It was 1934 and the Stringams had a gopher problem.
For any of you who have lived on or near a farm/ranch, you know that gophers cause no end of troubles. They dig burrows that can and do break the legs of horses and cattle. They eat grain intended for the livestock. They make little gophers, who then become big gophers who, in turn, add to the all-of-the-above-mentioned problems.
The fact that they’re cute and furry with big, dark eyes, has no bearing on the story. And no, Diane, you can’t keep one!!! Sorry. Remembering my childhood and the voice of my father there. Back to my story . . .
Nine-year-old future-Dad-to-Diane had been assigned the all-important job of gopher eradication. It was a fairly simple process.
1. Find a burrow.
2. Set the traps.
3. Dispatch the cute but unwanted vermin that wound up in the traps.
4. Remove the tails from the dead gophers and give them to your father and receive one penny.
A little background is needed: The Stringam chicken coop was actually a cave dug back into the cliff. Faced with river rock, mortared together with mud, it seemed an impregnable fortress for things feather-headed and vulnerable. The feather heads were moved in.
And almost immediately, attracted something that liked things feather-headed and vulnerable. Something small and gopher-sized that could dig through the mud mortar and into the coop.
I should also mention that gophers really weren’t known for their chicken-dispatching tendencies. This was one weird gopher.
Dad hunted around and finally discovered its burrow. Then set his little snares. And waited.
After four days, he decided that nothing was going to be fooled into stepping into his cleverly-disguised traps, so he walked over to the burrow, prepared to dismantle the whole set-up.
And discovered that he had finally been successful.
He had snared a gopher.
But what a gopher!
He stared at it. It was the approximate colour of a gopher. And furry. But there, all similarities ended. This animal was absurdly long. And narrow. With a long tail.
Dad shrugged. He had a job to do and a penny is a penny. He moved closer and reached for the animal.
Then jumped back in alarm as the animal leaped at him, hissing.
In Dad’s own words, “It scared the wits out of me!”
The intrepid hunter burst into tears. And ran to his brother, Lonnie, working in the shop a short distance away. Lonnie, with still-sobbing Dad following closely behind, went to take a look at this strange gopher that had the nerve to scare his baby brother.
“You’ve caught a weasel!” he said.
Weasels are also persona non grata on a farm/ranch. They eat the chickens (see above). Just FYI.
In short order, the weasel suffered the same fate as a gopher would have. The chickens stopped dying and peace was restored.
But the best part was that Dad got a whole nickel for the weasel’s tail. Four cents because it was four times longer than a gopher tail.
And one cent for tears and anguish.