The family was driving in the car when something happened. It was not an extraordinary thing. It also wasn’t necessarily a special thing. If I’m being entirely truthful, it was a thing that has happened to many, many families. The fact of the matter is that this particular family were all driving in the car when it happened: a stuffed animal was held up in the backseat, named, and a story unfolded.
The stuffed animal in question was a small squirrel, smaller than the father’s hand on the steering wheel of the car. The squirrel itself was a caramel brown color with a creamy belly. It had short but soft fabric for fur, except for its tail which was much fuller and seemed almost the same size as the animal itself. Its whiskers were made from a rather droopy floss that curved around its mouth rather than extending stiff and proud. Finally, the squirrel’s eyes and nose were black and quite literally beady.
When the squirrel was held aloft, it was in a moment of triumph from having finally settled on a name. The squirrel belonged to the youngest of the four girls in the family. She and her sisters had been trying to name the squirrel for some time, but nothing had felt particularly right until the youngest tested out the name Acorn. That name held real promise to her and so she explored it further. To her, it seemed that Acorn wasn’t good enough as a name on its own. She considered what she could do to fix that situation and the best solution seemed to be adding “Captain” to the name. There never was much known about how Acorn became a captain, but it was agreed that the squirrel was very much suited to the name: Captain Acorn. From there, only one more thing was necessary for Captain Acorn. She needed a story. Thankfully a story was all too willing to begin.
Captain Acorn was setting out on a voyage. This was not unusual, as the sisters soon decided that Captain Acorn wasn’t just a captain, but a well-known one at that. In fact, when they started their story, Captain Acorn was already so well known and liked that other animals would jostle and push each other at stadium auditions just to join her crew. As this was discussed by the sisters, the adults laughed openly from the front seat of the car. The children didn’t mind it so much and saw the humor in it. It was a little silly, I suppose, that a single squirrel could become so popular that she would fill a stadium, but that was just Captain Acorn’s way.
So in this stadium packed full of eager animals, the air was thick with excitement and anxiety. Excitement, because each of them felt that wild flicker of hope that their application could be chosen out of the thousands, and anxiety because they knew just how steep those odds were. Fortunately, when the mu-sic started, the smoke machine started going, and the stage started rising, all fears were completely forgotten in the wild cries of excitement.
This may seem like a pretty ridiculous way to start the event, but for Acorn it was just right. You see, she was a very theatrical squirrel. When you have a stadium available to you for your own purposes, you can make as dramatic of an entrance as you want to, which is exactly what Acorn was doing. The crowd roared and whooped with excitement as the small squirrel burst through the haze, waving with one paw and giving a little salute to the crowd with the other. When she reached the microphone at the far end of the stage, she waved a few more times. Several animals felt sure that she had waved directly at them and could hardly believe their luck. After a few more minutes of enjoying the attention probably too much, Acorn raised her paws for silence and a hush fell over the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Acorn began after a long pause. “You are here today to hear the crew results for my latest voyage. I want to say first that I’m very impressed with the applications this time. There were so many wonderful, fine applicants and I wish I could take you all with me!”
The crowd cheered enthusiastically at this, each feeling momentarily comforted by the idea that she had liked them all so well.
“But!” Captain Acorn continued, and her voice became much more seri-ous which made all the creatures suddenly regret thinking they were so well liked. “I only have so many slots available. Still,” And she looked out warmly at all the eager animals who leaned forward in their seats, “I hope that even if you aren’t chosen today, you won’t give up on your dream of sailing and keep coming back!”
The animals cheered again, feeling a little encouraged by her words. They now felt ready to face the outcome of Acorn’s selection. Sensing this, Acorn motioned offstage to her only permanent crew member.
Acorn always kept the same First Mate. The title had long ago gone to her oldest and most loyal companion, a small cream colored cat with tan paws named Pounce. Acorn had considered making more official and permanent positions available on her crew. Unfortunately, the four young sisters who had named her knew very little about life aboard a ship and had to pretend that first mate was the only other available position with a title beyond “crew”.
Acorn and Pounce were in many ways very close friends, but Acorn would never admit it so openly. It seemed Acorn had this sort of idea that she couldn’t be too chummy with her crew, even if she was incredibly fond of them. Which – in Pounce’s case – she was. Pounce never minded though, and openly called Acorn her friend all the time. This sometimes rubbed Acorn the wrong way and she would try to act like she didn’t really need a friend (even though she definitely did).
Pounce walked onstage nowhere near as dramatically as Acorn. While she was a very high energy cat, she was a little crowd shy and didn’t get the same
thrill out of having thousands of animals looking at her that Acorn got. She carefully brought forward a giant envelope, placed it in Acorns paws, and then stepped back just far enough so that she was out of the exact spotlight. She immediately felt much more comfortable.
Captain Acorn, on the other hand, was loving every moment of being in the spotlight. Every animal leaned forward on their seat as she broke the seal of the envelope. One rabbit leaned so far forward that he fell off his seat and had to scramble back up in a hurry. He hoped Acorn hadn’t seen it, but since he was in a very distant seat and could only see what was happening by looking at the large screen over the stage, it seemed likely that his clumsiness had gone unnoticed.
Just when it seemed like the stadium couldn’t get any quieter, Acorn cleared her throat and spoke. “I will now begin announcing the crew for my latest voyage aboard my world famous ship: the Golden Acorn!”
Every animal found a way to lean in even further as Captain Acorn slid the paper out of the envelope and read the first name there.
The stadium erupted into noise. It wasn’t necessarily cheers and whoops of excitement. In fact, every animal who wasn’t Theodore Froglen felt a little whoosh of fear, disappointment, and jealousy that their name wasn’t the one called. Still, most felt very confident that their own name would eventually be called, and they wanted that moment to be as perfect as it could be. So, they cheered less out of happiness for Mr. Froglen, and more out of the thinking that if they cheered for him, everyone else would be compelled to cheer for them when their name was called.
The Theodore Froglen in question was a lanky little frog who was so shocked at hearing his name called that he could barely stand and walk down to the stage. But stand and walk he did, and when he had shaken hands with Captain Acorn herself, he was shown the way backstage to wait till the end of the show when all the crew would be brought onstage to take a bow.
The noise quickly died down again and Acorn read the next name on the list.
The polite cheering erupted again and this time a crocodile with a rather uncomfortably large smile made his way confidently to the stage in the same way that Froglen had. This naming went on for the next hour or so, Acorn al-ways shouting the name dramatically into the microphone, the crowd always cheering to be polite, and the stunned animal walking up to the stage while it could hardly believe its good luck. Bears, lizards, birds, rabbits, and a wide variety of other animals were called one by one to the stage. Even the little rabbit who had fallen off his seat was called down second to last.
Eventually, though, the last name was called and all the other animals had to deal with the disappointment that they would have to apply again next year. For the animals that had been chosen, though, they went to sleep that night hardly able to breathe from all the excitement of knowing they were about to set sail with the world famous Captain Acorn.
The next morning, the newly appointed crew was all waiting eagerly in the harbor to set out. They stretched their necks and peered around corners as they made their way through the harbor until at last one excited rabbit cried.
“There it is! There SHE is!” Whether this rabbit was referring to the ship or Acorn itself is hard to say, mainly because of general amazement at both.
The Golden Acorn was the product of the youngest sister imagining that Captain Acorn deserved the very best ship for adventuring, and the best ship seemed to her to be a fantastically large galleon, which was a type of ship she had learned about in school when discussing the Age of Exploration. Captain Acorn’s adventures seemed as good a place as any to put that knowledge to use, and so that’s what the ship was.
The sails and masts and rails and ropes and decks all awed the animals waiting on the docks. But more striking than any of that was seeing Captain
Acorn standing at the helm and looking down at them. Any fears the crew had about going to sea vanished at the sight of that noble squirrel watching the open ocean beyond the harbor. How could they go wrong following that squirrel? She was looking so fearlessly at the sea, they felt that they were unstoppable with her at the helm. They all settled into their bunks at lightning speed with a new excitement in their hearts.
It’s probably for the best that they never knew that Captain Acorn was at that moment staring into the distance with so much intensity because she was trying to remember if she had left the stove on back at her house before she left. This shouldn’t be counted against her, though. As I’ve said, she was a very fearless squirrel and the odds are that if she hadn’t been wondering about the stove, she would have been staring off into the distance anyway. So really, it counts either way.