DUE TO necessity, I take an interest in squirrels. I have had to stop putting out bird seeds because I haven’t found a feeder that the species Sciuridae couldn’t crack.
And the little rodents still patrol my deck, looking for stray seeds and sometimes gazing in my full-length glass door. Is it instinct, or do long memories reside in their tiny brains?
In researching this problem I have stumbled on some fascinating lore.
John Kelly, Washington Post columnist, wrote about Tommy Tucker, the most famous squirrel ever to come from the nation’s capital.
I quote him in part:
In the 1940s a cross-dressing squirrel from Washington, D.C., took the nation by storm. With more than 100 outfits to choose from — and such accessories as hats and pearl necklaces — Tommy Tucker captivated adults and children alike. He sold war bonds during World War II and encouraged members of the Tommy Tucker Club to be kind to animals.
IN JUNE OF 1949 Harold Bryant, superintendent of the Grand Canyon, sat down to draft his monthly report. It had been an eventful month at the national park. A man had committed suicide by jumping into the Colorado River. A hiker had crossed the canyon in a single day. Four new mules were being trained for trail work.
And Tommy Tucker had been found dead inside his trailer — “apparently of a heart attack brought on by old age,” Bryant wrote.
He came from a tree, as all Eastern gray squirrels do. Stories differ — he fell from a branch when still a blind and hairless baby; or his mother died, leaving him orphaned; or a child found him — but, whatever happened, in 1942 he arrived at 1846 16th St. NW, the home of Mark C. and Zaidee Bullis.
WHO CAN SAY whether the warm bundle stirred some maternal instinct deep inside Mrs. Bullis. The house she shared with her husband — a prominent dental surgeon some years her senior — did not echo with the sounds of children. There were none, nor would there ever be.
Mrs. Bullis nursed her tiny ward, spoon-feeding him milk until he regained his strength, and then watched him grow as he feasted on walnuts, vegetables, bread, cookies and — a special treat — avocados.
Soon, he had a name: Tommy Tucker, perhaps after the nursery rhyme that begins “Little Tommy Tucker / Sings for his supper.”
It was one of Dr. Bullis’s patients who sewed the first outfit, the details of which are lost. Perhaps it was the blue-and-white gingham dress, or maybe the ruffled skirt with pearl necklace, or the Dutch-girl costume with apron and bonnet. They were fashionable duds, scaled to a squirrel’s proportions.
Tommy accompanied Mrs. Bullis as she shopped. Soon, she started visiting schools with Tommy, his outfits packed in a suitcase. He attended the annual meeting of the Children of the American Revolution, sharing the bill with a Marine Corps sergeant just back from the attack on Bougainville Island. He was a frequent visitor to Children’s Hospital.
In January 1944, Tommy was featured in a spread in Life magazine. He sits without squirming while Mrs. Bullis dresses him in one outfit after another.
Tommy never complained, Life reported, although sometimes he bit Mrs. Bullis.
Writing about the day when the famous squirrel expired, Kelly wonders:
Did his life flash before his eyes, the highs — Life magazine! FDR! — as well as the lows: his name misspelled as “Tommy Ticker” in the Iola (Kansas) Register and the Clearfield (Pa. ) Progress?
AS THE granddaughter of George Tucker and the grandmother of Tucker Jones, I can relate in one way to this squirrel whose name has been immortalized as folklore.
But to all the other Eastern gray squirrels in my Gilmer yard, I can only say, go away.