I tend to assume many people think of their parents as being, or having been perfect. I certainly idolized my father until what I call “The episode of the poor squirrel.” I was in awe of my dad when I was a little girl (the only girl in a family of boys). The fact he treated me like a princess didn’t hurt, but he could be a tough taskmaster for the boys.
Even though I thought Dad was perfect, he never gave our collection of pets special treatment. Dogs ran free and so did cats, spending their lives populating the neighborhood with litters of puppies and kittens. I have no memory of taking a pet to a vet for any reason. My parents rarely saw a doctor, so a vet was out of the question. These were post-depression days, and we were a frugal family, but so were all the other families we knew.
I had totally forgotten about Dad’s squirrel until a day-brightener arrived from Teresa, my Omaha school chum who sends in the best stuff. But first, here is the backstory.
During those cold Nebraska winters, our family hung out in the large, warm kitchen in a house built by my Swedish grandfather early in the 20th century. His family of eight kids was raised in that house, and when my parents got married, they raised all of us in that old frame house. The flat roof of the single car garage, a 1940s add-on, was right up against the kitchen windows, and every winter we would watch squirrels coming across the snow, leaving tracks of little squirrel feet. They showed up because my father always splurged on a big bag of unshelled peanuts for the squirrels.
One winter, when I was about seven, Dad declared that he liked a certain squirrel that arrived every season and therefore deserved extra peanuts. All the squirrels looked identical to us kids, but I never dared challenge Dad. When my brothers tried it, you could feel the tension in the kitchen.
The next day, Dad came home from work with a small can of bright red paint, determined to prove his point. When we realized what he intended to do, we were shocked but kept our mouths shut.
Soon, half a dozen squirrels showed up for their peanut picnic, and Dad was waiting by an open window with a brush and the can of red paint. When “his” squirrel, full of stupid trust, got close enough, Dad quickly painted the creature’s tail a bright red. The squirrel was so preoccupied with the extra pile of peanuts he didn’t seem aware of what had just happened to his bushy tail. My brothers and I were too stunned to say one word, and all Mom said was, “Oh Chris, for heaven’s sake!” That was it.
The red-tailed squirrel continued to show up all that winter, and for the next two winters, we watched for him, and he did not disappoint. Eventually the red paint faded away, and my brothers became teenagers and their interests turned to girls, not squirrels.
And now for the day brightener that triggered my memory of long ago Nebraska winters and a rare red-tailed squirrel.
• • •
The Presbyterian Church called a meeting to decide what to do about their squirrel infestation. After much prayer and consideration, they concluded the squirrels were predestined to be there, and they shouldn't interfere with God's divine will.
At the Baptist Church, the squirrels had taken an interest in the baptistery. The deacons met and decided to put a waterslide on the baptistery and let the squirrels drown themselves. The squirrels liked the slide and, unfortunately, knew instinctively how to swim, so twice as many squirrels showed up the following week.
The Lutheran Church decided that they were not in a position to harm any of God's creatures. So they humanely trapped their squirrels and set them free near the Baptist Church. Two weeks later the squirrels were back when the Baptists took down the waterslide.
But the Catholic Church came up with a very creative strategy. They baptized all the squirrels and made them members of the church. Now they only see them at Christmas and Easter.
Not much was heard from the Jewish Synagogue; the rabbi took the first squirrel and circumcised him. They haven't seen a squirrel since.
• • •
I bet if my husband, Burt, was still here, he would be laughing out loud about the circumcised squirrel.
Bobbie Lippman is a professional writer who lives in Seal Rock. She is the author of “Good Grief: A Collection of Stories As One Woman Journeys From Heartbreak To Healing Through Honesty and Humor” (Dancing Moon Press). The book (with all proceeds going to Rotary International) is available at JC Market in Newport and directly from Bobbie, who can be contacted at [email protected]