Enough of the weird stories already, Grandpa, tell me about the groundhogs.
Well, my little one, it’s graphic and gross and grisly stuff you find when we get up close and personal with groundhogs.
I know, Grandpa. I like cop shows and dark mysteries, same as you. Remember? I’m your favorite and only granddaughter. So let’s get gory. Mom’s not gonna be home for an hour. Let’s do it!
Okay, you have me there. [Deep breath and exhale.] It started many years ago, way, way back in my childhood. The first time I remember encountering a live groundhog was in the abandoned gravel pit behind Virginia Hills Elementary school. My neighbor Richard had a Suzuki 90 motorcycle and he used to take me on the back of it, racing around the dirt roads and hills and bumps of the pit. One time I saw this large furry animal loping along, trying to get cover near the wood line. Richard saw it and away we went in pursuit. He cut it off and spooked it by circling around the thing. Meanwhile I’d hopped off the motorcycle and found a crate to trap the critter, which I did while Richard distracted it. So there we were with a groundhog under a crate in a big open gravel pit. We had no plan or any way to control the agitated animal, so we let it go. I didn’t know what the creature was. I thought it was a beaver, but I knew they needed water, and there was no water in that old clay and gravel, bone dry crater.
Grandpa, you’re so dramatic. Bone dry? C’mon.
Hey, little lady, I’m telling this tale. Right?
Right. Keep going.
I don’t recall seeing another groundhog until your grandmother and I moved up to Pennsylvania in 1980. We had a sheltie collie named CoCo who used to run loose in the orchard behind the farmhouse we rented. I was walking him one day when he tore out after a large rodent. Obviously Coco knew what to do and what not to do with a groundhog. Pretty soon he had disabled the varmint and snapped its neck.
Leah! don’t cheer on slaughter and death! It was still one of God’s creatures.
Grandpa, don’t go Bambi soft on me. It was a groundhog, vermin, lettuce eater. Suck it up, man!
Okay, well it was gross to see nature in its pure form. I was a bit shocked at primal instincts then, such capricious killing.
Grandpa, what’s a capricious?
Uh, it’s not a thing, Honey, it’s an adjective that means careless or unpredictable, erratic.
You mean like Grandma?
Yes, but don’t you dare tell her that. Okay? Pinkie swear.
For years afterward I’d see dead groundhogs alongside the country roads of Franklin County, but it was not until we built our house next to the open farmland that I began to see them regularly. One time I looked out the sliding glass door and saw one in the wild cherry tree, maybe three or four feet off the ground. I swore it was a monkey. I went to see it closer and it plopped down and scurried into its hole in the bank between our yard and the farm field. I was intrigued and began to pay more attention to these creatures.
Grandpa, how can a groundhog look like a monkey? Weren’t you wearing your glasses?
You sound just like your mother, Leah. You know one time she saw me squinting at the bill in a Chinese restaurant and said rudely, “Dad, put your glasses on!”
Mommy said it like that?
Yes she did, but when I turned the bill around and showed her it was all in Chinese characters, I said, “I don’t think it would help, Gracer.”
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. That’s funny, Grandpa.
Yep. Your mom is a funny girl.
Grandpa! Mommy’s not a girl. She’s a mom.
You’re right, Noodles. But she’ll always be my little girl, just like you’ll always be hers.
Okay, I guess. Now what about the monkey mistake?
All I could see was the groundhog’s face, Honey, and it was furry and in a tree…and no, I did not have my glasses on, but I put them on and then I saw it was a groundhog. Okay?
Okay. Did you shoot it?
No. Grandma would not let me have a gun then.
She always worried that I’d shoot her with it. It’s that capricious thing again.
She’s funny that way, Leah.
But you got a gun and shot groundhogs.
Yep. After many years Grandma and I put in a garden. By then there were many groundhogs burrowed in to the bank at the back of our yard back in Pennsylvania.
Can we go and see them, Grandpa? Can we? Please?
No, Honey, someone else lives there now and they built a road through the farmer’s field, so there aren’t any groundhogs there any longer.
Shucks! I wanted to feed them like Mommy fed her guinea pigs and then shoot’em like you do.
That’s an odd combination, Leah. But anyway, once we had that garden growing and lettuce and cauliflower plants growing in the black soil, something changed in your grandmother. One day all the lettuces were chewed to nubs and the cauliflower was destroyed to the roots. It was the Plague of the Groundhogs!! And Grandma’s blood curdled. She authorized me to arm myself and exterminate the groundhogs.
Wow! Now it’s getting excited, Grandpa. Say that again.
…exterminate the groundhogs!!!
No, say…”And Grandma’s blood curdled!!!”
… and Grandma’s blood CURDLED…like cottage cheese, buuuhahaha!!!!
EEEEhhhhh. [Giddy Laughter and wiggling about.] Tickle me, Grandpa. Okay, Stop.
So then I went right away to Walmart and bought a .22 rifle and ammo before Grandma changed her mind capriciously. She can be a fickle pickle sometimes, like you, Leah.
Aunt Jess says you used to call her PickleButt. Did you?
Yes, often when she misbehaved.
What’s a pickle butt, Grandpa?
I don’t know, Honey, it’s just a word I made up and Aunt Jess didn’t know it had no meaning. So she would stomp off to her room, saying, I am not a pickle butt, and then slam her door and scream.
Ha, ha, ha, ha. Grandpa you’re a pickle butt!
I am not, you fickle tickle pickle.