Raccoons in the Pantry

or

The Origins of Raccoon Day

Raccoon Day is a holiday particular to me. It represents some deep philosophy, and I celebrate it in a very shallow and whimsical manner. Think of Raccoon Day as the clueless commercialization of a deeply religious concept. 'kay?

I'm a Christian. I don't tell others what they should believe; merely live my life and present it as a witness to those interested in knowing more. I use terms like God and Heaven. If you believe differently, you may have concepts which mirror these; substitute your own names as you read, then.

Now, best I could fit Raccoon Day into my beliefs as a Christian would be as, oh, maybe a parable? One of those how to live everyday life lessons that we can read about in the bible, or that God just seems to throw at us to keep us on the right track. I'm not adding some new religious truth - I'm sure it's all there already in some less-accessible-to-me way. But this is how God got through to me with it.

Oh, and hey, you don't have to be Christian to grok Raccoon Day. I've a very good friend who's a Discordian. At first he thought I was somehow mocking his beliefs, and then he decided I was merely rephrasing some of them.

But this is what the raccoons are all about.

It started in October of 1997. Friday. October 3rd.

I'd had a rather weird week, in a kind of a Connie Willis sort of way - only not so strange as Connie's characters encounter. At least, I was hoping I'd seen the strangest of it...

Monday I actually paid bills in the morning. In the afternoon, I took Flar by the car detailer to drop off his car and then to the airport. I even had time to work on Critter's costume. But then I discovered the missing bag of notions. Which had me up somewhat late, vainly searching everywhere, internally convinced it had been thrown away...

Tuesday I weighed in at Jenny Craig and discovered that contrary to the heavy bloated feeling my body was telling me about, I had managed to lose 2.5 pounds since the week before. I came home ready to work on laundry and etc. I got it started, but didn't push it through as quickly as I might, as I was trying to reconstruct what notions I needed for the halloween project, what notions I had bought for the blankets, and what notions I might have gotten on impulse. Then creating the list of what I really needed for the Halloween costumes, since I need to work on those now.

After I picked up Critter at school, I went by and got notions. [glossary note for the home-sewing-challeged: notions are things like zippers and velcro and bodkins and elastic and practically everything else that is sold in a fabric store that is not actually fabric -- although in this particular store, they carry craft supplies, and call them craft supplies instead of notions. :)] The trip to the fabric store took longer than list-shopping should, since I sat down and went through four pattern catalogues to find dress and pants patterns that I could combine into a jumpsuit pattern for the batgirl costume. And then stopped on the way home for groceries, since we'd be out of milk if I didn't. So by the time I got home, I was ready to veg instead of finishing the laundry. And then I talked to Nezmaster for a bit, which was nice.

But Tigger was the star at preschool this week, and I needed to supply not-cookie-not-cake-not-candy snack for the class, which I hadn't made yet, and I was planning to spend all of Wednesday with Demariana and Thursday morning bowling and I had this goal of being done with chores by Thursday. So I decided to stay up and finish the laundry and bake the muffins etc. Anyway. (Starting at around midnight, I think.) I did lots of other weird stuff while waiting for the laundry to dry and the muffins to bake, like make a new chore calendar, and when I looked up it was 6am, no time to sleep, and the laundry wasn't even done. Sigh.

Shower takes the place of sleep, and I managed to get Critter to school on time, even with packing up workout bag, lunch for me, lunch for Tigger, snack for Tigger, and checks for yearbook, book club, tuition and school pictures. I picked up Demariana and we dropped off Tigger, ate breakfast with ToolWench, worked out, shopped for a birthday present for Sydb, did some banking for Demariana and managed to get home in time to pick up Critter's piano music (which I'd managed to forget in the morning) and get back to his school to pick him up. Dropped off Critter, picked up Tigger, shopped for Beanie Babies (they were out) and got chocolates for Sydb's cake, picked up Critter and headed for home.

And then it hit. 35 hours without sleep. Exercise. I didn't just nap, I got sick, and I got scared. Sick enough to wonder if there were something wrong besides lack of sleep, and doubt my ability to get Critter to school in the morning, and sick enough to be sorry for myself and want-my-mommy and generally get a touch of the it's really hard to be the only adult in charge with two kids scarey stuff. I thought about trying to call someone to talk, but I really wanted someone to come and take care of me, and there wasn't anyone I could call and ask that of. Or at least, in my relatively freaked-out state, there wasn't anyone I could think of. And there's a pretty darn short list of people that I would call when I just need to talk and be calmed down and I confused myself into thinking it was Thursday instead of Wednesday which implied Nezmaster's anniversary and not wanting to intrude by being needy and I didn't call Turnip because I was really just being a hysterical female and didn't want to throw that at him and what I really needed was to just get to sleep anyway. Demariana was coming over that evening anyway to drop off something for me to fax to Cinder, and when she showed up I was just a mess. She calmed me down and tucked me in, took care of my objections to being able to go to bed yet, and I guess made me feel safe enough to sleep.

And I was actually much better in the morning. So Thursday morning was pretty good, back to my inconsistent playing style. This time I bowled 95, 100 and 149. My team managed to take two games and total pins, though, so it was a fun day. And I got the rest of the laundry washed, but not folded, so I was re-taking the week, and calmed down and feeling capable again.

Friday Critter was out of school. We planned to run errands while Tigger was in school (this time with a really easy to throw together popcorn trailmix type snack). I was well enough to give blood and be pampered by the vampires. Errands (car wash, water garden supplies, Halloween decorations, bank deposit) took a bit longer than expected, so Tigger got to help with some, but I was still confident that there was plenty of time left to get stuff done at home (fold laundry, wash dishes, clean house for company, clear off the jacuzzi, change the sheets, supervise boys' chores, etc.) then I hit the last errand. Driving into downtown Nicholasville to deposit the check, I found out this weekend was the Jessamine Jambouree. For which Flar had volunteered for me to make a cake and brownies. And it still didn't get to me. Okay fine. Cake mix and miscellaneous groceries at Wal-Mart on the way home, call the Library lady (Flar's name recall is a bit fuzzy) from Rotary to find out where to take them, and I'd still be able to get everything else done and pick up Flar.

I managed to find out who the library lady was so I didn't have call the library and ask for the Rotary lady (which would actually work in Nicholasville). I didn't really get discouraged when I faxed Cinder stuff only to find out that the color graphics involved were rendered illegible; I sat down and typed in the info via email, then got to work on the baked goods.

And then it happened. I'd finished the cake and was waiting for the brownies to cool -- unloading 5 years of SF digest from the coffee table into storage boxes while I was waiting -- when I heard it. Critter went to investigate what we thought was Zesty, and came back to report that there were Raccoons in the Pantry.

Raccoons.

By the time I got there, there was one on the shelves in the pantry, and one over the ceiling in the dining room, poking its nose down -- for all the world intent on jumping down to investigate the rest of the house. Ack.

Ack.

Okay. I did not grow up in the country. There was a time in my childhood when I was afraid of dogs. I like dogs now, and merely use good sense about not petting dogs of unknown origin, that kind of thing. Ditto cats. I can handle birds that fly into the house (broom and fish net). I can handle insects, including wasps and the like. I could deal with a frog if I had to - I got rid of three from the house in Sugar Land, for that matter. I've picked up fish in life-saving time to return them to the pond, and I can pretty much handle most dead things. (latex gloves, newspaper, garbage bag, shovel)

Raccoons.

They practically have little hands, you know. No thumbs, but they get along just fine.

Raccoons.

They can carry rabies.

Maybe I'm just not able to handle this kind of crisis situation. Maybe it was too soon for another attack of why-do-I-have-to-be-the-one-in-charge? Maybe it's that when all you can see in the hole in the ceiling is nose and eyes, a raccoon looks an awful lot like a badger. And a badger killed Emma (the rabbit). Maybe I'm just a girly-girl of the first degree - see The Princess Bride and the Rodents of Unusual Size.

I called BJ. Across the street neighbor, country boy, he'd know what to do. Nobody home.

I had just that evening gotten a call from my father-in-law -- sick as a dog with pharyngitis "so you decided to make obscene phone calls?" he was in no condition to come help, and besides, he'd make me feel ridiculous and wimpy and stupid for not being able to handle it myself.

I called Brolly. Flar's brother is great at crisis. He's always calm and he always seems to know what to do, and he never makes me feel bad for not knowing. Nobody home.

Critter stood guard at the hole in the ceiling with a supersquirter while I worked on getting the brownies wrapped up (for individual sale) and cleaning the kitchen. And doing a web search to determine that yes, raccoons can carry rabies. (I think opossums don't.) And called the guy I was supposed to deliver the baked goods to, who told me where I could take them in the morning.

Brolly called back, with the number for a company called Critter Control. And pointed out that it was easy for him to be calm, he didn't have raccoons in his house. :) And said sure he's pick up Flar at the airport, since he understood the need to guard the rest of the house against the incursion of raccoons.

I called Critter Control. Who came out and attempted (vainly) to catch the raccoons. But determined that they weren't in the house anymore. And set a trap to catch them (well, one of them). In a place that seemed reasonable. The man was quite understanding, and didn't make me feel ridiculous (or crazy, for that matter -- since there was no raccoon in view when he arrived). The terms of the service contract are a flat fee for coming out, unlimited return trips as needed for the same critters, and an additional fee for each animal successfully trapped and removed.

Very unsettling, and like the universe was determined that I could not have control of my own schedule on Friday. I mean, if errands taking too long wasn't enough to discourage me, if having to make a cake and brownies on short notice wasn't enough to do it. Then I must have Raccoons in the Pantry. If I have a mid-life crisis and go back to school for a degree in pop psychology and write a book, I shall name it Raccoons in the Pantry. And the title chapter will deal with handling chaos-induced stress.

And then I forgot a really important thing.

The Critter Control guy was done in time that I could pick up Flar myself, so I called Brolly and thanked him for the offer but told him I could do it. On the way home from the airport, I told Flar about my day. Now, what I was looking for was understanding for why there was still a huge sink-full of dishes to wash (more due to the extra baking) and a jacuzzi-top-full of sorted clothes to fold and still things to pick up to be clean for company. And understanding and sympathy and comfort over the stress of being on watch during chaos. He already knew about the baked goods, having talked to me in the afternoon to verify that it was the jamboree for which he had made the commitment. So I told him about the raccoons. When I started in on the phone calls, he interrupted to ask me why I hadn't called Animal Control.

Somehow, that was too much. Flar has this really matter of fact, in control way of talking, and he always manages to make me feel really incompetent when I haven't been able to come up some solution he seems to feel is simple. Now, it's perfectly irrelevant that there is no Animal Control department listed in Jessamine County. Because I didn't look in the phone book. I was scared, I didn't want to handle this alone, and I called my closest neighbor and then my brother-in-law, who has spent the last 20 years covering for Flar while he's not in Lexington -- first with his parents, and now, on occasion, with me. But somehow it was just too much that Flar had to interrupt my story to begin with, and then to immediately show how much he was just missing the point of what I was trying to get across... By too much, I mean I started crying and feeling sorry for myself and trying to tell him with words the trauma of being in charge when you're just beyond coping, and it being the second time during the week that I felt that way, and well, that's when I forgot.

You know that guy thing, where you really really want to fix a problem, not provide support and comfort and there there and have a cuppa? Well, see, this problem is that I'm home alone with the kids and can't handle everything that comes across my plate. My problem is the can't handle everything part of it. But yeah, I was really going through the "I really want someone who lives here with me all the time" thing big time while I was stressed out. And Flar doesn't live here all the time. He's why I'm home alone with the kids. And he can't change that. Or, really, we both don't want him to change that, because we want him to make huge amounts of bucks doing what he does which takes him out of town, etc. etc. It's a mutual thing, an agreed on thing. It's not an issue. Until Minikin Can't Cope. And then Flar can't merely comfort cause he feels attacked about it being his fault for being gone. Words like "But I'm Here Now, It's Going to be Okay Now." just don't come to him. Words like "But I can't be there all the time" come out instead. You can probably see how this kind of makes for a very unpleasant negative feedback kind of communication loop in this situation.

So I kind of got my support, after sobbing and yelling and being way too emotional, and getting Flar worried about why things are affecting me so much - after all it's only raccoons. In exchange, I feel even less competent, capable, et. Even more the wimpy wussy girly girl.

And somehow, over the top as it was, and really unpleasant, it was probably the best possible thing, that when we got home, and we started in on the dishes and the kitchen and the laundry folding, when I was putting something in the pantry, I noticed a jar that I had righted was back over on its side, and I looked up and there was a raccoon, sitting on top of the dining room ceiling, looking down into the pantry at me.

I mean, it was the best thing. One - Flar got to see the raccoon and I could believe that he even believed me about the whole thing. Two - it made calling critter control a good decision, cause we could actually call them back that night. (I mean, Flar would still call someone, not actually try to catch it himself, he just wouldn't be flustered like I was. So that issue is, did I call the right choice?) Three - Because the raccoon came back, and the critter control guy came back, and the raccoon got away again, Flar and the critter control guy could work together to figure out where it was getting in and out and adequately block its path. (There was a hole in the unfinished part of the pantry floor behind the filing cabinet. The ccg moved the cabinet for us, and Flar blocked the hole with chicken wire and fire brick.) and Four - while waiting for the ccg to get there he told us to keep an eye on the raccoon, so we'd know which way it went if it ran off again, and that validated my first impulse, which was to not let my eyes off it all night...

So that's my raccoon story. We went to Louisville on Saturday after dropping off the cake and brownies at the Jambouree. There was an art show covering about 4x6 blocks of downtown, and we all wandered through much of it together, then headed back to Nicholasville for the night. And when we got back, one of the raccoons was trapped.

By the end of the season, we had trapped 7 raccoons and 1 possum. Since that year, we haven't had a return of the raccoon. The practical reason is that we've stopped up the entryways they were using to get into the house and attic. The underlying reason is because I think I really learned the lesson that God was throwing at me.

It's about control and overcommitment and Just Letting Go. I was trying to be too much, do too much and control everything. I'm editing this story 5 years later, and I can't imagine having as ambitious an agenda as I did that week. And I was always stuffing that much into my weeks.

We all try to achieve. This is a good thing. But sometimes we lose sight of taking care of ourselves. And when things start getting a little crazy, we need to bow to the turmoil and let it wash over us, rather than running around trying to contain it.

'Cause I know. The next time I forget to let go and let things happen, God will let me know, and next time, it won't be something I've learned how to handle, like raccoons or snakes. Next time, there'll be a Camel in the Basement.

Since that time, I've mellowed a lot. I don't try to do it all, but I still manage to accomplish a lot when I try. And sometimes wonderful things happen because there wasn't a plan in place.

To remind me about letting God take control back, I've developed the idea of Raccoon Day. That first raccoon day was rather awful really. I was an emotional wreck by the end of it. But since then, Raccoon Day has been a fun holiday.

Or, as I've said it before: Raccooon day is a crass commercialism of the recognition for the need to relinquish control and let unpredictable forces take over. The day that the raccoons showed up in my pantry was one in which my list of Things to Do was slipping quickly away from my grasp, and yet I was still working under the expectation of Getting It All Done. It took discovering two raccoons tossing cans off the shelves in my pantry to realize I needed to let go, and let someone else do the steering for a bit. I told my mom it was God telling me to stop trying to cope with everything, that He would keep sending things I couldn't cope with until I did.

The concept is an important one for getting me to let go of control, perfectionism and a lot of stress. It's important to remind me about Control Greater Than Me.

It translates well into discordianism and a bunch of other spiritual paths that I've heard described.

But Raccoon Day itself: It's to this thing, this idea, this importance of chaos, it is to that as Christmas is to the birth of Christ. Christmas isn't Christ Mass anymore, it's a big fun holiday. All sorts of traditions get attached to it that have nothing to do with Christ or His birth. The card companies and merchandisers make a killing. Raccoon Day is that. I found hollow chocolate raccoons to give people for Raccoon Day one year. I sent people Raccoon Day presents, before I knew when it would be. The first tradition of Raccoon Day is that it's never on the same day of the year twice. There will be 366 Raccoon Days, and then someone else will have to think of a cool religious holiday.

There are a number of traditions that we've developed around Raccoon Day.

  1. It mustn't happen on the same day twice. So in 360 years, someone will just have to think up a new holiday. Except of course, none of us can remember precisely when we celebrated it in 1999, so it'll be repeated once, eventually. ;)
  2. It should be around a full moon, if possible.
  3. There must be at least one person present who didn't know it was Raccoon Day.
  4. On the second celebration of Raccoon Day, I made figgy pudding. Everyone liked it enough that it became a traditional part of the holiday.
  5. Gift-giving is optional, but a welcome part of the holiday. Raccoon Day cards are still quite rare to find, it being a private holiday.

Keeping Track of Raccoon Days

Date Event Who Was Surprised Comments; Traditions
10/3/1997 Raccoons in the Pantry Minikin
3/13/1998 Knight's Birthday Party Nezmaster The 6th Raccoon was trapped as guest of honor for the party
12/????/1999 First Figgy Pudding Knight? Figgy Pudding was added as a tradition
12/9/2000 Pandria's Birthday Party Pandria
8/4/2001 Just Raccoon Day Cinder's mom She liked Raccoon Day so well that she has given me Raccoon Day dessert plates for future celebrations.

Although there was a stripper at the party for the first Raccoon Day, we've all agreed that isn't a necessary part of the holiday.


Send Comments and Suggestions
Deb Hisle
sysdeb@iglou.com

Last modified: 25 June 2002