“You’re a sweetheart to the max. I love you like Crispy Critters.”- Wesley Willis
People like to say down here in the South that if you can fry it, well . . . you can surely eat it. I don’t know about that seeing as it was my brother who inherited my PaPa’s .22, his deep fryer, and a shared affinity for wild, domestic and backyard game.
See, in tribute to the gentility of the stoic Peach state and, of course, concern for the fairer sex, I got the oak china cabinet and the crystal. Trust me, social stereotypes aside, I’m not complaining.
But what I did become heir to was an appreciation of: what you hunt, you eat, and what manages to get away, well, that’s where all the good stories come from.
Rabbit stew, venison jerky and 1950’s cordial glasses aside, it seems this has all fallen on deaf ears, or more correctly, on the freckled, tiny earring-pierced ones of my eldest daughter with her two index fingers firmly shoved in deep. We’ve talked food chain, overpopulation, protein and malnutrition. It doesn’t matter.
There isn’t a caterpillar too fuzzy, a pig too fat, nor a bee too busy. Every creature she encounters – big or small – is not only worthy of life but of a more prosperous one at that. She will not stop until the “meek” have inherited the earth, or at least her room, our porch and every Tupperware container out of the kitchen.
And that’s what I love about her the most.
We’ve rescued ladybugs, turtles, frogs, dogs. We’ve resuscitated stunned birds, hermit crabs, sand dollars, cats and a trio of three-legged lizards.
We’ve formed triages on the trampoline, emergency medivacs from kite string and recovery rooms out of coolers equipped with the finest bottles of water straight from the freshest of springs.
Summers on Lake Winnipesaukee are no different.
“Baby, no, no, no. Don’t cry,” says my friend Nick to my daughter as she spots something suffering, then bends over to pick up a crumpled dragonfly off the swim dock they have just hoisted themselves onto. “Whatever you do darlin,’ just don’t name him.”
He knows her too well.
“But his name is Chocolate,” she wails.
I watch Nick shrug his shoulders across the water. It’s done. The next hour is a frantic blur of E.R. reality TV proportions as we hunt for iPhones for research purposes, fill empty beer bottles with fresh lake water, huddle in and around an empty chicken salad container that contains a working IV, a twisted up insect and half a dozen fresh picked wild blueberries . . . oh yeah, and prepare for the worst.
It doesn’t take long.
“For the LOVE of God,” Gramma yells over her knitting and needles and balls upon balls of ocra-colored wool. “Someone pronounce the thing dead already.”
The fact that my daughter has used her iPad as a sound machine near Chocolate’s ICU bed and is simulating noises from the woodland forest probably doesn’t help matters . . . or her grandmother’s sanity . . . or mine for that matter. And yet, she still isn’t ready to give up.
“Shouldn’t someone tell her it’s dead,” whispers her Aunt Alicia, as we all peer into the plastic abyss of uneaten blueberries and lost hope. “It’s the humane thing to do.”
But I can’t.
“It can wait until the morning.”
It was a restless night. Especially, I am sure, for Livi, who kept vigil over both of her two broken things: her dragonfly and her heart.
The summer sun rises especially early in New England (around 4:30) and with it all sorts of critters: loons, ducks, insects, small children.
I tiptoe downstairs.
“Mom, guess what,” Livi pops up from the sofa. “Come look!”
Sure enough, Chocolate sits perched on top of a curling piece of birch bark, bright eyed and bushy tailed, flapping his once crumpled and mangled wings in a quick and steady rhythm of a heartbeat.
“Come on, Mom.” She reaches for my hand. “Let’s go outside and let him go.”
People who can feel someone else’s pain and tragedy and importance on this planet – I mean really feel it and not just pontificate on empty words and failed promises – are the ones who have the strength and endurance to stand by and to help. Of this, I am sure. And of this, I am hopeful.
I think of my PaPa often. I picture him with his rifle, hunting squirrels and tending to his garden. I am grateful for the ultimate intangible gift he has given me: life and the continuation of it.
No matter how great or how small.