Mothers

We'd had the family over to dinner that Mother's Day - token appreciation for both moms, we thought, to fix them a nice Sunday dinner. After they'd left, my husband had gone out to do some house maintenance, because it was one of those promising spring days when the air has lost its bite and bluster.

The next morning, my littlest daughter called me into her room. ''Mother, come see this squirrel on the roof. I think it's crying.''

The squirrel was lying along the ridge of the dormer on the wing of our house , making sad scolding noises and blinking her eyes.

I went outside to look more closely. My husband had nailed some metal lath up in the corner where the dormer meets the roof - a likely place for a squirrel to get into the eaves and build a nest.

''Do you think she has babies in there?'' asked Jill.

''Possibly. We'd better ask Dad.''

So Jill headed off to school and I waited for my husband to return my call. But when he called an hour later I told him no bother; the squirrel had already chewed through to behind the lath.

''That won't help her,'' he said, ''because I nailed a piece of board over the hole back there; she'll never be able to get through that. You'll have to get the ladder out and pry the board down. A family in there already! That's just what I was trying to avoid.''

With help I hauled the ladder out and into position, and climbed up very, very carefully (I'm not a ladder person at all!). I could reach the lath. Trying not to overbalance, I pried it off. There behind it was the board - very solidly nailed, resisting my efforts to loosen it.

All this time the squirrel was nowhere to be seen. Nor were there any sounds from the roof nest. Maybe there are no squirrels in there, my timidness said. You're just risking life and limb up here for no purpose. If the ''mother'' has gone off somewhere, maybe it's really just a crazy squirrel. But I could see that the board had been chewed along its entire length. Almost a 45-degree angle was gnawed off. As each doubt impressed itself on my mind, I was still more impressed by that chewed edge. Finally the board yielded.

Still no sounds from the eaves, no mother squirrel. Jill arrived home for lunch and asked what I was doing. As we went into the house, I thought we'll never know whether there was a family in there or not.

Fifteen minutes later I looked out the window. The squirrel was back, now proving that she was crazy! She was jumping from the roof to the tree close by, circling back and jumping again. She must have done it ten times.

But just before Jill had to leave again for school - what a lovely sight! Sitting in the gutter were two baby squirrels, about one-third grown. The mother , still jumping, stopped twice to round up a baby who had run too far down the length of the gutter.

Then, as we watched, she came over to one of the babies, who immediately took hold of her, curling itself around her neck like a thick scarf. She went to her takeoff spot, jumped to the tree and ran down the trunk, across the yard, across the street, and up the trunk of a big elm, where she stuffed the baby into an invisible hole. Jill left for school deeply content.

There were two more babies who got the same ride to safety. I told my neighbor she was getting a new resident family, and together we watched as the mother (pretty tired by now) carried the last baby across the street.

My husband nailed up the dormer corner again that night, but he had to use a different board. I now keep the board that the squirrel had chewed on my desk.

In a way, it shows how mother love never gives up. That mother squirrel was gnawing away an ''impossible'' barrier between herself and her little family. And even though she might never have gnawed all the way through the board, still her determination and love spoke to the mother love in me, and I persisted, because she had, for so long.

So the board reminds me that, even if I don't know how something difficult will finally be accomplished, and even if it's beyond my own capabilities, I still should keep expressing a caring, cherishing love. Love is bigger than my ability to express it.

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