Pierre the Squirrel
There are some things that I never imagined would happen in my life, and one of them, was that I would share our home with a one-eyed, one-ear, hat wearing, taxidermy squirrel named Pierre. Always in sympathy for animal rights, the mere thought of a dead one being stuffed, and used as decoration, really turned my stomach. But, as I got older, I realized that, like people, they all have different stories, and not all arrived through improper means.
Years ago, we weren’t so concerned with protecting the lives of animals, and they truly were used for sport and food. I won’t get into the politics of it, because we all know, but thankfully we have become wiser to the impact that our hunting pleasure had on the world, and there are rules about what can and can not become a trophy or an over-sized ash-tray.
What once seemed like a very macabre hobby to me, is now an art, and has become a powerful way to remember the past, and examine animals that may soon (or already are) almost extinct. However, my experience with taxidermy is less than exotic, and definitely doesn’t involve a loved and protected species.
Several years ago, my daughter and I used to watch Oddities, a show about a small shop in New York City called Obscura. Each week, they would introduce a few customers, and take the viewers on a tour of their bizarre collectibles; everything from a shrunken head to a medical device that made you wince just to hear the name. It was an education into the (often) less desirable side of history; a place filled with curiosities and questions.
So, for her birthday one year, I decided to take my daughter to the store, as a surprise. She was thrilled, and, thankfully, the store was exactly how it appeared on television (even the misshapen, wooden mannequin was propped up crookedly outside, sweetly enabling the Obscura sign).
With all her money in her hand, I told her she could buy anything she wanted (while keeping my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be anything too horrible). Not everything was expensive, but condition mattered, and the more unique, pristine pieces were definitely out of her league. Many didn’t have prices on them, which made it difficult for a young girl with birthday money. Still, it was a wonderful place to look around, and the questions just poured out of us. The shop was empty, so we spent over an hour in there.
Every now and again, she would go back to the squirrel’s on the shelf. There were two; one was very nice looking, with a shiny coat, and the other was very old, and very scraggy. We were told he was from the 1950’s, had been used as a teaching aid in schools, and had just returned to the shop recently. I have no idea what they were teaching, but he was obviously well loved. One ear was missing, and a glass eye had popped out, but he was holding a nut, and the wooden mount had a lovely age to it. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of bringing him home, but it could have been something much worse, and I understood why she wanted him.
She felt sorry for him, and hoped he wasn’t too much money when she asked for the price. It took every dollar that she had, but she was so happy that she could afford the broken squirrel in her favorite shop. They put him in a paper bag, and she immediately took him out, wandering down the street with a dead, stuffed squirrel in her hands.
I cringed as she carried him through the front door, wondering how on earth he would fit into our home, what type of crazy mother was I, and did it even matter? But, he had a kind face, and his past was unknown. He just needed somewhere to be. So, we found him a shelf to sit on, we gave him a small, blue hat to make him feel less injured, and then, with what seemed like perfect timing, his tail fell off….
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