At about three, I went to visit my Aunt Bea's farm. They had a pet squirrel whose name I do not recall. I had a wonderful time petting and feeding that little fuzzy squirrel and I wanted one of my very own. I didn't have a pet at that time, so it seemed fairly reasonable to me.
When I pointed out a free-roaming squirrel to my father, thinking I would get a pet, he grabbed Uncle Jack's gun and shot it right in front of me. Keep in mind, I was a city kid and I had never seen a gun fired much less an animal die. Right then and there, my father was worse than the hunter who killed Bambi's Dad.
Then, he suggested we take the squirrel home for dinner. My reaction was beyond sickened and appalled despite assurances from my father and his family that squirrel tastes "just like chicken."
Needles to say, the squirrel did not come home with us. We didn't visit the family farm much after that either and I became a passionate squirrel advocate from that day on.
Fortunately, there were no more squirrel shooting incidents. Either my father was ashamed of himself or me, I will never know.
I grew up in an older neighborhood with a lot of established nut trees. Most people thought there were enough nuts for all. Mom and I loved watching the squirrels play and got a kick out of them fussing at us or the cats. (Yes, I finally got a cat)
My Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Dick (from Mom's more civilized side of the family) actually fed their squirrels. They have a lovely home at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs. As the years progressed, their squirrels got tamer and tamer until the final generations were so gentle they'd perch on Uncle Dick's shoulder and take food from his hands. Just don't be late with breakfast, though. They learned to hitch their claws into the screen door and swing, banging the door until the human occupants woke up and offered their repast.
Move forward to my marriage. Again, Tony and I lived in an established area. I wasn't aware we had a 'pet' until Tony asked me where I got the nuts and why wasn't I sharing.
He pointed to shell fragments on our front porch.
"Not mine," I told him. "I'm allergic to pecans, remember? And I would share nuts." (I might not share chocolate, but that's another story altogether)
The mystery was solved a couple of days later when we saw a male squirrel on that pillar eating pecans. Now, you're going to ask how I knew he was a male. Even I could see his 'nuts' from a distance. That little squirrel would be the envy of every human male save for a few porn stars who cannot wear "cheap motel" jeans (i.e. no 'ball room')
He was christened Mr. Big Nuts on the spot. And yes, Tony and I bought pecans at $4 per pound and left them on our front porch for him.
Imagine Tony's surprise when he climbed up on our garage roof to effect some minor repairs and nearly got shot with a pellet rifle.
"Hey!" He yelled in the direction of the shots. "Whoever's firing, stop! I'm up here!"Meanwhile, I'm on the ground torn between calling the police and screaming myself.
That's when we met Mr. Farmer, who was a cat-e-corner backfence neighbor. (That's Oklahoman for diagonal, y'all) Mr. Farmer explained he was shooting at the 'tree rats' who were stealing his pecans.
"Next time you shoot, you might want to give some warning," Tony advised Mr. Farmer, not the least bit ameliorated by his explanation. "Someone could get hurt."
A few days later, we met Mr. Farmer under more pleasant terms. He explained that he collected the nuts from his trees and ate them. He was stunned and disgusted to learn that we fed the squirrels.
"Don't worry," I told him. "We buy the nuts from the supermarket."
Mr. Farmer just shook his head.
All would have been peaceful had I not been reading in the backyard, minding my own business when I hear the crack of pellet gun fire and something whizzing a little too close to me for comfort.
I wasn't near as nice as Tony was when I yelled for Mr. Farmer to stop firing. I advised him if I caught him at it again, I'd file a police report and I'd keep filing them until he stopped.
No response from Mr. Farmer, but apparently my threat worked. At least, neither one of us caught him firing on us or the squirrels. However, we began aggressively feeding Mr. Big Nuts and the rest of his family, partly in hopes of keeping them away from Mr. Farmer and his pellet rifle.
While we were shopping in one of those wonderful boutique shops, we saw a cute card with a squirrel on the front of it. The poem went something like this:
Happy is the squirrel in the wintertime
For all the nuts for off the trees
And crack so he has plenty of food
On the inside, it said: Hope you freeze your nuts off this winter.
Right on the spot, we bought that card and signed it "Love, Mr. Squirrel" and sent it without a return address to Mr. Farmer.
Less than a week later, Mr. Farmer's house had a for sale sign in the yard. He apparently sold cheap, because next Spring we had a brand-new neighbor who didn't like pecans and was fine with sharing her crop with Mr. Big Nuts's kids.
And best of all, we could enjoy our backyard without worrying about gunfire.