All I wanted for Christmas was something people will fight over when I die...
Instead of bringing me grimy fistfuls of weedy flowers to place in water-filled jelly jars, my offspring have always presented me with more impressive tokens of affection - a dead snake on a stick, slimy slugs clutched in a tight, sweaty grip for safe keeping, a jittery grasshopper longer than my left forearm. Even my cat deposits lifeless moles at the doorstep, and the dog shoves her head into my lap to present the remains of chipmunks.
Those closest to me, it seems, intuitively know the way to my heart. Unfortunately, some of them fail to understand that, as fascinated as I am, I like my animal samples preserved more permanently than in a jar with holes in the lid. I prefer to receive the entire animal intact with no dangling parts, I like to skip the odiferous decomposition process, and I am partial to viewing animals posed in death as they stood in life, rather than as a mangled mess on the blade of a shovel.
(Always a southern belle, I retain standards about these matters.)
Yet, I firmly believe, on principle, dainty or not, every southern girl should own and display at least one well-preserved item from the animal kingdom. We must embrace these things as an integral part of our heritage. Not simply embrace, I tell you, but squeal delightedly, as I did Christmas Day when I peeled away the protective tissue, carefully unwrapping an unexpected addition, thanks to my mama and daddy, to my eclectic collection.
Had anything so perfect ever entered my hands before this? Holding it aloft for those gathered around the tree to see, I marveled that it rivaled the Baby Alive I received when I was 7 and the Big Wheel I got when I was 8, even the BB gun placed in my hands on my ninth Christmas. No other gift has ever come close to bringing me the same glee, the same awe, that the spectacle raised above my head did at that very moment.
An armadillo. A stuffed armadillo. Not a plush toy, mind you, but taxidermied skin and scale. The color of rich, deep brown leather, its shell, sleek and shiny, brilliantly reflects light. Its segmented tail neatly curves in front of its hind legs, and its head tilts slightly to the right with tiny black eyes staring fixedly. Like the dad in A Christmas Story, I stole away to place this major award in the ideal location - atop the rabbit pelt on the sofa table in the den, where its presence alone, never mind its beady black eyes, will prickle hairs on the backs of necks.
Unable to contain my bubbling excitement, I shared it with my girlfriends. Just as I expected, it left them momentarily speechless, then Charlotte said, "I guess that's what we love about you, that you appreciate things like that." Paige remarked, "Well, as far as the hierarchy of roadkill goes - squirrel, possum, armadillo - it's pretty high up there."
They get it!
You may not understand the enormity of this, but my armadillo is in mint condition, bearing not a ding nor a dent. Someone went to a great deal of trouble to find me an armadillo that doesn't sport tire tread imprints and isn't squished on one end, the other, or both. My parents gave me a rare and irreplaceable treasure...
Something, on principle, every southern lady should possess. And I do believe my family will fight over it when I'm dead.
(Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer, and author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. Lucy lives in Thomson. She invites readers to e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her web site, www.IfMama.com.)