My sister Charlotte always had squirrel-like attributes. As a child, she tended to hoard her things. As an adult, even in the leanest of times, she managed to save, to “squirrel away a little something” for the future. Looking at old family photographs of us as children, there is almost a chipmunk cuteness to her face, something bright and inquisitive, in awe of the big world. There is a bit of mischievousness in her large eyes, a compactness to her small frame. Charlotte was agile, vulnerable, good and yet naughty. She was practically like a Squirrel Nutkin illustration from Beatrix Potter.
Because of this connection, our mother gave Charlotte a small charm – a tiny little golden squirrel to wear on a chain around her neck. It was so perfectly her, and she wore that necklace into her adulthood. She would sometimes reflect upon her habits and justify them by saying “You know me – I’m a squirrel!“.
To elaborate further, Charlotte was also a little crazy, in the way squirrels sometimes can seem a bit nutty (no pun intended). She often dashed into life situations without looking, as a squirrel will change directions and dash into the road. Because of this, I gave her a pair of bronze “sister” squirrels that she displayed in her bookcase.
Seeing squirrels usually sets me thinking of her. When the unavoidable misfortune of running over them occurs, I pretty much always cry, probably more than the average person might. Not only because the squirrel has lost its life, but because of the association to Charlotte.
My sister Charlotte did lose her life – she died in her forties; untimely, tragic, as these things usually are. My participation in cleaning her home of her belongings was approached in a rather stone-like manner. With anger, confusion and disbelief, I could not come to grips with the circumstances of her death, could not process it, and could not cry. I found many things she had squirreled away. I discovered the set of bronze squirrels. And then I came across the little golden squirrel charm from our mother. Finding this tender reminder that had been given with tremendous love from a mother to “her little squirrel” triggered grief that allowed the tears to flow.
Two weekends ago I was driving to do some holiday shopping, singing along to the radio and having a generally good day, when a fat little squirrel darted into the road with what appeared to be a massive apple, or perhaps a black walnut, in its mouth. It was as large as a tennis ball, almost too much to handle, and I thought a rather ambitious endeavor. I swerved to avoid it. I felt the thunk. The day was suddenly ruined. And I burst out crying for Charlotte.
At the store I passed a display of glass Christmas tree ornaments, mostly picked over so close to the holiday. Glancing among the remaining rows of red Santas, green pickles and silver snowmen, something caught my eye.
Just one golden squirrel alone in a little box.
Unpacking the ornaments this year, I reflect again upon the french horn that signifies my father, the angel that is my mother, the flower fairies that are my little sisters, the mallard for my brother, and the God’s-eyes and precious trinkets made by my children when they were young. I smile with the anticipation of seeing my young grandchildren soon – their excitement, their own tree awaiting the ornaments they will add to it someday. On my own little tree this year I have added a golden squirrel, dedicated to the memory of my beautiful sister, Charlotte.