by Emmett Smith
THERE Are from time-to-time reports of these here Fat Little Black Shiny Squirrels, right here in Indian-haunted old Mankato, brooding under its rotting mansard roofs. We had them out in LeHillier when I was married and I’m sorry to tell you that I did them in with poisoned peanuts intended for The Moles. I will not say it is the fault of Lindsay Morson’s English grandmother, but she was a decided neighbour, er, neighbor lady who had no time for any “vermin” in her garden, thank you!
ACTUALLY, If anybody is to blame it’s Renzo Rist, the oldtime seedcorn-dealer….
THE Fault of course is really my own — and the general urban (and mostly sort of stupid about Nature!) postmodern city atmosphere. It just ruins old farmers like me who move to town and take up vice. Anyway, when the beekeeping-business with Old John Hurd went to Hell (or rather didn’t get off the ground in the first place!), I moved into town, immediately forgot everything I knew about anything whatsoever — and tried to grow aspargus under walnut trees!
THEY Are fine trees, and they were then (not for long!) home to a nice small flock of Little Fat Shiny Black Squirrels. But, those little devils’ number was up and when I whined around the ramshackle townsite like a poison-pup about The Moles, Grandma Morson told me “don’t be a damn fool!” and to use poisoned peanuts in the mole-runs.
(ACTUALLY, Grandma Morson, being English, said: ‘Don’t be daft and take soft-hearted now!’ All in single-inverted commas, she being an Englishwoman as I have said….)
THE Moles ate the peanuts with interest and gusto and wanted more. By this time, the Young Squirrels had figured matters out and was digging away after school under all the bricks and cement-chunks I’d laid to keep out everyone but The Moles — and that was that, for them Poor Little Squirrels.
THIS Was in the mid-1990s of the last century and later I moped and sniveled about it to the Dickinson Avenue turtle-trapper & ginseng-bandit, Mr Hauser. He grinned and laughed and said no doubt there would be more:
“WHEN It really gets cold and freezes like Hell, they come down from the North Kato bluffs and across the river right over here to LeHillier,” said Mr Hauser. “There’s been a regular tribe of the little bastards up by the VoTech, Christ, fer years now….”
SOME Months later I was louding off with my old friend, Mr Ed Rom, in the Republican Sal Frederick Happy Chef eating-restaurant up on Madison Avenue. When I got to the part about Killing Off My Squirrels and what Mr Hauser said, the waitress, Linda Mattson, piped up:
“OMIGOD! My Dad brung them squirrels down here!”
HER Father was Renzo Rist, the oldtime seedcorn-dealer. I first met him when I was in highschool, up at my Great-Aunt Huldy Olson’s house in Eagle Lake, Minnesota. It was when she broke her hip on the steps of the Eagle Lake Methodist Church (& which has long-since been remodeled into a condom for dentists and other commuting Mankato”professionals,” young Wally Mart undermanagers and so on.)
RENZO Was a goodnatured and outgoing, completely friendly sort of guy who loved to blow hard forty years ago about the “dawning era of, yep, hun’ert AND FIFTY bushel corn, you bet!” When I would go back out to the farm and repeat this stuff to Huldy’s brother, my grandpa, and Uncle Emmett, Grandpa mostly just said “damn fool” about it and chuckled quietly to himself. Uncle Emmett would cuss about raising small samples “and tall tales” on test-plots “with a God-damn TWEEZERS!”
NONETHELESS, I enjoyed Renzo’s knack for commercial fibbing and, anyway, he got my Methodist (!) Great-Aunt Huldy Olson to drink whisky! It was because when she broke her hip she couldn’t sleep at night. Now Renzo used to visit lots because Huldy and her husband Oscar on their Amboy farm during Summers in the 1930s had raised Mrs Rist and her brothers Mayo and Junior, after their mother died. So when Renzo Rist brought Huldy a great big large jug of whisky she was inclined to give it a try (after first of all hobbling over to close the front door and draw the blinds so no one should see in.)
AT First it didn’t work — when Renzo stopped by the following week and asked how Huldy was sleeping, she said:
“I Can’t go that floor-varnish!”
SO Renzo Rist showed Huldy Olson how to knock off a tumbler of whisky in water, one part-to-five, and awhile after that he had to bring Huldy another great big large jug of the stuff, because now she said she was sleeping “real good!” Some weeks later, Huldy’s secret got out when the church-ladies came for a Dorcas-circle. Old Lady Leighton was rummaging under the sink for a strainer where Huldy kept the whisky, and the word was out:
“HULDY Olson has a great big large whisky-bottle under her sink — plus it’s half empty!”
THE Reason Renzo Rist could afford to give away all these great big large jugs of whisky was because he had just enjoyed a really big piece of good luck. The DFL had got in and spent big to build the new VoTech campus up on the North Kato bluffs — where Mr Hauser said them Little Black Shiny Fat Squirrels came from! Renzo Rist had been “right spang in the eye of the storm” as he put it, and the state had condemned and lifted forty acres of his farm off him. Renzo had gotten $68,000 out of the deal all his farm-neighbors all said in their usual good-natured unjealous way, and Renzo too was inclined to be generous, especially to my Great-Aunt Huldy Olson and other old friends….
“ANYWAY,” Said Linda Mattson, “when we was kids in the ’50s and went to the cabin up at Shell Lake in ‘Sisconsin, Dad seen them Shiny Black Little Fat Squirrels and just took fits! They was so cute, he said, we just had to have some to home — so, he got one of them Havahart traps and we rounded up a bunch. Now they run around up at the VoTech and the kids feed ’em all stuff I guess….”
SO Do others, I thought mournfully to myself, before leaving an oversized tip and driving away in the regretful night.
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 26 February 2007]