Whupping Ol' Chubby
The following is a story based on my father as one of the characters. It is fiction, but shows the personality of a man growing older.
Daddy fought old age like a cat clawing out of a sack. He would not give up. Whether the garden needed planting or the bird feeders needed filling, he tackled each challenge with vigor.
Consequently, I found him wobbling on a stepladder, one Saturday, wrestling with the birdfeeder. “Daddy, you’re going to fall.” I glanced around. “Where’s your cane?”
“Don’t need no cuss-ed cane. That damn squirrel ate all the sunflower seeds. The new wire didn’t stop him. He still got the seeds.” He grabbed the rickety ladder.
“A lot of people are buying those cones for the feeders. Why don’t you try that?” I took the seeds and reached for his hand.
“Not buying any cuss-ed contraption that won’t work. I’ll figure something out. If not, I’ll take a gun to him.”
He let go of my hand and headed for the house, back hunched, arms swinging, and hips waddling like a duck. A stained John Deere cap lopped the side of his head. His flannel shirt lacked buttons, and his faded Dickies needed washing. He was a comical sight.
“I’m going to make my own cone. Got some old plastic planters in the garage.” He kept walking.
I smiled. This new challenge invigorated him. “Daddy, I’m going to check out the refrigerator and get some groceries, okay?” I yelled as he clumped off.
I shook my head and went into the falling house, a house he had built himself over 60 years ago, but like Daddy, it was fighting old age too. Shutters clung to the siding. Chipped paint flaked from the wood. Inside, the linoleum buckled at its seams. Daddy couldn’t preserve it.
I opened the refrigerator. Just as I thought, sour milk, bologna, and left over canned soup. What was I going to do with him?
The following Saturday I found him standing by the oak tree, arms crossed, staring up. Suspended above the bird feeder was an upside-down round planter. “Cuss-ed squirrel. He learned to tilt the planter and jump on the feeder. He’s eating me out of house and home.”
I peered up. “How about keeping the planter rigid? Then he can’t tilt it.”
He turned to me and bit his lip. “You know Debbie, that’s not a bad idea.”
I froze. He had not called me Debbie since I was a little girl. Somewhere along the way, I had become Deborah and he had become Dad. When Mom died, I found myself reverting to Daddy; perhaps I was reaching out. Was he reaching out, too?
“I think I’ve got a funnel in the garage I could attach to the planter. That would keep Ol’ Chubby away.”
“Ol’ Chubby? You named a squirrel?”
He turned as he waddled to the garage. “Well I couldn’t call him Ol’ Slim. He’s too fat from eating all the bird seed.” He continued down the walkway.
I called to him, “Daddy, do you have laundry for me to do?”
“Can do my own laundry.” His hand went up as if he was shooing a fly. I was the fly.
I sighed, picked up the groceries and headed for the house. “Obstinate old codger,” I muttered as I hefted the sacks up the shaky stairs.
I placed the milk, eggs, and my homemade baked beans in the fridge. I put the cereal, coffee, and canned soup in the cupboard, and then stood to watch him attack the feeder. Why was he so determined to beat that stupid squirrel? I held my breath as he climbed the ladder again.
“Don’t you dare to fall, Old Fella.” I slowly exhaled. He clamped the funnel on the hang-wire above the planter, edged down the ladder, and returned to the house.
“Debbie? Is he out there?” Daddy whispered as he crept to the window.
Side by side, we waited for the squirrel. “Son of a bitch, better not make it this time.” He huffed.
“There he is, Daddy.” I pointed to the left. Ol’ Chubby was on his haunches, front paws curled and ready to make his move. “Why did you name him Ol’ Chubby?”
“Ah, he’s been here forever. I used to ignore him, but I decided he needed a lesson.” He pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket, blew his nose and stuffed it back.
“That bugger has been stealing my seed for years. I think I’ve got him whupped.”
It felt good to stand beside my dad. The minutes ticked away, but we waited, two combatants surveying the scene. Would we win this round?
The squirrel leapt up the tree and scurried over the branches. When he arrived at the planter, he maneuvered his way to the very edge. The planter held. He then sprung forth - over backwards he went and landed on the ground. Tail bristling, he paused, and started up the tree again. Second try, he fell again.
Daddy and I stood by the window laughing. On the third attempt, he almost made it - clinging by his paws, he held on but slipped, landing again. We waited, but he settled for eating the seeds off the ground. Moments later, we watched Ol’ Chubby disappear into the woods.
“He gave up.” Daddy uttered. He looked down and slumped. After several moments, he turned slowly to the recliner, sat down, and gazed off into space.
I hadn’t seen that countenance since we lost Mom. I ached for him. “Daddy, he’ll come back.”
He returned a silent, vacant look. I knelt and held his once rugged, now failing frame until I felt him relax. After a while, he turned to me with that boyish grin of his. “Debbie, do you think we can fix him a little ladder?”
I was eight years old again. “Sure we can, Daddy.”
“Well then, let’s do it.”