I’m happy that monster dog, Prince, doesn’t chase the squirrels we encounter on our walks. They’re such harmless little creatures I’d hate for them to be terrorized, especially since they trigger great memories for me. I can’t see a squirrel without thinking of my mother. And smiling.

My mother hated squirrels. That’s right. Those cute animals with the graceful tails were her archenemies.

You see, for a large part of my childhood, we lived in what used to be a pecan orchard. When developers bought the farm, they built houses amidst the pecan trees; we had four in our yard. And we were happy with our pecans. They made a delicious snack but, more importantly, we used them in baking. My mother’s famous creamy Christmas candy was full of pecans, as were our Russian teacakes and chocolate chip cookies. We baked cookies and candies by the dozens, not only for our family, but also to give as Christmas gifts, so pecans were a necessity.

Fall was harvest time. When I got home from school each day I grabbed a bucket and walked around the yard, eyes to the ground, looking for pecans. It wasn’t unusual to pick up hundreds in a single afternoon.

On Saturdays, Daddy would crack the pecans outside on the picnic table, using his Rocket nutcracker, and fill multiple cookie sheets with the nuts. We kept them in a cool storage room while awaiting shelling and every evening, would bring out a tray and pick nuts out of shells. If we were watching television, our hands were busy shelling nuts. It was a family affair. We then put the nuts in plastic bags and refrigerated or froze them until needed. Many, many pounds of pecans to use and to give away.

Only problem was, squirrels like pecans, too.

My mother didn’t begrudge them eating a few; she recognized they needed food. What she hated was their wastefulness.

Many of the nuts we found had had one bite taken from them and then been discarded. We couldn’t eat the ones that had been gnawed by little rodent teeth, so those nuts got thrown away. Wasted.

Naughty squirrels. Wasteful thieves, according to my mother.

We tried to beat the squirrels to the nuts, but of course, they won. They usually bit the nuts while they were hanging high in the trees above us, then threw them to the ground. Their way of saying, in your face, I presume.

Unfortunately, pecan-harvesting season was not the only time Mother did battle with the squirrels.

My mother loved flowers and kept the planters in her yard filled with beautiful, flowing colors during the spring, summer and fall months. Those mischievous little animals took to digging in her flowerpots, uprooting and killing the flowers. I don’t know if they were trying to bury food or eat the roots of the plants, but Mother was convinced it was done out of pure malevolence. She tried everything to keep them away: chicken wire around the flowers, spikes sticking out of the potting soil, suspending pots from poles that squirrels should not have been able to climb.

Nothing worked. It reached the point where Mother couldn’t protect a single flower in her yard; the squirrels got to them all. If Mother had been a gun owner—and if shooting guns had been legal in our neighborhood–I’m quite sure she wouldn’t have hesitated to shoot them. As it was, she simply stood in the back yard and yelled at them…as they chattered at her from high in the pecan trees.

Mother may have been queen of the world’s tastiest Christmas candy, but the squirrels definitely ruled our yard.

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