By Faith Ellestad
One theory of eternity, my current favorite, involves the ability to return to earth as a different entity. Given a choice, I think I might like to return as Castor canadensis, a good old North American beaver. “What?” you say. Well, there is a lot to be admired about beavers. They are industrious, family centric, clever, and adaptable, all qualities I strive for. And I just find them endearing. Although probably not true for everyone, all my somewhat sporadic beaver-related connections have been happy. Nope, never had a bad day that involved beavers.
But what drew my attention to beavers in the first place, as opposed to, say, lemurs or gorillas? My interest probably dates back to the early 1950’s when the Bristol Meyers company introduced Bucky Beaver as the spokes-rodent for their new Ipana toothpaste. “Brusha Brusha Brusha, here’s the new Ipana, with the brand-new flavor, it’s dandy for your teeth,” sang Bucky, while enthusiastically demonstrating just how fun brushing really was. As a Colgate family, protected by its trademark Gardol Shield, we never actually used Ipana, but still, Bucky Beaver with his gleaming white incisors captured my heart. Soon after the introduction of Bucky, the iconic “Leave It To Beaver” series premiered, featuring the toothy Jerry Mathers, (who ostensibly resembled a beaver, but in reality looked more like a chipmunk, if you want to be picky). Still, I was a devoted fan of The Beav. As I got older, and more discerning, I read natural science books exploring the lifestyle of actual dam-building beavers, watched “life of the beaver” nature specials, and eventually, on a family camping vacation, saw chewed tree stumps and an actual beaver dam. For some time, I was hooked on beavers.
Then puberty intervened, bringing new, more immediate interests, such as social life, education, marriage, kids and work. I put away the things of a child, passed the baton of wildlife studies on to my offspring, and reluctantly assumed the mantle of under-employed adult.
One of my early jobs with the State of Wisconsin was file clerking in the UW Hospital Xray file department. It was a physically taxing, exasperating and monotonous slog made bearable only by good benefits and my amusing, quirky fellow clerks, most notably Tim. Tim was unusually good-natured about the job, which I attributed to his being strong, tall, young, and just marking time until his musical career took wing. Nothing seemed to bother him, whereas I would drag in, perpetually late, frazzled, hungry and often make-up-free after struggling to get my kids ready for school. Occasionally, staff had to work weekends and one memorable autumn Saturday, Tim and I were assigned to cover an early morning shift. When I arrived at the ungodly hour of 7AM, Tim was already there and in bubblingly good cheer.
“Hey, welcome!” he practically yelled as I walked into the file room past the barred security window.
“What’s up with you?” I asked, puzzled that anyone would be in a such a chipper mood at that hour on a Saturday.
“Oh, this is so great! I couldn’t wait for you to get here!” he boomed. Tim had a deep base voice that could carry to all corners of a room effortlessly.
I flinched a little. I loved Tim, but this morning the volume was a bit much. “What’s so great?” I repeated. “Tell me.”
“It was so cool. You won’t even believe it.”
“Yes I will. I promise. What?”
“OK. “Well when I got here this morning, there were these two guys standing at the window. I asked what they wanted and they said they were waiting for an Xray to be brought over from the radiology department. Of course, I needed to see some ID. It turns out one guy was a deputy sheriff and the other one was-get this-a forensic pathologist. So we talked until the Xray copy arrived and I logged it in and had them sign for it.”
“OK, so what was their story?” This was definitely unusual, and I was curious.
“Well, I looked at the Xray naturally, and it was just the lower part of a detached arm. Just the arm. Nothing else. I don’t think we ever had something like that before, so I said ‘what IS this!’
And the deputy said, ‘It’s an arm. Someone found it in the woods and we’re investigating. We don’t have the rest of the body. We need the Xray as evidence’.”
Recounting his story, Tim, in his excitement, had flushed a vibrant and rather alarming shade of puce. He continued.
“So I asked the deputy, ‘what do you think happened? How did it get there?’
And the forensics guy said,”
Here Tim allowed a dramatic pause before assuming the conspiratorial tone of the pathologist,
“’Hmm. We think beavers.’”
“Beavers!” he repeated gleefully. “Beavers. Can you believe it? We think beavers!”
This might be the most perfect story I’ve ever heard. And I will love Tim forever for sharing it with me. It became a personal meme for me in the 1980’s, before “meme” was even a thing, and still serves me well.
A few years ago, as I became my mother’s caregiver, I was compelled to develop new, unwanted skills, among them, hair cutting. As a person severely lacking in the digital coordination department, my attempts to manipulate comb, mirror and scissors in unison were clumsy and laughable at best. Although I persevered and eventually got the front looking presentable, between my lack of dexterity and Mom’s constant fidgeting, the back was dreadful, different lengths, slanted from left to right and shorter than I had intended.
“How does it look?” she asked me.
Well, actually,” I was forced to admit, “The front looks ok, but the back kind of looks like it was chewed by a beaver.” She was delighted.
“That’s ok,” she said. “No one looks at the back, anyway.”
So I able to practice my special style numerous times. As long as she couldn’t see the back, I was willing to keep gnawing at it.
After Mom died, I thought I could retire from the styling business, but then Covid arrived, and with it, the closing of all the chop shops, salons and barbers. I decided to just grow my hair, but after about 6 months, my husband really needed a trim.
“Would you mind giving me a haircut?” he asked? Seeing my reluctant expression, he said, he thought encouragingly, “You cut your mom’s and it always turned out fine.”
I guess she was correct, no one had looked at the back. So I agreed to give it a try.
Armed with scissors, comb and a spray bottle, I set to work, dropping the comb every time I positioned the scissors and misplacing the scissors every time I reached for the spray bottle, but after an agonizing learning curve, a you-tube tutorial, a lot of laughter between us and really, very little blood, I finished the job. Much like my mother’s stylings, the front was definitely improved. The back? Ehh.
“Well, how does it look?” my spouse queried faux-casually, in an attempt to mask his anxiety. I handed him the mirror so he could view all angles, and offered a thoughtful critique.
“Hmmmm,” I said, “We think beavers!”
© 2021 Faith Ellestad
Faith has been writing to amuse her family since she was old enough to print letters to her grandparents. Now retired, she has the opportunity (and with Covid restrictions, the time) to share some personal stories, and in the process, discover more about herself. Faith and her husband live with two elderly cats in Madison, Wisconsin. They are the parents of two great sons and a loving daughter-in-law.