North Carolina Peel n’ Eat Fresh Shrimp

 My wife Sherry taught me to drink George Dickel. It’s our house whiskey. There’s a gallon bottle of it in my liquor cabinet, a bottle that I empty with distressing frequency. Sherry has always insisted that we drink the white label Dickel, which is the 12-year, the pricier of the two options, as opposed to the green label 8-year, which, according to her, is swill consumed only by yahoos. I have always bowed to her better judgment, but am looking forward to comparing the two.

I met Sherry many years ago when we both worked for the Washington Post. She and I had friends in common. I am not alone in thinking her then, and now, as a smart, beautiful woman, thin with waves of striking black hair, quick to laugh. When she schooled me on my bourbon drinking she moved the needle on her hotness level up several notches; who doesn’t love a beautiful woman who has strong opinions when it comes to drinking bourbon?

Because I have such a strong emotional attachment to Dickel, I actually looked up a few facts…

George Adam Dickel emigrated from Germany to the United States just about the time the interior of my house was being ripped off its foundation and hauled away to where it now sits. At the time, he was a shoemaker, though in the Civil War he became a liquor smuggler. George, who died in 1894, never actually made whiskey, he just bottled and distributed it. Dickel was different from other whiskeys in that it was distilled through thick vats of maple charcoal before going into barrels for aging. In 1958 they began making Dickel in Tennessee, aging it for six years before putting it on sale. The brand did well in the 70’s and 80’s when most brands of bourbon were doing poorly. Thus endeth the results of my George Dickel research.

I was at the Penny when Josh served me up two glasses of Dickel, neat, the eight-year and the twelve-year. To tell the truth, while I could taste the difference between the two Dickels, it was mostly a matter of the younger version tasting less refined… well… younger. Although I usually prefer the harsher versions of my liquors, this was not a striking difference. Maybe it’s because the older was what I was used to, or maybe I just didn’t want to look like a yahoo in my wife’s eyes, but the white label gets the nod as the better, more interesting liquor.

I was by myself this evening because Mark was mildly pissed off at me. I should never have shut the door when he was under the house. I don’t know why I did that. But he had a reason beyond my poor joke to be pissed off, or at least he had a good reason. I saw him the day after he crawled around under my house, and he was on his way to see the doctor. It turns out that he was covered, and I mean covered, with insect bites and rashes acquired while on his journey into my crawlspace. While this wasn’t strictly my fault, I understood why I should stay out of his sight for a day or two. He did admit that he wasn’t aware of any biting by bugs while he was under the house, which would have told him to get the hell out of there more quickly than he had. But he hadn’t noticed, so now he was scratching himself bloody.

I finished off one of my two glasses of Dickel and thought about everything that had been going on. Events had taken a turn for the worse. Things, as you will see, had turned serious.

My house has been under severe attack for several days. A giant black walnut tree looms just eight feet from the addition on the back where the kitchen is situated. My relations with black walnut trees have always been benevolent. My family used to go to the woods in West Virginia every fall to collect the nuts, which my mother would then eventually turn into black walnut coffee cakes. But now, in North Carolina, the trees have turned on me with, as they say, a vengeance.

The walnut tree behind the house is at least 70 feet high. Its branches are loaded with nuts; I don’t think numbering them in the low thousands is an exaggeration. When a nut breaks off, it begins to plunge earthward at a constant, if frightening rate of speed. If you were of a scientific bent, you could measure this velocity by applying the following formula: objects accelerate at 9.81 meters per square second, m/s^2, or 32 feet per square second, ft/s^2. In real terms, if you get hit square on the head by one of these nut bombs, it’s probably going to knock you unconscious and it just might kill you.

One of the archaic, if charming elements of my old house, is that the various roofs of the various additions are sheathed in metal shingles. This means that when a nut slams into the roof, it makes a sound that reverberates throughout the house. It’s as if we live inside a gong. And while it’s usually a simple, sharp BANG, it sometimes sounds like a dead body has been dropped on the roof, a loud, flat thudding contact. This is the sound of a squirrel launching itself from a branch thirty feet in the air, hitting the metal roof with a mighty THUD. It has to be heard to be believed.

When we moved in, it was late in nut-drop season. This problem had not been mentioned by the seller in the pre-sale, disclosure document. In those first days, I’d wake up ten times a night thinking the banging was gunshots. This is because I had PTSD from living in Maryland outside Washington, DC, where the bangs often were gunshots. After a couple of weeks in NC, the hits still woke me up, but I lay in bed with a smile on my face knowing they were not caused by gunfire, no one was shooting anyone on the cul-de-sac outside. I was in a new land, where violence was not the order of the day, or night. But that was before we came under serious attack from the trees and the squirrels. This year – now — it was serious.

Over the last week, smack in the middle of nut drop season, the roof hits began occurring every ten seconds. If that doesn’t sound like much, let me come over to your house and rap on your head with my bare knuckles every ten seconds. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

Last night at bedtime Sherry decided to attempt to escape the nut onslaught by sleeping in the downstairs guest room. This is our most interior room. She wrapped her head in her pillow and curled up tight in her blankets. After my usual number of George Dickels, (three? four?) I went to bed in our upstairs bedroom and fell asleep for a solid two hours. Then about one o’clock I woke up. And lay in bed for an hour while the nuts crashed down. Could they have even increased their frequency? Were they even louder than usual? Yes, it seemed so.

I gave up at two AM, put on my classy dark blue robe and went downstairs. Sherry had closed both doors to the guest room, so there was little chance my moving around was going to disturb her, if she could even have heard me over the nut crashes.

These days my first stop in the middle of the night is to check the light coming up between the floorboards. No lights this night; the crawlspace was dark. I eased down on my knees and put my ear to the floor. No sounds of digging. I had put the shovel in my backyard shed. I got up, sat in my easy chair, and covered my lap with my furry lap rug. Sweetie jumped up, snuggled in and began purring. Is there any scenario more conducive to sleep, if you discounted the walnuts thundering down on the roof with now almost constant frequency? This can’t be normal, can it, this constant rain of nuts? I vowed to call a county extension service tree guy and ask him this very question.

The cat jumped off my lap. I figured she had had it and was going somewhere she could pull a pillow over her head. I gave up any notions of sleep, found my Extremely Powerful Flashlight and wandered back to the kitchen.





I collected a glass of water out of the refrigerator door and stared out the windows to the backyard, more in idleness rather than interest. I could see the walnuts as they bounced into the yard. I’ve mentioned in an earlier entry that there is a bright streetlight over my neighbor Sam’s house, which illuminates my back yard as well. I noticed that besides the hillocks of black walnuts, there were other odd bumps as well. I flicked on my powerful flashlight and pointed it through the window.

There were hundreds of squirrels in the back yard. All sitting up in cute little squirrel prayer positions, staring at the back of my house. It had rained earlier, so there was a haze over the yard. A thick halo surrounded the streetlight. My flashlight caught the squirrels’ eyes and the beam was reflected back at me. Unmoving, flat green dots. Hundreds of them.


I’ve never seen so many squirrels in one place before. I’m not sure if anyone has seen this many unmoving squirrels in one place. I felt like if I went out into the backyard, and I had absolutely no intention in going out into the back yard, they would leap on me and rip the flesh from my bones. Crazy, no? Piranha squirrels.


At that moment, I saw what my brain interpreted as a very large rag doll, a child-sized rag doll, bouncing off the roof, plunging flat into the wet grass and lying there, unmoving. Let me repeat: a child-sized doll. I stepped further back into the kitchen and turned off the flashlight, afraid of being seen by, what? The squirrels? The child/doll body that was lying in the grass?

I gathered my courage and moved back to the kitchen window. The squirrels were still sitting there. I, reluctantly, moved my flashlight beam to the body lying on the grass. It looked like a little girl. She appeared to be about seven or eight years old, maybe older. Was she dead? Was she alive before she began her downward plunge? It sounded as if she had fallen out of the tree, onto the roof, bounced and tumbled the rest of the way to the ground. It was not a pleasant sound.

In the beam of the flashlight, she raised herself into a pushup position.

And began dragging herself toward the house.

Toward me.

I kept the light on her as long as I could bear it. When she was close to the house, she looked up, as if she could see me through the window. And perhaps she could. It seemed as if her face was twisted in concentration. Was her nose bleeding? Her lips?

Did she smile at me?

I turned off the light as she scuttled beneath my sight line, underneath the house. I heard one of the low wooden doors open, then close. I stood, unmoving, holding my breath. When I steadied myself, I turned the flashlight on the backyard.

The squirrels had all disappeared.

The cat was standing beside me at my feet looking out through the sliding glass door. Her back was arched like a cartoon black cat in a rage. Her mouth was open in a silent hiss.

3 thoughts on “NINE

  1. Seance, smudging, or put your home on Hillsborough walking tour! Personally, I’d be waiting for girlie girl one night. We’d have to chat. The last thing I want is to wake up and have her standing over me. We have to set co-existing rules. 😉


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