There is a mantis living on our porch, on the inside of the screen, a pet of sorts. I catch flies and bring them to her. I'm not the only one, either; my husband and sons also offer their own gifts to this Lar familiaris.
Do your favorite memories say something about who you are? In the fourth grade, my teacher, Mr. Baer, captured critter after critter and housed them in our classroom. I remember staying during recess to feed mealworms to alligator lizards named George and Georgina after the grandparents of Charlie (he of the chocolate factory fame). I also remember crouching by the chain-link fence at the top of the playing field, catching grasshoppers in my hands to offer to the tarantula that either preceeded or succeeded the lizards in the 20 gallon aquarium on Mr. Baer's desk.
But best of all was the mantis that he found one day on the side of the school building and brought inside in a jar. In the afternoon, a wasp bumped around the ceiling of the classroom, and Mr. Baer stood on a desk and managed to capture that wasp in the jar held up high over his head without letting the mantis escape. The mantis caught it and ate it, and we passed the jar around the classroom, witnesses to the sacred event.
Mr. Baer had no first name that I can remember. What does that say, that I recall the gruesome vittles of unorthodox classroom pets, but not my teacher's name? He went skiing with my dad, even. The guy must have had a name. Hmm, maybe it was David? I think it was, and he was, bar none, the teacher who impressed me more than any other (up to and including dear Mr. Willis the poetry prof who won my heart by releasing a blissed-out "ah" after a particularly satisfying reading). And when I think of the fourth grade, the moment that stands out the most, above four-square in the parking lot and post-prandial readings of A Taste of Blackberries or Escape from Warsaw or My side of the Mountain, above dip-dying tissue paper and growing salt crystals, above creative writing and constructive criticism of my penmanship, is this mantis eating a wasp like a piece of corn on the cob. Ah. And who would I be without that?