Dear Aunt Jennifer,
I am so pleased to hear that you are happy in your new Florida home. We miss you greatly here in town; especially me. Nobody has your sense of humor and everybody looks at me like I am a freak when I try to joke with them. I hope that as soon as dad is better I can finally redeem those mileage points I have accumulated on my American Airlines Visa so dad and I can come to see you. Dad’s oncologist is hopeful that this next round of chemo will be his last. Honestly, I don’t know what to think. One day he looks horrible and the next he is like a spry fox, back to his old ways, fiddling around in the shop, prepping the few animals that come in these days.
I have to tell you, I’ve never seen a slower hunting season – it’s not that there aren’t animals out there for the game, it’s that Lolo is slowly turning into a ghost town. They stopped construction on the new housing development and there are stories in the Herald every week about how houses are just sitting empty as people are just up and leaving. I can’t say I blame them. I probably wouldn’t stay if it weren’t for dad and this damn shop. Every time I think I should just give in and sell this old building I think about Grandpa Jack and how he would swell with pride every time Mr. Sweeny painted the Alexander Family Taxidermy sign.
Oh well, if I haven’t left in the last fifty-five years, I guess I am not going to – we are managing okay. We just got another contract with the University of Montana for their new owl exhibit so that should keep me busy for the next couple of months. I am tired though. Dad’s illness takes up most of our days; between driving to Missoula for doctor’s visits or the hours that I spend juicing every vegetable imaginable for him (he saw Juicing Cures Cancer on Oprah last year – and you know how he takes her word as gospel) I barely have time to keep up on the laundry, let alone all the work that goes into maintaining a 112 year old business. Maybe this is why I miss you so much; I don’t have anyone to complain to!
Well my dear auntie, remember to wear your sunscreen and know that we are thinking of you here in chilly ol’ Lolo.
Much love, Naomi
April 11, 2007
My dearest, most favorite and only niece Naomi,
Thank you for your letter and the cookies – they were delicious as always, and Mrs. Frankel in 2A would like the recipe (I told her I never baked a day in my life and that it’s a wonder you know how to do anything domestic at all, growing up with just your dad and me!).
Anyhow, enough of the chit chat – at seventy-eight, I don’t have time for that. I want you to know that I think you are wasting your life there in Lolo. I couldn’t tell you this when I was there, although I have wanted to tell you since you turned seventeen and I was living in New York with that man Harold. I couldn’t tell you this because I didn’t want to see the sadness in your eyes and I know how deeply you love your father and how dedicated you are to carrying on our crazy family tradition of stuffing animals for a living. I admire you for that, but I also see that there is a light burning in you that can’t shine in the mountains in Montana. And let’s be honest Naomi, you are no spring chicken. Which leads me to your father – he would never tell you this, so I will. I said good-bye to Abe the day I left for Florida. We both know that we won’t be seeing each other again and we are okay with that. And while I also admire your constant optimism, I don’t think you will be redeeming your mileage points for two tickets. Make your peace now, tell him what you need to tell him because the time is slipping away and you won’t get another chance – at least not in this lifetime. I love you and will look forward to your next letter – could you send me some of that peanut brittle next time? I don’t give a damn what the dentist says!
Much love, Auntie Jennifer
June 30, 2007
Dear Aunt Jennifer,
Thank you for the lovely flowers – they were the nicest ones at the service. I wish you could have been there. Dad had a lot more friends than I ever knew about and I was amazed at the number of people in attendance. The funeral director had to scramble for extra seats and the caterers ran out of food about forty-five minutes before the wake was over. Dad would have loved all the fuss. I love that it’s all over.
I am not sure what exactly to do next – I have been so focused on dad and his cancer for the last two years that now I don’t know what to do with myself. And of course, then there is the issue of money. Or rather lack thereof. Dad’s co-pays were through the roof, our property taxes keep going up, and the building is in serious need of a new roof before winter. I wouldn’t be worried if we had any business, but apparently taxidermy is not high on anyone’s priority list these days. I had hoped dad’s life insurance would have been enough to cover all that, but it barely covered the funeral costs and insurance deductibles. Oh Auntie, how I wish you were here to tell me what to do. I am a fifty-five year old woman and I feel like a lost little girl – lost in the town I have lived in my whole life. Maybe you were right, maybe I am wasting my life mounting animals (you know we never say “stuffed!”) here in Lolo – but what else would I do?
As always, I love and miss you – I’ll send peanut brittle next time.
July 4, 2007
I am sure my father would be rolling in his grave to hear me say this, but don’t you think that 112 years is long enough for a family business? Don’t you think you owe yourself some of that dedication you so generously give to others? I say, call up Margaret Hannigan and have her list that building with Century 21 – and then get your butt down here and let’s go have some margaritas! Which is where I am headed right now as the girls and I are starting our Fourth of July celebration off right. I have discovered Florida is not just where the college kids let loose. Won’t you join us?
July 27, 2007
Dear Aunt Jennifer,
Thank you for the offer of margaritas and cutting loose, but I am delighted to tell you that I think I have solved most of my worries. I decided to rent out the apartment in the basement (it took me nine hours to clear out forty years’ worth of dad’s pet projects) and have found a rather handy gentleman to be my tenant. His name is Claude Mathers and he is from California. Honestly, I am not sure how he ended up here, but he is nice enough, although I get the feeling he’s a bit of a misogynist. He seemed shocked that a woman could run a taxidermy business – much less an old spinster like myself. Anyhow, the financial burden is lessened by his rent, but business is still slow and all I ever see on CNN these days are mass lay-offs and people losing their homes left and right – so I guess really, I am still worried. But I am not ready to close shop just yet – and yes, Grandpa Jack surely rolled over in his grave.
Harriet told me to tell you hello. She misses doing your hair every Friday and says that nobody is as fun to gossip with. I tried to take your place and gossip with her, but it turns out that I have been the source of local gossip now that I am a landlord. Apparently the ladies in the sewing club think I am “up to something” with Claude. And while he is handsome, I don’t think I could ever be romantically involved with a man who spits green globs of phlegm in the driveway every day. If only those green globs kept the coyotes away – they have gotten three of my hens in as many weeks. I might resort to the ol’ poisoned steak routine that dad was so fond of – as he would say, “If you’re gonna kill ‘em you might as well give ‘em one last good meal!”
Anyhow, the phone is actually ringing. We’ll talk soon!
September 3, 2007
I apologize for taking so long to respond to your letter. Life in Florida has proved to be quite social and it seems that every day I am invited to some new event. I have met so many lovely people and even started taking a yoga class on Thursdays with Mrs. Frankel (she much appreciated the recipe, by the way – although her cookies were definitely not as good as yours!).
I am glad to hear of this Claude fellow, although I do hope you did a thorough background check on him, references – all that. Is he going to help you fix the roof? Did you get rid of the coyote? Has business improved this season? When are you going to redeem those mileage points and come visit me?!
Write again soon – your letters mean the world to me.
Much love, Auntie Jennifer
October 30, 2007
I haven’t heard from you in months. Is everything okay? I am quite concerned as Harriet called to tell me that you have been acting very strange and that this Claude fellow of yours has already moved away, seemingly in the dead of night. I just tried to call you, but you did not answer either line. My imagination is running wild and I would just feel so much better if you would call me. I have one of those cellular phones now so you can reach me anytime at (305) 627-2342. You know I love you!
Sincerely, Aunt Jennifer
November 4, 2007
I don’t even know where to begin. First off, I apologize for making you worry. And I would have called, but once you read this letter, you will understand why I haven’t.
Do you believe in miracles? I am sure you do – you believe in fairies and sprites, so you must believe in miracles. And this is why you are the only person in the world that I could ever confess what has transpired since I last wrote to you. Remember how I signed off that the phone was ringing? Well, that phone call was from a man by the name of Zavier Kassid. You may have even heard of him, he’s a real life billionaire from the Arab nation of Qatar. And well, since we are both too old for chit –chat, I will just tell you that he has hired me to taxidermy his wife when she dies for ONE-MILLION DOLLARS!! Amira has less than a year to live as she is suffering from a rare and incurable disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It attacks her nervous system – oh it is just so horrible!
Anyhow, apparently Zavier heard of our services through some diplomat that dad had mounted a six-point buck for back in 1984. And while she’s not dead yet, I met her last month and I can see why he would want to preserve her – she’s the most gorgeous creature I have ever met and even I wanted to reach out and stroke her hair. Zavier calls her Amira (which he told me is Princess in Arabic) but her name is Janet – I have to say, I almost laughed out loud when she told me her real name. How anyone so beautiful and utterly graceful could be called Janet is beyond me.
Forgive me for getting off topic, I am just swirling with excitement and well, really there is much more to tell. I am imagining your jaw dropping as you read this and well, I have to say, this whole thing is so surreal. One minute I am literally praying for a miracle, or a sign, or a thunderbolt to strike me dead – and the next I am getting the phone call of a lifetime.
Now surely you must be wondering how I could do something like this – many would say it’s immoral or even evil, but if you saw how Zavier loves this woman, you would understand (and he assures me that no one will ever know what we are doing). Their story is like a fairy tale and I wouldn’t even believe it myself had I not seen it first hand when they flew me out to New York City!! I hadn’t ever been farther east than Nebraska and I have to say, you were right in some ways – Lolo can be soul sucking. But I am rejuvenated now, Auntie Jenn! While I was in New York meeting Amira I was literally buzzing. I have never felt so much energy in my life. Which is why it was a bit of a shock to come home and find Claude dead. Yes, dead.
Remember my coyote problem? Well, in all the excitement of this new job and the big flight to New York, I never told Claude that the steak marinating in the fridge were marinating in poison. Really, I didn’t think I needed to tell him as he has his own damn fridge downstairs – and really, who steals food from someone’s fridge? So, needless to say, he was dead as a door nail when I got back from New York. He hadn’t quite reached that point of puffing up and smelling bad, which was good.
No, I didn’t call the sheriff or anyone like that. I almost did – picked up the phone and even dialed 9-1…but it occurred to me Auntie Jenn that I have never performed taxidermy on a human before. Deer, elk, mountain lions, birds, fish, yes. Humans, never. I can’t say that it ever even came up in conversation in 112 years that I know of, so I decided that true to the promise of excellence from Alexander Family Taxidermy that I would practice on Claude before Amira dies.
Oh Auntie, it was horrendous in the beginning. You know dad always did most of the skinning and so this did not go well at first. Fortunately I knew to start with the butt, and after a few mishaps and tears, I finally figured out the best way to move the blade and found that it was very similar to working with fish. Anyhow, you should see Claude now. He’s more handsome now than he was when he was alive. I’ll admit I took some liberty with his jaw bone and made it a smidge more masculine. I’m also happy to report that it’s been about four months and nobody has come looking for him. I left his truck along the river bank with all of his belongings in the back. I have left Claude in the basement surrounded by all our furry friends.
I am quite confident in my ability to work with Amira now and well, for one million dollars I’d better do a damn good job, right? Zavier has paid me $100,000 as a sort of retainer for when she does finally pass away. I got a new roof and have paid all the bills that have been piling up. Everybody in town just thinks I inherited money from dad – I just let them think whatever they want to think.
I hope you are not too shocked or disappointed in my choices. I couldn’t handle it if you were disappointed in me. You wouldn’t turn down a million dollars if nobody really gets hurt, right? Please write soon.
November 8, 2007
Dear oh Dear Naomi,
I must say your letter has left me indeed shocked, but definitely not disappointed. I am delighted that you got to take a trip, however odd a reason it may be. I love New York City as you know. I will be honest, I am concerned that there would be legal trouble (desecration laws come to mind) should anyone find out what you have been up to. But I trust you to be smart (I also destroyed your letter just in case!) and yes, I have heard of Mr. Kassid – he was featured in Newsweek a few years back for being the youngest billionaire or something like that. How fortuitous that he should even know of Alexander Family Taxidermy.
Oddly enough, I recall my Grandpa Floyd telling the story of how he did taxidermy on his older brother who died from choking on a cherry pit when he was only twenty-seven. The story went that they would bring him out of the basement for holidays, parades and other special events. He said the towns folk didn’t mind as they expected us Alexanders to be a bit off our rockers anyhow, stuffing dead animals for a living and all. I never believed the stories and always thought Grandpa Floyd was just pulling my leg. But after hearing what you have been doing, I am thinking Grandpa Floyd was telling the truth – and that surely we must be off our rockers!
Well Naomi, keep me posted – and now that you should have no more money worries and plenty of mileage points, you’d better pay your old Auntie Jenn a visit.
All my love, Jennifer
January 13, 2008
Dear Aunt Jennifer,
Thank you so much for understanding and accepting this bizarre turn of events. I would have written sooner, but Amira died on December 7th and needless to say, I was quite busy there for some time. BUT, she came out almost as beautiful as she was when she was alive. Unfortunately, nothing can really replace the sparkle of life in someone’s eyes – although I did insert fourteen carat sapphires in her eyes at the request of Zavier and it really is a nice touch.
I never even knew that Grandpa Floyd had brother! And well, yes, I must be crazy for doing this – but I will tell you what, I have never slept so well in my life. I am definitely not tired anymore.
So, as I am sure you must be wondering, I was paid in cash and invested in a top of the line safe. I don’t plan on living a millionaire’s lifestyle as I wouldn’t even know how to…although I did buy myself a plane ticket to Miami and rented a car for a week! I will be arriving just in time for your birthday on February 1st. And I have to say, I could use some sunshine. These Montana winters seem to get more brutal every year – global warming, my ass!
I look forward to seeing you soon Auntie.
Much love, Naomi