Friday, May 8, 2009

Greetings, Norman, and welcome to Wal-Mart

I grew up in north Louisiana, where the humidity is high, the cypress moss is heavy and the rivers and bayous are murky and thick. (You have to be from there to love it.)

One of my favorite activities as a child and young teen was traversing the waterways in a kayak with my dad and twin sister. We would start out early in the morning, with a lunch packed by mom and our oars in hand, and work our way through the green slime to get into the open water where we would alternate between floating and paddling. And beating nutria over the head.

That’s right, nutria. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a nutria is a swimming rat.) Hardly an excursion went by without one of those gross swimming rats trying to claw its way out of the water and into our craft. My sister and I would scream, “Nutria, yuck!” and begin to beat it over the head with our oars until it would let go of the kayak and plop back into the water.

Those wonderful memories were rekindled when I read the recent account of Norman the nutria, a “pet” bayou rat that allegedly freely roamed the aisles of an Abbeville, La., Wal-Mart. (Abbeville is way south in the state, where everyone should accept nutria, and armadillos, as a routine part of life, in my opinion.)

Apparently, Norman frightened a Wal-Mart shopper, who is now suing the retailer for “pain, suffering, mental anguish, fear, disabling injuries, and medical expenses.” Rebecca White said in her lawsuit that the Abbeville Wal-Mart associates allowed the nutria to run loose in the store and that, when she was pushing her shopping cart down an aisle, Norman ran out from behind a rack and frightened her. She said she injured her back and foot trying to protect herself from the nutria.

Reports described nutria as having bright orange buck teeth and weighing up to 18 lbs. That sounds about right.

Wal-Mart has declined comment about the pending lawsuit, but I would offer the following suggestion. Let Norman continue to be the mascot, but provide any leery shopper with a borrowed oar from the outdoor department.

-- Katherine Field

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