Ralphie has a sweet, round face with chubby "pinch-me" cheeks.  He's
cuddly, patient and calm, my best riding-around-while-Mommy-does-her-day
ham by far.  He lays on my chest to eat a treat during our daily cookie
time, and I cup his butt in my hand to support him as he munches slowly on
whatever the day's cookie is and stares into my eyes.  He hands me the
leftovers when he's done and licks his lips like a toddler.

My Ralphie was in a Safari early on here.  He showed me once that he
learned how to open the door, but he's such a good boy, he didn't venture
out -- just stood there waiting to be picked up!

We were watching TV and playing with Ralphie, and I think he decided the TV
was getting too much of the attention.  He'd run to the corner of the bed
closest to the set, then charge back at me and jump on my hand to get
picked up.  When that wasn't enough, he decided to run over to my feet and
bite into my slipper till he got a proper cuddling.  He must think it will
take forever to train us.

We had pizza for dinner, and there was a box open on the bed when I brought
Ralphie in to play.  There was one slice left, and I put him down and let
him wander toward it.  He sniffed the box, stepped around it awhile, then
walked onto it gingerly.  He looked up at me, hoovered
up a few crumbs of crispy crust, and then walked over and looked at the big
slice warily.  He licked at the cheese a moment and looked up at me again.
Then the little goof scampered onto the slice, up and over, and attacked
the edge of the cardboard box instead.  There's just no
accounting for taste.  (But a hamster looks darn cute scampering across a
slice of pizza!)

He's a bright joy -- totally smoochie and cuddly.  I can set him down
anywhere and he stays nearby or runs back to me often.  He's starting to
show his age, but you can't see it in his step or his magical shoe-button
eyes.  He dashes to the cage door when I'm nearby and paces
a little.  If that doesn't work, he runs to the other door to pace a little
more.  If that doesn't work, he starts over.  His eye contact is
incredible.  He's fascinated by faces and doesn't try to get away unless
you set him down.  He'll sit in hands and watch intently.  Cookie time with
him is almost holy.

Ralphie is such an eager little wonder, a little shy but very
people-dependent and just darn pouty if he doesn't get his snuggles -- big,
searching "me too, please" eyes.  I'm concerned that he's started to get
shaggy -- the gray is coming through, he's grooming a little less and
losing a gram or two here and there.  Nothing startling, and he's only 16
months old, but I don't want my Ralphie to age at all!  He taught me so
much about the connection that is possible with these guys!  I'd be so much
less of an owner if Martha hadn't brought him here.

He's a fluffy, fuzzy little old man now.  He's been such a joy, a lovey who
never squirmed out  of hands but snuggled into them instead.  He's one of
my first-ever batch of Syrians, the ones who started the whole lovable mess
here.  I can't describe how much I love that batch --
Ralphie, Kellie, Tootsie and Grace, as well as our angels Bright Eyes and
Einstein.  They are the heart of our home.

A wonderful ham rescuer from a hamster mailing list wrote me.  She'd heard
my tales of Puppy, Scooter, Max, Eddie & Bug and wondered if I'd consider
one of her Syrian rescues.  She was willing to hand-carry a special-needs
ham cross-country.  We e-mailed for a week, making
arrangements with her schedule and breaking the idea to Calix gently.

She sent a list of candidates from teeny babies to very ill adults.  Calix
immediately wanted Tootsie, who had been injured in a pet shop and had his
amputation the day we heard about him.  Being a special-needs type myself,
I knew I had the heart to care for any of them, but not the knowledge or
skills.  I studied till I went blurry.

The list was heart-rending.  I couldn't choose one and leave another, even
in the best of care.  Calix surprised me when mid-decision, he made my 40th
birthday present the option not to decide.  He worked enough overtime to
bank the extra money for vet costs and to buy whatever we'd need to set up
housekeeping for as many as she could bring.  She said three.

So the decision got a little easier.  She and I decided on Tootsie and
Ralphie and Petey -- a precious little sable boy with chronic diarrhea.  We
set the date for when Tootsie should be able to travel.  I'd waited two
long weeks already!  She sent their photos.  Through joyful tears, I wanted
them so badly my arms ached.

Meanwhile, Kellie was nagging at my heart.  She was just starting to
recover from a bad foot infection and lost a litter far too young.  I had
dreams about her sight unseen.  Calix said, "You need hammies, hammies need
you.  Do it!"  (I love that man.)

So I told my friend I wanted Kellie.  We were only a couple days away from
her flight at this point.  She said she'd not traveled with four before,
but would try.  We went to Petco to see Syrians in person for the first
time.  It was then that we met my little dwarf Pearl and
brought her home.  She made six, waiting for four more and then one to
follow the next week from a local rescuer.  Eleven hams?!

Then came the bad news.  Petey was very sick.  We chose to let his current
vet continue treating him.  I cried.  I loved him already.  Meanwhile, she
had a real scaredy-ham that wasn't coming around, so we switched for the
little cinnamon girl I named Gracie.

The day before the trip, we reviewed.  The list was Tootsie, Ralphie,
Gracie and Kellie.  I felt guilty for wanting Ralphie.  After all, he was
precious and healthy and tame and would be so easy to place.  I told her
I'd rather have a harder one to find a home for.  She was afraid to burden
me with four sick hams, so she tried to talk me into taking Ralphie.  I
asked her if she had a healthy one that would be hard to place.  She told
me about the one who became Bright Eyes.  He was white, a very unpopular
color for rodents.  He had little chance of getting a home anytime soon,
she said.  That sold me.

She so wanted me to have Ralphie anyway that she said she would find a way
to bring five.  I said great, and asked if anyone needed me more than I
wanted Ralph.  She admitted having another white one, an oldster with pink
eyes.  She knew she'd never place him.  He was found dumped in an empty
fish tank at a pet shop.  I told her he had to be the fifth -- my Einstein.

She phoned a few hours later to say she figured out how to manage six, but
only if the sixth could be Ralphie -- case closed!  Yes, ma'am!

The next day we drove to LAX to meet a new friend and our six new hamsters.
They were hear a year last April 21, when they made 12 in all.  There have
been 40 hamsters in the door since, one adopted out, and 21 gone to God's

And as wonderful as each one is or was, none of them has ever been as
gentle as my Ralphie.

I miss you, Ralphie.  Tell God He'd better be good to you or I'll bite Him.
We love you sweetie.  Be happy.

Bye-bye, baby.


Ralphie Rainbow Bridge November 25, 2002

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