A Squirrel in My Coat, Part I
I had the usual urban pets, a carnival won plastic-bagged fish or the occasional turtle complete with plastic pool and a gently swaying plastic palm tree. I longed for something warm blooded, a pet to care for and connect with. However, although young, I was aware of the fact that my mother was a widow and worked hard to care for my brother, sister and I. Fortunately, there were the grandparents and relatives in New England. It all started one summer when the old carriage shed out back needed to be torn down. The men were hard at work while the handful of young cousins circled the scene of destruction; tearing something apart has a magnetic quality for children of all ages. Midway through the process, an exclamation combined with the sudden halt of swinging axe and maul caught our attention. An intact nest with four baby grey squirrels was among the wreckage, along with their not-so-alive mother. I was immediately jumping up and down happy, mentally claiming the babies as my own. At four, almost five, years old I knew what I needed and wanted and this, these four little mammals, were delivered unto me. One of the men deposited the babies in a 50 gallon burn barrel. He took great care in doing so, handling the beasts with his heavily gloved hands "in case of rabies." Meanwhile I had turned on my heels and dashed off to the old New England manse, run up the back flight of stairs to the nursery and found among the bits and pieces in the toy cupboard a functioning bottle for a baby doll. Down the stairs, to the kitchen fridge, pouring milk into a pan to heat then into bottle, out I raced to the barrel. Peering over the edge, there they were: glorious, beautiful, small and definitely needing me. As I reached in my Nana screamed, fearful and protective. With supervision I was allowed to take them out and feed the baby squirrels, and so I did the rest of that day until my bedtime. In the morning was another feeding, then off I went to school. I remember nothing else of that day other than my frantic dash home and directly to the barrel in the backyard.
Again peering over the edge I did not expect to find what I did. The barrel was empty. My eyes flew wide, I ran into the house calling for my Nana and, finding her, relating the shocking news: someone had stolen the babies! My Nana composed herself and calmly told me she had given all away but one to the Squirrel Lady down the street. We all knew the Squirrel Lady. Her front yard was populated with enormous elm and oak trees, home to dozens of the beautiful big New England gray squirrels. No matter and all the worse, as far as I was concerned. The Squirrel Lady already had dozens of squirrels. These babies were mine, MINE, and now I had none! I stared in horror at my beloved Nana, it was inconceivable that she had betrayed me. She then repeated that there was one, and this one I named Timothy. I cared for Timothy and raised him. He slept in my room on a pillow, which my Nana could not abide so she simply avoided looking that way when she came to say goodnight. My bedroom window had a 6" sliding screen propped onto the bottom sill. I would crack this open for Timothy who would make his way along the icehouse roofline and jump onto a nearby oak. Timothy was never gone long. - Lisa Voelker, February 2012