My Menagerie

The Christmas of my twelfth year, I received a wonderful baby spider monkey, whom I named Jupo. After I opened her crate and let Julie VonZerneck_Page_09her out, she immediately climbed our Christmas tree and wrenched away most of our beautiful family ornaments. A floor-to-ceiling wire enclosure had to be erected in my bedroom, but she cried when I put her in it at night. Also, it was so cold that winter that all the blankets in the world wouldn’t have kept her warm enough, because she would just toss them off. She even ripped off the little doll-sized, red-striped pajamas I’d put her in. So, in the end, she slept with me, inside my nightgown, stretched out across my chest, where she could hear the sound of my heartbeat under her own. Jupo only loved me and would cling to me, her arms around my neck, all day long. She kept my life exciting with all of her antics for five wonderful years. And then it was time for her to find a mate, which she did—Butch, a strapping young spider monkey, who lived at the Norristown Zoo in New Jersey.

Julie von Zerneck in formal wear w- squirrel monkey, MachoWe had a cheetah named Rani who lay out on my bed some afternoons and slept ‘till it was her feeding time.  And of course we also had the American bald eagle, Aguila. We had Otty, the otter, who liked to attack me in the pond and nibble my toes and make me scream bloody murder when I was swimming; and Coy, the coyote. We also had several ocelots, a bunch of skunks, vampire bats, a tarantula that we used a toothbrush to clean, six peacocks and pea hens that cried heeeelp, heeeelp when anyone drove up our quarter-mile drive; eight falcons, an unattractive hyrax, a fox named Tod, whom my father wrote about in one of his children’s books, foxdpmThe Fox and The Hound; and many other animals, including dozens and dozens of various snakes, some very poisonous, that came and went through the years. We also raised rats and rabbits to feed these animals. And then there was the roadkill that we found along the country roads. Our icebox in the shed was filled to the brim with not only the usual chicken and lamb chops, but with square enamel trays of dead furry things that had wandered too close to Route 401 just off Bacton Hill.

When I was little and still living at my grandmother’s house, it was actually safer keeping me inside a cage because so many of the animals my parents brought back had free range; my playpen had a top cover and was made of metal mesh. As a young child, I was not encouraged to have friends, but later, when I was a teenager, school friends would flock to our house because they were utterly and completely captivated BabyJulie-wSkunkby what they and their parents referred to as “the eccentric Mannix family and their menagerie”.

At least once a month there was an article in one of the Philadelphia newspapers about adventurers Jule and Dan Mannix returning from Kenya, or leaving for India, or acquiring a pair of kinkajous, or having just written a new book. I hated when my friends brought cameras when they came to visit and had me take pictures of them with Rani licking their hands.rani


[excerpted from Secret Storms]

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