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Mack Williams column: Frozen life, thawed

I recently saw a story on the news where a kitten, frozen and seemingly dead, was “thawed out” by some super-caring individuals and brought back to life (no similar hope for wooly mammoths, too much “freezer burn”).

In the story, mention was made of one of that little cat’s lives having been used up, making me think back to another creature when I was a child growing up on the Old Concord Road.

This little creature, also a juvenile of its kind, was evidently possessed with more than one life, and used up one of them on a cold, snowy day. This led me to the conclusion that other animals besides cats are similarly graced with being able to come back from the dead (no reference to “Pet Sematary” intended).

Contributing to the setting up for this particular recollection from my youth was the fact that the country was recently experiencing the first real cold snap of the fall-winter season 2014, making fall feel more like winter.

The frozen creature of my youth wasn’t a cat, but instead a squirrel. Just as everyone isn’t a cat person, not all of us like squirrels. I’ve always thought they were cute, and especially sad looking when lying in the road dead, but a friend of mine refers to them as “tree rats” for the havoc they play with his bird feeder. Every parent whose child has proudly brought home a school-made bird feeder can sympathize with my friend’s terminology.

One early winter day, in 1959 or ’60, my father came in the back door with a small squirrel which he had found lying in the backyard snow. Our small, screened-in back porch of that time led straight into the kitchen. The old porch was “subsumed” in revisions by later owners of the home (actually, for the better).

The juvenile squirrel was frozen with cold, but neither rigor mortis nor “rigor frigis” had set in. Even its covering of fur had not been sufficient for the prior, exceptionally cold night. Squirrels don’t hibernate, but in an odd sense, this individual member of the species seemed to be giving hibernation a go, and it wasn’t working out.

I guess that just as there are differences in the range of “hardiness” between people, there is similar variation in squirrels.

As I was waiting for the school bus, I watched my father as he gently held the static squirrel over our little pot-bellied coal stove in the kitchen. That stove had made its contribution to our lives, and I hoped it would “jump start” the life of the squirrel.

Right before I left to go over to W.A. Cline’s driveway (the neighborhood school bus pickup spot), the little squirrel twitched a few times, giving visible testament to my father’s logic and heartfelt intent.

All day at Granite Quarry School, I wondered how the little creature was coming along in his “defrosting,” and whether or not he would be back to his old “squirrely self.”

As the bus pulled up in front of my home, a small area of vigorous, almost lightning-like movement (contrasting with the immobile trees and snow) grabbed my eyes.

It was the revived squirrel, dashing along every point of the compass within one of my father’s little cages which he had borrowed from the denizens of our chicken house.

I imagine that after the squirrel was revived, it was getting a little hard to handle, so my father put it in there until it got its “tree legs” back.

He could have let the squirrel go sometime earlier, but I have a suspicion that a motive was involved in his delay.

My father waited till I arrived home to witness the “miracle” of the little squirrel freed from both cage and death.



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