Family Delicacy

Patti See

One night when I visit Dad, he’s got Mom’s cookbooks laid out on the table.

“What are you looking for?” I ask. My dad had become quite the cook after my mom got sick. He took over the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. He experimented with chili until he perfected his recipe. He even made popovers a few times. In many ways he simply adapted his “fix-it guy” knack for making something out of repurposed parts in his garage. Some of his dishes – bologna with noodles comes to mind – were the culinary equivalent of his once making a cribbage board out of a toilet seat.

“Well, I tell you what,” he says. “Tim brought me a whole squirrel and I gotta figure out how to cook it.” The cleaned squirrel carcass sat in a Ziplock bag on his kitchen cupboard.

When I was a girl, I often tagged along when my dad and brothers went squirrel hunting. I always believed that eventually one of them would let me shoot a gun. It never happened. My job was carrying the dead squirrels, usually dropped inside a double Wonder Bread bag. I’d walk through the cold November woods with the warm dead squirrels brushing against my small thigh. Once the squirrels were cleaned, I’m sure that I played with the tails, some still with a bloody nub of tailbone attached. At least one of my brothers drove around town with a squirrel tail on his car antenna. We really weren’t rednecks, though I realize these squirrely memories of mine don’t support that claim. My only explanation is that this was the 1970s in small town Wisconsin.

Each winter Mom and Dad had a squirrel feed for neighbors and friends. I never figured out if squirrels are difficult to clean, or if my dad and brothers were just sloppy. In any case, as we ate tiny squirrel legs or the larger rib meat, we’d pull brown or gray squirrel hair out of our mouths. My mom often put a few “hair plates” on the table, so as a person tugged squirrel hair out of his mouth, he could deposit it on a separate plate. Did she think that putting squirrel hair on your own dinner plate was just too gross? It falls into the category of “stuff you did in childhood and never questioned why” like saving bath water for the next kid or arguing over who would get to suck on the chicken neck or eat the gizzard.

I look at the squirrel on my dad’s counter and think that perhaps it’s nearly impossible to get all of the hair off of a skinned squirrel. The squirrel lies in its plastic bag headless and paw-less, like a backwoods mob victim.

I tell Dad, “I’d Google a recipe for squirrel.”

He looks at me blankly.

“You know: look it up on the Internet.”

“What the hell does the Internet know about cooking squirrel?” Dad says.
I have no answer.

Patti See was born and raised in Chippewa Falls. She is the author of the award winning blog, Our Long Goodbye: One Family’s Experiences with Alzheimer’s Disease. “Family Delicacy” first appeared on WPR’s Wisconsin Life in November 2012. To learn more about Patti, visit http://tinyurl.com/pgxgq98