Long ago, my brother was taking a walk in front of our house when he noticed a small, skin-colored blob in the middle of the sidewalk. On further examination, this finger-sized blob appeared to be alive. Being the dedicated ward of nature that we were all raised to be, he scooped it up and brought it home. It turned out to be a newly born squirrel that had fallen from its nest, Often referred to as a “pinkie” or “squirrel pinkie” for obvious reasons.
The prognosis was not good, especially in our house where squirrels were a nuisance and hunted on a daily basis. The damage they did to our pecan trees and my father’s strange fascination with skinning animals like a western fur trader of old put the squirrel in a tough position. My brother did not give up on this little thing and spent weeks feeding it baby formula with a tiny eyedropper. Much to our surprise the baby grew from an amorphous pink blob into a fuzzy baby—thus began the reign of Skunk the squirrel.
Squirrels are not something one really thinks of as a pet. I know many folks that have rodents for pets and it is undeniable that there is a certain stigma attached to this kind of behavior. If you go to someone’s house and they have a cage of rats or mice you often question said person’s mental stability. I am not saying that is an appropriate way of thought, but let’s not kid ourselves. I am sure my parents felt the same way when my brother came home with this creature, but over time this little fella caused us to shed our rodent pretensions, at least for squirrels.
Skunk, having never known the outside world, adjusted very quickly to our house. You would think this animal would be timid and scared of humans, but he loved us. He would run around the house and find one of us, crawl up our leg in a spiral just as if it were a tree, and then perch himself right on your shoulder. You had to take special care you were not wearing a sweater when he would jump on you or else his little claws would become tangled in the threads. Even if that happened you could untangle him easily. He never became frustrated. We fed him right from our hand and to my knowledge he never once bit.
In many ways, Skunk was like a dog. He was eager to please and enjoyed the company of humans. He even knew when the doorbell rang that a new human was showing up and he would run to the door and wait to greet them. If you can imagine going to someone’s house and a squirrel jumping on you the minute the door opened then you can imagine the type of fun we had with that!
He was a squirrel. He had squirrel tendencies that Mother Nature baked into his kind for eons. He was slightly mischievous. He hid things as squirrels do. He made holes as squirrels do. We had an old five-gallon bucket filled with shelled pecans collected from our yard and when Skunk found this all hell broke loose. He hid every single one of them. He dug holes in the sofa. He dug holes in mattresses. He buried things in clothes piles. Toilet paper packages. Desk drawers. Anywhere he could find. And when he was done with the pecans he started taking objects around the size of a pecan and hiding them as well. Toys. Candy. Golf balls.
Believe it or not, Skunk was allowed to roam the house freely until this point. When things of value started getting destroyed or someone was pulling out a towel and twelve pecans fell on their head it was time to restrict him. My Dad made him a little ‘house’ where he spent the night and any time we couldn’t directly supervise him. When someone let him free in the morning he would run out and sit on every person still asleep until they woke up. Trust me, waking up with a wild animal sitting on your chest, staring you in the eye, negates that first cup of coffee.
Unfortunately, Skunk had a tragic ending. Somehow after a very expensive piece of furniture got a hole chewed in it, my Mom managed to leave a vacuum running right next to his cage for an extended period of time. She got ‘distracted’ and when she came back Skunk had apparently succumbed to a heart attack. This, at least, is the story we were told. He was later interred in the backyard next to other fallen comrades, in a shoebox filled with pecans.
Nowadays, I have a hard time dispatching squirrels because of the pecan-sized hole this little guy left in my heart. I would like to think these little animals that are currently assaulting my attic could look at me and know we are brethren, but they do not. Maybe Skunk was an anomaly. I will never know because I will never have a pet squirrel in my house for the pretensions aforementioned. I do know that to this day, at least two decades later, there are still pieces of furniture that get moved and a few pecans fall out of a hole we never knew was there.