Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Eve & Taxidermy

2 words that I never expected to type in the same heading! And what, you may ask, does taxidermy have to do with our Christmas Eve 2011? That is a long story. Let me give you the back story:

1) I am petrified of tigers. And bears. And lions. Oh my! Pretty much anything that could eat me. Or maul me to death. I'm not a big fan of wildlife in general which is, I know, very un-PC to say. (Oddly enough, the selling point for our new house was that it backed up into a forest. Every morning, I look out onto our backyard of trees & am thrilled to see the frequent deer visitor. Occasionally we have quail and even wild turkeys. But here's the thing: these wildlife darlings are AFRAID of ME. They bolt off when they see me coming. Unlike, let's say, a tiger which would smell my fear and run right to me!)

I used to visit zoos without horror, but now can't even drive past our local "Cat Tales"- zoo for all large cat animals- without shuddering. My children joke about wanting to have birthday parties there, because they know I will not attend.

2) My husband is the nicest, kindest person that I know. Over the past few months, he has become acquainted with an elderly gentleman named Jerry. He met him at the YMCA, where he learned much of Jerry's story while they worked out on adjacent treadmills.

Recently widowed (last Thanksgiving), the holidays have been very difficult for Jerry. He expressed his despair at the upcoming Christmas season, and my sweet husband decided then and there that we were going to visit Jerry on Christmas Eve and bring him a big fruit basket.

For days before the event, Quinn got the kids prepared (and very excited) for this Christmas Eve visit we would be making. The little guys were looking forward to it so much that they asked about when we were going to do our "special visit to Jerry" more than they even asked when it was going to be Christmas. It was very touching.

So where does taxidermy fit into all of this?!?

Well, that husband of mine forgot to mention that... JERRY IS A TAXIDERMIST! and that JERRY LIVES IN HIS HOME WHICH IS BEHIND HIS TAXIDERMY STORE & WORKSHOP!

Yes, true story, in order to actually visit Jerry, you must WALK THROUGH HIS COLLECTION OF LIONS & TIGERS & BEARS. I am shaking as I yell/type this... two days later!

We knocked on Jerry's door, our large clan standing in the snow armed with an even larger basket of goodies, and all I could think was, "Please, please, please don't invite us in." Of course he invited us in. And then all I could do was put on my game face and will myself to disassociate.

Jerry was adorable. He didn't cringe at the presence of so many strangers on his doorstep. He wasn't afraid of inviting so many six-year-olds into his store and home. He didn't think twice before insisting that we come all the way inside so that we could see his treasures. He even claimed that we "made his Christmas."

The kids were beyond thrilled. We saw tigers, lions, ligers, (a cross between the two that I didn't even know existed to be afraid of) bears, wolves, and on and on. Jerry took great pride in showing us his extensive supply of taxidermy tools and animal skins. (I refused to even let myself wonder what the hooks and tubes and hoses were for. And the glass eyes? Don't even get me started. ) I smiled my way through the tour, clenching Quinn's hand to the point of breaking skin, he later said.

And then, in the spirit of Christmas, Jerry offered to show us his "special pet"- the one that he never lets visitors see. "I'm pretty sure he won't bite ya," said Jerry, as he opened a locked back door.

Which is when my fight or flight system kicked in. Actually, it was mostly flight. Certain a yet-to-be-taxidermied tiger (alive and kicking) was going to pounce through the door for attack, I was ready to scoop up my young and run like the devil. (Quinn was on his own!)

In hindsight, I realize how irrational it was to believe that a real, live tiger was behind the door, but as anybody knows, phobias are never very rational.

Behind the door was a huge, 15-foot tiger (once alive, now the pride of Jerry's taxidermist heart.) He asked us to help carry it in and then he set the animal up so that we could take pictures with it.

I've posted one photo here. What you can't see is Quinn and Taylor laughing their heads off in the background while I tried to be polite and pose with the animal of my nightmares. This was somewhat of an "action shot" for me, and I am blurry because I was turning my head left-to-right-and-back-again, over and over, to be certain that a) the beast couldn't possibly come back to life b) there were no other animals, stuffed or otherwise, who would attack.

I know, I know. I've never claimed to be sane.

This Christmas Eve turned out to be a little traumatic for me- I won't lie. But I loved seeing how excited Quinn and the kids were to try to bring a little Christmas spirit to somebody who was having an even more traumatic Christmas Eve than I was. "I thought today was going to be awful for me," Jerry told us. "But you just made it wonderful."

That alone was worth it. Quinn and the kids are already planning our next holiday to include a visit with Jerry. I'm all for it! Although I think this time we'll invite him to our place. Our house is always a zoo- I'm sure he'll feel right at home.