THE DAY THE SQUIRREL WENT BERSERK
Grandpa chopped down an old rotten Elm tree which was near the edge of his drive. The first frost had already fallen and it was a late September day, if my memory serves me right. The year was 1960 and I was nearing my tenth birthday. I was standing up on the front porch and watched as the big old tree fell down from a precisely placed last strike of the ax from Grandpa. There were no chain saws around back then, just the two person cross cut saw which my Dad had helped Grandpa with, and his sharp ax. That tree was going to become fodder for the old iron wood burning stove with the two eyes on top. That huge old glutton of wooden food could take five or six big logs and then turn orange red on the outside as it burned blazing hot in my Grandparent’s living room. You dare not touch it when it was freshly stoked or you would suffer a nasty burn. All of us grandchildren learned from an early age “not to touch the stove”
The tree came down and I noticed my Dad peering curiously into one of the sections of the tree and then reaching in and picking something up. He looked up at the porch and hollered for me to come down there. I came running and was amazed to see Dad holding a little squirming furry bundle. It was a baby squirrel. He gave it to me and told me to hold onto the squirmy little rodent. It appeared to be about half grown, and was pretty ambulatory and quite unhappy to have literally “fallen” into it’s current situation. Grandma happened to have a tall cardboard box at the house, so I ran up and put the little fur ball into it. It was too tiny to jump out the top, and so there it stayed in its first home away from its family. We were at my Grandparent’s house for a few more days and I played with that squirrel for hours every day. Much to my Grandpa and Dad’s surprise, the squirrel started to “tame up” and actually began to eat a variety of foods, including left over cornbread. Its little tummy would poke out after every meal.
On the way home in the car, I let the little rascal climb around inside my shirt. He didn’t offer to bite me, but those sharp little claws did more than just tickle on a couple of occasions.
Once we got him home, Dad acquired a metal cage from somebody. It was like a small chicken coop and the only way to keep the squirrel in securely was with a stretch spring which Daddy had gotten from the mill. That spring had to be pulled tight and latched on one of the crossbars of the cage every time we got the little rascal in and out of the cage. He always loved to run around inside my shirt and as the weeks went by, he learned to do it with just a tickle and without using those sharp little claws to “dig in” and hurt.
As he matured, our little pet gray squirrel became a true track star. He would run all over the house, up and down the furniture and jumping onto the light fixtures much to my Mom’s consternation. He was pretty tame with me, but he began to bite anyone else who tried to feed him. I got really attached to the little critter but it became apparent to even my ten year old self that he wasn’t really a happy camper. Wild animals like this just are not meant to be kept in a cage.
The end of his tenure at our house came abruptly. I was trying to hook the sharp ended spring into its place on the cage one day, and it slipped and raked across the meaty part of my hand causing a nasty cut. I hollered and bled for a while and Mom decided, against my protests that my furry friend had to go.
My Dad gave the squirrel and the cage to one of my cousins. A couple of months later Dad told me that the little feller had choked on a piece of orange (yep…it like fruit) and had died. I was heartbroken for a few days, but as children will do, I soon forgot my pet squirrel and started thinking about baseball cards, or comic books, or some other childish thing.
I have always liked squirrels since then, even though I know they are pesky little creatures who like to gobble up my bird food. I don’t begrudge them their bite though because I know those little dudes are voracious eaters. I look out the window at them jumping around like acrobats and I can sometimes still feel a little tickle inside my shirt. It was a short but worthwhile relationship between a nerdy kid and a furry rodent.