Daddy came in the outside kitchen door with something cradled in his old bandana. I could tell from his look that he had something special. He put it down on the kitchen table, but before he could untie the bandana, a fuzzy brown head popped out of one end with ears at attention, and black circles around bright black eyes that locked on mine. It was love at first sight!
“A baby raccoon! Can we keep him? Can we keep him?” I exclaimed. Mom smiled and replied, “Well, he wouldn’t have been wandering around by himself and so easy to catch if he still had his mother, so we’ll have to keep him until he’s big enough to fend for himself in the wild.”
We named him Bandit because of his black mask, and he soon demonstrated what a ball of fun he would be. Mom warmed some milk and put it in a baby bottle, which Bandit easily juggled with his four paws to drink while lying on his back. Bandit’s second trick was to grow almost literally by leaps and bounds, and he was soon loping through the house to jump into my lap to be petted. He would steal a washcloth from the bathroom, and bring it to me. When I grabbed the cloth, Bandit would back off and play tug-of-war.
Bandit would climb on the back of the sofa behind my dad, lean on his shoulder, and then fish around with his paws in Daddy’s shirt pocket. The only things he could “catch” were Daddy’s pen and pencils, but Daddy thought it was great fun!
By the time my dad’s father, Grandpa John, came to live with us, Bandit was huge! For some unknown reason, Bandit targeted Grandpa John for aggressive play. Bandit would run and jump to wrap his paws around Grandpa’s leg, and bite his kneecap. Grandpa John would yell, shake his leg and buffet Bandit, until one of us ran to the rescue to pry Bandit loose. Grandpa then stomped away, mumbling about “that dumb ‘coon.” Bandit apparently thought it was fun. We thought it was funny. But Grandpa John did not think it was fun or funny!
Toward the end of summer, Bandit had grown really big; certainly big enough to go back to the wild, but before we could let him go, he learned to “nose” his way out through the screen door in the kitchen, and out he went! At supper time, he came scampering up the porch steps, climbed straight up the outside of the screen door, pushed the door open at the top, and came head first down the inside of the screen. How he learned that trick, we’d never know.
Bandit let himself in and out whenever he wanted, and was free to go. He stayed outside longer and longer, and finally several days at a time. When the cool of autumn dictated closing the kitchen door at night, and Bandit wasn’t back by dark, we reluctantly had to close the kitchen door.
It was a cold night, and the first heavy snow of winter, when we heard scratching on the inside of the basement door. When we opened the door, in bustled Bandit making wet paw prints across the kitchen floor. He put his cold paws up on Mom’s knees and looked up into her face as if to say, “Hi Mom. I’m back, what have you got to eat?” Bandit had discovered a basement window left ajar, which became his winter entry for that year.
Bandit finally did not return, and in spring we imagined he had met a beautiful lady raccoon, and was out there somewhere in the woods raising his own family of baby ‘coons with black masks and bright black eyes.
Why do raccoons wear a mask, and sneak around at night?
Why do skunks and penguins, dress in black and white?
Why are pigs so dirty, and kitty cats so clean?
Why are pretty bluebirds nice, and starlings all so mean?
Why are dodos dumb, and owls very wise?
Why do fuzzy caterpillars turn to butterflies?
Why is there a twinkle, sparkling in your eye?
Why do pretty rainbows arc across the sky?
Because my Father put them there, that’s the reason why!