I can still see the look on the man's face. He was raking his lawn while I was peddling my bicycle down the street of my Coon Rapids neighborhood. I was just 8 years old.
My 20-inch gold-colored bicycle had a white vinyl banana seat with a tall sissy bar sticking up from behind the seat. When I gave other kids a "buck," as we called it back then, that is, a ride, the passenger could lean back against it in relative comfort.
The handlebars were tall too, kind of like the handlebars of a big Harley chopper, or so I thought all those years ago. Wedged between the two forked handlebars was my bicycle basket, inside of which I carried any number of things from baseball mitts, bats and balls, to rocks, turtles and frogs.
However, on that particular glorious summer evening, the evening I peddled in front of the house where I saw the man with the rake, I carried something very different in my bicycle basket. So different, in fact, that the look on the man's face startled me as he dropped his rake on his lawn and hurried toward me while shouting at me to stop.
Thinking about it now, I suppose the sight of a redheaded, freckle-faced boy peddling a bicycle with a 10-pound live raccoon seated contentedly inside the basket was something you just didn't see everyday. Therefore, I stopped in front of the man's house while he excitedly called for his family to join him to see the boy with the pet raccoon.
I acquired her from my dad when she was just days old, a week at the oldest. Her eyes and ears were still sealed shut the day he brought her home, and I can vividly recall the moment he walked into the house carrying the box. Her name was Mickey.
When I spotted Dad through the dining room window as he walked up the sidewalk carrying the box, I had assumed that he had laundry inside it, and I even said as much. Yet the look on his face was puzzling to me. While Dad carried the box, I could tell he was looking at something inside it. He was also smiling broadly.
As soon as he stepped into the door, it was immediately obvious that the content of the box was anything but inanimate. And as he placed the box down onto the kitchen floor, the chattering little raccoon, her legs splayed from the sides of her body, her little fingers spread out, her claws scratching the cardboard, was suddenly mine to take care of.
From what I remember, a friend of Dad's found the den of raccoons inside an abandoned house that was being razed. Knowing my love of animals (and I imagine accommodating his own fondness as well), Dad agreed to take one of the newborn raccoons home with him.
I had to feed Mickey with a baby bottle for the first several weeks that I had her. Cradling her in my left arm as I held the bottle with my right hand, I fed her milk that my mother would warm in a saucepan on top of the stove. As Mickey grew, she learned how to hold the bottle herself, even lying on her back while holding the front of the bottle with her front feet and cradling the rear part of the bottle with her back feet.
Dad built Mickey a nice cage that we kept inside the garage. Only trouble with that arrangement was that neither Mickey nor I liked the cage very much. Against mother's wishes, Saturday morning cartoons was usually spent watching both the TV and Mickey's antics, both of which brought plenty of laughter and joy - for me that is; mother never approved of a raccoon in the house.
Mickey was soon getting into lots of mischief, sometimes even a little trouble. Once, while the neighbor kids and I were playing baseball on our front yard, Mickey decided to climb the front door of our house. For whatever reason, an overly bold and stupid friend of mine approached Mickey and grabbed her. The boy attempted to pull Mickey off the screen door by clutching two handfuls of fur from her neck and back. To this day, I wonder what possessed him to do such a thing; and I'm still not surprised by the result. Mickey chattered in pain, turned her head, and bit the boy's hand. After that day, I wasn't allowed to let Mickey run loose by herself.
Another time, Sister Mildred came for a visit to see my pet raccoon. She was one of my teachers at St. Timothy's Catholic School, so she was well aware of Mickey. In those days, nuns wore veils on their heads, or habits, as the articles of clothing are called.
Several of my friends and I led Sister Mildred into the garage to Mickey's cage. I asked Sister if she would like to hold Mickey, and she eagerly accepted the opportunity. By this time, Mickey was getting quite large. She resembled a small bear cub with a thick pelt and plenty of body fat to boot.
Like all raccoons, Mickey was inquisitive about anything new. Consequently, she had to investigate nearly everything, including Sister Mildred's habit. As Sister cradled the big ball of fur in her arms, Mickey reached up and tugged with both her hands Sister Mildred's habit.
As if being pulled by her own hair, Sister cocked her head to the side in obvious hope that Mickey would stop. Nevertheless, Mickey didn't stop until she had finished the job, which, as it turned out, was when Sister Mildred stood before us, "habit-less," and giving us all our first look at a Nun's naked head.
"See?" my friend whispered, "They aren't bald!"
Mickey was with me for more than a year. By late the following summer, she was just too much to handle and we ended up giving her to Como Park Zoo where she spent the rest of her life. She was the best pet I ever had.
My, oh my, the fun we had as the two of us enjoyed together the great outdoors.
Blane Klemek is the Bemidji area assistant wildlife manager, DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org