By Hannah Berman
This will be a trilogy. Not because I want it to be, but because it just is.
Over the years, I have had a unique relationship with those bushy-tailed little guys we know as squirrels. I don’t dislike them, but I do not love them either. The problem is that I fear them. This might sound odd to some people, but I freely admit that I fear all animals, large and small, domestic and wild.
My fear of squirrels stems from the fact that, as a child, my father informed me that squirrels crack open walnuts with their teeth, so if one should bite me I would be in big trouble. That was all I had to hear. I have feared them all my life.
I also freak out when there is a hornet, a bee, or a wasp anywhere in my vicinity. I think of them as flying kamikazes that are my sworn enemy. Only embarrassment prevents me from wearing a helmet and an armored suit while sitting in a sukkah. I also fear birds and anything else that flies and can potentially hover above my head. The only birds I don’t fear are those that are caged.
My biggest shame — one that hopefully will not alienate my many dog-loving friends and readers — is that I am also afraid of dogs. One loud bark from a canine and I am out of there! Anything that walks on four legs scares me. The exception is the household cat, or even a stray cat, because I discovered that if I stay away from them, they stay away from me. And that suits me fine.
My first experience with squirrels was 30 years ago. I walked down to the basement to do a load of laundry when I noticed a black rag on the floor. It was puzzling because I knew I didn’t own a black schmatte. Still carrying my basket of soiled clothes, I bent down to pick up this rag when suddenly it moved, raised its head, and stared at me with two beady eyes! To say that I was frightened is a gross understatement. I shrieked, dropped my basket, and raced back up the stairs. Slamming the door to the basement was not enough for me. So irrational was my fear that I was convinced that there might be more squirrels lurking in my house.
What I didn’t know at the time was that the squirrel was black because he had come down through the chimney and was covered in thick soot. Only the bushy tail identified him as a squirrel.
I called 911, but when I told the operator that there was a squirrel in my house, she informed me that nobody would come for squirrels. I asked her if someone would come to my house if there was a suicide; when she said yes to that, I told her that if she didn’t send someone to help me with the squirrel there would be a suicide — mine! Apparently she took me at my word because she agreed to send a police officer. I raced to the front door, peered out, and saw a squad car turn south from Peninsula Boulevard onto Church Avenue — but my house was on the north side. I called 911 again and asked the operator to redirect the misguided cop. Within seconds, the car came back down the street and headed for my place. Relief flooded me — until I saw the cop up close. He looked to be about 11 years old.
But I was in no position to be picky. I told him about the squirrel in the basement. He was reluctant to go down there, but I practically pushed him down the stairs so he had little choice. Less than a minute later, he came back up the stairs and said, “Yep, ya got a squirrel down there.” I told him that I knew that before he went down there. Then I asked if he could please shoot the little guy with a tranquilizer. This genius responded, “Oh, no, ma’am. We’re not allowed to shoot unless they shoot first.”
When I found my voice, I told this man/child that I didn’t think the squirrel was likely to shoot first. He didn’t react, and I sensed that we were getting nowhere. He was making ready to leave, and I was afraid to remain in the house.
It was mid-December, about 30 degrees outside, and I was clad in nothing more than a nightgown and a thin robe. But that didn’t stop me from running outside. If the cop was leaving, I was leaving, too. No way did I intend to remain indoors lest there were more squirrels hanging out. Maybe the one in my basement didn’t come in alone. It was cold outside, so perhaps some friends had come in with him. Once outside, I stood in my driveway, crying and pleading with the cop not to leave.
Fortunately, just then my rabbi, who was new in town and had moved onto the next block, drove down the street. He saw me crying and spotted the squad car, so he pulled up and raced over to see what the problem was. His first thought was that there had been a tragedy, but he relaxed when I explained the problem. Noticing that I was seriously underdressed for the weather — and also probably not particularly comfortable seeing a woman in a nightgown and a thin robe — he offered his coat to me. I took one look at him and sensed that this wouldn’t work. My assessment was that he was approximately a size 2T while I was a plus size, so I refused his offer. But he insisted. He removed his coat and threw it over my shoulders. That was a blessing since there was no way I would have been able to even get my arms into the sleeves.
Determined to help me, he didn’t stop there. Knowing that my husband was in the food business and made deliveries, he figured that there might be cartons in the garage. Without another word, he opened the garage door, took out two cartons, and headed into my house, taking the cop along with him (although I doubted that the officer would be of any assistance).
In less than five minutes, the rabbi had captured the squirrel and brought it outside. He placed the carton on the lawn and removed it, but the animal didn’t move an inch. He was ill from having ingested soot, and within a few hours he expired. When I told the rabbi that I was afraid to go back inside in case there were more squirrels, he explained that it was unlikely and that even if there were others, they would be in the basement because this one had entered via the chimney.
I thanked him profusely, handed his coat back to him, and, still shaking, reluctantly went back inside. When Hubby came home later, I told him what had happened and he called someone to come and place a cage over the chimney which would prevent any animal from getting inside again. And that was my first, but not my last, interaction with squirrels. That’s just the way it is.
Stay tuned for parts two and three!
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435.