Rural Living

A Raccoon Tale: Earl, Fat Boy, and Gulf Stream Adventures

by Margo Oxendine, Contributing Writer

 

 Margo Oxendine

I know quite a bit about raccoons because I once had one as a pet.

Well, it’s full-on spring, and the raccoons are back. I know many of you probably consider them pests, but I think they’re quite cute.

Sure, for a brief time, before I wised up and invested in a huge, round-top trash can (with my old tin can stashed inside), the raccoons were a problem. They’d descend upon the back porch tin can, shake it over, and spread garbage hither and yon, after ripping the bag to shreds. They did this around 4:30 every morning. And they made quite a clatter.

I’d storm out there in my pajamas and yard shoes and rubber gloves, and pick it all up after I’d shooed them away. There was an entire family — big old gray raccoon dudes, surly teen raccoons, and several babies, learning the trade.

I’m always a little sad when I see a dead raccoon in the highway near my house. “Is that one of mine?” I wonder. “I hope not.” But, since the new double-can system, they haven’t awoken me before the crack of dawn.

I know quite a bit about raccoons because I once had one as a pet. My Key West beau, Tom, took a long bike ride up the Keys one day, and came home with a tiny baby raccoon tucked in his shirt pocket. We named him Earl. We’d hoped he’d learn to use a litter box. But Earl was having none of that.

Earl was certainly the most curious pet I ever had. We finally moved him from our little Conch cottage onto Tom’s boat, which was part of the ragtag Treasure Salvors fleet. It was an 80-foot converted shrimp boat. Plenty of room for a crew of eight and a curious raccoon. Earl liked to sleep in a drawer just behind the wheelhouse. He’d go out to sea with us. He’d eat whatever we shared with him. He did his business out on deck, and one of the crew would simply hose it out the scuppers. Earl also loved to scamper around up in the rigging, entertaining us with his acrobatics.

Once, we took the boat up the Keys. We docked along the Miami River for a few days. Soon, a crowd would gather on the docks around sunset, and watch Earl’s evening performance. Dads would hold youngsters on their shoulders. The crowd would clap and cheer. We’d laugh. One night, a Cuban fellow who’d become a regular approached. Would we, he wondered, sell him the raccoon for $2,000? My heart leapt. Tom, however, said, “No way! He’s our mascot!” Sigh.

Earl loved to open up my purse and rummage around. He was looking for gum, which he loved. And whenever he found it, he’d get it all over himself — sticking in his fur and whiskers, all the while chewing furiously.

At least, his breath smelled fresh and minty.

One day while we were out at sea, Earl disappeared. We all looked everywhere — and there are lots of “everywheres” on an 80-foot vessel. Finally, our engineer — the only name we ever knew him by was “Spaghetti” — suggested Earl must have slipped out the scupper. (Those are the “holes” between the deck and the gunwales, so you can clean the decks and the water goes back in the sea.)

We were all bereft. Earl was gone — slipped into the Gulf Stream; probably a shark snack by now.

And then, lo and behold, Spaghetti found Earl down in the bilge. He was black and oily, covered with the grime and goo and diesel fuel that gathers in the bilge.

What to do? Well, Tom figured it out. He grabbed Earl, the hose and a small bottle of Wisk and gave Earl a seriously sudsy scrubbing.

It was hilarious.

Earl grew. And grew. Finally, we changed his name to “Fat Boy.” No way was Fat Boy slipping through any scuppers.

Then, my parents visited Key West for a trip out to sea. I knew there was no way they would welcome the presence of Fat Boy, and he was really becoming too big and unwieldy and rambunctious to keep as a pet. We borrowed a car and drove him back up to Big Pine Key, where he’d been found beside his dead mother. Tom took him into the woods, and let him go. Earl looked back once, as if to say goodbye, and trundled happily off to the life he was meant to have.

Enjoy a book of Margo’s columns, A Party of One, by ordering at 540-468-2146, Mon-Thurs, 9-5, or email: recorder@htcnet.org.  

 

 

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