I raised a raccoon once. His name was Leroy, Leroy Rastus. Raised him from a cub I did.
His eyes were recently newly opened and I fed him from a baby bottle. A local rancher in Honey Grove had killed his mama while Coon-Hunting one night and he brought all her cubs home. The next day he adopted them out to several local high school kids. Peanut adopted Leroy’s sister. Another kid adopted his brother. There may have been one or two more siblings, but I don’t recall. Leroy’s adoption experiences were somewhat more transitory. First he was taken by Kim. Kim got bored with him and gave him to my step-sister Madelyn. She thought he was just the coolest thing ever!
For about three days…
His coolness factor, having for her it seems, a very short half-life. I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse for her coon: Cash Money. Money’s coolness factor has no half-life. She was only too happy to surrender Leroy to my care for the tidy sum of thirty-five bucks. Quite tidy indeed to an unemployed High School girl in 1974.
I kept Leroy in my bedroom on the third floor of my father’s house. He had an annoying habit of climbing onto my bed, tunneling under the covers and chewing on my toes. Baby raccoons have very sharp teeth. I tried locking him in my closet, but he would wail so loudly that I just could not leave him there. Needless to say my school work suffered due to lack of sleep during that first month or so with Leroy. And it’s also needless to say that what I just wrote above is bullshit. My school work suffered mostly from my laissez faire philosophy regarding high school, but it’s nice to have someone to blame other than myself.
My girlfriend during this time was a dark haired beauty with grey-green eyes and a wonderful disposition toward animals. In fact, I believe she came to love Leroy more than she did me. It was with her that Leroy learned the climbing skills he would need later in life. She and I would sit on the lawn and Leroy would climb his way up her waist length hair, (Prince Leroy and his Rapunzel) and sit atop her head. Pretty sure no other girl in Honey Grove would have allowed herself to be used thusly, but she loved it.
Leroy grew rapidly and by late spring he was just too big and too rowdy to keep in the house. My step-mother was apparently the first to come to this realization. “Lance, you’ve got to do something about that Goddamn coon. I don’t want him running all over the house anymore.” This from her, even though I had taken great pains to teach him to use the cats’ litter box. Actually, I didn’t ‘teach’ him per se; just showed it to him. He figured out its purpose all on his own. Raccoons are smart, yeah they are.
In addition to the three-story Victorian house (circa 1880), my father’s large corner lot had a two-story carriage house. I guess you would call it a garage, but it obviously was not designed for cars. However the rear of one side of it looked to be perfectly designed for raccoons. On the left half of the building at the very back, there was a section which was about three feet lower than the rest of the foundation. Let’s call it a ‘sunken’ living room for coons. The area was roughly six feet wide and maybe twelve feet long. The ceiling was very high, about ten feet. There were two doors; one to the yard and one to the other half of the building. There was no foundation, only hard-packed dirt. I don’t know what the original purpose of this little sunken room was, but it suited my purpose elegantly. I drove to the local hardware/feed/Gossip-Parlor-for-old-Farmers establishment downtown and picked up several bags of Ready-Mix concrete, five four-by-fours, some chicken wire, nails, and a bag of fencing staples.
First order of construction for my ‘Coon-Atorium’ was the swimming pool and the foundation. I excavated a circular area about four feet in diameter and two feet deep. Next I mixed the concrete in an old washtub and spread it over the entire area, working my way to the door that opened into the yard and finishing up with the pool. This was tedious work and I had to mix many tubs of concrete. Since there were doors on opposite sides of my construction area, it was impossible for me to ‘concrete myself into a corner’ without an egress point. If you had known me back then you would probably have said this was a good thing.
After a few days of letting the concrete dry and cure. I began construction of the penthouse. Every upwardly mobile raccoon requires one. Using an assortment of various pieces of old lumber piled up in the building, I created a penthouse any coon would have been proud to call home. It had a certain ramshackle charm, in the style of early Twentieth Century Dust Bowl Poverty. I mounted it to the ceiling in the right hand corner. Next I fashioned a porch using a couple of one-by-twelves each about six feet long. This made a nice little runway for Leroy to get to his penthouse. Just one problem: He could not climb the walls, (unlike Gloria after a few minutes conversation with me), nor could he jump ten feet in the air.
There was a decent sized oak tree in the Honey Grove High School parking lot which bordered my back yard. Using my chain saw, I amputated a ten-foot long limb and dragged it back to the garage. I was certain no one would mind and even if someone did, as I had performed this ‘limb-ectomy’ on a Sunday morning, there were no witnesses about to point any fingers later on down the road.
I mounted the ‘tree’ in the left corner, securing it to the wall behind the swimming pool. It reached all the way to the ceiling and had some nice smaller branches all along its length. It would provide easy access to Leroy’s extended porch/runway.
With the interior work completed, nothing left to do but wall up the front. I used the four-by-fours for the studs; stapled the chicken wire from floor to ceiling, filled the pool, Et voilà! One Coon-Atorium ready for immediate occupancy.
Leroy was well satisfied with his new digs and quickly settled in. The penthouse was made comfortable by the addition of a blanket and a small pillow appropriated from a window seat which Gloria used to store extra bedding for the occasional weekend visitors to Marcom Manor. The pillow was quite exquisite. It was emerald green with a couple of white kittens embroidered on one side and some frilly shit sewn all around the edges. ‘Leroy should love this,’ I recall thinking to myself as I smuggled it and the blanket to his penthouse.
Some months went by and Leroy was approaching adulthood. Every day we would play together in the back yard. There were several very tall old pecan trees which he loved to explore. Leroy was not very trainable, due in part to his intelligence and independent mind, but he would always come to me from tree tops when I would call him down. I’d stand underneath the tree and he would climb onto my shoulder and was generally content to remain there, as I think he enjoyed the view and riding on my shoulder was easier for him than walking about on his own.
We were occasionally allowed in the house for play time as well. (At this point, I do believe Leroy was the more welcome). He was certainly more entertaining than the cats that lived inside, and probably more pleasant to hang out with than I was, at least as far as Gloria was concerned. When I was feeling a bit mischievous, I would give him a sugar cube and laugh at the expression on his little masked face as it disappeared in the water dish he would wash it in. He did eventually figure out that he shouldn’t wash sugar cubes as he did all other treats he was given.
Every Christmas Gloria would make her ‘World Famous Rum Balls.” (They really were very tasty, I must admit). Well one batch got stored away in a Tupperware box and forgotten for a year or two. Once found and opened, we had some seriously potent rum balls. Gloria was going to dump them, but I said that would be a waste and proceeded to eat a few to prove they were just fine. She was not amused. I gave one to Leroy and he went nuts over it, so I dumped the remainder into a plastic bag and kept them for me and Leroy.
By this time most folks in Honey Grove knew Leroy as I could often be seen walking about with him on my shoulder. He loved to go on walk-about with me; I think primarily because he liked the attention he received. He was becoming a bit of a ham—a semi-famous raccoon—and very entertaining to his fans. I took him to the local vet when he was old enough for his shots, so I was never concerned about someone pissing him off and paying the price in blood. Since I had raised him very gently, never getting too rough during our play, he never exhibited any meanness or aggression (Except on one occasion when I attempted to take a rum ball from him when started showing signs of having had enough. I’ve known drunks who would react in similar fashion.)
One day Peanut and I decided the time had long since passed for a Raccoon Reunion. He brought his Missy (Leroy’s sister), over and we put her inside the Coon-Atorium. Leroy stuck his nose out of his penthouse and after a few moments climbed down the tree to welcome her. They romped about on the floor for a bit and then went for a swim. After that, Leroy led Missy up to his pad.
“Guess now your Coon gonna be corruptin’ mine,” Peanut said.
“My coon’s a gentleman,” I said. “If any corruptin’ is goin’ on up there it’s your hussy being the corrupter and my Leroy being the ‘corruptee’.”
“Yeah, whatever. Let’s go on a beer run ta Ladonia and leave these here two love birds alone,” he said.
When we returned and went inside to check on our ‘kids’, neither one was visible. I called to Leroy and two pair of masked eyes peered down at me as if I had lost my mind. I kept calling to Leroy to come down, but he was not to be persuaded.
“See there, Peanut? That slut of yours has poisoned my coon’s mind against me.”
“Ah leave ‘em alone. You too much of an over domineerin’ parent. I’ll leave Missy here tonight. Maybe they’ll make us some baby coons.”
Now Dear Reader, I know what you’re thinking: ‘That’s incestuous!” Yeah I know, but we’re talking about raccoons here, not people in Arkansas.
After Leroy had been introduced to the mysteries of Raccoon Love, he was never quite the same. Many times he would refuse to come out of the pecan tree when I called him and this was usually at my family’s suppertime, so I would just go in the house and try again after a while. Eventually he would come down to me, but not until I had been calling him for twenty minutes or so.
Once, as we were eating supper the phone rang; Gloria got up and answered it, then said, “OK. OK. I’ll tell him. Goodbye.” Hung up and walking back to the supper table said to me, “That was Billy Jack Simmons. He said you need to get over to his house and capture your coon.”
“Well shit!” I said. “OK. Gotta go. Great supper Gloria.”
“But you haven’t finis…” She said.
“Hey! I set the table. You have to clear,” Madelyn interrupted as I was looking for my car keys.
“Later Sis. I owe you one,” I said, having found my keys and with one foot out the back door.
Billy Jack’s house was about a mile away. When I arrived there was a large crowd of kids and adults standing under a big walnut tree in the front yard. I sauntered over and announced to the crowd, “Y’all got my coon tree’d up ‘n there?” (I can speak ‘Texas Southern’ just as pretty as you please when the situation seems to warrant).
One little kid with a flashlight in his hand says, “Yeah. He way up yonner thar,” as he shown the light up toward the very top of the tree.
“Well, can’t really make his face out, but I do reckon that would be Leroy,” I said and then began calling to him to come down, not really knowing if he would or not in a timely fashion, especially since he might not have known the intent of the large number of folks standing around staring up at him. To my surprise (and relief) he began his descent immediately and within two minutes he was climbing onto my shoulder. Everyone in the crowd started clapping and as if on cue, Leroy took his paw and pulled my chin over so he could lick me on my lips. He had done this before and it was always a real crowd-pleaser.
“That there’s the damn’dst thing I ever seen,” Billy Jack said over the ‘ahhs’ of the rest of the crowd.
“Billy Jack, I do thank you kindly for calling. I’m sorry for the trouble.”
“Aw hell Boy! T’weren’t no trouble. No trouble a’tall.”
“OK; well thanks again,” I said as Leroy and I got into my station wagon.
After I graduated from high school and was making plans to move to Commerce and begin college, I had to decide what to do with Leroy. I could not keep him in the apartment I was going to rent. That was certain. He and I traveled to Winnsboro to visit with my maternal grandparents who lived on a hundred acre tract of East Texas piney woods a few miles outside of town.
My grandfather loved critters (to a point), and my plan was to ask him take care of Leroy. Since my granddaddy was a hard-headed old crusty curmudgeon, prone to immediately dismiss any idea sprung from my brain (“Boy! I lived through The Great Dee-pression! You don’t know th’ value of a dollar!” And on and on in similar fashion every time I opened my mouth to vocalize any idea or opinion I had) I would have to find just the right moment to broach the subject of his adopting Leroy for me.
As it turns out, Leroy saved me the trouble. One evening at dusk, I was trying to get him down out of the very large pecan tree which dominated the back yard. Leroy was not coming down. I kept trying every hour or so and finally gave up and went to bed.
Next morning he was gone and I would never see him again. This saddened me, but perhaps it was for the best.
In my mind I know he made it alright and had a good life. My heart will not allow me to think otherwise.