By Cleveland Dietz
Standing in a heated, inflatable pool, Lou Ann Best stoops toward the water as she’s done for nearly 40 years.
She holds a handle and skis in place behind a remote-controlled boat with one hand and releases Twiggy the water skiing squirrel into the water with the other. The squirrel, wearing a cape that doubles as a floatation device, shoots toward the skis. A moment later, Twiggy’s standing on her hind legs, holding the handles and skimming the wake.
Best and Twiggy have done the act hundreds of times – at county fairs and expos, on film and screen, even at the X Games. They’ll bring the show to Indianapolis for the last time from June 15 – 19 with a string of performances at the Marion County Fair before their retirement.
Twiggy first took to the water 40 years ago.
Lou Ann’s husband, Chuck, bought their daughter a remote-control boat, but played with it himself most of the time and his family wouldn’t let him forget it. Finally, he had enough and joked that he had to drive it, if he was going to teach the squirrel they’d rescued from a storm to water ski.
People thought he was nuts but he managed to do it the same way he’d taught a chimpanzee to roller skate and a French poodle to surf.
“You bet my husband he can’t do anything, you bet your bottom dollar he’s going to do it,” Lou Ann said.
Soon after, a newspaper reporter visited the Bests’ roller skating rink to do a story. He learned about Twiggy while he was there and another story followed. The coverage cascaded as bigger and bigger outlets called.
“Out of the country, even, people were sending us clippings of Twiggy in the newspaper,” she said.
The first newspaper story hit May 21, 1979. By August, Twiggy was performing in front of America on the TV show, Real People.
The show’s changed over the years.
In 1997, Chuck died trying to save a drowning person after a boating accident. In his haste to save them, he didn’t put on a life jacket, Lou Ann says.
She wanted to quit the show after her husband and Twiggy III died, but people kept calling.
“I’m like, ‘I have one little squirrel, she’s my grandbaby,” Lou Ann recalled. “She was born in my closet from another rescued squirrel. Let me see if I can train her and I’ll call you back.”
Now she and Twiggy VII – who always wears her life jacket – focus on water safety education with the hope of making a difference. They teach people how to float and why life jackets are important.
They listen, though not necessarily to Lou Ann.
“I just wanted to let you know I learned to float just like Twiggy said,” she remembers a boy telling her after a Texas show. “A light bulb went off. They hear Twiggy, not me.”
That, she says, makes the difference.
You can see Twiggy and Lou Ann at the Marion County Fairgrounds Admin Plaza on the following dates and times:
Friday, June 15 at 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Saturday, June 16 at 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Sunday, June 17 at 1:30 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Monday, June 18 at 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Tuesday: June 19 at 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.