By Jeff Hodges
When my daughter is at a symposium and the leader asks the participants to “tell us something we would never guess about you,” she’ll often respond: “When I was two, I had a pet raccoon named Wenceslaus!”
One snowy Christmas I saw a big raccoon walking back and forth on the road in front of our house like a pedagogue pondering a difficult problem. Typically disregarding the possibility that he might be rabid, I maneuvered him into a cardboard box and deposited him on our screened-in back porch. He seemed happy to be out of the snow.
He was remarkably docile. My daughter and I weren’t sure what to feed him, so we started with pignolia nuts. When he stood up to take the nuts out of her hand, he was as tall she was.
My wife objected to the high cost of the pine nut diet, so we switched to kibble. He spent his days eating, sleeping, and in quiet contemplation. Since the temperature stayed below freezing, his droppings were odorless and easily removed. He was the perfect houseguest.
Nonetheless, my sensible wife argued for his eventual eviction. On New Year’s Eve, when we were spending the night elsewhere, we left the porch door open. When we returned the next day, he was gone.
But he was back that evening, apparently preferring a regular diet to the vagaries of life in the wild.
Eventually we had to return to Manhattan. Also, the January thaw had begun, and the back porch was starting to become a little malodorous.
I put Wenceslaus in his box and took him to a nearby vet for an examination. The vet pointed to a droplet of mucus in his nose and told me he was suffering from distemper, which accounted for his docility. His time on earth was limited, and the vet offered to put him down for a small sum. Reluctantly, I agreed.
We told our daughter the vet was going to keep Wenceslaus until he was well, and then take him to a farm that had a lot of other raccoons. She was content with that.
In the spring my wife returned from a tag sale with a stuffed raccoon that looked just like Wenceslaus. I can’t remember how we explained that to our daughter; but Wenceslaus the stuffed raccoon has remained a treasured effigy of our beloved houseguest who spent Christmas with us when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.