I will never forget the Hugmup my grandfather had right before he died. We still talk about it after all this time. Sometimes you wonder if the Hugmup was more a member of the family than Grandfather, but we are really just grateful to him for all that he did for us.
One thing I must clear up for you: only a skilled veterinarian with the proper tools can determine the sex of a Hugmup. Males and females have the same external appearance and behavior, so Hugmups are conversationally assumed to be the same sex as the person to whom they’ve attached themselves, much like you assume that bugs are he or that cats are she. Very little is known about the Hugmups’ sex life, since they are only sexually active after they’ve left populated areas.
Naturalists have managed to piece together some idea of the reproductive cycle of Hugmups by following them at a distance and observing them through binoculars from the vantage point of carefully camouflaged huts. On Earth, only female animals have a sexual cycle, where they are sexually indifferent except for the time of the year they go into heat. On Homeland both male and female animals are sexually active only during a specific part of the year. This is why no one but a veterinarian can distinguish between the Hugmup sexes; they have no external sexual characteristics and are never in heat during the time they mix with people. Their sexually active period comes during the end of the season called Red when they leave their companions and head for the hills. Once they reach their breeding ground, they gorge themselves on the leaves they pick and the small animals that they catch (Hugmups are omnivores). Then they engage in their mating behavior and begin their long winter hibernation. The Hugmup fetus develops during hibernation and is born in the very early spring a few weeks before the Hugmups disperse once again into the rest of the world.
But enough scientific stuff. Let’s get back to Grandfather’s Hugmup!
It was during the spring of my second year at the University when Grandfather was adopted by his Hugmup. He was sitting in the yard, sunning himself in a lawn chair and complaining about the world. He became bitter and crotchety with Grandma’s death, and the debilities of aging exacerbated his woes. He was an insufferable old man, and the contrast between that and his once cheerful nature wore everyone in the family down. Nothing can debilitate a person more than watching a close relative deteriorate before your very eyes.
Grandfather was attempting to read the newspaper while complaining about his failing eyesight. Any one of us would have read it to him, but he preferred to gripe about his growing infirmities. Just then a Hugmup arrived, apparently taking a shortcut through our lawn. It was a tall brown one with black markings and a white tuft of hair on its head. It spotted Grandfather, and turned at once to sit down on the ground next to his lawn chair. Grandfather, who could not rise from the chair without assistance, angrily tried to shoo the Hugmup away, but the Hugmup remained. Grandfather shouted at it, waved the newspaper in its face, and then rolled it up and clobbered the poor thing over the head with it. The Hugmup stalwartly remained where it sat, unmoved. It just looked at Grandfather with soft, sad brown eyes.
Word spread through the house, and everyone gathered at the window to watch. It never occurred to any of us to help Grandfather chase off the unwanted Hugmup; we were transfixed by the Hugmup’s determination to stay at Grandfather’s side. My sister whispered something about a godsend, but was immediately shushed by all. A friendship with a Hugmup was almost magic, a beautiful event which should not be disturbed.
Finally, Grandfather had exhausted his shooing methods. His body began to shake as he broke down and cried. At that point the Hugmup leaned over and placed his head on Grandfather’s chest, embracing him. It held Grandfather while he cried and stroked his hair.
Meanwhile, mother frantically began to search the house for a Hugmup bed. Everyone keeps one on hand in case they get lucky! A Hugmup bed is a small cot which stands about a foot off the floor and has a crib mattress on top. She set it up in Grandfather’s room with a small pillow and a thin blanket. My brother was hurriedly dispatched to the supermarket to stock up on Hugmup food, and bath water was drawn. Any Hugmup which comes into the house from the wild needs a bath; but fortunately Hugmups love to play in the tub!
Grandfather came into the house with the Hugmup, leaning on the Hugmup’s shoulders instead of using his wheelchair. Because of Grandfather’s infirmity (which the doctor said was psychosomatic) he had to go to bed right away, leaving the Hugmup bath to mother. She certainly did not mind. During dinner we found out that the Hugmup’s table manners were pretty good; apparently someone had taught it how to drink from a glass. From this we concluded that the Hugmup was at least ten years old. Later that evening, the Hugmup ignored the special bed we had prepared and slept with Grandfather, hugging him all night.
Grandfather and the Hugmup became best pals over the next few months, and much of the spark and vigor that Grandfather had lost began to return. Towards the middle of summer, he had become cheerful in outlook and courteous to us all. His dependence on his wheelchair lessened, and he taught the Hugmup how to weed the flower beds! The two of them had our yard looking like a real estate ad in no time.
When the Hugmup developed a cough, we took it to the veterinarian and discovered that it was suffering from a severe case of pneumonia. The doctor assured us that the disease had been contracted in the wild long before it took up residence in our home. He prescribed all sorts of medication, which we administered faithfully, but the outlook was not too good. Grandfather took the news pretty badly, but he soon switched roles with the Hugmup. He nursed it as its health deteriorated and comforted it when it suffered pain.
Then one day the Hugmup died.
Grandfather was disconsolate. That little Hugmup meant so much to him, and it was gone forever. But soon Grandfather realized that the Hugmup would have left towards the end of Red, and that he would have suffered the same loss sooner or later anyway. He reflected over the gift of love and acceptance he had received, and realized that everything that comes into life, whether good or evil, someday departs from life. It is pointless to be bitter over good things that have passed, or bad things which have not passed; for this is part of the fabric of the universe. The secret of living is in accepting things as they come and go, and in cherishing their memories when they are gone.
Grandfather became a new man because of that Hugmup. His bitterness left him, and he was restored to his former self. He died last Blue, a happy man.
My whole family owes an enormous debt to that little Hugmup. And it is because of that experience (and many others) that I have such love and respect for all Hugmups.