Gertrude Berg Armstrong Davis died yesterday. As usual with Chinese dwarf hamsters, she turned off like a light switch. Last week she banged around the apartment in her plastic ball with the enthusiasm of a young colt. A few days later she began walking stiffly, revealing herself to be a frail lady two years of age. The night before she died, we thought she looked unwell, but Gertrude herself had no premonition. She prepared for the future as she always did, moving sunflower seeds from her bowl to hidden caches in the corners of her cage, stuffing her cheeks for transport until she was wider than she was long.
Gertrude was named for Gertrude Berg, a writer and actor who pioneered the family sitcom form, first on radio, then on television. Gertrude the hamster bore little resemblance to Berg the woman, who was never less than immaculate in pearls and furs. Instead, she reminded us of Berg’s persona, Molly Goldberg, always a bit out of sorts and catching her breath, dashing around in an apron and pushing a strand of hair back under a bobby pin. The hamster was frazzled like Molly Goldberg, but an expert homemaker as well. Each time we cleaned her cage she busied herself setting it to rights again, mounding up the fluff on one side to make a nest, and digging a tunnel to the other side for easy passage.
For the majority of her life, Gertrude shared a household with her sister Hazel Scott. The two were affectionate in their girlhood but as they matured, Hazel grew into a vicious bully. Gertrude was so persecuted we nearly took her into protective custody. Before Hazel died, however, she softened, and the two hamsters turned to each other for comfort in their old age. We hope Gertrude forgave her, and in the waning months of her own life recalled her sister only with fondness.
Images © A. Jesse Jiryu Davis