Gooseberry Park and the Master Plan
1 Fine Friends
It is not an easy job raising three children, especially if those children seem always to be hanging upside down in a tree.
Such was the life of Stumpy Squirrel, the busiest squirrel mother in all of Gooseberry Park.
It was all Murray’s fault, of course. Bats most naturally hang upside down and are good at it. Murray was a bit of a show-off anyway, so he swung by his toes whenever anyone passing by happened to look up.
Murray was Stumpy’s tree mate, best friend, and self-appointed uncle to her three children: Sparrow, Top, and Bottom. And he could be a very naughty influence, as when he taught the children to hang by their toes, and they drew all sorts of remarks from the park residents as a result.
Most remarks were kind, as when Old Badger said she had never seen such clever squirrels in all her days.
Some remarks were neutral, as when the raven simply commented that toes were neither good nor bad, they just were.
And a few remarks were plainly mean and of course issued forth from the mouths of the weasels, every one of whom
remarked that it would probably be a good idea if a certain squirrel mother taught her children some etiquette.
“Etiquette?” repeated Murray when Stumpy told him about this insult. “Isn’t that where New Yorkers go for the weekend?”
“No,” said Stumpy, “that’s Connecticut. Etiquette is manners.”
“Manners!” shrieked Murray, who enjoyed drama. “Manners! If I had manners, I’d starve!”
(Murray was referring to the fact that he regularly pilfered egg rolls from the Dumpster by the Chinese restaurant down the street. And doughnuts from the bakery Dumpster on the other side of the park. And enchiladas from the Taco Craze Dumpster over by the freeway. The list could go on for miles.)
“Well,” said Stumpy, “mothers are sensitive.”
“And weasels are rats,” said Murray. “Rats in weasel clothing.”
“Gwendolyn would understand,” she said. “Gwendolyn understands everything.”
Murray nodded in agreement.
“It’s because she’s a hundred and four years old,” he said.
“She is not!” cried Stumpy. “She’s just wise.”
“Gwendolyn is wise and a hundred and four years old,” said Murray.
“You are counting all her past lives she told us about,” said Stumpy. “In hermit crab time Gwendolyn is just, well, she is just . . .”
“A hundred and four,” said Murray.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” said Stumpy.
Gwendolyn was Stumpy and Murray’s dear, dear friend. They could not imagine how they had ever managed without her. Gwendolyn might be a hermit crab, but she understood each of them perfectly. She gave Stumpy—who was something of a worrier—the very best advice about rearing young children. (Gwendolyn’s advice always solved the problem.) And Gwendolyn praised Murray’s
heart, which was actually quite a big heart, but one that Murray hid behind a million funny lines.
Gwendolyn never let her bat friend get away with this.
“You are a shining emblem of love to those children,” Gwendolyn often said to Murray.
“A shining plum?” said Murray.
“A shining emblem,” said Gwendolyn.
“A shiny Indian?” said Murray.
“Emblem,” said Gwendolyn.
“Envelope?” said Murray.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” said Gwendolyn.
But Murray really did hear her. And it made him proud.
The true hero among them all, of course, was the one who said very little about love or courage or wisdom but excelled at all three. And this true hero’s name was Kona.
Kona was a chocolate Labrador who lived a quiet dog’s life with Gwendolyn and their human, Professor Albert.
It had been well over a year since Kona had faced the greatest challenge of his life by rescuing Stumpy’s three children. This had happened during a most terrifying ice storm that ravaged the trees of Gooseberry Park, among those the great pin oak where Stumpy’s babies had just been born.
With Murray’s help, and Gwendolyn’s help, Kona managed to hide the children he had rescued by placing them in the Christmas decorations in Professor Albert’s basement until Stumpy—who had gone missing in the storm—was found.
It was during this time that Murray developed a strong attachment to television and Oreo cookies. Both were still central to his life. And he had since then sneaked into Professor Albert’s house on warm summer days—easing open the screen door with his sneaky little foot—so he
could have a cookie and watch Jeopardy! with Gwendolyn. Professor Albert was usually napping in the hammock.
So life for these fine friends and for Professor Albert had been very rich since the ice storm, and the three squirrel babies—once sheltered by a chocolate Labrador and a hermit crab in a human’s house—had grown taller and rounder and stronger. And they could hang by their toes.
Life had been very rich and very quiet.
But the very quiet part was about to change.