Sally, Al, the Squirrel and Me
What tone do you use to write a tale of murder, scalping, death, skinning and decapitating? If it has to do with a dog, an old man and an old squirrel, then you use humor to relate the events. And so it goes on the fateful day of June 30, 2011. My dog Sally had just had her first birthday and while she snagged a poor baby bird when she was about two months old, she had not yet repeated the event of capturing a wild animal. But every time we pull into my Dad’s two acre yard she still flies out of the car the instant the door opens and tears out like a race horse at the Kentucky Derby chasing after the birds and squirrels which are by now racing to safety. But on the particular day of this story she was hanging out with me at the shop and enjoying the shade from the awful June desert sun that was somehow out of place over Arkansas.
The first thing I noticed was an odd quiet squeal and then I saw that the pup had finally cornered her first squirrel. They were eyeing each other about a foot apart but every time the squirrell would move, the reflexes of the dog would be too fast as Sally would poke it back with her foot. Then the squirrel played possum and I got up to see if it was dead by moving it with my foot. Up came the squirrel and in came Sally to keep it from escaping. The squirrel squealed and made a biting move with its big front teeth which looked long, sharp and dangerous. The dog was not impressed and continued to taunt the rodent. I watched a bit as the two tangled but it was obvious the squirrel was out-matched and I did not want to see the ugly outcome. Still I was not going to deny the dog the privilege of her kill as this is how it goes in the wild. Now adays we are separated from the real world of nature where death is constant and a requirement for life to flourish and as these thoughts went through my mind I went back to my project watching from the corner of my eye as Sally played with the big rat until it died. After a few minutes of no more movement from the carcass, the dog left it alone and went on to other adventures in the yard. I felt a bit of pride for the dog’s agility and a bit of sadness for the squirrel, until I remembered how one bit my brother causing much pain and trouble to the family many years ago in Del City, Oklahoma. I also was reminded of how they unrelentlessly tore of my devices to keep them out of my attic and then ate my homemade two feet tall haunted house. My sadness was gone now.
The story I really want to tell begins the day after the homicide so you can just start right here if you want to save some time and get to the ‘meat’of the story. Once again Sally and I were over at Dad’s hanging out at the Mystery Shack in the cool 93 degree shade. It was the day after the squirrel murder and the corpse still lie in the same place among the pine needles about 30 feet from us. Old man decided he would do some yard work and had driven his mower down by us and was raking some debris into piles. I walked over and pointed to the dead squirrel just a few feet away. “Sally finally caught a squirrel,” I said. He was sitting on his mower and began to rise up as he said, “get me a pocketknife.” I looked at him curiously and reached in my pocket and pulled out an ‘Old Timer’, wondering what this was about. He took the knife and and went over the squirrel and picked it up by a hind leg. I had opened the knife for him as I knew his tremors would make it hard for him to do so and now he was ready to use it. I honestly thought he was just going to snip the tail off and give it to me as souvenir. I was wrong.
‘Grab the other leg” he said, as I looked at him and it rather grotesquely and I hesitated, # 1 because this was a dead animal and #2 because it had been dead over a day and stank. “Go ahead ahold and pull it tight.” Not wanting to appear wimpish I reluctantly grabbed the other hind leg, now getting quite mad at Sally for causing all of this. I looked around and she was behind me and I kicked at her but she jumped back. I pulled the leg as his shaky hand wielded the knife and began cutting on the underside of the animal at the poop hole. This was not planned for in my afternoon and was sort of disgusting me. He kept trying to cut as we held the legs and the poor animal released its foul odor and I thought “this is just gonna smell worse when we bust this thing open.” I was right.
He finally cut through and started ripping down the belly mentioning rather blandly that I did not have a good squirrel knife. No kidding, I thought. There was a black little pouch looking thing protruding down there that was right in the way of the cutting. I asked the old hunter with his experience if he thought maybe this was a baby squirrel and hence maybe how the dog came to catch it. He made the humorous comment that judging by the size of its ‘credentials’ this was an old squirrel and then he ruined to joke by telling me to cut off the ‘package’ and handing me knife. Here I was stuck between trying to be manly with a crusty old codger who grew up hunting things like this for supper and on the other hand throwing up right then and there. I took the knife and saw-bladed the ‘credentials’ until they fell onto the ground. Have mercy!
Now here we were with a stinking squirrel corpse spread between us and me with the bad squirrel knife in my hand. ‘Go ahead, cut between the meat and the fur” he instructs and so I delve in as a reluctant squeamish surgeon might in a lab class. I tried but was told I was not doing it right. After my repeated mis-stabbings he grew impatient and told me to cut the leg off that I was holding. Now the skin was one texture similar to cutting some old Levi denim, a bit awkward to cut into but at an acceptable level of awkwardness. However delimbing the animal meant cutting through tenon and bone and with a bad squirrell knife at that. Okay, I think to myself, he is reliving his youth again and when you are 92 years old that is quite a time warp so I will oblige and then and there I cut my first and last leg off a squirrel. Now he says, “throw it down, Sally will eat it,” to which I replied, “I don’t know about that,” which we repeated three times back and forth and meanwhile Sally sniffed at the odorous leg at my feet but did not eat.
I thought maybe we were through now but he commenced to grab the body of the squirrel and encourage me to continue the operation. With no experience at this and no real desire, I could not quite get the meat and fur-lined skin to separate as he seemed to indicate they might. He grew tired at m y inability and said “you really don’t want to skin this squirrel, do you.” I did not answer and for future reference the answer to that is always a NO. Anyway he finally took the whole operation into his hands and started ripping the fur from the body of the animal, exposing organs, and muscle and releasing the liquids involved in such doings. Now this was really quite gross and the smell was bad so I was backing off and slowly going to extricate myself from this probably illegal scheme we had been working on. Then he says, “Here, take the knife and cut its head off.” Wow! Really! Why! These were the thoughts in my head as I began sawing at the neck of the day old dead squirrel. Then it was obvious I was going to have to grab the dead head so I could get the blade to actually cut into the neck and bone.
The eyes were looking at me and his big buck teeth, that just yesterday he was trying to bite the dog with, were poking out like daggers and I imagined them giving me rabies as I grabbed the heads and they sliced into me. Or worse yet, the poor old squirrel might not be dead and spring back to life just at the moment I grab the head and start cutting into its larynx. Yet neither of these happened and I closed my eyes and hacked away until just the head was in my left hand, smelling badly and with ants climbing out of it.
Dad man-handled the rest of the squirrel with the nonchalantedness as Matt Dillon might shoot another bad man, ripping the fur until it hung off one end of the body and then throwing it down for the dog to not eat. The odor was really bad now and we both had squirrel hair glued to our fingers by blood and other body fluids that still disturb me to think about. Again he repeated, “you didn’t really want to skin that squirrel, did ya?” Again I did not answer but turned and went to the shop to put the gruesome head in a jar for future exhibit and to wash the smell of death from my hands, much like Cain must have done. Dad ignored the animal grime and went back to raking.
My son Adam stopped by that night after a visit to Dad’s and mentioned the incident stating that Dad said I wanted him to help me skin a squirrel!