July 6, 2011
My family and I just spent the holiday weekend on New York’s Long Island. It is where our dear friends, the Hawkins’, live. It is also where Teddy Roosevelt once lived. Only the Hawkins’ aren’t nearly as dead as the former president.
But I digress. This is not a tale about Teddy Roosevelt. It is a tale about a squirrel, and the man who set him free. Well, almost set him free. It seems the squirrel was all ready dead, but that won’t make this story any less interesting. (Unless, of course, you’ve got something better to do.)
Let me do the sensible thing and start this tale from the beginning. It went something like this:
“What’s that smell?” said Sue Hawkins.
“What smell?” said husband Tom.
Sue Hawkins stood on the back deck of their home and put her nose to the mid-day air. She thought it dank and offensive. “It smells like something died out here,” she said.
Her husband Tom put his own nose to the air, and had a different opinion. “I don’t smell anything,” he said.*
*Brief history note: Sue Hawkins can smell a dead gnat at fifty paces, and can hear the warbling of a nested baby robin in the dead of night -- with the windows closed.
Sue Hawkins got down on all fours and sniffed at the deck with all the grace and aplomb of a prized bloodhound, and said, “There’s something dead under these boards. I haven’t quite configured the blood type, but it seems to be a rodent of some sort. Its size and weight are unknown, but its definitely in the rodent family.”
Tom Hawkins closed his eyes and thought of many things. He thought of the care-free days of his youth; of joyful runs along the ocean’s shore; of touch football and summer barbecues with the Hawkins clan. He thought of the many romantic and magical interludes with his wife Sue; of poetry and the meaning of life. He then thought of running, but merely sighed, reached for his Black & Decker reciprocating saw and proceeded to chew up the deck with a vengeance.
“See anything?” said Sue, when the sawdust had settled.
“Maggots,” said Tom.
“Maggots!” said Sue. “I was sniffin’ maggots! Ewww! I’m going inside. Let me know when your done.”
Sue went inside and Tom turned his attention to me, who was lounging on the patio furniture, enjoying a frosted mug of beer. I would have offered my assistance, but I was much too comfortable under the shade of the umbrella to comprehend the seriousness of his dilemma.
“Are those beers cold?” he said to me.
“Almost too cold, if such a thing is possible,” I replied.
“Are you comfortable?”
“Tom, if I were any more comfortable I’d be in a coma.”
It was at this moment that Tom’s brother Peter showed up. I immediately perked up and felt less guilty about having another beer. The heat was off. Tom put his power tool down and turned his attention to Peter.
“I can see the maggots with the flashlight, but I can’t see what they’re feeding on,” he told his brother. “Whatever it is appears to be behind the steps. I’m going to have to rip them up.”
Tom grabbed a hammer and crow bar and proceeded to rip up the steps.
He’d gazed up at me every once in a while to make sure I was all right. Are the beers cold enough? Did I require anything else to make my stay more comfortable? I assured him I was well, and he commenced to attack the steps with a bitter determination.
I was awed by his physical strength and unsmiling, concentrated concern for me. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear my leisurely presence was beginning to annoy him. But I'm sure it was just the heat and the stench of filthy maggots. How could I annoy anyone?
When the steps were removed from the deck, Tom reached in with a shovel and drew out a decaying gray squirrel.
Oddly enough the announcement of finding a dead squirrel was enough to get me out of my seat.(Although, after five beers, it could have been a kangaroo and I wouldn’t have known the difference.)
Tom bagged the squirrel and announced to Sue, and my wife, that the world was once again a safe place in which to live. Sue was delighted.
“I love you, Tom.” said Sue.
“I love you, too,” said Tom.
My wife looked at me. (I should say she looked for me; as by this time I had cozied myself into the deepest and shadiest part of the deck. I was almost invisible and at one with nature.)
“Are you going to help Tom put away his things?” she said to me.
Unfortunately, I was one with nature and didn't hear a word she said. She may as well have been talking to the squirrel.
When our other dear friends arrived for the Fourth of July weekend I was as relaxed as I had ever been. I heard such comments as, “Why it’s almost like he’s a part of the furniture. How does he do that?”
Had I not been so relaxed I may have been able to reply, but unfortunately I was so relaxed that I had to be carried off to bed. It was the most amazing nights sleep I ever had. I dreamt of flying squirrels and dancing kangaroos. I dreamt of Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill with a reciprocating saw in one hand, and a mug of ale in the other. It was a wonderful weekend.
I just can’t wait till Labor Day.