Catherine’s Castle - The Story
The continuing adventures of the Colorado Girls.

Chapter 13

Catherine’s Castle © Linda Pilkington

The Squirrel Tree


Unlike the child actors on t.v. shows or in movies, Gwynie Emerson didn’t like to talk about what was worrying her.

Perhaps if her eldest sister, Catherine, hadn’t been away at college she would have been tempted to talk to her, there was always something comforting about Catherine. In normal times both Gwynie’s mother and Catherine tried to take the time to explain things to Gwynie so that she didn’t worry. But as it was, Gwynie’s teen-aged sister, Melinda, was too irritable, and her mother was too worried for questions, and so Gwynie had no one to ask what had gone wrong, even if she had wanted to.

Instead, during the strange weeks that had begun in late summer, starting that evening when her father had come home from work and without speaking to either Gwynie or Melinda had gone into his bedroom at the top of the stairs and locked the door behind him, a silence, noisier than any roomful of voices, had filled the house. That silence had continued on through the autumn as he remained there, and Gwynie hadn’t broken it, even once, with a question.

After the first few days she had been afraid that her father wasn’t in there, that he had left, and gone away.

He had disappeared behind that door weeks before, and she hadn’t talked to him since. She had no proof that he was still in the house. 

She haunted the hallway outside her parent’s bedroom, but the voices coming through the thick walls of the old Victorian house were so muffled that it was hard to distinguish them unless you pressed your ear to the door. The door opened and closed only as her mother went in and out each day, sometimes carrying a tray of food, that had barely been touched. Otherwise, the door opened in the morning as her mother, neatly dressed as usual left to go to work, and it did not open again till she returned in the evening.

And through those long weeks, she strode by without even seeing Gwynie, her shoulders straight, and her dark shining hair brushed back from her white face. Gwynie, sitting just out of sight of the door, in the little window seat in the alcove on the landing, could catch a glimpse of her mother, but her father never came to the door, or called out a good bye.

Gwynie spent the remaining school vacation in the coolness of the yard, looking up at the windows of her parents’ room, and when she wasn’t busy doing her chores, she returned, with her books, to the window seat in the alcove, to listen and to keep watch on the door. 

Sometimes, she said a prayer that the door would open, her father would come out, and that he would take her hand and walk down the stairs. The house was spooky without his laughter and the sound of his footsteps echoing down the hallway. 

 She watched the door every day, and yet, somehow, she missed the moment when he finally opened the door.  And, she came upon him so suddenly that it knocked the breath out of her.

 She had rushed around the corner in the downstairs hall, headed for the yard, then stopped short, and pulled back around the corner, to peek out at him, as she would a stranger. She could see him through the many paned windows that looked out from his office onto the hall-way. 

He looked like a stranger to Gwynie, that man, sitting there at her father’s desk.  He was dressed in one of her father’s at home shirts. The shirt was blue, and the thin, solemn face, usually so tan, looked too white above the blue material.

It didn’t look like her father, who told stories, and laughed, and made her feel safe when he grabbed her close in a tight hug.  

She stayed quiet and watched for a few minutes before slipping down the hallway and then on up the stairway to her parents room.  She wasn’t sure why she went there, but she knew that she couldn’t talk to, or even walk by the strange man who sat in her father’s office.

The bedroom door at the top of the short flight of stairs was open, and after peeking around it into the room, just to make sure no one was there, Gwynie walked in and looked, curiously, around.

Usually, during the week, as they rushed to their jobs, her parents large room always looked as if a wind storm had passed through it, clothes covered the backs of the chairs, the closet doors were open, and the countertop in the bathroom was crowded with her mother’s cosmetics. 

During the school week, the girls were required to keep their own rooms neat; they were required to keep quiet about the state of their parents room.

But now the room was neat, there were no clothes, or towels tossed around.

The room was beautiful, as if no one had lived there for the past weeks. It was as spotless as if it that had been thoroughly, and completely cleaned each day.

Gwynie walked to the large window that over-looked the yard and looked out into the gold and red leafed splendor of the Hawthorn tree. The tree, growing right outside the window was the last to lose its leaves in the fall.

Gwynie’s mother said that the tree did this as a special favor to them, and to the birds and squirrels who ate the beautiful bright orange -red berries each autumn. Gwynie’s father said that the tree stayed beautiful as a treat to them, so that Gwynie’s parents could sit in their chairs by the window each Saturday morning to have their coffee and watch the squirrels eat the peanuts that Gwynie’s father put out for them.

Gwynie heard a rattle and looked down. Her father was pouring peanuts into the wire pen-holder that he had wired to the tree for the squirrels.

He looked up, smiled, and Gwynie found herself, without a bit of shyness, waving and smiling back at him.

She heard the door slam, and soon heard his footsteps behind her. 

“Look,  two of them are already on their way to the tree. I think they listen for my footsteps, and the slam of that door. Watch, and let’s see which ones are coming.”

For a several minutes they watched as two squirrels chirped at each other, and then took their peanuts and ran away with them.

“There she is!” Her father said.

“Who?” Gwyine asked, glancing up at him.

“I call her Sammie, short for Samantha Squirrel.”

“Jordan?” Gwynie’s mother’s footsteps sounded in the hallway, and then she hurried into the room, with Melinda following behind.

“Shh…Hearts Dearest, some quiet please. Look, Melin,  our girl squirrel has come for her peanuts.”

Both her mother and sister came and took a place beside Gwynie and Jordan Emerson.  Everyone looked outside for several minutes, and then…

“Popsy? Popsy, what…” Melinda asked.

“Shh…stand quietly. Wait with your questions, for just a few minutes and you might see something worth seeing.”

Everyone watched, and soon two small squirrels joined Samantha Squirrel on the branch as she sat eating the peanut.

“Oh, babies! Aren’t they cute? How old are they?” Gwynie whispered.   

” Can’t be sure. Your mother and I have been watching them come to the tree for the last three days. They eat the leaves, and Sammie keeps demonstrating the art of peanut eating for them. It’s taking them awhile to catch on.”

“But Popsy, you haven’t told us anything…have you been sick? Why did you stay up here…Mother wouldn’t tell me anything except that you were tired and needed rest…” Melinda’s voice sounded trembly.

Her father was silent, and for a minute Gwynie didn’t think that he was going to answer Melinda’s question. Finally, he took a breath, and began.

“Let’s see…well, Samantha Squirrel started coming to the window before her babies were born.  There seems to be plenty of berries, and things for Squirrels to eat in late summer, but Samantha must have decided that she needed peanuts to eat if she was going to have healthy babies, and so she came here, and demanded them.  She braved the other squirrels who chased her away, and came back time after time to grab her peanuts.  And even though she had babies on the way, and maybe wasn’t feeling very well,  she kept coming back to make sure that she got the food she needed.  If I went into the yard, she would show up and churp at me until I got her some extra feed.”

“You went into the yard?” Gwynie said.

“Well, you couldn’t keep a look out in the window seat every minute, Gwynie. Yes, sometimes I went into the yard.”  

“But why did you go to your room, that night, and not see us… and everything.” Gwynie said. She felt tears in her eyes, and suddenly her throat felt tight.

Gwynie’s father leaned down and kissed the back of her head, and then stood, his hands on her shoulders looking out at the baby squirrels as they chased each other up and down the tree.

“We don’t need to talk everything out right now, girls. But, I’ll tell you this much. Some bad things happened at work. Sometimes companies decide that they want to get rid of their employees, and they will play tricks, and do bad things so that they can do that. That is what happened to me. They decided they didn’t want me to work there, and they played tricks on me, and then they told me to leave. That night I lost my job.”

“But you are nice and you work hard. Why would they do that, Daddy? That’s mean,” Gwynie said.

“Yes, I worked very hard, and for lots of years. But sometimes it doesn’t matter. People still take away the job you need…sometimes it makes you feel sick. That’s what happened to me.”

“But, I’m well now. At least I’m stronger, and I’m ready to come back to the world again.”

“Yes, you are well, and how you got well, I’ll never know,” Her mother said.  

“You might have had something to do with it, My Dear. And the kids. Thinking of all of you, and how much you needed…so much.”

“Needed you!” Her mother said.

“Yes. That you needed me, and of course, Sammie out there let me know that she needed me too, and she used every opportunity to teach me about life.”

“But, what could a squirrel teach you?” Gwynie asked.

Her father smiled.

“For one thing, there she was, she was going to have babies, and she was living out there in the cruel world, without a job, a car, a house, or any health insurance. She had nothing to protect her, or her babies, except her own toughness. But she didn’t cry, or complain, she just kept going. Everyday she showed up. And when she had her babies she brought them here to show them how to eat peanuts. She was brave and she didn’t even know it.”

“ I watched her day after day, as she taught her lessons to her children and to me. After awhile I figured that if I tried very hard that I might be able to get well for my family’s sake. And that,  if I was willing to learn to be as brave as a little squirrel, that I could face that cruel world again. And that, no matter what had happened to me, that I could protect my family too.”

“ And so, that’s what I’m going to do.”

And then, just as Gwynie had dreamed, her father’s arms went around all of them in a very tight hug.