CHIPMUNK OBITUARY – Chippy the Chipmunk passed away peacefully at home on September 1, 2015. He was born in rural Ohio on March 3, 2009, moving to Columbus for school, where he attended Critter School of Hibernation Prep, where he majored in Nut Stashing. Chippy worked as a mill worker in Toledo, Ohio before retiring to Kansas City in 2013 with his wife, Adeline, who passed earlier this year. An avid acorn collector, he is survived by Nate, Sam, Erin, and Wally, brothers Alvin, Simon, Theodore and cousins Chip and Dale.
Yes, the chipmunk is dead – may he rest in peace. And of course, I don’t know for sure whether this was the same chipmunk that haunted our house not once, but twice. Maybe that was the chipmunk that always hung out in our driveway and the deceased is the one that perches itself next to the window out front. Or maybe that was the one that haunted our house and the dead one is the one from the driveway. Or maybe none of those is true. Maybe the rodent corpse is actually a transplant from out of town. Perhaps some Mafioso pack of chipmunks dumped him here, hoping we don’t alert the authorities and search the dental records.
Who knows? The point is we found a dead chipmunk in our backyard, and I seized on that opportunity to teach Nate and Sam about death.
So, it started late one afternoon when I went to let Wally in or out – who can remember? Trauma can sometimes play tricks on the memory. I took a few extra steps into the yard to really enjoy the suffocating heat and humidity. Or more likely, to escape the screaming demands from inside the house – Nate and Sam were both in a mood: hungry for dinner, sleepy enough for their beds, and snarky enough for some wrestling. As I gasped for a quiet, stifling breath, I glanced down at the ground and shrieked, reacting quickly enough to high-step over the carcass of a chipmunk.
Wally turned, staring at me expectantly, as if to say, “Oh yeah, I forgot to warn you about that.”
The three of us stood there a moment: me, Wally, and the lifeless chipmunk, debating what our next step should be. Should I toss it into the bushes in the back of the yard? Should I bury him in a shoebox? Tie some rocks to his feet and toss him in the river? Where exactly is the river in KC anyway? Maybe I should cremate him in the propane grill…but that seemed a little too redneck, even for me. So I fetched Nate and Sam from one of their physical contests inside the house to help me brainstorm and to introduce them to death.
I started off rather somber and sentimental. “He’d dead. He will never breathe again. He will never run or eat ag—“
Nate cut me off. He had squatted down and was examining him closely, “Mom, why are those bees doin’ that?”
Bees were in fact swarming around his face and crawling in and out of his nostrils, his eyelids and his mouth. It was gross.
“Uh, I don’t know. Bees are just perverts, I guess. They don’t respect the dead.”
I continued, despite my unsympathetic audience, “He’ll never play with his chipmunk friends again. He might even have a family that he’ll never get to return to. They might be in their little chipmunk burrow right now, waiting for him to come home and wondering why he’s late.” Dark, I know.
Nate didn’t get it. “Hey Chipmunk! Why was your dad in our house?”
“He can’t answer you, he’s dead!”
“The dead one! Right there!” I pointed at the furry, stiffening corpse at our feet.
Sam, meanwhile, had knelt down and was using a stick to poke at the remains and cackling when it didn’t respond.
“I have no idea. Maybe he was just old. Or sick. Or maybe—“
“Did you poison him, Mom?”
Whoa. That’s a heavy accusation for a three year-old to throw at his mom. And I’m not sure how he knows about poison. Slightly more wary of him than I was a moment ago, I rerouted the conversation.
“Anyway, when you die, you can’t do anything anymore.”
“Because you’re dead.”
“Because. Because that’s what happens to everyone, animals, people. We die. We cease to exist. We’re just not meant to live on this Earth forever. The planet can’t sustain us all, and I don’t believe that the human psyche could sustain an eternity on the Earth. In fact, I think—“
Interrupted again. And just as I was about to venture into the topic of life after death.
“Mom. Did you know everyone on Sesame Street is a monster? Except the grouches. Mom, are you a grouch?”
Sigh. “No, I’m not a grouch. [pause] Well, ok, sometimes I’m a grouch. Like when I’m really hungry and have low blood sugar. Or in the evening when my energy starts to fade. In fact, I don’t recall being this moody when I was younger. Maybe it’s another symptom of having kids. You know, when I was in college—“
“Ouch! What the—?”
I had suddenly been poked in the back of the thigh with a stick. Sam chuckled nearby.
“Anyway, let’s go inside and see what the Bible says about—hey! Stop! Stop wrestling! I’m talking to you guys!”
Dammit, can I ever just finish a thought? I have so many things to say. So many lessons to teach! Knowledge to impart! Nate and Sam are thirsting for my wisdom!
So, just as the chipmunk died, so died my attempt to teach about mortality. We hurled the lifeless little body into some deep undergrowth, had a snack, and put on the evening news. At which point—obviously—I got out a world map and proceeded to explain geopolitics, the GOP debates, and forest fires.