Haverhill, Mass. – I grew up with Ross Bagdasarian and the chipmunks. So have my children and grandchildren.
After all, who wouldn’t be attracted to those cheeky little varmints who scramble around your yard in search of food and sometimes raise havoc with your home?
I can hear Bagdasarian yelling out to his three mischief-makers: “Alvin! Theodore! Simon!” They were a tumultuous trio all right – especially the trouble-making Alvin — but icons in their era. I suspect they were brought up the Armenian way because of their originator’s background with his immigrant parents and, of all people, his cousin William Saroyan.
Not only did Bagdasarian perform in the Broadway cast of Saroyan’s “The Time of Your Life” but collaborated with Saroyan with his first musical success, “Come on-a-My House,” recorded by Rosemary Clooney. The song was based on dialogue from Saroyan’s “The Human Comedy.”
As for the chipmunks, they wound up as Disney superstars (Chip ‘n Dale) and a bunch of other credits, including “The Chipmunks Go to the Movies,” released in 1969, three years before his death at age 52.
Like humans, I believe chipmunks have their ancestry and family genealogy. They must come from somewhere and if Bagdasarian originated this craze, it could still be around today. I mean three singing Armenian chipmunks from 50 years ago that continue to be very much a staple with my grandchildren today. Bless their little souls.
My back yard at the lake appears to be a romper room for chipmunks and squirrels alike. They invade my bird feeders, chew through my shed door in search of trouble, crawl under my house trying to gain entry, and all other shenanigans associated with critters.
I don’t have the heart to indulge cruelty upon these animals, unlike an acquaintance who lays out traps and disposes of them unkindly. That’s like shooting birds off a feeder or ducks in the pond. I look at chipmunks much like Bagdararian did in his era — with a cutesy respect.
We spend our summers at a camp in New Hampshire, surrounded by water and woods. The animals are welcomed on my property, even if I don’t exactly open the door and invite them to dinner. But sometimes, they’ll sneak inside while the door is ajar or apt to find another means of entry.
I came home one day to absolute disarray. It couldn’t be those mice I trapped recently. Even a rat couldn’t have made this much of a mess. Had to be a squirrel or, gulp! — a chipmunk. I picked up a broom handle and began poking around. My wife was in hysterics.
“Either it goes, or I do,” she mandated, making me choose between my wife of 47 years and a rampaging critter. Truth be told, she freaks out with a mosquito buzzing around.
Just then, a chipmunk scooted right by my feet toward the couch. And under he went, playing his game of “hide ‘n seek.” Let’s cut to the chase.
I pursued him through the living room and into the kitchen. Over the sink he jumped like some super hero and onto the porch. I had him trapped. Now, what to do?
Up went the seven windows and the door flew open. Perhaps he would see the great outdoors and scamper home free. So what happens?
A second chipmunk decided to keep him company and now I was faced with double trouble. Chip ‘n Dale? Indeed!
After careful pursuit, one took refuge outside, leaving his pal inside. Perhaps the escapee had gone to fetch some help. All I could envision was a roomful of rascals, bent on attack. An invasion of chipmunks!
On came the wife with a colander and a mop in her hand. Had this been one of those Disney cartoons, I could understand, but this was a real life episode of man against animal. And then it happened.
After being told a number of times in English to skedaddle, the chipmunk was trapped in the center of my patio with nowhere to turn, except outside. But he stood his ground and didn’t budge, waiting for us to make the next move.
As bold as she could get, my wife shouted in Armenian. “Shood hema! Toorse knah!” Toorse!” pointing to the open door. Translated, “Quick now! Go outside! Outside!” You had to see it to believe it.
The chipmunk stood on his hind legs, cocked an ear, nodded his little head, and scooted out the door, sending a sigh of relief from both sides.
Now, you might think I’ve gone completely loco but I can only relay what went on that afternoon.
Unless it was Bagdasarian’s spirit that intervened and guided that chipmunk to freedom.