That Time I Had a Pet Squirrel

Once upon a time, my cousin would come to stay with us during fishing season. Our house is only minutes from a creek, so he lived with us off and on for several years. One year while he was with us, there was this unbearable scratching sound coming from our fence.

Our property is surrounded by a giant wooden fence. When you exit the back porch onto the patio, there’s a covered section enclosed by the fence. The cover section is normally filled with chairs, machinery, garden tools, inflated balls, and tennis rackets; this day was no exception. From the back corner of this enclosed area, there was a scratching sound. If you jostled some things, it would stop for a moment, but ultimately, it continued to scrape for the entirety of the day.

My mother told me to wait until my father came home to investigate. We didn’t know what it was. It could be a rat.

My cousin came home before my dad did that day, and being a rugged farm boy, he grabbed a glove and fished out whatever feral thing was making such incessant scratching noises. When he pulled back his hand, we found a baby squirrel.

It was absolutely adorable, and absolutely terrified of us. The poor thing had been trapped somehow in the fence, and my cousin had rescued it. Mom quickly grabbed an empty fish tank so we could hold him until my dad came home.

We intended to release him outside of the fence, so he wouldn’t get stuck again. However, when we’d finally given our tearful goodbyes to Hammy (a reference to Over the Hedge), he didn’t leave. He instead padded after my cousin, his savior.

My cousin, being a rugged farm boy, told Hammy to “git”, but the squirrel didn’t listen, choosing to crawl on him instead.

Since Hammy wouldn’t leave, we got him a pampered three-level home with the door set for him to come and go as he pleased. We fed him acorns and nuts and corn (if I remember correctly). For months, we had a pet squirrel on our residence who was quite content to be touched or to perch on your shoulder.

One morning, my mother went out to greet Hammy. He climbed out the door, jumped onto her shoulder, bit her ear, and darted away, never to be seen again. Mom said he had reached his teenage years.

Any time we saw a squirrel for years after, we would greet him as Hammy. We’re sure he’s still out there, somewhere.

Threes Are Traitors

This past week was one of my last FIRST Robotics Competitions. Next week will be my final one, unless we win and attend Championships. It was an intense emotional roller coaster of failures and successes. I have never had a smoother scouting program than this past week, and each of my scouters did excellent in their own way.

When I think back on this weekend, I do not want to be negative, as I am often prone to be. I don’t want to focus on the mistakes that cost us our win, or the system of ranking that doesn’t seem to make sense. I want to remember our captain coming to the stands to tell me that teams were happy to be in matches with us, even though our rankings showed us to be a poorly performing team. The smooth motion of a mustard-colored gear sliding up a jiggling peg under the steady hand of our pilot. Dancing in my seat next to my friends. Being the first team picked for playoffs outside of the top eight ranked teams. Most importantly, many games of Fish Go.

I want to remember sitting in the third floor hallway, shuffling cards with my friends and trying to muffle the giggles that came from many sleep-deprived nights and the exhaustion that our responsibilities bestow.

I don’t know why a simple game of cards (or countless games of cards) is so important to me. I won’t remember who lost or who won. But they feel significant. Sitting on a strangely patterned carpet in a hotel hallway for over an hour with a mix of exhaustion induced laughter, serious thought, and grave game-play errors is important to me.

Aces are our favorites, except for the twos who take them.
Threes are traitors.
Fours and sevens stick together, unless they meet a ten.
Fives run off with face cards frequently.
Sixes do the same.
The eight of hearts will always be the most valuable to us, even though we aren’t sure why.
It’s hard to lose a nine.
When you both lay down Jacks, Queens, or Kings, the tension runs for the one, two, three, flip.
Especially when you lose your ace to a two.

I Miss You, Bro–I Mean, Cuz

For all of the arguing we’ve done in our lifetimes, it’s hard to think I’d miss you. But I do.

We’ve had plenty of fights. I can’t count the number of times Mom said, “The No-Touch Rule is now in effect.” I’m sorry I poked you in the stomach so much. Then again, you did put a pillow on me and use me as a seat.

Regardless of all the water wars and general blunders, I know you have my back when it really counts. I know you have a listening ear when I really need it. The feeling is mutual.

I’m so proud of how much you’ve grown up. What happened to that little boy in the sky blue polo? He’s suddenly almost a man. (I mean, there was that whole “adolescence” thing, but I think we’ll just pretend that era didn’t happen.) He’s working hard, connecting with kids, sharing bits of himself with those who need it.

As I make this college decision, I wish you were coming with me. When it comes down to it, I don’t want to be too far away from you. I’ve had enough of that this year. I mean, being away did you a lot of good, and I saw you more than others did. But being so far that we won’t be around each other once a month, at the very least?

Who’s going to volunteer to drive me home from camp so he can just talk and get a new perspective? Who’s going to stop by and ask me how I’m feeling in the mornings when I have a grumpy look on my face? Who’s going to stick up for me whenever I get into dumb arguments with people over little things? Who’s going to be mistaken as some kind of boyfriend and help me embarrass people when we say we’re related?

I mean, we can message each other. But isn’t the same as when you wrap your arms around me in a “bear hug” and I try to jab you with my elbows.

I just want to say that if I do go away…farther away from you than I’d like…that I’m going to miss you a whole lot.

And if I am further away, then I’m sure God will use it to benefit us.

Thanks for being the best cousin I could have asked for. (Well, actually, the best cousin ever probably wouldn’t have sat on me, but I guess it all balances out since you gave me your jacket when I was very intelligently sitting in front of an air conditioner on a spring evening trying to sell books.)

We Laughed, We Creid, We Fixed That Typo

About a week ago, I took the time to read my sixth book the whole way through. I hadn’t really acknowledged its existence since November, and to be honest, I didn’t really remember much about it.

Fun Fact: That’s one of the best times to evaluate your work.

I came at it from a mostly objective perspective. Unlike my previous books, I really hadn’t been over this one very much. As I read through it, I was actually able to evaluate it and ask important questions, such as:

“Is this even good?”
“Did I set this up correctly?”
“Why did I misspell ‘cried’?”

I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually pretty good. It does need some editing, for both content and typos, but overall, I’d put a “decent literature” stamp on it.

The nicest thing about reading through my book was the emotions I had while reading. As someone who dearly loves my characters, seeing what they’re going through impacted me. I cried several times. I’d like to think that someone who has been reading my books and also loves these characters might tear up a little bit, too.

I also laughed at times. Of all the characters I’ve written about in my career so far, Becker is by far my favorite. He has been able to reach me with tears and laughter. Mostly laughter, though. It was a pleasant surprise to see that Becker hasn’t changed.

When I get the opportunity, I will go through this novel and get it onto the market. In the meantime, I have scholarships and classwork and college decisions looming over me.

If you haven’t looked at my books yet and you think this book sounds interesting, I’d recommend reading both Soar and Steady before it comes out. It will impact you so much more if you do.

Sometimes you have to say goodbye. Sometimes you lose something.

But you never know what you’ll gain through that.

Blessings to you!