Free Willie


When my wife and I moved to the Hoosier side of Union City last month, we left behind a family member.

Here’s how it happened.

Sometime in May we took note of an adult toad who had excavated a home in the second step of our stoop, where a chunk of concrete had fallen and left an inviting hole.

The problem was that the toad liked sunbathing on the steps.

Each time I went down the steps I had to be on guard so that my size 14 boots didn’t turn Willie into mush.

Wait, wait, you say. Willie?

Yes, in true anthropomorphic fashion, my wife and I gave the toad a name.

We didn’t know if the toad was a male or female, so we hedged our bets. We called the toad “Willie” in case it proved either a Wilma or a William.

Poor Willie started having one close call after another on the stoop as we made van trip after van trip. Too often at the last second the Toad remained unsquished only through fancy dance steps on our part.

Oh, yeah. The move to Union City.

That’s when we began to worry that a 250-pounder named Dave who had bought the house might not be so careful as we were.

“We have to save Willie,” I announced one evening. “He’s coming with us.”

So we drove to Wal-Mart and set about creating an indoor home for him. We bought a tank. Overhead light. Screen cover. Day bulbs and night bulbs. Food and water dishes. Special bedding. The whole nine yards.

$90 worth of whole nine yards.

The next time Willie caught a few rays I was ready with a fish net.

The toad became all legs and muscle as he tried to escape, but it was too late.

We brought him inside. And Gosia scooped out pebbles from his hole in the crack so he could have a little of his old environment to enjoy.

One way to tell a toad’s sex is to hold it firmly behind the head. A male toad will make a noise of protest because he’s fooled into thinking another male wants to mount him. The female will stay quiet.

Our toad gave out a firm cry.

Willie was a William.

The first evening Willie stayed hidden behind a rock. We let him be.

But the next day he was out in full view and several times he plopped down in his water dish to bathe.

Back to Wal-Mart we went. This time we came back with about $10 in crickets and meal worms.

Willie never hesitated. He scarfed down a half-dozen critters in no time flat. We tried to follow his tongue each time, but Willie was too fast. One millisecond there was a cricket. Another millisecond and Willie’s throat bulged with pleasure.

We soon were treated at all hours to Willie’s croaks. Always his neck would swell and then he’d announce his presence.

For about a week as we packed books into boxes, my wife and I began to refer to Willie as our pet. Our beloved Labrador retriever Casey had died of old age and we were petless.

Then I made a big, irretrievable mistake.

I went on the Internet and found several sites with male toads making mating cries and other cries to stake out their territory.

Willie at first answered. But then his behavior changed the next three days. Instead of plopping in his dish and exploring the tank, Willie began jumping for the screen.

Clearly, he wanted to escape.

Worse, he ignored completely the fresh crickets and wax worms that dropped beside him.

My wife minced no words. She told me that either Willie was frightened of the toads with booming male potency. Or else he wanted company and was now lonely.

Whatever the case it was clear that he regarded the once idyllic tank as a prison.

What to do?

Keeping him was impossible. He’d starve in no time.

Putting him back in the crack was no good either. One day he’d end up a skidmark on the new owner’s boots.

So we sealed the crack and found another nice hole on the side of the stoop. T’was there that my wife and I deposited the now “Free Willie.”

I dropped a fat meal worm into the hole. Sure enough, that long tongue flicked and the moth was dinner.

Now it was time for our move, but the day before departing my wife and I spotted Willie happily moving in and out of rocks near the stoop.

So that’s the end of the story. Except for one detail.

I’m now writing a children’s story called “The Toad in the Stoop.”

Who knows, maybe I’ll sell it and get back the $100 I spent on Willie. by Gosia Wroblewska-Nuwer

Near Darke

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is newly moved to Union City, Indiana — about one block from Darke County. He retired July 1, 2020, from the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism after 18 years. He is the author of the historical novel Sons of the Dawn: A Basque Odyssey, which makes use of his experiences as a young reporter trailing a large band of sheep with Basque herders from Spain. A longtime magazine freelance writer, he shares his reflections on the people and places he finds in Darke County. His wife Gosia, a native of Warsaw, Poland, is a freelance photographer and longtime accountant.

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