My last family vacation to the Vineyard with my parents before I moved out on my own was complicated by the need to make a difficult decision.

There were the usual worries: will the outboard motor work for just one more summer; have the lines for the fishing poles been untangled from last year?

But the big question was, what shall we do with Willie, my father’s new pet squirrel? We couldn’t just leave him behind to fend for himself.

My father was a big man. To those who competed against him in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, he could be downright scary. A two-way, 60-minute tackle in professional football, he was six feet tall and weighed 215 pounds. He boxed, played basketball, was a champion shot putter, was friends with world heavyweight boxing champ Jack Dempsey when they were in the war together, and was an angry, intimidating presence at net on the tennis court.

So it came as a surprise to me when one stormy night in Pennsylvania, my father burst through the door, dripping wet, and dramatically announced to my mother: “You almost lost your husband tonight.” Then, he glanced down at his large stone-like hands and opened them to show a tiny ball of wet, gray fur cradled by his thick fingers.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s a baby squirrel. He was blown out of a tree and lay in the path to the house. He might be dead.”

My father threw off his raincoat and hat and disappeared into the pantry. He came out with a shoe-box, an electric heating pad and a bottle of brandy. He wrapped the baby squirrel with the blanket and put it in the box. Then he found a tiny baby bottle and filled it with milk and brandy. He fed and nursed that squirrel throughout the night.

In the morning the ball of fluff was still alive. It huddled in the shoe-box, peering out with large dark eyes, not sure of where it was or what was happening. When it looked up, it saw me, my mother and my father peering intently down at him, waiting to see if its next breath would be its last.

But the squirrel didn’t die. It lived through the day and next night, and even started to enjoy the attention. My father chopped up peanuts and slices of apple, which the squirrel eventually grew fond of, wolfed it all down and started to grow.

Wow, Pop saved him, I thought, and soon the animal will be put outside and sent back into the wilds of our backyard. But that didn’t happen.

A few days later I came down into the kitchen for breakfast. My father was always up first and I expected to see him at the big, six-burner Garland stove cooking eggs or pancakes. He was there alright, but sitting on his shoulder was the squirrel, its now bushy tail flicking in the air, signaling what looked like a right-hand turn. I watched in amazement as my father continued to move around the kitchen, opening the frig, getting water from the sink for the kettle and back to the stove with the squirrel sitting there, his tiny claws clutching my father’s red flannel shirt.

“Pop,” I exclaimed. “What’s going on?”

“Oh, this is Willie,” he said, pointing to his shoulder. “I think he likes it here.”

Eventually, Willie was reintroduced to the outside world. But he still knew where the good life was. My father would come out onto the back porch with a small plate of sliced apples and peanuts and call up into the 60-foot tree growing not far from the porch steps.

“Here, Willie!” he would call out. “Here Willie!”

Immediately I would hear this frantic, skiddering noise up in the treetops. It was Willie, scrambling, nearly falling as he raced down the tree trunk. In short order, the plate was empty and Willie was back up the tree, high into the branches and out of sight.

Soon, I was calling Willie as well and was met with the same satisfying, fast-food response and quick getaway.

We decided Willie also needed a vacation on the Vineyard. My father found an old bird cage in the basement and declared it Willie’s ride to the Island. On the day we were to drive to the ferry, my father put a willing Willie into the bird cage with some of his favorite apple slices, snapped the little door shut and put the cage on the back seat next to a couple of life preservers, a tackle box and me.

Willie loved the ride, the ferry and the Vineyard. Once on-Island, my father and Willie quickly fell into a routine with him settling into his customary perch on my father’s shoulder where together they delighted in surprising visitors, captivating children and horrifying elderly aunts and uncles.

The Vineyard suited Willie completely. The West Chop woods were directly behind our house and he would disappear there post-breakfast and be gone for the day. In the evening he would answer the call to the side porch and his special plate which was garnished by new favorites — popcorn from the Flying Horses and shortbread from the Scottish Bakehouse.

But summer vacations, like all things, come to an end. After our return to Philladelphia, Willie got some troubling news — our home and property were being sold and my mother sternly noted that Willie had to stay put. We worried about the new people. Would they understand about the fat gray squirrel who would come up on the porch looking for a handout?

The day of the big move came and the house that I had lived in all my life was to become a memory. Late in the afternoon the house was finally empty, my parents had left for their new place and I was alone. I was starting a new chapter, too. I had graduated college and was moving to my first apartment.

But before I left for the last time, I went out to the back porch and placed down a small plate of sliced apples and peanuts. I called up into the tree, “Willie! Willie!”

I heard the skiddering of claws on the tree bark as Willie came scrambling down to the ground and bounced up onto the porch. I didn’t wait for Willie to finish, though, and walked away to the sound of his fast-twitch eating. He sounded happy. I think my father would have approved.

David Lott lives in Vineyard Haven.