When we moved into this house almost 20 years ago, we had a small problem. Every time I went out the front door, I'd be attacked by squirrels.
It turned out that the lady who owned the house before us, for almost 75 years, liked to feed the squirrels peanuts. When she passed away at 99 and we moved in, the squirrels saw us as mere annoyances. The old lady with the bowl of peanuts must be somewhere in there, they were thinking as they tried to push past me to get in the door, and we were keeping them from their luncheon appointments. Some days, I'd have to kick them away as I left for work. It was a credit to the squirrels that they never bit me and a credit to me that I never bought a BB gun.
Sooner or later, the squirrels learned to ignore us, as I clearly had no intention of going out and buying them nuts. (I'm pretty sure the only difference between a squirrel and a rat is the fluffy tail.) And those who didn't give up on us eventually gave up the ghost. The oldest squirrels are no more than 8 years old (I looked it up) but few live that long, as their favorite sport, playing tag with car tires, usually ends up kind of messily.
For years the only memory of the hungry squirrels was when I'd do some renovation work and come across evidence of past meals. The voids in our basement walls and the spaces under the porches were littered with peanut shells, covered in decades of dust. I almost forgot and was pretty sure they had, too.
Earlier this summer, though, my daughter was on the back porch studying when she noticed a squirrel sitting at her feet expectantly. He wouldn't go away, so she went inside the house, got him a handful of peanuts, and he ate them and left.
The next day, he was back, sitting on the deck, waiting for his meal. Before I knew it, my wife and kids were feeding him every couple of days. My daughter felt especially attached, as he had come to her first. She named him "Squirrelly Squirrel." When we got home from work, he'd be waiting for us on the front walk, running around in circles until we went in for the can of nuts.
I did a little research (actually, just Google) to see if this is a good idea. Animal lovers caution that you should avoid salted nuts because they can give a squirrel high blood pressure and make him thirsty. I personally don't like unsalted nuts, and I wasn't buying special nuts for a rodent, so we just kept up with the salted ones and we put out a glass of water when we feed him. He seemed very appreciative, lapping away at the edge of the glass and sometimes looked confused if there was not an accompanying beverage with his meal.
All this made me very uncomfortable. I'm not a big fan of animals with sharp teeth and beady eyes. I also found lots of YouTube videos of crazy squirrels attacking people. Seems squirrels get so used to human company and so impatient that if you don't feed them quickly enough, they'll climb up your legs and try to take the food from you. My wife is also playing with fire in that she sits on the front steps barefoot while she feeds Squirrelly Squirrel cashews from a can. It's an accident waiting to happen -- her toes look almost exactly like cashews. (Before you judge, slip off your shoes and look down. Yours do, too.)
As the squirrel has become more and more used to our family, he's started to get bolder. Sometimes he gets so close I'm afraid to move too quickly. While I wouldn't step on him on purpose, it's bound to happen, and then he's bound to bite the hand that feeds him.
One day this week, I came home from work to find Squirrelly Squirrel sitting under the apple tree, gnawing on something. As I got closer, I realized it was a bone. Moving even closer, it seemed that the bone was just about the right size, and shape, to be from ... another squirrel. I recoiled in horror as Squirrelly Squirrel looked up at me and snarled, a crazy glow in his eyes. It was as if I was watching "The Walking Dead" on "Animal Planet." I backed away and went into the house, making a mental note to go out and buy a big can of unsalted nuts.
Squirrels are kind of scary when they get that blood pressure up.
Homemaking is a column about the people, projects and pride that make a house a home. Peter McKay, a Ben Avon resident, is a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. To see past columns, go to www.post-gazette.com. Contact him at www.peter-mckay.com.