Everdeen | When My Father Calls
It was after I married that my father adopted Everdeen. He would watch her gnaw on the sunflower seeds that had spilled from his carefully placed birdfeeders. He watched her patterns, replicating the sound of sunflower seeds falling from the feeder in order to lure her to the patio, where he’d toss a few seeds at a time. Two weeks later she was eating out of his hand.“There’s a new woman in my life,” he called to tell me one recent summer. “Her name is Everdeen.”
One of Everdeen’s kin had babies the next spring, my father told me the day we sat on the patio: “You cannot believe how cute they are. Not as cute as Everdeen, but still cute.”
“How do you know they’re related to Everdeen?” I handed him another peanut out of the jar.
“Because that’s what Mom would say.” We both laughed. “No, I know because Everdeen and her kinfolk all exit the same series of tunnels. They wouldn’t allow other chipmunks in their territory.” He set the sapling he was whittling against the glass table and sipped from his Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi. “Hand me the sandpaper, will you?” And then, “You know, I’m ready for a grandbaby.”
My dad refers to her—my as-yet-not-conceived child—by her name: Caroline. He talks about how she’ll be a country girl; he’ll buy her a pony, and even if it’s blind in one eye the way mine was, she’ll ride it like the wind. And, of course, she’ll love visiting him, because where else can you feed a chipmunk out of your hand?
“I’ll teach little Caroline that it takes time,” he said, lifting his white handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his brow. “To train a chipmunk, that is.”
“What if I have a boy?”
“Boys can train chipmunks, too,” he said. “And it’s worth the time it takes, because they keep coming back.”
It occurred to me one day that Everdeen might not be a female; the Peterson field guide my father gave me for my 24th birthday says that you have to hold a chipmunk upside down and look at the bumps under its tail to determine its sex. I decided not to ask him why he thinks Everdeen is an Everdeen, after he drove two hours south one Sunday just to eat omelets with me and tell me about how he’d successfully made her jump for a nut the previous week. He’s always known the things that I have to ask: Clydesdale or Percheron? Poison ivy or Virginia creeper? Beech or aspen? Male or female?