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Home Is Where the Animals Are, a Margie Goldstein Engle Story

American Olympian Margie Goldstein showed an affinity for animals long before she ever set foot in a stirrup. Growing up in the country as the youngest of three, she was the family zoologist, a raiser of ducks and the affectionate tormentor of one dachshund named Count Edmark Von Uberheim. In this excerpt of No Hurdle Too High, The Story of Show Jumper Margie Goldstein Engle, her mother, Mona Pastroff Goldstein, recounts the early signs that her daughter was destined to work with animals.

The lack of room in our small West Miami house sent us looking for larger quarters. My brother Eddie and his recent bride, Nancy, lived on a beautiful, secluded little lake that we thought would be ideal for our growing family. We built a home large enough for the five of us and one that each of us would appreciate for different reasons.

Irv and I loved the refuge of a quiet country life in the midst of a bustling city. Our front yard faced a narrow stretch of road only four blocks long, so we had little traffic to disturb us. The view from our family room and kitchen at the back of the house overlooked the calm water and included a little beach we had built on the shore. We anticipated entertaining family and friends in this relaxed atmosphere, and I planted small trees in the backyard to shade us from the reflected glare of the setting sun. “Please, grow, grow,” I would say to them as I carefully fertilized, watered, and sprayed.

Our home provided storage space and living space. Even our dachshund, Count Edmark Von Uberheim, found a place to hide when Margie’s attention overwhelmed him. Most of the time, he was very patient when she gave him her full attention. She loved to dress him in the family castoffs, and he would stand—still but stylish. Our little clothes designer would pick him up and bring him over for me to admire. “Mommy, isn’t he beautiful?” Count was very happy when he could escape.

Margie regarded Sunrise Lake as her own private nature preserve, and we quickly realized how much our preschool daughter loved animals. Fortunately, the strange creatures that our little boys found so appealing were familiar, not frightening, objects. I was quite used to either Mark or Eddie saying, “Mommy, hold out your hand and close your eyes. I brought you a present.” After complying with the request, I would open my eyes to see my reward: a squashed bug, a squiggling worm, or a retreating-into-its-shell snail.

However, Margie brought that fascination to a new high. Jars disappeared only to reappear filled with tadpoles, small fish, or unidentified green slime. Wild birds waited for their nightly bread crumbs. Even lizards didn’t escape the watchful eye of the family zookeeper. She made little leashes for them and happily walked them from one end of the patio to the other.

Our daughter also enjoyed playing with the little girls who lived next door, Denise and Kelly. They had a multitude of animals, including a mischievous little coatimundi, which is a creature that looks half monkey, half raccoon. This impish animal would jump to the top shelf and proceed to knock down bottles, jars—anything that would make a loud crashing noise—much to the delight of the audience below. “That’s funny,” Margie giggled as her two friends joined in the laughter.

“You girls think that’s so funny?” replied Denise and Kelly’s mother. “Then you can help me clean up.”

One day, the girls found four abandoned kittens who could not have been more than one or two days old. Something bad must have happened to their mother, because they were so young and helpless. Margie had little trouble convincing us that she could care for them.And care for them she did. Every few hours, Margie and I fed the kittens with a doll bottle. When they still mewed pitifully, she wiped them carefully with a damp rag much as a mother cat might lick them.

“How did you know to do that?” I asked with some surprise.

“I watched,” came the matter-of-fact reply.

The tiny animals thrived, and Margie—as instructed—found homes for all except one small yellow tabby whom she was allowed to keep.

Frisky was a most unusual cat. He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to like water, so he followed Margie everywhere— even right into the lake when she went swimming. As she splashed happily in the gentle water, he eagerly and furiously cat-paddled right by her side. Nor did he know he wasn’t a human. When family members returned to his home, he greeted them by jumping into their arms, placing his paws around their necks, and licking their cheeks.

When Margie turned six and was old enough to go to school, her interest in animals continued. “Honey, what are you doing?” I asked one day.

“I’m working on a science project, Mom. May I use the old lamp?”

When Margie attended South Miami Elementary School where I taught, she often waited in my classroom so we could ride home together. The work of the older children fascinated her, and she longed to be a fourth-grader and do all those “neat things.”

I examined what Margie had put together so far and nodded in approval. “Honey, you’ve built yourself quite an incubator, but where did you get those eggs?”

She explained that she had followed a female duck to her nest and “borrowed” a few of the contents. I smiled. The possibility was far greater that our would-be scientist would hard-boil rather than hatch the eggs.

A few weeks later, an excited voice boomed out, “Mom, Dad, come quickly. The eggs are hatching!”

Yes, there did seem to be a few cracks, but—of course—our doting daughter could have done that when she turned them over each day. We watched for a while and then went about our routine.

Our foster “mommy” kept a close watch on her “babies,” but by eight o’clock she reluctantly headed for her bed.

The next morning, we woke to unfamiliar sounds coming from the patio. When we went to investigate, we saw our delighted daughter with a happy grin on her face and three fluffy little yellow ducklings peeping contentedly in her arms.

The next few weeks were very exciting ones for our daughter. Wherever she led, the little ducklings followed. A swim in the lake resulted in first Margie, then one–two–three balls of yellow fluff behind her. When she played football with her friends, her ducklings learned to scamper—fast! And when she simply walked from one place to another, the ducks walked all in a line behind her. Our neighbors smiled when they saw the feathered new residents. After all, it wasn’t every lake that could boast of a parade that consisted of one small girl, followed by her own Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

Whether they waddled on two feet or walked on four, it was a definite advantage to be an animal in Margie’s world. How much of an advantage, we would one day find out.

This excerpt from No Hurdle Too High, The Story of Show Jumper Margie Goldstein Engle by Mona Pastroff Goldstein is published with permission from Margie Goldstein Engle and is available for purchase on Amazon.

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