Squirrels Charlie and Charlene got fed up with their leaking roof in the sycamore tree and decided to find a better home for their upcoming babies. The nearby shed in their yard was too low, and the pine-oak they used to hang out in was removed by those unsocial humans they had to put up with. The sycamore tree had one advantage, though: a branch reaching to the humans’ roof.
“Come on Charlene,” Charlie said one early morning, shaking off raindrops from his tail. “Let’s go over there and take a look. Maybe we’ll find a hole somewhere.”
Charlene found this a great idea. The two rushed over the branch and hopped on the roof, the branch still waving up and down after they landed.
“Shoot,” Charlie said. “They covered the chimneys.”
“Over here,” Charlene squeaked, putting her claws on the gutter and looking down. “You see that vine on the wall? Next to it is a vent. Try to get in.”
Charlie studied the vine. Then he hung off the gutter and dropped into it. “It’s holding,” he squeaked. “I’ll jump over.”
With an athletic swing, he landed on the vent and peeked in between the louvers. “It’s an attic,” he said. “Nobody there. Only a noisy machine and lots of dust.”
“Can you get in?” Charlene pressed, getting impatient because the clouds were turning dark, announcing another rain storm.
“Easy, girl, I’m trying.” Charlie put his claws on a lower louver and pressed his back against the upper one but there wasn’t much movement. “It’s hard,” he complained.
Charlene dropped into the vine. “Move right,” she said. “I’ll come over and we’ll try together.”
“Don’t!” Charlie warned, seeing the gardener coming with his loud sputtering mower. “Hang in there, I’ll come back.”
Both hung in the vine, hiding until the mower was gone. Charlie swung back to the vent, making room for Charlene. She followed and both pressed their shoulders in between the louvers and created a suitable opening to sneak inside.
“Not bad,” Charlene said. “Enough room to squat on the wood.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Charlie said. Just at that moment, a thunderclap blasted and a violent shower clattered on the roof and against the vent. The squirrel couple sat high and dry, hearing the gardener cursing and shutting off his mower.
“This is great,” Charlene said. “I can have my babies here.”
The night approached and Charlene gave birth to three little squirrels. Nicely protected from birds of prey and cold showers, Charlie and Charlene enjoyed peaceful family life. Early mornings Charlie ventured outside to get food from the yards.
Then one night the attic started getting spooky.
“Do you hear that, Charlie?” his wife asked, concerned.
A little cloud appeared and two mice peeked out.
“Hi,” one said. “I am Maxie, and I lived here before.”
“And I am Maxine,” the other mouse said. “We both lived here before, but we’re dead now. “
“What!” Charlie said, worried. “Are you ghosts?”
“They poisoned us,” Maxine said. “Me, Maxie and my babies. So mean.”
“Would they come here to kill us, too?” Charlene asked, looking scared at her babies.
“When they hear you squeaking, gnawing or grunting as you do, they’ll come after you,” Maxie said.
“Oh no!” Charlene cried. “Not now, the babies are too small yet to carry them outside. And that rotten weather.”
Suddenly the little cloud covered the mice again. “We’ll be back another time,” the squirrels heard. “We only get so much time.”
Charlie and Charlene shivered, hovering over their little ones, and tried to be as quiet as possible.
* * *
“Hi, John,” neighbor Kevin said. “Do you know you’ve got squirrels in your attic? Look up there.” Kevin pointed. “They creep through your vent.”
“I’ll be damned! We thought we were hearing noises.”
“You better get them out before they chew your wires.”
* * *
That night, my wife screamed. “John, John, the mice are back!”
Fast asleep, I woke up with a shock. “What, what, where, where? Can’t be, I killed them all.”
“There,” she hollered. “On the dresser!”
True. Maxie and Maxine sat there, enveloped in their half-open little hazy cloud, staring at us.
“I thought we killed you,” I said, in awe of seeing micey spooks.
“Murdered, you did,” Maxie emphasized.
“Our whole family,” Maxine whined.
“You weren’t paying rent, remember?” I tried to justify, feeling guilty. They looked so sweet. “And you were messing up things big time. Droppings all over, toilet paper chewed off, rice bags torn, sofas sullied, and I can go on.”
“Why not treat us more humanely?” Maxie asked. “Why leave us in the freezing cold while you’re happily warm inside?”
“Don’t do the same to those squirrels up there,” Maxine said. “They just had three lovely babies.”
“That’s why you came back spooking to tell us that?” my wife asked.
“We have to go now,” Maxie said. “They give us only so much time.” The little cloud closed over them and they vanished in the dark.
“I think I had a nightmare,” my wife said.
“Me too,” and we went back to sleep.
* * *
The next day our favorite carpenter, painter, construction specialist and handyman, Yimy Romero, and I opened the attic door and looked in. And, yes, we saw them sitting up, their silhouettes visible against the outdoor light streaming in through the vent.
“We can take care of them,” Yimy said. “No problemo.”
“Let’s give them a month, their babies are still blind now,” I said. “I’ll send them an eviction notice.” I laughed.
“Oh, yeah? How’s that?” Yimy grinned.
“I think we have a communication channel.”
“Better throw some mothballs,” Yimy advised. “That’ll kill them.”
* * *
The following night, my wife poked my side. “I hear some rustling,” she whispered.
I sat up and the darling mice couple appeared again on the dresser, the little cloud surrounding them slowly opening up.
“What are you going to do?” Maxie asked.
“Chase them mice out!” my wife screamed, horrified.
“Okay, Maxie, Maxine, tell them four weeks, no more,” I said. “Now beat it and don’t come back next fall!”
* * *
A month later, Yimy came and we looked inside the attic again. Empty. Charlie and Charlene had moved out with their offspring. I cut the vine and Yimy’s grandson (his faithful help) pulled it down. With a long ladder, Yimy covered the vent with a thick mesh.
Charlie and Charlene now sit in the backyard, close to the high Holly shrubs, loving each other, nibbling on nuts, their babies roaming nearby.
Credits: David Gylland (picture left); Val Vesa (picture right)
This story was inspired by Mark Spencer’s delightful book Ghost Walking. (Mark did some editing too)
“A beautiful story — full of suspense, drama, and enduring love centered around music. John Schwartz has created a whole world and a wonderful escape. The characters jump off the page with such personality and imagery that this book could make a great movie. Enchanting the Swan is a very enjoyable read, and I recommend it highly.” Neal Cary (Cellist -Professor – William&Mary)
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Me, then and now
Many people watch D-Day ceremonies. Some of the brave, who were lucky to survive, share these ceremonies with us, aged, in wheelchairs, or supported by their siblings, children or relatives. I always wondered why the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. was erected before the World War II Memorial. Perhaps because of the collective guilt to erase the public perception that those who came back from Vietnam wounded but alive were considered less worthy, as that war had been made so unpopular, not in the least by the repulsive Hanoi Jane. But that Vietnam Memorial represents exactly the same spirit as the World War II memorial: it’s for those who died in the fight for liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the freedom of the human spirit and initiative as opposed to totalitarian might and communism.
I am not American, but I considered fighting communism in Asia as worthwhile as fighting Nazidom and Japanese imperialism during World War II. And what would have happened if the Allies had been unable to defeat the Nazis in Europe? Or if they had been unable to stop the Russians at the Berlin Wall? Would communism not have been all over Europe keeping it in a much broader grip of impoverished and mowed-down nations? Would the Jewish population still exist?
I was 8, playing some feeble notes on the piano at my piano teacher’s house when a man came in with an orange pamphlet (the color of the Dutch royalty) stating that the Allied Forces had invaded France at Normandy. I still feel her embrace, screaming, “Johnny, we are going to be free.” Well, that was June 6, 1944. It took a bitter year of bombs falling, Nazi cruelty, executions, razzias, the pursuit of Jews, a horrific hunger winter with deep-freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls before the Allied forces finally reached us and chased the Nazis out the door on May 5, 1945.
German soldiers going home, defeated.
Today we commemorate the young and the brave who that last year fought their way through the foothills of the Ardennes, the battle of the Bulge, who died in the “Bridge too Far,” the failed attempt by General Montgomery to break through the Nazi lines in Arnhem at the Rhine, who struggled from Belgium to The Netherlands to lift us from five years of tyranny, fear, misery and murder.
This time, my piano teacher could embrace me for real. Her street hung out the red, white and blue flags and orange banners; stalls rose on the sidewalks with food dropped by allied bombers in the nearby tulip fields and meadows; people danced in the streets and embraced the dapper allied soldiers, Americans, Brits, and Canadians. Bands with trumpets and drums marched, making loud music, a festivity I will never forget. Our Royal family returned home from exile in Canada. No more fears of bombs dropping on or near our house, windows shattered, fighter planes soaring through the sky and downed in the nearby wood, eating tulip bread, nettles, or turnips. No more sirens in the night and friends being rounded up and taken away.
“Bombers” dropping food bags
You have to have lived through the opposite to feel what “liberty and the pursuit of happiness” really means. Personally, I find that a good deal of today’s politicians on the left in the West have forgotten what tyranny, communism and socialism, and lack of freedom represents. D-Day is a day to remember that freedom and the pursuit of happiness is a precious gift the brave and the young who fell for it handed us and we should treasure this gift to the fullest. Any doctrine of socialism, communism and totalitarian government runs counter that human right. Such doctrines are creeping back into our world and endanger our freedom-loving society and would destroy it again if not contained.
Marine Corps War Memorial (also called the Iwo Jima Memorial)D-Day is also to remember the Asian war and the terrible loss of American lives fighting for freedom over there.
Celebrations in Holland in May 1945, almost a year after D-Day.
I hope that today’s schools in the West teach the value of D-Day. But what one sees and hears in the media and on the streets, I’m not sure if our “millennials” and future leaders, and a good deal of today’s “loudspeakers,” acquire the wisdom of D-Day, or exude it to prevent that this awful history repeats itself. I want to be optimistic but I can’t say I am.