During the Kennedy years, our modest farm in central Iowa was visited by a chinchilla salesman. I was a young child then and was intrigued by the topic of discussion at the kitchen table. The smooth talking slickster from the city made a presentation to my parents about the ever expanding fur coat market and how farmers could hitch their wagons to this opportunity.

I do not recall what kind of deal was reached, but I do know that soon thereafter we had a dozen south American rodents chinchillas in cages in our basement.  These fluffy creatures were not friendly in the manner of a cat or a dog. They were silent, skittish, and capable of sinking their teeth into you.  Of course kids are irresistably attracted to animals, especially those of the unusual and mysterious variety, and we were no exception.

The chinchillas (chinchillae? chinchillacea?) were constantly rolling in dust and gnawing at stones placed in their cages. We would watch this activity, captivated by the thick furred critters.  Eventually we were allowed to pet them a bit, but always with the admonition that they were going to be made into fur coats. Except for horses, my father was rarely sentimental about animals. They were raised for just one purpose- to fatten and take to market. Cats and dogs were just a form of inedible and unmarketable livestock. To pull a 4-bottom plow, you needed maybe 1000 cats- a real nightmare if ever there was one.

The chinchillas eventually disappeared the following spring. Turns out that the traveling salesman fibbed to us. The lucrative market for chinchilla fur didn’t develop at the right time in the life cycle of our herd of chinchillas. Or ever, for that matter. The real opportunity in chinchilla farming was in selling animals and equipment to the unwary. I have no doubt that they were unceremoniously dispatched out in the field with the very Ruger .22 cal Single Six revolver that I inherited from my father. Caveat emptor.

About that same time, around the same kitchen table, a family friend sat and told us about the sailing boat he bought after selling his farm. He was going to spend his time sailing out of Jamaica, fishing and enjoying the lifestyle. We never heard from him again, but years later we eventually heard about him. He disappeared. The authorities concluded that he was the victim of pirates. Ex-pat Iowegian killed at sea and his boat taken. Caveat emptor.

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