I have a thing about old family cookbooks. They are a kind of time capsule about the women in my family. Stuffed with newspaper clippings of recipes, grocery lists, and even an occasional letter stashed for safekeeping, they are a treasury of hints about grandmothers and aunts.
It wasn’t until I was going through an old trunk and found my Aunt Francis’ Household Searchlight Recipe Book that I realized a love affair with squirrels has been going on for years in my family. Resting between a clipping about “Peanut Butter and Pickle or Bacon Canapes” and a handwritten recipe for “Tomato Casserole” was a poem by James J. Metcalfe neatly clipped from a Sioux City newspaper in 1952 entitled, “My Squirrel Friend.”
My Squirrel Friend by James J. Metcalfe
He hops upon my window sill and there he likes to stay.
I have a little squirrel friend who calls on me each day.
He waits for me to feed him and of course I always do.
And there I watch him silently until his meal is through.
And he is just as reticent he never says a word.
Not even one “hello” or “please” or “thank you” have I heard.
He calmly munches on his lunch and plays around a bit.
Until he is decided he has had enough of it.
But when he leaps and dashes off in his amusing style,
It always seems to me I see a friendly little smile.
The poem reminded me of a month-long visit by my now deceased brother who came to my house for a week to build a deck that ended up taking five weeks. During that time, he befriended a host of squirrels with bag after bag of peanuts. When my brother finally departed for home, he left a $25 “Peanut Trust Fund” to make sure his friends would be looked after for at least a few weeks. My brother never had kids, but when cleaning out his apartment after he died, I found a small photo album of squirrel friends feeding on the patio outside his door for years.
Reading James Metcalfe’s poem led me to wonder what sort of man he was to have a nationally syndicated column of poems and express the sensitivity behind his own relationship with squirrels. It turns out the poet was a retired FBI agent, one of the original “G-men” based in Chicago who personally “participated in operations against several Midwestern gangsters, including Ma Barker, Pretty Boy Floyd, and John Dillinger. Metcalfe was among the agents who ambushed Dillinger outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago, resulting in Dillinger’s death.”1 I admit, this initially took me aback, but then made sense—why shouldn’t a retired G-man also be a squirrel lover?
For my own part, I admit that I was smitten by a different sort of squirrel in a different sort on my wedding trip to Vermont. Perched inside the door of our B&B was a taxidermy Red Squirrel put on permanent duty as a business cardholder. In the joy of the moment after the wedding, I flipped the B&B’s business card and wrote “Just Married” for a quick photo-op.
I feel a little guilty to admit this, but on my return home, I decided I wanted the same kind of business card holder for my desk at work. I did some internet sleuthing and found a gentleman who sold customized taxidermy (his promotional material claimed that he only used squirrels that were already dead—not killed in the…making of his…artwork). I didn’t realize that I had ordered a Gray Squirrel business card holder that was at least twice the size of the Vermont Red Squirrel. It was just too shocking to have on a desk, so I ended up naming the squirrel “Rick” and used him for many photoshoots to wish friends well on birthdays and celebrate other special occasions. In return, friends gifted me with a variety of squirrel memorabilia including Squirrel Underpants and a fuzzy stuffed animal that bears no resemblance to Rick.
I know some people absolutely hate squirrels. They are often called “rats with bushy tails.” I had one friend who secretly waged war with them in the city, using a BB gun to reduce the population of squirrels chewing through rooftop flashing to take up residence in the attic.
Squirrels are a lot like political viewpoints…people either love them or hate them. I always enjoy hearing other people’s thoughts about them!
Source: 1Wikipedia. James J. Metcalfe. Information based on an archived website by Metcalfe’s daughter.
R.A. Kroft writes about her day-to-day journey in living a smaller, more sustainable life and other topics that interest her.
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