I was in middle school when I unexpectedly became a surrogate mother for a chipmunk.
We lived in the country back then and you could find all sorts of critters - rabbits, snakes, chipmunks, you name it - in the yard. A neighbor girl was mowing her grass when she hit a chipmunk nest full of babies. Mother chipmunk and all but one of her young were killed instantly.
Patty ran to our house cradling the baby chipmunk in her hands to ask my mom what to do since her parents weren't home. I was home alone too, so we took the tiny thing and put in a nest of tissues we made in a shoebox and sat down to wait on an authority figure to help.
When mom got home she was none too happy to see a rodent in the house, but, as mothers do, she set about quietly figuring out what to do with the thing. A quick check with a local vet taught us that the chipmunk needed to be fed every few hours with an eyedropper full of fake milk. Mom and I took shifts getting up at night to feed the little guy throughout the weekend.
When Monday came, we were in a dilemma. She had to go to work and I had to go to school. Who would feed the chipmunk? Mom called the school and soon enough the chipmunk and I were on our way to school where he would become the honored guest of the science classroom.
The school administrator was kind enough to allow me to go feed the chipmunk baby during classes. I'd excuse myself quietly and go feed the tiny thing it's surrogate milk from the eyedropper one slow drip at a time. I took him with me to school each morning and brought him home every night. After a short while, the little guy was gulping down the milk and his eyes opened.
The first thing he saw in his short life was me. Since I had few friends at that age and my parents were divorcing, he became my best pal and confidant.
Once he was up and running about, we had to keep him in a cage. The science teacher provided a suitable contraption that gave him plenty of room to run about and climb all over the bars and I was able to give him seeds, bits of fruit and veggies, and other morsels that keep a chipmunk happy and healthy.
The chipmunk didn't stay inside with us much longer. I'd take him out of his cage so he could run around and exercise each afternoon and evening, but a wild animal needs to be, well, wild. The vet warned us that the longer we kept him as a pet, the harder time he'd have adjusting to life outside.
I begged and pleaded to keep my little friend, but Mom was insistent. (He didn't help his cause when he launched off of my shoulder to land - not so gracefully - in Mom's hair one afternoon.) The small creature was obviously attached to me though and didn't seem to be in any particular rush to be on his own.
We let him loose in our yard - a couple of acres away from where he was found and a chipmunk's natural curiosity took over. He ran to look at the carport. He checked out the shrubs. He took a long trip out to the shed and then scurried back to me when I started to go inside the house. Peeping softly, he cried until I picked him up again and let him run to his usual spot on my shoulder.
It took three or four days of inside and outside trial runs before he seemed to understand that it was okay for him to stay outside and come and go as he pleased. For the few remaining weeks of school he'd show up each morning as I left to catch the bus and would follow me down the country lane to the stop peeping and jumping in front of me. I'd stop to pick him up and he'd ride along on my shoulder until he decided it was time to leave. When I got off the bus in the evenings, he'd be waiting on me on the porch for our regular play time. During the summer months after school was out, we were constant companions in the yard.
As fall deepened, the chipmunk started growing fat as he prepared for his winter hibernation. He'd built a burrow in the shrubs next to the house and was busy enlarging it so we spent less and less time together. One day, he didn't show up at all. Or the next day. Or the next.
The next Spring I found a small thin chipmunk waiting for me patiently one morning before school. He didn't climb up on me like he used to do, but he did let me touch him once on the head. He bounded off after that and didn't even stop to collect any of the seeds I'd thrown out for him. He ran straight to the hole to his burrow and peeped and then took a few steps back as another head popped out. Apparently my little chipmunk had found a wife.
The chipmunk never came back after that. He didn't wait for me on the porch or meet me at the school bus, but I'd still see him in the yard collecting his seeds and nuts. He'd bounce around excitedly but wouldn't let me touch him anymore. He had different priorities now that he was a father; he didn't have time for a lonely little boy any more.
I, however, have never forgotten him.