By Jane Bleam
Before opening the cottage for the summer, mother and I would take a day to clean. We would put fresh sheets on the beds, sweep the rugs, wash the kitchen, bathroom and screened in porch floors which took the entire day.
Mother said to me, “Would you please check the fireplace?”
“Sure,” I replied and removed the screen in front of the fireplace. I was surprised to find three baby squirrels in a nest lying upon the wood grate.
“Mom, come look at what I found!” I exclaimed. Mother could not believe that the baby squirrels’ mother descended the chimney to build their nest! The damper had been broken and was not fixed because all we burned in the fire place was trash. The mother squirrel must have felt her babies would be safer here than outside.
My mother would always cringe because she knew about my love for animals. She knew I would make the squirrels part of our family!
To prepare the babies to take them home with me, I put some warm cloths as part of their nest in a small box. Gently picking up each baby squirrel, I placed them in the box. I knew not to put towels in the box because the squirrels could get their sharp claws stuck in that type of material.
When we arrived home with our new baby squirrel family, I telephoned various stores to see if they had any doll bottles. I explained, “The bottles are needed to feed baby squirrels.” Finally, a store was found that could accommodate my need and I drove to pick up the doll bottles.
My next need was to learn what to feed the baby squirrels. I telephoned a place known for their caring of wild animals. They suggested I should use vitamin D milk and mix it with child’s formula. The squirrels took time to feed. They had to get familiar with feeding from a small baby doll’s bottle.
I named them Mighty, Moe, and Jack. They all had their eyes open and were quite active. My daughter was in first grade and they had a “show and tell” time. Students shared experiences with their class and Jennifer wanted to share the baby squirrel story.
I said to “Jennifer, I must ask your teacher, Mrs. Lake, to see if she would allow you to bring the squirrels to school!”
“Ok, Mom.” Jennifer replied.
After school the next day, I said to Mrs. Lake, “My daughter wants bring in our baby squirrel family for her classmates to see and touch them. Would you allow her to do this?”
Mrs. Lake said, “The children would love to see the baby squirrels.”
I asked, “What day would be good for you?”
Mrs. Lake asked me, “Would your schedule allow you to be here with Jennifer and the squirrels on Wednesday of the coming week?”
I replied, “Yes, I could come at three o’clock because school will soon be getting out and the children will be ready to go home.” We all agreed.
The week before the date she and I set, the school children had had strep throat. I asked Mrs. Lake, “Would this be a problem for the baby squirrels?”
She replied, “All the children have been in school now for three consecutive days and none have gone home sick!”
Mighty was the strongest of the three squirrels. The other two were coming along nicely, but they required more time to mature .
When Wednesday came, all the children were excited when I walked in their classroom with the box containing the three baby squirrels. With the help of Mrs. Lake, I was able to allow the children to touch each of the squirrels. Boy, were the children excited, but there was an occasional cough that could be heard from some children in the group. The squirrels were the highlight of their day!
The result of each child touching the squirrels and having them in the same room where the children had been sick, left me an amazing surprise upon returning home.
Jennifer, who had been holding the box that contained the baby squirrels, said “Moe and Jack are not moving. What has happened to them?” She handed me the box to check the squirrels.
“Jennifer, remember how sick your classmates became with their strep infections?” I asked.
“The strep bacteria is very strong, and because Moe and Jack were not fully developed, they have died. Do you understand?”
Jennifer asked, “Will Mighty die too?”
“Yes, I believe he may, because Mighty is not doing well right now.” I’m going to call your Dad to see what he thinks we should do with all of them.
“Brian,” I said, “even Mighty is on his way out and Moe and Jack have died. It may seem cruel, but I want to bury them all together as a family.”
He replied, “If the strep was still that strong in the classroom, it may retained in our home through the remaining squirrel. I feel your idea is a good one.”
I said, “That makes me feel better. Thanks for your input, Love you.”
“Jennifer, I just talked to your dad and he felt that the squirrels should be buried together in the backyard. Do you understand why?”
“No,” she responded.
“Because strep is a very strong bacteria it could spread through our family from Mighty. Dad and I feel it would be best to bury the squirrels as a family.”
I told Jennifer, “Dad suggested that we should bury them in the backyard by the flag pole.”
We both proceeded to the backyard to bury our precious friends.
Laura Jane Michie-Bleam is a retired Professor Emerita of Nursing at Montgomery County College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, who served the college for thirty-two years. She traveled extensively, and was often required to write or speak to groups about her travels. Her interest in children led her to take writing courses from the Institute of Children’s Literature.