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Unforgettable Charlie
by Loretta Leonard
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Charlie! Has anyone seen Charlie? I canít believe heís gone.

This was the question on everyoneís mind when school opened on Wednesday morning. The class was small, ten students in all, but everyone liked Charlie. He had run away once before and ended up in the principalís office. He was rescued and brought back home. But this time no one had a clue as to where Charlie was. No one, absolutely no one, had seen him.

Charlie was part of the homeroom class in Mrs. Leonardís sixth grade. The room was small but studying science was special. There were always some plants in the room or science experiments that were being conducted. The principal had given permission for the teachers to bring extra items to class to make lessons more interesting. Anyone could find a plant and study it. This group of students wanted something different. So when Charlie arrived everyone was excited and interested in science.

Charlie had soft fur that was a light gold color. He had two tiny ears and a mouth that he could stuff with plenty of food. He was so funny when his cheeks were full of seeds. He would find a place somewhere in the cage to hide it. Later on when he was hungry he could nibble away at his stash. He liked to bury way down under the cedar shavings and try to hide from everyone. There was always plenty of water in the cage and everyone took turns taking care of Charlie.

The plastic cage was small but it had a lid on top and plenty of holes to assist in breathing. The wheel was in the middle of the cage where Charlie could exercise. A Habitrail of interconnecting tubes and tunnels provided a maze for even more exercise. Everyone looked around the classroom but there was no sign of Charlie. Now he was gone and there was a puzzle to solve. Where had Charlie disappeared to now?

One other time Charlie had escaped and run down the hall right towards the nursery. Someone outside the nursery room screamed and poor Charlie ran right into the principalís office. He ran along the side of the wall and headed into the first room he could find. No one there saw him enter but it wasnít too long before the secretary noticed something run past her desk. She didnít know what it was but she knew that nothing was supposed to be running around in the office. A shriek brought everyoneís attention to the ďmouseĒ. It took some time for the principal to rescue Charlie but he brought him back to the classroom. Charlie was placed securely in his cage with the top snapped back in place.

What to do now? Put up posters letting others get in on the search? Take time away from math class and go up and down the halls searching for Charlie? Skip lunch and go on a hunt for Charlie? There didnít seem to be any easy answer so the students stayed in class. About an hour later the mystery was solved. Charlie had been found in the church baptistery. Charlie had managed to escape from the classroom, run down the hall to the church sanctuary and then walk around the outside wall of the church all the way to the back where the baptistery was located. What a long walk for such a little guy! Poor Charlie was dead but at least the baptistery was not filled with water. He had gone so far from his cage in the classroom that he couldnít find his way back home. Apparently he had died from lack of food or water.

No one ever figured out how Charlie escaped. Maybe someone else had opened the classroom door and took him out of his cage. Curious small children may have entered the room with an adult, played with the hamster, and forgot to be sure that the cage top was on securely. Maybe Charlie wiggled the top off the cage and slid out. No matter what happened, Charlie was gone and there was no way that we could get approval for another hamster.

The rest of year went by much like any other school year. Math seemed hard and English was okay. Everyone had to study for tests and when spring arrived, everyone knew that it wasnít too long until summer vacation. Nothing much was ever said about Charlie any more.

Going to school is a part of growing up. It seems like each school year is so long and summer vacation is always too short. Academic tests, football and basketball, band and drama, or science fairs are part of the steps up the ladder. Not everyone makes the same choices along the ladder up to graduation but the main goal for everyone is to finish school. Some teachers you forget and others you remember because of something special that they did. We never had another pet or animal in any other science classes but the sixth grade teacher who permitted us to have a hamster is someone that I still remember.

*Psalm 127:3 Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord

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