hopefully.
“It eats insects,“ Lou finally admitted.
“Dead, dehydrated ones you can buy at the pet store?”
“Live ones, but don’t worry. We’ll catch them. There’s lots of insects outside. It won’t be a problem at all.”
“Well, that’s good to know, because if you guys don’t feed this lizard, he will die. I am not catching insects for this creature.”
Spot-Spike lived more than a dozen years and was a popular member of the family. Guests always wanted to see him, and during telephone conversations relatives never failed to ask how the lizard was doing. As mother and caregiver to all my brood, I eventually became as skilled as anyone at catching insects. Sometimes other people were drawn into the search for lizard food. Once I discovered a contractor and his crew of workers, hired to do repairs on the house, down on their hands and knees catching crickets under the coaching of my youngest son. How nice, I thought, until I realized I was paying these guys about thirteen bucks an hour to catch bugs.
One year, several weeks before Christmas, Spot-Spike escaped from his cage. A small crack at the corner of the wire lid had given him access to the free world. I was frantic. Even if people in Southeast Asia allow geckos to roam freely in their homes, I didn’t want one wandering my halls, exploring dark corners while we were sleeping. I imagined waking up in the middle of the night with him latched onto one of my toes.
By now the lizard's cage had been moved from the laundry room to Sam’s bedroom, so we began our search there. I hoped to find him hanging out on the wall behind a piece of furniture or in the closet. No luck. We poked around all the nooks and crannies in the other bedrooms, the living room, the bathrooms, the kitchen. We couldn’t find him. Our lizard had vanished. Each day the boys would come home from school and ask if I had found him. As the days and weeks passed, I began to think Spot-Spike was gone for good.
Before bedtime we always had “hug and prayer time” with the boys; and a few nights before Christmas, Mark had a special request.
“Dear God, please let our lizard come home for Christmas,” he prayed.
“Amen,” I said.
The night before Christmas, Mark suddenly began shouting from the bathroom in the back part of the house.
“Mom! Mom! Come here! I found the lizard!"
I hurried back there. "Where is he?"
Mark pointed. "Look at the wall!"
I stared at the wall and at first saw nothing. Then I noticed a bulge in the wallpaper, and the bulge was moving. Apparently, Spot-Spike had found a loose seam in the wallpaper and was now crawling around between the wallpaper and the wall. We peeled away the wallpaper, which needed to be replaced anyway, and rescued him. He was fat and happy and not at all the worse for his adventures, wherever they had taken him. We returned the lizard to his cage, and I was thankful to God, who is great enough to care about little things that are important to the heart of a small boy.