My dad gets along with everyone. He’s a gabby, gracious, and attentive hugger of a guy. However, my dad has one known mortal enemy. Squirrels.
Growing up, the household would move about peacefully to a soundtrack of 50’s and 60’s music. Mom was singing in the kitchen, my siblings were riding bikes around the neighborhood. I was playing orphan or typing adventure stories on my mom’s old typewriter when suddenly – BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! My father would be pounding on the dining room window to scare away whatever squirrel had scurried its way up to our birdfeeder. Sometimes he would camp out on a chair crouched behind a potted fig tree and some African violets and wait for the squirrels to skip across the tree branches. He’d wait until they were on the tip of the branches closest to the feeder, biting his nails in anticipation, and as soon as they’d leap for the feeder – BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! The squirrel would go somersaulting in the air, and scamper away frightened out of its wits.
Much to my mother’s dismay, my dad started setting live traps in the yard luring the pesky squirrels in with promises of walnuts and peanut butter bread he himself had taken bites out of. The problem with the live traps was that squirrels weren’t the only ones who liked walnuts and half eaten peanut butter bread. Birds and rabbits did too. My mother, haunted by a mean rooster on her family’s childhood farm, refused to deal with the live traps when one of the less fortunate animals was inside. That job was left for me. I’d get home from school and mom would plead with me to please go outside and free the starling stuck in dad’s trap. As I walked around the house toward the cage, the bird would start panicking. Now, I wanted to free the animal, but it involved moving a latch that was right next to the cage portion, and for those of you familiar with starlings, they’re rather predatory and aggressive birds. The bird’s wings would start flapping uncontrollably and its beak would come jutting out at my hand. Eventually, I’d get the metal flap of the opening to slide up and the bird would come shooting out like a rocket.
On days when the trap served its purpose and Dad caught an actual squirrel, he’d pick up the cage and load it into the back of the station wagon. He’d drive out to the woods in the farmland area known as Hebron, occasionally starting wars with my grandfather and uncle, releasing the squirrels on their property to spite them and go after their feeders.
Convinced the squirrels were finding their way back to our house somehow, Dad took the squirrel wars to a new level. He and my brother took to staking out in our shed with BB guns and firing at any squirrel who dared steal birdseed from his feeder. My brother would come in the house and regale the family with the impressive tale of how he shot a squirrel in the butt! For those of you picturing a backwoods house in the country, let me set the scene straight for you. Our house was on the corner of the busiest street in town, and generally we were a respected family with a large garden who kept the grass mowed.
I’m afraid my father’s influence took a heightened level in my brother’s actions when we discovered one day that a muskrat was burrowing under the family pool. My dad was worried the varmint would chew through the lining of the pool, and Lake Witkins, as grand as it sounded, didn’t belong in our backyard. Convinced he would save the day, my brother and a friend staked out from the deck one afternoon and completed the mission: the muskrat was killed. But this was in late fall, and neither boy had sharp, gnarly muskrat teeth to burrow with, and the ground was too frozen to bury the animal, so he put the ugly creature in a big white bucket, pooling blood and all, set it in the garage and left.
My mother was informed the muskrat was now resting in peace, and had told my dad to get rid of the thing and thought he had. She then entered the garage and noticed a big white bucket. The next thing my mother will tell you about is that she sprained her ankle and tore a few ligaments after twisting to get away in a horrified moment of panic. My poor mother crawled her way up the steps to our house and through the kitchen to get to a phone where she could finally call for help. I don’t believe my brother was allowed to help dad with the animal wars ever again.
Recently, on a trip home to see my family, my sister brought over a book from the library she was reading to her two year old daughter. The book was titled, Those Darn Squirrels and I was tickled to present a dramatic reading of the tale to my father. Then, we went page by page and counted the similarities between Old Man Fookwire and my father. We also taught my niece to shake her fist at grandpa and say “Those Darn Squirrels!” Dad may not have bought lasers and trapeze equipment like Old Man Fookwire, but spring is coming, and if you give a squirrel a walnut, he’ll probably invite his friends.