Managing a summer of surprises

“Have you seen our little squirrel?” asked Ray, brow furrowed with concern.

In a summer of surprises, his question was one of the biggest. My husband contends he hates that squirrel for its thievery of the birds’ sunflower seeds and because he recently observed it eating the leaves of hibiscus plants on our deck.

“I thought you hated him.”

“I do,” he lied.

Who’s he kidding? Although Ray maintains he dislikes critters who visit our deck in search of sustenance, he worries far too much when they don’t show up. Except for snakes, that is. He really doesn’t like snakes.

When I was excited to spot a large blacksnake climbing a tree at Clinton Lake, Ray quickly assumed the serpent’s purpose was nefarious. “It’s probably after some baby birds in a nest,” he exclaimed with disgust.

“You’re likely right,” I agreed. “Still, seeing a snake slithering up a tree is not a common sight.”


Critter surprises are my favorite type, much better than a sudden hailstorm we encountered in Illinois just outside St. Louis. I-70 is six lanes there, and while our eastbound lanes kept moving slowly, westbound motorists clogged all three of their lanes by parking under a bridge. Fine shelter for those under the bridge, but not for the traffic behind them backed up for a mile and a half.

We’re amazed that hailstones large enough to crack our car’s grille in three places and dent the hood, top, trunk and driver’s side, didn’t break our windshield. Unless you have been inside your auto being pelted with near-golfball-sized hail, you can’t imagine how loud it was. We relied on lip-reading even though we were shouting at the top of our lungs.

That was the second time I’ve been caught in a car in a bad hailstorm. I pulled up to the garage in our previous home just as the 1993 hailstorm began hitting our city with huge, jagged pieces of ice. I couldn’t risk getting knocked out by a hailstone while opening the garage door, so I backed to our driveway entrance and took shelter under a tree. It didn’t help; our car was totaled.

I blame Ray. Why? Because I had just bought him an automatic garage door opener and he returned it, saying “I like to get out and open the garage door.” You can bet the garages in our present home are equipped with openers.


It shouldn’t have surprised me that I failed again to grow tomatoes. But it did because this summer I purchased a gigantic potted tomato plant, abundant with blooms and two good-sized green tomatoes. When I harvested them, they were big, red and tasted great. But those two were all I got. I figure they cost $7.50 apiece.


I was surprised in Baltimore to bite a pistachio nut and break a perfectly good tooth. Pistachios are really hard; from now on, I’m eating softer nuts. A worse surprise was learning our dental insurance — which we’ve previously used only for exams and cleaning — would not pay for a crown.

It’s a good thing that squirrels — ineligible for dental insurance — have teeth strong enough to bite down on walnut shells without breaking. So I’m sure it wasn’t dental problems, but the desire for a salad with his lunch, that caused our squirrel to chew on our hibiscus.

I fear if he was munching nearby when our tempered glass patio table blew up, he may have been scared off for good. The explosion was loud enough for me to hear over the hum of the treadmill in our basement exercise room and when I came upstairs to investigate, a million tiny pieces of glass glittered on the deck.

“It’s not common for tempered glass to blow up on its own,” said my friend Gary, who replaced it, “but it does happen.”

Who knew? Not me. And certainly not our missing squirrel.

Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence whose latest book is “Human Nature Calls.”


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