My Mostly Happy Life: Autobiography of a Climbing Tree CHAPTER 17

Updated 2 years ago By Shelly Reuben
My Mostly Happy Life: Autobiography of a Climbing Tree  CHAPTER 17
Illustrations by Ruth McGraw 

Chapter 17 – Winston Settles In   

Not everyone in the family fell in love with Winston.

Esther assumed that her mother, being a sculptress, would be open-minded to unusual body types, but when Donna met Winston, she snapped, “He is disproportionately long and he walks like a garbage truck.”

Esther put Winston down on the carpet, threw a ball, and watched her ferret do a series of hunchback leaps after the ball, moving in very much the way one would expect a garbage truck to move if it were doing a polka.

She sighed, “You’re right, Mom.”    

She reached down, scooped Winston into her arms, and began to stroke his fur. “But a soft and cuddly garbage truck.”

Donna rolled her eyes. “If you say so.”  Then she kissed her daughter affectionately on the forehead, flicked her eyes dismissively at Winston, and strode out of Esther’s apartment to sculpt great works of art.

A week later, during a visit with Esther for tea, Aunt Cornelia also coolly observed the small animal’s antics. First Winston lay on the floor, as inert as a rug. Then he walked toward the bathroom, flattened his body in a way that seemed to defy mammalian engineering, and slipped under the door as deftly as a pamphlet being slid through a crack by a Jehovah’s Witness.

Cornelia raised an eyebrow at her niece. 


“Doesn’t that thing have bones?”  

Esther shrugged. She opened the bathroom, retrieved Winston, and held him up for her aunt’s inspection. “Bones or no bones, you have to admit that he’s cute.”  

Cornelia said nothing.

Esther looked down at her pet, up again at her aunt, and added with less confidence, “Don’t you?”  

Cornelia, clearly her sister’s sister, repeated Donna’s comment, “If you say so.”

Contrariwise, Uncle Tennyson and Uncle Desmond got a great kick out of Winston. So did Esther’s brothers Noah and Carmichael. When any of them were in the same room with the ferret, Winston would climb up their pants legs or scratch at their shoes or weave in and out between their legs until he got their attention. Then Esther’s uncles or brothers would reach down, pick him up, scratch his back, tickle his chin, roughhouse with him, or throw a ball (which he would hide instead of retrieve), and eventually allow Winston to fall asleep on their laps.

It took Esther a while to figure it out, but in the long run, she came to the inescapable conclusion that, other than herself and Meg, Winston did not like women.

But he loved men.  

Even her grandfather, who at best was indifferent to animals, was more or less seduced by Winston’s adoration.

At home, the little animal had free run of Esther’s apartment, although she always shut him up in her bedroom when she was out, so that he wouldn’t climb into a drawer from which he couldn’t escape, or get stuck behind a pipe under the kitchen sink. Winston was what her grandfather called a “get-in-ta,” because he tried to get into everything, a characteristic of the species that explains why the definition for the verb ferret is: “To search for something by looking in many places or asking many questions.”

When he was home alone, Winston slept in his own little cushioned basket in Esther’s bedroom. But at night, he would climb into Esther’s bed, curl into a ball, and fall asleep under the comforter somewhere in the vicinity of her knees.

When Winston wasn’t doing his job, he enjoyed being where Esther was: In the same room. On the same sofa. In the same bed.

He came when she called his name. 

He followed her around.  

If she was reading or watching television, he would stand on top of her feet, raise his head, and stare with tiny black eyes that said “please” until she picked him up, put him on her lap, and stroked his fur.

His “job” was a ferret’s purpose in life. After he woke up every morning, he had to inspect and knock over every wastebasket in the apartment. He had to take Esther’s moccasins out of the closet and put them in her bed; remove all of his stuffed animals (he had quite a few) from the top of her bed and put them under the bed; and then take Esther’s keys out of her purse and hide them in the cushions of the sofa.

Most important of all, he had to make Esther laugh.  

This was far and away the easiest part of his job, because he made her laugh all the time. 

Most mornings, she brought Winston to the office so that he wouldn’t be alone. She tucked him into a large tote bag, threw the bag over her shoulder, and let his little head pop up and down like a periscope during the three-block walk to work.

He had his own bed-basket under Esther’s desk, where he slept.  

But, of course, before he fell asleep for the day, he had to perform his office tasks, which were similar to the ones that he did at home. He had to inspect and tip over every wastebasket, play with the bell-shaped plastic tassels at the end of the Venetian blind cords, open the cabinet doors under the photocopy machine and rearrange all of the boxes, and chew off the eraser ends of the pencils that inevitably fell on the floor.

When Esther’s grandmother was working on the ledgers in Sam’s office, she ignored Winston. She and the ferret tolerated each other, but did not become friends. He never stole keys from her purse, and he never stood on her feet.

Esther’s grandfather, however, was another story.  

Winston constantly pestered Sam and would not stop pawing at his shoes until the old man reached down and lifted him up onto the drawing board. Sometimes, Sam would ruffle Winston’s fur or scratch him for a maximum of ten seconds, but usually he immediately resumed work on whatever idea had come to him for a new invention. Winston would stroll leisurely across Sam’s drawing board (there were paw prints on most preliminary sketches). Then he would curl up in the far corner of the drawing board and fall asleep.

Sam would look at his granddaughter, make the “Pssst” sound, and incline his head toward Winston. She would walk across the office, lift her ferret off the drawing board, carry him to the kneehole under her desk, and gently tuck him into his bed, where he would continue to sleep for the rest of the day.

Esther was never quite sure if her grandfather actually liked Winston. 


But she was certain that Winston adored Sam.  


Of the men who loved Esther, her grandfather was the first that Winston met. She encountered the second not twenty feet from where I, her favorite tree, am located in the Samuel Swerling Park.



Copyright © 2017, Shelly Reuben


Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her work, visit

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