One cold, gray winter afternoon the pastor was in his office studying the finer points of the offering of the red heifer when he heard a strange banging noise coming from somewhere inside the building. He arose from his studies and traced the noise into the sanctuary, where he looked up and was amazed to see the grates from the air conditioning ducts visibly shaking. Something was scampering wildly about overhead. Running downstairs and grabbing a flashlight, he came back up and shone the beam onto the grate, just in time to see a squirrel grinning down at him. “That’s no mice, it’s a squirrel! Oh, nuts!” he exclaimed, unaware that he had just named the culprit.
Perhaps it was the fact a squirrel blew out a transformer last week and left the seminary without electricity for a few hours. Or hearing even nursing home residents are not safe from these critters. Or maybe it is nostalgia as I miss the folks in my former congregation. Or just as I am about to finish a big project I am a little giddy. Whatever the case, I thought I would dust off this story and share it today for some fun.
And perhaps the most disturbing thing about the following story is that, except for a few instances of poetic license, it is entirely true.
The reader or hearer of this story should be careful not to mistake it for another one that has a similar-sounding title, the popular children’s story known as A Tale of Squirrel Nutkins by Beatrix Potter. Nor should one think that this story is some type of sequel to Ms. Potter’s account. Oh, no. In Ms. Potter’s story, the little squirrel hero of her tale, Squirrel Nutkins, is pictured as a cuddly animal that warms the hearts of children around the world with its delightful antics that have a cute, mischievous nature to them. Clearly Ms. Potter was dealing in the land of make-believe. Perhaps she had spent too much time in her childhood playing with stuffed animals than encountering true wildlife. This story before you has been written to counter these false teachings of the Potterites, and to serve as a warning that the fall corrupted squirrels in a particularly dark way. This is another tale, the true story, of Squirrel Nut and his kins, and the cruel plot he and his cronies unleashed on the saints at the Sycamore church that came close to rivaling some of the lesser plagues on Egypt.
It all began a few winters ago. One morning before worship, some of the ladies of the congregation noticed white, flake-like material upon several pews in the sanctuary. Had the saints been more charismatic and dispensational in their theology, and not the staid Presbyterians they were, they might have seen this occurrence as some heavenly sign of blessing, such as angel dust or the return of manna. But they were much too down-to-earth for that, and the following conversation ensued among these ladies, all of whom happened to be the elders’ wives. (Now some might suggest this conversation offers testimony to the wisdom of closing the office of elder to women, but the actions of the elders you will hear in the remainder of this story will quickly lay to rest any appeal to pragmatic arguments regarding male headship. You will once again conclude that the only safe ground is Biblical ground.)
“I don’t think that it’s Greg’s dandruff,” Pam said. “The flakes are too large for him, we don’t usually sit here, and the Head and Shoulders has seemed to work lately.”
“No, I’m sure the children had something to do with it,” Sharon said in a grandmotherly sort of way. When I say grandmotherly sort of way, I don’t mean in the “grandma-just-made-cookies-for-all-her-sweet-grandkids” grandmotherly sort of way. I mean in the “grandma-just-caught-her-naughty-grandkids-playing-catch-with-her-favorite-vase” grandmotherly sort of way. “I just got done chasing some little boys out from under the pews, and they probably got dust on them.”
“But this stuff looks bigger than dust,” Pam answered. “And what’s this little thing?” Pam held a small, brown ball-like material between her fingers that she had found on the pew.
“It looks like the fecal material of the rodentia micelotus,” offered Susan, “which definitely proves it’s not dust.”
“Huh?” said Pam.
“It’s a mice dropping, Pam,” explained Sharon matter-of-factly.
With that a scream shot through the sanctuary (as did the dropping, which was never to be found again). Elder Greg, listening to Elder Bob retell the latest actions of Presbytery with all the enthusiasm of John Madden calling a football game, heard the yell behind him and was about to turn and chastise yet another child for breaking the house rules when he realized it was his beloved wife. Going up to her, he asked her what was wrong. Upon hearing Pam tell the horror of actually touching a mouse dropping, Greg smirked and launched into a deer hunting story where he made clear that far worse things had gotten on him. Yet a look from Pam stopped him right in the middle of the sentence, “Then I took the dripping kidney and…” Realizing his mistake, Greg then grew serious and spoke words that would later come back to haunt him and the rest of the congregation, “It’s just a little mouse. It won’t hurt anything.”
This scenario, minus the scream from Pam, played itself out repeatedly through the next few weeks. The men had determined it was falling from the air conditioning vents in the ceiling above the sanctuary, and was probably caused by a mouse building a nest on the vent to catch the warmth rising from the building being heated. Several of the ladies wanted them to take care of it immediately, for the thought of mice running overhead during worship sent shivers up their collective spine. The men assured the ladies they would take care of it on the next Men’s Work Night, which brought to the ladies’ minds a certain unfinished bathroom project the men had been working on for several years. This in turn conjured up in their minds images of opening the church some Sunday morning and waves of mice spilling out into the streets. The pastor also had expressed concerns that this might keep visitors from coming back, until he was reminded that their small church’s motto was “Where every visitor has his own pew” and that no one ever sat over there any way. Though occasionally mother’s hearts were set to palpitating when they found children doodling in the pew flakes before they could clean them up, at first the flakes were just a nuisance, not much of a problem.
Until the fateful day, that is. One cold, gray winter afternoon the pastor was in his office studying the finer points of the offering of the red heifer when he heard a strange banging noise coming from somewhere inside the building. He arose from his studies and traced the noise into the sanctuary, where he looked up and was amazed to see the grates from the air conditioning ducts visibly shaking. Something was scampering wildly about overhead. Running downstairs and grabbing a flashlight, he came back up and shone the beam onto the grate, just in time to see a squirrel grinning down at him.
“That’s no mice, it’s a squirrel! Oh, nuts!” he exclaimed, unaware that he had just named the culprit. This incident helps us see the wisdom of the Lord having had Adam name the animals in the garden before the fall rather than after it. One can only imagine what pests like rats or mosquitoes would have been called had this not been the case.
Hurriedly the pastor ran back into his office and grabbed a phone book. Finding a wildlife removal company, he called and was told by the man who answered he would be right over. Fifteen minutes later a truck bearing the sign Rodents-R-Us came screeching to a stop outside the building. A young, round man wearing a work belt with tools and wires hanging from it ran into the building, shoved a business card with a picture of a smiling possum on it into the pastor’s hand, and went up the stairs into the sanctuary.
“Yep, it’s squirrels alright. Sounds like two or three of them.”
“Two or three? How did they get into the building, and how did they get into the air conditioning duct?”
“Oh, they just need a small opening. Then they probably chewed through the foam board the ducts are made out of. Got themselves a regular jumbo-sized gerbil cage up there, that’s for sure, huh?”
The pastor found this attempt at humor rather annoying, so looked at the card in his hand to remember the guy’s name. “Brandon, how are you going to get these things out of here?”
Brandon smiled at the pastor. “Oh, I get rid of squirrels all the time. We’ll just open the duct up in the attic, put my special Yummy Delight Squirrel Food in the trap, and I’ll have them caught for you by the next day.” Brandon then lowered his voice and spoke as if he was a surgeon in a hospital waiting room informing a family about how the operation just went. “But don’t worry, Pastor. These are live traps and will not harm these little guys…”
As Brandon droned on in a way that would have made any member of PETA proud, explaining how he would drive fifty miles to release the little squirrels so they would be safe and not come back, he had no idea that the Covenanter blood of the pastor was starting to boil. “My spiritual forefathers used to shoot enemy soldiers – people! – so they could worship in freedom. What’s a few squirrels?” the pastor was thinking as Brandon started in on the nesting habits of squirrels. “I certainly don’t want to spare these bushy-tailed rodents who will be distracting the church come Sunday. I wonder if he can just kill the things?”
As if he was reading the pastor’s mind, Brandon paused for a moment, glanced around as if making sure no one else could hear him, then whispered like a funeral director, “Of course, if you don’t mind if the squirrel passes away, it will cost less.”
Money talks in situations like these, and already wondering how he would explain to the deacons the cost of sending for this guy, the pastor said, “Take them out dead or alive, whatever is cheapest.”
“Dead it is, then. Now we’re talking,” Brandon replied with a gleam in his eye. “I used to be a police officer, and I love being hot on the trail of criminal squirrels. Hold on just a minute.” Brandon ran out to his truck, and returned with two small wooden boxes with heavy spring-loaded traps inside. “I call these my Back-Breaker Traps,” Brandon said, his eyes narrowed to deadly slits. “Look in here.” The pastor peered into the box. “Mr. Squirrel comes to get the food, hits this little trigger with his neck, and BANG!” Brandon yelled, letting the spring slam the bar down and making the pastor jump, “the little buggers back is broke and he’s dead in no time. I’ll put two of my best traps up there. Then just have your janitor check them each day…”
“Excuse me, but I don’t have a janitor,” the pastor interrupted politely.
“Okay, then just have your secretary go up and…”
“Uh, I don’t have a secretary.”
“Minister of music?”
The pastor snorted. “Certainly not!”
“What kind of church is this, anyway?” Brandon interrupted. “Oh, never mind. Any way, you go up each day and check, and let me know as soon as I get them.”
Brandon’s optimism far outweighed his results.