by Janet Gilmore
I’m a city girl.
Because there weren’t any woodland creatures where I grew up, I assumed that most animals were either animated, like Bambi and Thumper, or stuffed, like the ones in the dusty dioramas at the Academy of Natural Sciences.
So I was surprised as a grown-up when I looked out the kitchen window one afternoon and saw a raccoon standing on its hind legs, leaning against a tree that separates our driveway from our neighbors, slobbering on the shrubbery. The school bus was due soon.
“That’s odd,” I thought. My husband, Hugh, was a science major in college, and he told me in one of our more obscure courting conversations that raccoons are nocturnal and that something is wrong if you see one around in the daytime.
“Hugh, there’s a raccoon standing against that big tree,” I said.
“That’s impossible; they’re nocturnal.”
“Well, this one isn’t. Come and see for yourself,” I said as the raccoon swayed back and forth as if either drunk or in deep prayer, obviously out of its mind.
“Holy cow!” Hugh exclaimed. “That must be a rabid raccoon!”
We called the SPCA, but they said they only help animals with cruelty issues.
We called the Philadelphia Game Warden. The secretary told us there is one warden assigned to all of Philadelphia. “Tell you the truth, sir,” she said. “The best thing to do is shoot it yourself.”
“Shoot it?” Hugh repeated. “It’s illegal to discharge a firearm in the city, and we don’t have anything to shoot it with…”
“…and after you shoot it, sir, give us a call and we’ll come and get it.” She then hung up.
Just then, our neighbor, Rackham Upsal (not his real name), strode out of his house and said, “Call the game warden. I can’t help you right now. I have to be somewhere.” It was the first time he had ever spoken to us in 10 years of neighbor-ness. He shooed the raccoon onto our side of the driveway with his walking stick, got into his huge car and roared out of the driveway.
The school bus pulled up. This was a defining moment in my life. I had to act like a grown-up. If the raccoon was going to bite someone, it’d have to be me. You can’t live the rest of your life knowing that your little son got rabies because you were too cowardly to go outside, pick him up and carry him into the house. So that’s what I did.
“Andrew, stay in the house; there’s a raccoon outside,” I told him.
“But they’re nocturnal,” he said, laying all questions about his paternity to rest forever.
“Just stay inside,” I said. “Have some candy, as much as you want. I hide it in there,” I said, pointing. Dire circumstances call for extraordinary measures.
The raccoon had staggered back to our neighbors’ driveway. It stood there shaking, then fell to the ground.
Not sure if it was dead or not, we left the raccoon and went back into our house. We were due at my parents’ house for dinner that evening.
Dinner was great. Mom made manicotti, and dad was very funny. We didn’t tell them about the raccoon. I almost forgot about it. Then things got weird.
When we drove up our street in the dark, something gleamed brightly in our headlights. While we were out, Rackham had returned, put the raccoon into a white plastic trash bag, written “DEAD RACCOON” on the bag in black magic marker and hung the bag on the fire hydrant in front of our house, so that the over-worked game warden could find it without much trouble.
“Wh…?” I started to ask, but an extra question would interrupt the flow of a school-night routine. And it had been a very long day. A bag marked “DEAD RACCOON” could wait until morning.
After Andrew was safely tucked in, sung to and kissed, Hugh and I lay down on our bed to talk. Before we could discuss the events of the day, the phone rang. “Hugh? It’s Mittsy Reaker (not her real name) from across the street.”
Hugh immediately pushed the speaker-phone button. Mittsy had a reputation for drinking, which made her very funny.
“Hugh, why did you put a dead raccoon in a trash bag and hang it on the fire hydrant? You know, we have fires in this street, and the firemen won’t be able to find the hydrant if people hang raccoons on it.”
“I didn’t do it,” said Hugh. “Rackham did.”
“Why would Rackham do something stupid like that?” she wondered aloud. “I almost jumped out of my skin when I looked inside that bag. Why don’t you put your trash out at the curb like everyone else? Trash night is Thursday.”
“I don’t know, Mittsy. Why don’t you call Rackham and ask him? You have a good night now,” said Hugh, and hung up.
I was helpless with laughter. The desire to philosophize was gone.
“What do we do now?” I asked.
“Well, if you took your problem to the wisest old man who ever lived and asked him for advice, what do you think he’d say? He’d say it’s very late and that it’s been a long day. Have a little snack, brush your teeth, get into bed, read a bit, and go to sleep. Most things you worry about never happen.”
“Great idea,” I said.
The trash bag was gone by morning.