Sunday, September 30, 2012

Squirrel!


As I sit here on this easy Sunday afternoon watching Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations," as he learns about food in the Ozarks—he kills a squirrel, skins it on the front porch and eats it in a meat and vegetable pie—I am reminded of an event from my youth.

Follow me down the Reminiscing Trail, won't you?

When I was in middle school, I had a friend, Sue, who lived in the country and whose parents tended a garden. I spent the night with her a few times and had food they had grown and hunted themselves. One night, Sue's mother served me squirrel but was afraid to tell me what it was because she didn't know if I'd eat it. I ate every bit on my plate and thoroughly enjoyed it, and the family liked me for not turning my nose up at squirrel meat.

What they didn't know was that my sisters had grown up eating squirrel before I came along. Living in Alabama, our family didn't have a lot of money, and my father would hunt squirrel to put meat on the table. I had heard that story growing up and felt a little left out because I hadn't experienced that with the rest of my family. Sitting at Sue's kitchen table that night with a plate of squirrel in front of me, I finally felt like I was part of the club. Weird, huh? My sisters also picked cotton for money, which is another thing I never did, but we're talking about squirrel here.

That was the closest I had ever come to squirrel hunting until a year or so later when we were visiting my grandfather in Alabama. Granddaddy was a hunter and always had a pack of dogs on his place. For years, there were hounds out in a pen, and he would feed them regularly but not let me pet them because he didn't want them to be spoiled. Plus, hounds stink. Seriously.

But as Granddaddy got older, he had fewer dogs and eventually was down to just one I was allowed to pet, stink and all. One day, Granddaddy went out into the woods behind the cotton field with that dog and came back with just one squirrel. To my amazement, he skinned it right there in front of me in the back yard, put the skinned thing in a bowl and handed it to me. He didn't give me any instructions, just handed me the bowl, so, repulsed, I sat the bowl on the steps and stepped back.

About an hour later, Granddaddy was ready to go back into the house and prepare the squirrel for dinner, although exactly how far he thought one squirrel would go in feeding us all that evening, I have no idea. We both looked at the bowl at the same time and discovered it to be empty because the one dog had eaten the squirrel whole.

My reaction was "oops," but Granddaddy's reaction was to storm up the steps and chew me out for being so careless with the kill. He let the screen door slam as he ranted...how could I just leave it there like that and let the dog get it, and didn't I have any sense? Didn't I know to bring the thing inside? Did I realize it was my fault I had wasted his efforts?

Really, how was I supposed to know what to do with a skinned squirrel in a bowl with no instructions? I apologized, even though I didn't think I needed to, and my mother was consoling. But I tell you, I didn't hear the end of it. Forever after, when we would visit my grandfather in Alabama, it was inevitable that he would bring up that time I left the squirrel on the porch and let the dog get at it. My "error" was drilled into my brain so often that now 35 years later, I'm still talking about it.

Anthony Bourdain dipped into squirrel world for a moment, but he just has no idea. Squirrel, by the way, is a little greasy and tastes like chicken. And the animals are so scrawny that you should plan on one per person, I think.

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