|Government secret squirrel, photographed in Washington DC. (Source)|
In fact, I did hear him relate the story in the presence of at least one of his brothers. As brothers will often mock the youngest, for so Dad was, and no one did at the time, the story must have had some veracity. I never questioned Dad's caution regarding the canine race as there were a couple of times in my own youth where a neighbor's uncontrolled dog gave me a scare. Myself being stupid, and said canines being very small, I did go after them when they displayed a bit of aggression, and they, being smarter than I, did withdraw expeditiously at the sight of a large-ish lad coming at them screaming like a banshee.
Anyhoo, the decision was made to get a cat. So it was off to the local animal shelter to procure a feline of a young age, for it was a kitten we had all settled on having. (I don't recall getting a vote, nor did The Olde Vermonter who was barely out of his infancy. As to my youngest sibling, The Musician, he wasn't even a gleam in my father's eye at the time. His arrival was a couple of years hence.)
I remember the shelter vaguely, no windows that I recall and lit by artificial light, which makes me remember getting the cat as a nighttime event. Though as I clearly remember riding home in the backseat of the family automotive conveyance in the daylight, it must have been daytime. Which means it would have been a weekend, no doubt a Saturday, as Dad worked Monday through Friday. And as Mom would have us all in Church on a Sunday, and the shelter no doubt being closed on the Sabbath, that pretty much locks it down as a Saturday.
But I was quite young, either late in my fourth year or early in my fifth, I don't remember all of the details, so some of what follows is a bit speculative, but as accurate as I can recall. I do remember that at the shelter, a feisty all-black cat leaped from his cage (might have been a shelf) onto my Dad's shoulders and The Olde Vermonter and I both simultaneously proclaimed, "That's the one! We want that one!" So, truth be told, the cat chose us, not we him.
Upon our return to the ancestral home (for that's how I remember it, I truly spent my formative years there) someone, probably Mom, mothers being the practical members of the species, declared that the feisty, all-black feline had to have a name, a moniker, something to call him by other than "Cat," which may have been The Olde Vermonter's suggestion. (After all, as Hizzoner might have said, "he may tell it differently but this is how I remember it." And it is, after all, my blog.)
Now in the old neighborhood, from which we were only recently removed, I had a friend across the street about my age, his name was Tommy. So, in an excess of youthful exuberance, I proclaimed that the feisty, all-black feline would henceforth and forever be called "Tommy!" A glance from Yours Truly towards my younger brother sealed the deal. After all, older brothers usually, though not always I'm told, though it never happened to me, prevail. The two younger members of the tribe decided one day that as they had me outnumbered, their two, to my one, then an all out attack would overwhelm me and yield the field to them. Outnumbered I may have been, outgunned I was not. As I probably weighed more than the two of them combined (they being somewhat slight of build, me being somewhat, ahem, hefty) I was able to overwhelm first one, then the other. Their attack was not as simultaneous as they would have liked. Of course, The Olde Vermonter, as he veered off began crying as loudly as he could, "MOM! MOM! CHRIS IS BEATING US UP!!"
Well, their reinforcement arrived, I was in hack but still undefeated on my home turf. Mom, naturally, said, "Wait until I tell your Father..." I knew it to be summat of an empty threat, Dad was a bit of a pushover when it came to "his boys," Mom was the real power in the house. (As most Moms are.)
Anyhoo, I was talking about cats, not pounding on my younger siblings. Though "pound" is perhaps an exaggeration, no bones were ever broken, no blood (well, only a little) was ever shed. At least there were no credible witnesses to such a thing.
Hhmm, drifted again, didn't I?
So, Tommy, an all-black feline (one of my Dad's "idiot buddies," - his words, not mine - at work claimed that there was "no such thing as an all black cat, there's always a white spot somewhere." Nope, Tommy was jet black, not a spot o' white anywhere. Big yellow eyes, he was quite a good looking lad.) was male, until he was "fixed," which puzzled we boys, we had no idea he was "broken." Of course, that's not information you shared with boys, at least not in those days.
Tommy, though hit by a car twice (both times driven by my mother) lived to the ripe old age of 12. Which is a ripe old age for an outdoor cat. He also grew to be around 15 pounds as I recall. All muscle he was, as I discovered when he was in the process of mauling a squirrel one day and Dad called me out as back up.
Now I have written of Tommy before, here and here, but I'm pretty sure I've not told this tale of Tommy and the squirrel.
It seems that up behind the next door neighbor to the north's house Tommy had managed to catch a squirrel. While one might argue that the squirrel must have been (a) slow, (b) not paying attention, (c) stupid, or perhaps (d) all of the above, nevertheless this particular squirrel had fallen into the clutches of an excellent feline predator. Said feline predator (that would be Tommy) was in the process of "playing" with the squirrel in a manner with which the squirrel was neither accustomed to, nor comfortable with.
Dad had spotted Tommy messing with something which was still moving, and desperately trying to get away from that big cat. We did like to discourage Tommy from slaughtering the local non-mouse population, but often did not succeed. So Dad called me out and off we went to "Save the Squirrel."
Dad yelled out, "You grab Tommy while I try to see how badly hurt the squirrel is!"
Quick to obey the paternal command I grabbed Tommy behind his shoulders. I could see that the squirrel was pretty messed up, I won't go into the literally gory details, but in my "expert" opinion, the squirrel was not long for this world.
After this rapid assessment I noticed two things, first, grabbing a cat intent on its prey is rather like grabbing a block of granite covered in fur. Rock solid muscle lay underneath that velvety black exterior. Secondly, Tommy was making this low pitched rumbling noise which sounded as if it belonged to a march larger animal. Think jaguar, tiger, lion, yeah, much bigger.
Now Tommy wasn't overtly threatening me, he was letting me know that what I was doing was an extremely ill-considered idea. It might behoove me, in fact, to let go and "back away human, you are interfering with nature."
So I did. That is, let go and back away. In that moment, as Tommy's attention was drawn elsewhere, the mauled squirrel made a break for it, an act of desperation for sure but he made it to the nearest tree and headed skyward like a Viper in burner.
Tommy, though initially pissed, decided that fun time was over, time to head into the house and see what was for dinner. Apparently squirrel was no longer listed as one of the specials. He'd have to settle for store bought.
Dad, in the meantime, had watched the squirrel use it's last bit of energy to escape Tommy and gain as much altitude as possible. He asked me for my assessment of the squirrel's medical condition (though not in so many words), which I gave as, "I dunno Dad, that squirrel is pretty f**ked up."
"He's what?" Dad inquired, somewhat brusquely.
"Uh, messed up. Yeah Dad, I said messed up..." Hoping to put one over on the Old Man.
Focusing instead on the task at hand, realizing that his "son and heir" (that would be me) could be dealt with later at his leisure, Dad gave me the evil eye and said, "Keep an eye on that squirrel, I don't think he's going anywhere but I'm going to go get my rifle."
Pretty sure that the rifle was for the squirrel and not me, though I had been chastised before for employing the "F" bomb in polite company, so I wasn't completely sure, I kept a weather eye on Monsieur Squirrel perched up in the tree, panting and bleeding profusely. (Yes, poor thing was a goner. Dad couldn't bear to see anything suffer, especially when it was our cat who had dealt out the damage.)
|Dad's .35 caliber Marlin. Or "The Shoulder Fired Man Portable Cannon" as we called it. (Source)|
At that point Dad told me to pick up a stick and go around to move the squirrel back towards him. Well, I did just that, but I wasn't holding it right.
"You've got to hold it like a rifle! You're not fooling that squirrel!" Dad barked at me, all the while maintaining a bead on the squirrel's last known position.
So I held the stick as if it were a rifle, even going so far as to "aim" it at the tree. I did not wish to be outwitted by this large rodent. Well, the squirrel saw me, he shifted position and...
The Marlin roared and what was left of that poor squirrel was blown a good 25 yards "down range" as it were. Dad said he had been aiming at the tree adjacent to the squirrel so that the bullet wouldn't go far.
Chunks of elm and squirrel littered the back yard.
Squirrel was put out of his misery.
Dad got to fire his rifle (truth be told Dad was a damned good shot) and I got to watch.
Neither Tommy nor my mother were all that pleased.
Tommy was deprived of his prey. And Mom was rather annoyed at having squirrel parts all over the backyard. (Though truth be told, those squirrel bits were up the hill a ways and on a part of the backyard where Mom seldom ventured. I guess it was the idea of it rather than the reality. I mean none of Mom's friends had squirrel parts in their backyard did they? Wasn't proper, was it?)
Tommy was mollified with a can of tuna (not an everyday occurrence, I can tell you) and Mom was mollified by Dad picking up the squirrel bits and properly disposing of them.
Did I help Dad with that?
Oh Hell no, I was well down the street heading to my buddy's house as soon as the squirrel met his Maker. When I saw the debris falling, I kind of figured Mom wasn't going to let that go. Uh, uh. No sir.
Growing up in Vermont in the 50s and 60s, kinda like the backwoods it was. The Clampetts had nothing on us. (Well, they did find oil. We didn't. And not for lack of shooting holes in the yard.)
And that's the tale of Tommy and the squirrel. I swear it's all true. (Well, as near as I can remember, it was a long, long time ago.)