Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Red Tailed Squirrel ... was it really a squirrel, or ...???

A couple of messages back I mentioned a red tailed squirrel.
I said the story about that red tailed squirrel would follow later and I like to keep my promises.
Well, that "later"    is now!

Here's the story about the red tailed squirrel.
The exact way it happened, no embellishments, just the facts.
I really need to say that right up front because by the time you get to the end of my story you're gonna be saying "yeah, right" and probably not believe a word of it.
But if you've ever had the experience of looking everywhere for something, looking several times in the same places and then a bit later you find it, in exactly the spot where you've already looked... you'll know what I'm talking about. You'll know about that tingly feeling.
... and you just might believe my story about the red tailed squirrel.

On a beautiful Spring morning in March 1998 I drove to Fresno in hopes of finding some records about my family. Something, anything at all... I just wanted to document those names and dates in Nana's Little Red Book.

What a gorgeous day! Sun shining brightly as I walked up the sidewalk on Tulare St in Fresno CA towards the Hall of Records. For some odd reason I turned to look off to my left at another building fronted by a very green lawn dotted with many shade trees. From way out on the sidewalk where I was something caught my attention.
A small squirrel was sitting upright, paws clasped together as if it might be saying prayers... and it was looking right at me.
The stare was so intense that I almost launched myself forward onto my face as I tripped on a bumpy part of the old sidewalk. Catching myself just in time, I stopped to look again at that squirrel. It was still staring... and I swear it was staring    right   at   me.

I was mesmerized.

Two pedestrians quickly walked past me, one of them commenting none too nicely that I was blocking the way... I looked one more time at the squirrel ...
... just in time to see it scamper up a nearby tree, showing off it's brilliant and bushy red tail.
And then it was gone.

I shook my head, kinda laughed to myself and continued towards the Hall of Records. The strange mesmerizing feeling began to fade and by the time I climbed the stairs and found my way to the room with the records, I had forgotten all about the red tailed squirrel.

I didn't have much luck in the Hall of Records... a couple of death certificates but not as many as I hoped to find, nor as many details listed on those I purchased. Ah, well.
Maybe a trip out to the cemeteries along Belmont Ave might be better. I had my camera to capture images of headstones.

My first stop was at a small cemetery office to find a map, or some live person, or somehow begin to find the graves of a few of my family members. big sigh here. Not so much luck here either! Not necessarily because they didn't have the information but more because it was lunch time and everyone was gone!
I saw one groundskeeper on his lunch break and mentioned the name Hallahan. He motioned with his sandwich in hand towards a nearby area. I thanked him and headed towards that area thinking I'd find something... sounded like a plan to me!
But first I needed my camera. 

Just as I came around the corner of the office, heading towards my little black pickup parked under a big shade tree, what do I see? A squirrel jumping down from the open window!
Yikes... what was that squirrel doing in there??      and guess what?
Yep, he had a brilliant red bushy tail. Nahhh, that just had to be a coincidence, right?
I laughed to myself as I drove instead of walked towards the area the kind groundskeeper guy had suggested for me.

I know I've mentioned it was a beautiful Spring day, bright sun shining. This seemed such a gorgeous day to be walking around in a cemetery ... oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that the previous week, and even just days before had been rainy. Not just rain. It poured. And poured!
The grassy cemetery grounds were still wet... soggy wet. 
In some places it was just plain icky mucky muddy wet.

Once off the asphalt driveway I oh so carefully watched where I stepped on the muddy ground. I was looking for a large Hallahan plot. There were several buried in the same large plot so it should be easy to find, right?

I was so carefully intent on where I was walking that I nearly jumped out of my skin when the loud and extremely agitated sounds of a squirrel were suddenly right behind me!
I whirled around to see what the heck was going on ... and there, on one of the long overhanging branches of a large tree was a really noisy squirrel.
Not just any old squirrel, oh, no. This one had the same brilliant bushy red tail. 
This one seemed plenty upset with something.
Or someone.

I laughed out loud. Took a deep breath to calm my rapidly beating heart, and turned to walk away.
That squirrel had other ideas. Do you have any idea how loud one of those little guys can be??!
I might not have understood squirrel language but the unmistakable TONE of the chattering told me to pay attention.
Right now!

This time I looked right at those bright little squirrel eyes. They stared right back at me.
Ooooohh, there's that strange tingly feeling again, very much like the feeling I had earlier in the day while walking towards the Hall of Records.
Goose bump time.

The squirrel turned and ran along the long branch, down the tree trunk, and onto the wet grass... not towards me but at an angle away from me.
OK, so now the squirrel is gonna do it's little squirrel things. I had headstones to find.
Little red tail squirrel had other ideas.

My one step away from the tree, away from that squirrel brought on another onslaught of racket!
Geesh, what's going on?? I stopped to watch the squirrel run up the tree, out on the long branch, and chatter at me, and then repeat this run up run down and chatter three times. 
The third time the chatter was still loud but without the attitude.

Something told me I should go towards the squirrel... for some reason I needed to walk that direction.
To walk into the area I thought I'd already checked for the Hallahan plot.

I did. I went towards the squirrel who sat calmly on the branch watching me.
I stopped not far from where the squirrel had been on the wet grass. 
Ya know what was right in front of me, don't you? You must have guessed it by now. 
Yep, the VERY large square Hallahan plot, complete with a raised curb with rounded edges.
The name HALLAHAN was engraved in large letters right in front of me. There are probably 6 people buried in this large plot surrounded by the raised concrete curb.
Did I mention this plot was large? How in the world did I miss this??? 
I walked through this area, walked right past this plot. Did I walk with my eyes closed???

I turned to look at the now silent red tailed squirrel but the branch was empty.
The cemetery was silent. 
Tingly feeling again.
Goose bump time.

OK, this is silly. I said that quietly to myself and I tried to shake off that very strange tingly feeling.
I kept telling myself that my often overactive imagination was enjoying this cemetery stuff way too much.
I fumbled with my camera, took some shots of the Hallahan plot, the individual headstones within it, and decided to hurry up and move on to the next cemetery down the road.

I had other headstones to find. I needed to shake this creepy feeling.

Driving from one cemetery to the other was just driving out onto Belmont Ave and then back in the next driveway.
This time I was looking for the Borboa plot. 
From what Aunt Hilda told me years ago, and from what I re-read in my notes the day I interviewed her in Firebaugh... I should find a tall headstone that has the names of Aunt Hilda's grandparents listed.
Aunt Hilda said I couldn't miss it.
Uh huh.

So I walked, and I drove... the cemetery is not very big.
The early afternoon sun was shining brighter, the grass was drying, and there were very few trees to be seen anywhere. The tall headstone wasn't to be seen either.

In frustration I threw my hands in the air and just said, out loud this time ... "OK Juanita, I need some help here... show me where your daughter's is, Please?!!"
Um, yeah, I've been talking to Juanita for years.
Not that she's ever answered me, but I talk to her.

Still frustrated and now getting hungry, I got back into my little pickup, starting to drive slowly forward.
And slammed on the brakes!

A red tailed squirrel had run across the drive right in front of me.
From out of nowhere.
Across in front of me, running right towards the area where I had been. Again. And it stopped.
Right near where I had been.
And it stared at me.

This time I didn't hesitate, I just got out of the pickup and started walking towards the squirrel. 
Oh, forgot my camera! Turned back, reached inside the pickup and grabbed the camera, and turned to head back towards the squirrel after remembering to roll up the window.

Yes, of course the squirrel was gone. No trees around for it to climb and hide.
Nothing but flat green grass with an occasional tall headstone... TALL headstone????

You guessed it again! Right near the driveway, very close to where I'd been standing while asking Juanita for some help. Right there in totally plain sight was the tall, slim headstone surrounded by a concrete raised curb with the name BORBOA engraved in large letters.
I was thinking I must be going blind.
No squirrel looking at me this time.
Just me, standing there, hands on my hips, turning around slowly, and thinking "am I on Candid Camera??"
Strange creepy feeling.

Time to get out of these two cemeteries. I'm headed down the street to a larger cemetery. 
I know my grandparents are buried here, I attended their funerals and have seen their headstone. 
This is the Nana who started me on my journey when I found her Little Red Book.
Just to be sure I didn't miss them I drove very slowly, carefully watching out the driver side window.
Nana and Papa's headstone is close to the driveway, and yes,  In    Plain    Sight!
And I drove right past it.
At the end of the driveway I just backed up... no other cars in here.
In fact, there are no other people anywhere around.
It's very quiet here. Very quiet.

I begin to drive forward again, having backed up almost to the entrance gate at the corner.
Slowly    Slowly    STOP!   Hit the brakes. Don't hit the squirrel!!! Again??? Yes.  Again.
A red tailed squirrel ran across the driveway in front of me, but I know this isn't the area.
I've been here several times ... well, yeah, I've been here but it was many years ago.

Ahhhh, but it IS the right spot.
Not only is this the right spot but this time I don't even have to get out of my pickup to take my photo!
I told myself, actually said the words out loud... this is crazy, don't think about it. 
Coincidences, right? Right???

I had one more photo to take. One more grave site to find. Then I'd be outta there!

The last one would be more difficult. I'd never been there. 
Mom told me where she thought it was, but that was a memory from long ago.
Once again I was driving slowly.
I think I was looking more for some darned squirrel than headstones!

I didn't have to look for very long. Out of nowhere a red tailed squirrel dashed across the driveway and scampered across the grassy grave sites and up a small hilly area around several rows of headstones
... and stopped.
It was very still. Not moving. Just staring.

[This is the part kinda like when you watch a scary movie and the dumb person goes INto the dark room, or OUTside the house, or wherever and you just know something is about to happen. My brain was telling me don't get out of the pickup. Don't walk across that grassy area. Don't go up that small hill. 
But of course I did.]

I grabbed my camera, rolled up the window, locked the door and walked with a definite purpose up that hilly area, across all that now dry grass... right towards that darned little red tailed squirrel. 
It wasn't gonna scare me away!

And there it sat, right on top of the gravestones marking the two graves... one for my great grandmother and the other for my great grandfather.
I had never been there.
Had never seen those stone markers.
Had no idea of exactly where they were buried.
But the red tailed squirrel knew.

And just so you know, this is not something I talk about often, although my husband thinks it's a great quirky story and wants me to tell it whenever we meet new cousins.
I rarely tell the entire version, most often it's just something about a squirrel helping me.

I've written it here because I mentioned it in an earlier post... the red tailed squirrel ran across in front of me as I started to turn out of a convenience store the first time I drove to Firebaugh to meet Tootie and Barry.
I would have been lost, but with the help of the red tailed squirrel I drove right up to the front of their house.

I know. Most of you are rolling your eyes. 
You're probably thinking this was a cute (or just plain hokey) story that I made up.
Nope. It happened exactly as I wrote it.
No embellishments.
That day happened years ago but in my mind the images are as clear as if they're happening right now.

Now for some final comments:

The red tailed squirrel has shown up a few other times in my search for pieces of information, always with the same results. When I see the critter I know I'll find something exciting, some bit of information to continue adding to Juanita's immediate and extended families.
But to fully understand what I'm finding I need to listen with my heart, not just see with my eyes.

Perhaps our ancestors use furry little friends to guide us instead of suddenly just appearing in front of us.
Perhaps this is just an easier way for our ancestors to help us find the stories of their lives.
I'm certain most of us would entirely miss their point. 
Yeah, we'd miss it if we were frantically running and screaming like terrified maniacs in the opposite direction
... having just seen such a long gone apparition!

Perhaps our ancestors really ARE in touch with our world?