My father Mark has always had a habit of rescuing discarded items from the side of the road. Usually it’s a half-empty Gatorade bottle he’ll take home and “sanitize”. If he’s lucky, he might even find a stray golf ball, lone tennis shoe, possibly a broken TV with a cardboard sign reading “FREE”. Dad’s been engaging in such behavior for as long as I can remember — his scavenging habits no longer bother or embarrass me.
Or so I thought.
My parents visited Scott and me in Minnesota this past week. They wanted to come see our new house, and had planned the vacation around my birthday, our housewarming party, and a work conference my Dad was attending in Saint Paul. Halfway through the visit, I convinced Dad to join me for one of the early morning classes I teach at the local gym. Clad in the shortest shorts you’ve ever seen a 64-year-old man wear, Mark made his way through the sixty-minute routine without complaining once. I was congratulating him on his high level of fitness during the drive home when it happened.
“Oh, no!” Mark shrieked.
“What?” I asked with concern. “Did you leave something at the gym?”
“No…look! Right there! That poor squirrel in the middle of the road must have been hit by a car.”
I rolled my eyes and kept driving.
“Gosh…he doesn’t even look damaged.” Mark continued. “I should really go pick him up.”
“Please don’t, Dad.” I pleaded as we pulled into the driveway. “What are you going to do with a dead squirrel?”
As mischievous look spread across his sun-weathered face as we stepped out of the car. Thirty minutes later, Mark beckoned me into the garage. “There’s something I want to show you,” he urged.
Sure enough, there was the squirrel, resting peacefully atop a roll of old carpet we were planning on throwing out.
“Isn’t he beautiful?” Mark swooned. “There’s not a scratch on him! Poor little guy. He was in the prime of his life. And look at that tail! I’ve never seen one so full and bushy! Isn’t he just a gorgeous color? So unusual!”
I must admit that it was a strangely handsome rodent. Yet the fact that he had died without any apparent injury was somewhat concerning. Perhaps there was rabies involved?
“Please tell me you washed your hands, Dad.”
“Not yet, but…uh…I’m going to!” he assured me.
Six hours later, Dad informed me of his plans for the squirrel.
“Hey, Katrina…want to come introduce me to your neighbor? You said he’s a taxidermist, right?”
“Dad. You are not going to have that squirrel stuffed.”
“No! Of course not!” he responded, “I just want to skin him and take the pelt home!”
Right. Because that’s so much better.
“Dad,” I spoke calmly, “I am not brining you over to the neighbor’s house with that squirrel. It’s embarrassing. Plus, I’m sure the last thing he wants to do is skin a piece of roadkill in his free time.”
“Please, Katrina?” he begged. “I think he’s going to love that squirrel! I’m not going to bother him…just ask for his opinion!”
“Mark,” Scott piped in, “I can skin it if you like. I just need to borrow a scalpel from work.”
“See?” I urged, “Scott can do it for you, Dad!”
It was clear by the look on his face that Mark didn’t trust Scott. He wanted a professional animal skinner.
Our argument continued for the better part of twenty minutes. I was absolutely adamant about him not bothering the taxidermist with his side of the road find.
“Get serious, Dad!” I yelled with frustration. “You have absolutely zero need for a squirrel pelt!”
“I’ve got plans for it, Katrina.” He responded with attitude.
“Really, Dad? Really? And what exactly are these ‘plans’?” I sneered.
“I don’t have to tell you.” he retorted haughtily.
“That’s because you don’t have any plans for it!!!!!” I screamed.
We parted ways before the debate grew any more heated. I retreated to my bedroom for some deep breaths and a few much-needed
sips gulps of wine. Ten minutes later, I heard Scott calling from downstairs.
“Katrina! Mark! Pizza’s ready…come and get it!”
Scott’s made from scratch pizza was just what the doctor ordered. I scurried downstairs, prepared to eat my frustrations in the form of nitrate free pepperoni.
“Where’s your Dad?” Scott asked as I entered the kitchen.
“I thought he was down here with you…?” I responded. “He’s not upstairs…”
Scott and I realized what had occurred at the exact same moment. Our eyes grew wide in terror as I rushed into the garage towards the giant roll of carpet. My worst fears were instantly confirmed. Mark–and his beloved squirrel–were nowhere in sight.
To be continued…