Using my clean hand, I wiped off my golf cart’s seat. Once certain the dirt once there was now on the palm of my hand I drove the cart the short distance which separated my property from that of the nine holes of golf and the pro-shop. As always, I parked the cart near the shop’s front door and as I walked through the entry, and without really looking at her, I greeted the woman responsible for keeping track of the golfers. “What’s up,” I asked.
“Not much, how are you?” she replied. Still moving toward the counter which separated the two of us, and only then looking at her, I noticed something distinctively different about the woman who I had seen almost every day for the past year. She was wearing, at least it appeared that way to me, a small grey squirrel that was, from front to back, climbing about her torso.
“I can’t quite put my finger on it Theresa but there’s something different about you,” I sarcastically stated as I signed the guest book which was resting on the counter top. “Yes I guess there is, this is Fred,” she rather nonchalantly replied. Well, and without further ado, here’s the story of Fred, the golf course squirrel.
I’m a member in good standing of the Elk River Golf Course. The course’s challenging nine holes provide golfers only one-half the number of holes normally found on golf courses, however those patches of grass can be difficult to maneuver. Those holes of golf can be found on the edge of Noel, a small, rural Southwest Missouri town. The 40 acres of grass and sand rest on a low-lying patch of ground nestled between the scenic bluffs, which provide a roof for Highway 59, and the normally quiet waters of Elk River.
Cows graze on farm land that has been in the same family for more than one-hundred years and the course of two and fifty years rebukes financial logic as it somehow remains open to the much appreciated plethora of golf club wielding men and women from all over whom each year travel to the beautiful fragment of Ozark ground.
Theresa and Bobby manage the course and the couple greets and welcomes customers, accepts payments, moves golf carts around and performs the endless number of daily tasks which keep the course running smoothly. Functions which Theresa never anticipated, however, were the responsibilities of managing a squirrel rescue center and the parenting of an infant shadow-tailed rodent named Fred. Never in her wildest imagination could Theresa have dreamed that she would one day become the surrogate parent to a small, furry ball of unbridled energy; and one with sharp claws and teeth.
Some weeks ago, and as Bobby walked along the bank of one the golf course’s many ponds, he heard a voice. “Hey mister, take a look at this.” At first Bobby wasn’t certain the request was directed at him but, as he continued to walk along the water’s edge, the voice once more broke the silence. “Hey, wait a minute, we found something you need to see.”
Now, certain that the words were directed toward him, Bobby turned only to see two young boys walking quickly toward him. “What’s up,” he asked. One of the boys held out his right hand and nestled in the palm of that opened hand laid a small motionless object which Bobby recognized as a squirrel. “We think it’s still alive, but barely.” “We found it over there,” as he pointed in the direction of a large oak tree, “just lying on the ground.”
Bobby didn’t need to give a minute’s thought to his response. “Okay, give it to me. I know someone who will take good care of it.” The then temporary caregiver to a baby squirrel carefully took the lifeless package from the boy and walked the short distance to the pro-shop.
It was as if Theresa could sense the presence of an animal in need of her care. Bobby had not wholly passed through the doorway when she asked, “What are you carrying?” Bobby held the squirrel in the palm of one hand and with the other hand gently covered the small helpless orphan. “It’s a baby squirrel that must have fallen from the big oak tree by the pond. I guess he’s been abandoned and it looks like he’s barely alive.” “Give him to me,” without the slightest hesitation, Theresa said.
Within the palms of her open hands Theresa gently, and almost motherly, cradled the poor helpless animal. She spoke softly and as though she believed the baby could understand her words of comfort. And maybe that lost motherless infant did in fact realize that this woman was a friend and one who wanted to help.
Theresa was determined to do everything within her power to give life to that squirrel. She began to feed the baby a concoction made of goat’s milk, heavy whipping cream and yogurt. As for the best container to hold the mixture, what better means to transfer the formula to the squirrel could be found than making use of a small baby bottle?
The homeless squirrel slept in a small box which was lined with warm blankets. To further ensure that the baby would be kept warm an electric heating pad was placed under the thick layer of garments. It wasn’t the same as the warmth provided by its mother’s fur, however the time for improvising was at hand and it would have to do.
After the passage of several days, which quickly turned into a week, the baby was alive, eating and doing well. Theresa and Bobby decided it was time to give the little squirrel a name, but what should an adopted squirrel be called. Theresa determined that the squirrel was in fact a female, a little girl, so the two foster parents, and unanimously, agreed that she should be given the name, Fred.
Several months have now passed and Fred has grown into a juvenile squirrel. With thick fur and a bushy tail she roams the counter, racks of goods offered for sale and, of course, Theresa. As Theresa sits atop a stool behind the counter, Fred jumps from one perch to another but always seems to prefer the shirt worn by her foster mother.
Theresa talks to her and tries to coax her back onto the countertop but Fred prefers the comfort of, what she must assuredly believe to be, her mother. Just as it appears that Fred will never tire of her games she stops, and wherever she my be, closes her eyes and takes a brief nap knowing all the while that Theresa is there to protect her.
What are the long range plans for Fred the squirrel you may ask? Well, Theresa would like to one day free Fred from the confines of the pro-shop. It’s hoped that the ball of fur would live freely on the grounds and find that the many trees to climb are to her liking. But, letting a child go alone into the uncertainty of the world outside can be frightening for a parent, even a foster parent. What would become of Fred should Theresa not be there to break the hard shells of dinner nuts with the use of a nut-cracker?
Fred the squirrel doesn’t seem to be the least bit embarrassed or offended by the gender inappropriate masculine name given to her. In fact, the small rodent appears to be quite content and seems to enjoy the seemingly endless amount of attention given to her. Fred is most assuredly spoiled and Theresa spends hours talking to her, bathing her in the sink and doting over the gray bushy-tailed golf course resident.
Theresa once adopted a small infant cougar. She raised that cat and for ten years that feline, named Precious, lived with her and her children. Theresa will tell you the story of Precious and her life with her adopted family of people if you ask. She will also readily, and with a smile on her face, talk about the baby squirrel, Fred, who lives at the Elk River Golf Course.