A Squirrel of a Time: A Stephellaneous Life through a Squirrelticular Lens (Part 1)

Wannabe Intro to My Squirrelstory (Like History, but Better)

As I sit at work today, pretending to be a productive employee while scratching my head in hopes of breaking loose a thought or three worthy of a post, I find myself pondering squirrels. And it strikes me that I just may have a particularly curious connection with squirrels in my life – at least compared to the average person. I mean, just how many squirrelly encounters have you had, dear Peoplleaneous? And I don’t mean that time your Uncle Bubba made you lick one for good luck. (Don’t worry, that totally didn’t happen to me. And if it happened to you, you’re a disgusting freak and can’t be my friend anymore.)

Y’all don’t believe me, do you? I’m telling you, homeslices. I have a weird history with squirrels. And I’m gonna tell you about it. As soon as I can figure out how to end this wannabe intro. Fuck it, consider this wannabe intro over.

That Time My Brother tried to Resurrect a Squirrel in the Bathtub (Holyfuck, that heading just spoiled the plot. Who comes up with this shit?!)

I think this one is less of a memory and more of something that has been implanted through countless retellings, because I believe I was like two when this happened. But since it’s the earliest “memory” of squirrels in my life, it must be told and it must come first.

My brother is a few years older than me, and depending on who tells the story, he was somewhere between five and eight. But given my age at the time, he had to have been¬†at least seven. (“Why didn’t you just say seven to begin with and have done?,” is your logical query. To which I shriek, “I thought you knew me!,” and dissolve into a heap of tears.)

Anywhoodles. We’re living at my mamaw’s house, right? (She had this weird, awesome floor that you could pluck these little wooden tile thingies from. Pluck. Pluck. Slide back in like a funky puzzle piece. Pluck. Pluck. Man, I loved playing with that floor.) Well. Apparently B (Ima call him “B” for brother, aight?) had a soft spot for animals back then. (I say back then, because he sure as fuck doesn’t now. But don’t worry about it. This is a happy story.) So mamaw catches him waddling into the house, in nothing but his He-Man underwear. In his arms, he’s got this squirrel. His arms are wrapped around it, and it’s dangling down the length of B’s little body. It’s stiff and crispy – it had been burnt to a crisp when a transformer blew – and B’s sobbing and waddling into the house with the squirrel’s tail dragging between his legs.

Mamaw, naturally, freaks right the fuck out. “B! What the hell are you doing?! PUT THAT SQUIRREL BACK OUTSIDE!” B chokes out through the snotty sobs, “But Yamaw…*sniffle choke*…I have to give him a bath!” (This is why B was in his underwear. He had stripped down outside after formulating his plan to bathe the squirrel back to life.) B was dead serious, too. He really thought he could soak the squirrel in the tub and make everything right again. “Yamaw, yamaw, he needs a bath and everything will be okay!”

squirreltub

It took much pleading and coaxing to convince B to let mamaw pry the squirrel from him. (Who knows what she did with it – that’s never been included in the telling…) It took ages to calm him down and dry his tears; mamaw said it was the most pitiful thing she’d ever seen.

And no, B didn’t become a taxidermist. Or a faith healer.

Smile though Your Heart is Aching

The next memory I have is the infamous Squirrel Funeral. And no, it wasn’t even for the aforementioned crispy critter. As memory serves (mine and others’), this was a couple of years later, but it also took place at mamaw’s.

This time, my aunt found a dead squirrel in the yard. (What’s the deal with all the dead squirrels at mamaw’s? Kinda creepy, really.) And she decided that we needed to have funerary services to see the squirrel off into the afterlife. She was super serious, yo, solemn and dramatic as ever.

She and her father fashioned a coffin out of a cigar box, and we – me and my siblings – were ordered to prepare remarks and dress for the occasion. My aunt would deliver the eulogy.

This is a Google image of a squirrel funeral. No photographic evidence exists of mine.
This is a Google image of a squirrel funeral. No photographic evidence exists of mine.

We all gathered in the alley behind mamaw’s house. Just us kids. We dug a hole and set the squirrel’s box beside the dirt mound. We fashioned a cross of twigs and berries (shut up, pervert) and planted it in the ground at the end of the hole. Then we stood in a circle, holding hands. My aunt said a prayer and delivered the eulogy. I know we named the squirrel; and I swear it was something like Edward. (Y’all are right – something about me and “Ed-” names.) Each of us kids took turns saying our parting words to Edward and delivering him unto the earth. Y’all, this was some super solemn shit. And while I don’t remember things that were said, I do remember making shit up – about what a good squirrel Edward had been. How he was a good friend and playmate. Pretty sure we even made up a wife and kids that he was leaving behind. Some pretty creative and morbid shit.

With all of that finished up, we lowered his tiny King Edward cigar coffin (holyfuck, THAT’S why we named him Edward!) into the leaf-strewn ground and buried him. As soon as the dirt mound had filled the hole, the others went about their business. And I don’t remember many specifics, but I do remember lingering behind by myself. Crying. I cried for Edward the squirrel. And, in what was perhaps one of the earliest instances, I remember contemplating life and death and the finite-ness of our corporeal existence.

Depressing, no? Don’t worry, it’s not all like that. (It totally kind of is, though.)

Know Thyself, and Know Thy Enemy, or Devil, Thy Name is Squirrel

Another tale from mamaw’s house (years later, same mamaw, different house). In this neighborhood, the squirrels were vicious. A warring faction emerged, overthrowing the peaceful nut hoarders and challenging the humans for dominion. At least, that’s how Mr. Smith saw things.

Mr. Smith was a neighbor of mamaw’s, and while his wife was perfectly sane, Mr. Smith was in the throes of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and who knows what else. And for some reason, perfectly docile Mr. Smith one day became the archenemy of the neighborhood squirrels: specifically the ones who dared trespass into his beloved tree.

Mr. Smith adamantly argued that the squirrels started it. That they stood atop the branches of his trees and taunted him with their racket and turned acorns into weapons, hurling the tiny projectiles at lightening speed toward his shiny pate. This was the squirrel of Mr. Smith’s waking nightmares:

Behold the tiny assassin, armed to the teeth, preparing to shoot an eye out and steal your wife.
Behold the tiny assassin, armed to the teeth, preparing to shoot an eye out and steal your wife.

Naturally, Mr. Smith launched a series of counterattacks. His two weapons of choice? The waterhose (affixed with a jet spray nozzle and the force of a firehose) and a wheelbarrow of bricks. Mr. Smith could (and did) spend countless hours outside, launching brick after brick into his beloved tree and spraying them with the waterhose of doom. And this otherwise godfearing man, hurled vicious swearwords up to those “NO GOOD BASTARD MOTHERFUCKERS! I’LL KILL YOU! GET OUTTA MY TREE!”

And while his poor wife was forever lamenting this new side of Mr. Smith, some of us who witnessed it were delighted. I was old enough to be aware that I was witnessing the cognitive decline of a human being. So while I was torn between sorrow and amusement, I’m ashamed to admit that Mr. Smith’s War on Squirrels has provided many hours of laughter in my life.

But I swear, y’all. Perhaps the years have colored my memories a bit too much. But I swear sometimes those squirrels really did mock him with their loud squirrel gibberish and the occasional rain of acorns pelting the poor bastard. (And, by the way, I was Team Squirrel all the fucking way. I know. I’m a terrible person.)

Sometimes Mr. Smith would finish gathering all of his bricks back into the wheelbarrow and start toward the house when one of those little fuckers would let fly a squirrelfanity, causing Mr. Smith to slam on the brakes, wheel around and launch another brick.

He never did catch one. For all his effort, his aims never found purchase. And one day, well. One day he just stopped coming outside.

I said this was a happier tale. Damn y’all, what’d you go and make me cry for?

~

I have more squirrel tales to tell, so I’m going to end this here, as Part 1. I have at least three more mini-tales to go, but this is already quite lengthy so I’m breaking it into two parts. I’ll have the rest ready for you tomorrow!

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My Neighbor Queen Elizabeth

Have I told y’all I’m royalty? I hope not, because it’s bullshit. But. Have I told you that I grew up on a manor? Well, that’s also kinda bullshit. But! I did grow up across the street from Queen Elizabeth. Fact. And we had conversations on the regular. Also fact.

true lies

Okay, but fo’ real, yo. I grew up on the South Side. That’s another fact, bitches. And Queen Elizabeth was my homegirl. Put that in your factpipe and smoke it. (Please don’t smoke Queen Elizabeth. That would be weird. And grody. And also kinda cannibalistic. And probably racist. And you know who likes cannibalistic racists? Nobody.)

SOUTH SIDE REPRESENT

I should probably stop vomiting crazy at you and get to the point, hm? Fine. Fuddy duddy. (Warning: I may have over-caffeinated just prior to writing this post. And since my coworkers already consider me the resident loony, I thought I’d take out my hyper on you instead of them.) (You’re welcome.) (Say thank you, damnit. It’s impolite to be ungrateful around the crazies.) (Why isn’t it ingrateful? I mean it’s “ingrate” not “ungrate,” hello.)

And now, boys and girls, for a rare happy tale from childhood. Grab your milk and cookies and gather round. Or your bong and soda. I’ll take the bong and cookies for $200, Alex. Anyway. Gather round, peoplleaneous.

Where was I? Oh yeah, I grew up on the South Side, in the ghetto. That’s not really relevant, except to give you a feel for the place. And our landlord was a total slum lord piece of shit. But this post isn’t about him, even though he was a giant walking turd. (Did you picture it? I hope you did, cuz that’s some funny shit. Literally.) The little ramshackle two-bedroom single family rental was situated immediately behind a nursing home/assisted living facility, “Southside Manor” or some shit. (See? I fucking told you I lived on the manor. Or at least manor-adjacent.)

There was this tiny strip of wannabe road stretching between our ditch and theirs. (Seriously, it was a sad little road. Kids flying into ditches when cars tried to go both directions at once. That may be an exaggeration. But only because kids don’t have wings. Unless they chug Redbull. Yeah.)

After school, we’d go outside. I didn’t do very well outside. I was a total bookwormy homebody. I just wanted to hide in some quiet corner and read. But when mom was home, she didn’t like having us inside. Underfoot. Talking. Needing. Being. The sister would fairly readily find something to occupy her time. As for me? I’d just kinda…stand there…bored and confused and wanting to go back inside and hide. Being, admittedly, really sad and also kinda pathetic. Shifting my weight from one foot to the other. Looking around. Totally out-of-place and not really knowing how to be a kid. Like, at all. (Unless I was making the sister eat a worm or something. That was kidlike. And disgusting. And fun. Ooo new word: fungusting! Except that sounds like you’re trying to suck fungus up a dirtbuster. Whatever. Let’s see you do better. Hmph.)

It was on a day such as this that I met Queen Elizabeth. There I was, shifting my weight back and forth, this side of the ditch. Just kinda staring. At nothing. At everything. At the road. At my crush’s house – is Mario home yet? At the nursing home. And here she came. Little did I know I was about to become a princess and marry a handsome prince who would whisk me away from every…wait. That’s definitely not true. Where was I?

All Hail the Queen!

Oh yes, there I am: standing on the edge of the ditch, facing the road and the back of the nursing home. And here she came. There were no trumpets, no royal cavalcade, no retinue. She was quite demure and down to earth. And she was beautiful. This plump woman in her late forties (that’s the best estimate I can give, looking back now) with warm brown skin and billowing skirts. But what she wore better than anything was that huge, friendly smile. She grinned and waved, waved and grinned, free hand tugging at her skirts.

“Hey, y’all! I’m not supposed to talk to strangers. So what’s your names?,” she called. The sister came rushing over, looking between me and our new friend. None of us crossing the street.

We volleyed our names across, and she volleyed back:

“Well, I am Queen Elizabeth, and you suppose ta bow.”

I can still feel the grin spreading across my face. “You mean, THE Queen Elizabeth? Of England?”

“Yes, the Queen Elizabeth. I had to sell my castle, but that’s okay!”

“It’s nice to meet you, Queen Elizabeth!” I bowed and smacked my sister on the arm, whispering furiously for her to bow, too. “But she’s NOT a queen…is she?” To which I replied, “Of course she is.” “How do you know?,” my sister asked.

“Because she said so.”

Queen Elizabeth was so tickled when we bowed. She even did that thing where you hold a hand over your mouth to giggle. Then she told us she wasn’t allowed to cross the street, but honey she had that royal wave down pat. So we stood there, on opposite sides of the road..of life..and waved regally to each other and taking turns bowing and curtsying.

After a short while, one of her guards (an orderly) would come out and take her by the elbow. “Now, Queen Elizabeth, you know you ain’t supposed to be out here.” And Queen Elizabeth would say something about having to greet her subjects. I don’t remember much about the orderlies, except they seemed nice. Frustrated but friendly. We’d wave goodbye, with the royal wave of course.

And suddenly, I found myself looking forward to the first few minutes outside after school. I wanted needed to see Queen Elizabeth. She would ask about my day, and I would ask about hers. Sometimes she would complain that people weren’t letting the Queen eat what she wanted or watch what she wanted.

“But Queens are supposed to make the rules,” she’d lament.

And sometimes I would complain, too, about someone making fun of me at school. And she would say nice things to me, that I was pretty or sweet or smart.

“Stay in school,” she’d admonish. “Be a good girl.”

She was always smiling. Always. Those pearly whites exposed in a giant happy grin.

One day we said something at the same time, and I laughed and called over: “Pinch, poke, you owe me a coke!” Oh my goodness, that threw her into a tizzy. “What?! What happened?! Oh no. Oh no.” So I explained to her what the little saying meant and told her I wasn’t serious. She was quite perplexed, so I tried really hard to convince her that it was just in fun. It didn’t really mean anything. But the next day, out she came, holding her skirt in one hand and a can of Cherry Coke in the other. She couldn’t even wave; that’s how important it was.

“Queens always keep their promises! But…I’m sorry I couldn’t get two. They wouldn’t let me get two. But y’all can share!”

Boy, did I feel guilty. I tried to protest, but she started getting upset. So I knew her feelings would be hurt if I didn’t accept.

None of us was supposed to cross the street. And I knew mom wouldn’t approve of me talking to the woman at all – I always worried about her catching us. But Queen Elizabeth wouldn’t dare consider breaking the rules, so I darted across the street for the soda. “Now Queen Elizabeth doesn’t owe you anymore!” Oh, that grin. How infectious it was. I remember she touched my hand. Just a fleeting touch, perhaps accidental, perhaps not. But I remember.¬† (And I also don’t remember saying “pinch poke, you owe me a coke” after that. I didn’t want anyone feeling obligated. It made me sad that Queen Elizabeth might have thought she was in trouble.)

I loved her, best I could. I loved her. And I thought about her a lot.

One day, Queen Elizabeth stopped coming outside. I started to worry, and I tried to explain to mom that I needed to check on Queen Elizabeth. She had unkind words to say about a woman she’d never met. Because of the color of her skin. Because of her mental illness. I begged. I pleaded. Please let me check on her. Or maybe you can check on her for me! But my pleas fell on deaf ears. I don’t know if they’d put my friend on lockdown so she’d stop going outside, but I imagined the worst.

I missed Queen Elizabeth so much. And I cried and mourned her absence for a long time. More than anything, I hope she knew she was loved. Truly loved. I’ll never forget her. And I wish I could fashion her a crown and tell her,

You may not be the Queen Elizabeth, but you’ll always be my Queen Elizabeth. And I hope that was enough.