The Incident of the Raccoon in the Night Time

I feel I should preface this story by telling you that, despite incidents like the one I’m about to recount, my parents are determined to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary come this September.

Over the years, my father has saved everything from mourning doves to families of squirrels.

My father is a notoriously mushy animal lover. He claims that if he could do it all over again, he’d design fighter jets for the Air Force, but I’m convinced he’d like to be Jane Goodall. When my mother met him, he had a pet turtle that lived in a pot near the stove. Things didn’t end well for the turtle, but let that not become representative of  the fate of animals to come. Over the years he’s rescued mourning doves, sparrows, rabbits, and families of squirrels, all in addition to presiding over our own pack of terriers. But last week, my father’s dogged determination to save all creatures great and small nearly got him killed…by his wife and daughter.

It was just after 10:00PM on Wednesday night. Top Chef All-Stars was still recapping last week’s episode when my 4-year old Irish Terrier started whining and barking as if to warn us the end of the world was coming.

“She probably wants to go out,” my father said as he pulled on his snow boots, acting both martyr and chaperon.

Only minutes passed before he was dragging the barking dog back into the house.

“Aww! There’s a baby raccoon under the porch! And it’s crying. It must be hurt,” he cried.

I’ve never seen my mother move so fast.

“Leave it alone. LEAVE. IT. A. LONE! It might be Rabid. IT. MIGHT. BE. RABID.” It’s hard to know who was more vexed — the dog who wanted to make mincemeat out of the raccoon, or my mother who wanted to make mincemeat out of my father.

“Kathleen! Get me a box and the pick-up-stuff claw,” my father cried over the protestations of both the terrier and his wife.

sure, sometimes a raccoon in your backyard is cute. sometimes, it's just rabid.

“Kathleen! You will do no such thing. Come here! Tell your father he’s being an idiot. He won’t listen to me. Tell him to call animal control!”

“Dad,” I said calmly, “call animal control.”

“Oh, but it’s crying. Maybe it’s just separated from it’s mother. I can save it. Get me the drop cloth.”

“DAD! Leave it alone. We have dogs. It’s a raccoon. That’s a wild animal. Call animal control. It could be rabid.” I swear, it was like trying to negotiate with a deaf hostage taker who was demanding a get away car and amnesty but had turned off his hearing aid.

“Why don’t you call animal control. I’ll wait here with it.”

“No! You will stay away from it! It could be RABID,” my mother and I commanded, in a scary synchronization.

Soon my father was outside with the guy from animal control, searching the hedges for a potentially rabid raccoon with what amounted to two key-chain flashlights and a vaulter’s pole.

After 30 minutes, my father stomped snow and pine needles into the house. “It looks like the raccoon went back to its mother. I don’t think it was rabid. Just lost. Happy Ending!”

The raccoon did not go back to it’s mother. There was no happy ending.

Cute though they may be, in the winter at night time, my favorite raccoon is a vintage fur coat.

12 hours later, the sun was up and my father, 2 men from animal control, and an armed policeman were in a stand off in our yard with a now certifiably crazed and rabid raccoon. The raccoon was exterminated.

“So, ummm, Kathleen, do you want a Davey Crocket hat to go with your fur coat?” he said as he came back into the house. “I have to go back out and do some paperwork with the police officer. Something to do with discharging his firearm.”

My mother and I turned to look at him, “I Told You So” dripping from our eyes like venom from the snake’s fangs.

“While you’re at it,” my mother hollared, “You can search the yard for raccoon poop. We don’t want the dogs eating it. And you know, in 50 years, one ‘I’m sorry, you were right’ wouldn’t kill you!”

“Well, I’ve made it this long without one, so you never know… it might.”

Unwrapping Christmas Presents Past: an Inner-Child Grows-Up, but Only Just a Little

It was a snowy Christmas morning when I was 4 and found myself standing in front of a large, me-sized box wrapped calico-style and adorned with a shiny, red, stick-on bow. I had asked for an Easy Bake Oven and given its size, I was sure this box was not my easy Bake Oven. I was somewhere between being tickled pink with anticipation and overwrought with disappointment.

It wasn't my Easy-Bake Oven. It was a lavender bike with a wicker basket and streamers. And it was snowing outside.

As I tore away the paper, I quickly saw I was right: this was not my Easy-Bake Oven. Instead, Santa had given me a lavender bicycle with streamers and a white wicker basket. I looked at the picture on the box then turned to the window.  The snow on the lawn was blinding white and the ice clean-up trucks chugged noisily down my street spraying salt and sand as they went. I was doubtful that this present would produce any immediate gratification. But I had seen enough Christmas movies and heard enough stories from my friends to understand that a bike for Christmas was a big deal. So I followed convention and starting jumping with joy, encouraging Daddy to put it together ASAP so I could ride it around the living room.

“No. You can’t ride the bike in the house. We just refinished the floors.” My mother didn’t realize what lasting effects this command would have.

I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was 17 and I never mastered turning. Now, the only bike I ride is a stationary spin one. Meanwhile, despite never having got my Easy Bake Oven (I asked for it every Christmas up until I was 11), I’ve become a bake-o-holic. My parents claim that it’s because I never had an Easy Bake that I’ve become such an able-bodied, all-from-scratch cook — I had to learn how to use a real stove, not one powered by a light bulb. One can never argue with a parent’s logic.

So far, my dinner guests have gotten more use out of my guitar than I have. But it's not too late for me to become the next Jewel

Yet while I can now churn out cakes, cookies and pies like nobody’s business, I’ve never gotten over the Easy-Bake Oven. Determined to prevent Santa from once again confusing “bakeware” with “bicycle,” I started writing elaborate Christmas Wish lists, complete with figures, web links, and product numbers. Each list has reflected whatever stage of my life I had entered — from preteen to early adulthood. A remote controlled plane, Backstreet Boys concert tickets, a watercolor box set, a Play-Station 2 with Guitar Hero, a real guitar, books by my professors, Kate Spade flats — for sure, with each item comes a flood of memories from not only that Christmas, but from that year in my life.

But in 2010, I couldn’t be bothered writing a list. Surely, after 25 years my parents knew I was easy enough to please that as long as it wasn’t a bicycle, I would be happy. My mother cursed me as she roamed the mall and racked her brain.

“Look, why don’t you just get me a cookbook or something.”

“You don’t need another cookbook.”

It was nothing short of a miracle that, come Christmas morning, there were presents waiting for me under the tree. My mother handed me an armful of crudely wrapped items with a look of both pride and concern on her face. “I don’t know why I bought you these,” she said. “But I figured we’ll need them later.”

I felt like I was 4 again as I shook the boxes. The sound of liquid sloshing around had me stymied. As I ripped away the paper and bows I was surprised to see a set of martini glasses, a bottle of Tanqueray, a bottle of Rose’s Lime Juice, and a copy of “Vintage Cocktails,” a book featuring recipes from Pegu Club, my favorite cocktail lounge in New York.

“Now, just remember, when you make things out of this recipe book you’ll not only get fat, you’ll get drunk,” Mum said as she cracked open the gin.”Go easy.”

I guess that’s why she neglected to give me a drink shaker.

Unlike the lavender bike, it didn't take me long to put these Christmas presents to use... despite the missing cocktail shaker


Getting to Know My Family: Meet Stewart, My Favorite Brother

“Don’t you lift those bag of wood chips,” my mother screamed at my father from the bedroom window. “They’re 50 pounds each! Kathleen will do it.” I stood up from the log pile, put down the axe, and looked at my father.

Just righting a fallen tree... Can't Stewart do it?

“You can put them in the wheelbarrow,” he said to me. “This way you can take them all to the top of the yard at once.”

“Them all” equated to 6 bags.  “The top of the yard” meant an acre uphill trek.

“Can’t you get Stewart to do it?” I whined with a grunt as I threw the first bag over my shoulder.

I grew up in the suburbs of Manhattan. At an early age, I was introduced to art and music and exposed to the cosmopolitan life.  I took ballet, rode horses, played the violin at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, and fenced. One might argue that I was raised to marry into royalty, but I’d swear my parents raised me to be the wife of an Iowa farmer… in 1860.

I don’t know whether it was the Thanksgiving Day vacuuming accident that landed my mother in the ER or the conversation my father overheard my girl friends and me having about our bench-press goals, but something convinced my parents that their little girl was good at physical labor. Once they discovered they were right, I was done for.

The fridge has to be moved. No problem, Kathleen will do it. The fence needs to be power-washed. No problem, Kathleen will do it. We’re having 10 people over for a 3-course dinner. No problem, Kathleen will take care of it.

I say, why can’t Stewart do it?

Stewart is my dreamy, 6’2, rugged, utilitarian imaginary brother. That’s right. I’m 25 and I have an imaginary brother.

Stew has a knack for making me laugh, particularly in the kitchen

Stewart is the type of brother who tied the feet of my pajamas together when I was a toddler, called me “Tubs” during my awkward tween years, and glued the shampoo bottles shut  on the night of my first date.  Now at the age of 29, he has out grown his prankster days and settled into a well-groomed, gently-teasing, over-protective big brother. He played rugby for Columbia and earned a masters in architecture from MIT. He’s the kind of brother who’s good at lifting and fixing stuff. He’s the kind of brother my parents would have adored but failed to provide.

“Why can’t Stewart do it!” My parents laugh. They know what I’m trying to tell them — it was very inconsiderate to leave me as an only child. “Why can’t Stewart do it?” It’s a family joke now, but as I wheel the 300 lbs of wood-chips up the hill, I’m the only one not laughing.

“You know,” my friend Laurie said as I whined about my post-wood-chip-hauling back-ache and my MIA imaginary brother,  “you could just find yourself a boyfriend… a lumberjack boyfriend.”

She might be on to something.