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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas on the Half-Shell

I received one of the best gifts ever this year.

I must be living fearlessly to embrace such a thing. Embrace it I did, squealing joyfully as I peeled away the protective tissue - an oxymoron of sorts - carefully unwrapping it. As I held it aloft for all those gathered around the tree to see, I admitted that it was rivaled only by the Baby Alive I received when I was 7 and possibly the Big Wheel I got when I was 8, maybe even the BB Gun placed in my hands on my 9th Christmas. Otherwise, I couldn't think of many more gifts that ever came 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 armadillo, but a taxidermied armadillo mounted on a board. Its shell, sleek and shiny, reflected the light from the chandelier. Its segmented tail curved around in front of its hind legs, and its head tilted slightly to the right with its tiny black eyes staring fixedly. And it had a wonderful color, like deep, rich brown leather. Had anything so perfect ever entered my hands before this? It was hard to say.

Like the dad in A Christmas Story I knew the ideal place for it - atop the rabbit pelt on the sofa table behind the loveseat in the den, where its presence alone will prickle the hairs on the backs of necks and upper arms.

Perhaps you squirm at the thought of this animal gracing my decor, but I tell you no southern girl should ever be without at least one taxidermied specimen. For certain, my admiration of preserved animals, all within earshot of my husband, plus my demand that he fill my need for collecting them, keeps my hunting husband home on a lot of Saturdays: 1) Why go if I'm urging him out to the woods, and 2) The pressure to bring home a trophy is paralyzing.

But that's not why I love my armadillo. You may not realize this, but it is in mint condition, bearing not a ding nor a dent. And 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 side, the other, or straight down the middle. I've been given something rare and irreplaceable indeed. I can buy another Big Wheel. I can feed my daughter's Baby Alive. My sons will let me shoot their BB Guns. But how many more times in life would one perchance to happen upon preserved roadkill of these proportions and think to give it to me?

As with every gift, it's the thought that counts.

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