Wednesday, April 17, 2013


“I don't go looking for trouble. Trouble usually finds me.”  -- J.K Rowling
Oh trouble can't you see
You're eating my heart away
And there's nothing much left of me.

I have had a variety of pets over the years, but few have resulted in a long or an endearing relationship.

There were goldfish and tropical fish, but you can’t play with them or take them on walks through the neighborhood, and so my affinity with these was as short lived as the fish themselves.  I did have a piranha for a time when I was in high school, but even it lost its attraction after awhile.  You can only watch so many goldfish devoured before it cuts into your dating time.  My girlfriend ultimately carried the day.  I had a pet chicken, consequences of an Easter chick that grew up too fast.  We finally found it a good home on a farm outside of town where I doubt it lived a full and rewarding life.  There was a frog I raised . . . from a tadpole at school which I brought home at the end of the year.  It never made it through the summer.  There was a chameleon or two.  A cute bunny that grew into a rabbit who liked to bite.  I discovered I liked Hasenpfeffer (and still do).

Cats seemed to fare better and I actually developed a good relationship with a couple over the years.  There was a white Persian named Romeo whom I really liked. For some reason my dad and Romeo did not get along and a new home was found.  I remember crying as I watched him disappear down the street while sitting up in the back window of our car.  Shortly after my wife and I moved into our first apartment here in Maryland we adopted a black and white kitten which we named Gretchen.  We had her for several years and she was truly a part of our family.  We watched her have kittens of her own and mourned her when she was hit and killed by a car.  We still think of her when we drive down that stretch of highway. 

I had two dogs . . . a beagle and a golden retriever . . . but they came along at a time when I really did not have the time to give them the love and attention they deserved.  I like dogs, and given the right circumstances, I think I would enjoy having one again.  But maybe not.  My wife grew up on ranches with dogs, and a few years after we were married (and after the sad loss of Gretchen) we became the owners of a beautiful Australian Shepherd puppy named Tara, and she was also a member of our family for several years.  It was a present for my wife and she and our young son developed a very close bond with her.  She would have been an ideal pet and companion had she not hated the very sight and sound of me.  We never figured out why.  For most of her life she refused to be in the same room with me, and as much as I tried, I could not get her to like me.  In her later years she tolerated me, I think, but that was it.  There was never really any love lost between us.  Still, I will admit I shed a few tears the day I had to drive her to the vet to have her put down.  So I think you are probably getting the point I am driving at here.  I am basically not a pet person.  Most of these pets were long ago forgotten. Except for one.

One autumn in the mid 1950s I had a pet raccoon named Trouble.  It was not the name I gave it.  Rather my grandmother christened him with this more than appropriate moniker because that was what he was from the day he became a temporary resident of my grandparents’ Michigan farmstead.  But what city kid would not be fascinated with the idea of having a pet raccoon?  I was.  He was not really my pet, such as it was, for very long, but I still think back over the decades to that crisp autumn when Trouble descended on an otherwise peaceful farm.

Trouble was just a tyke when tragedy struck his own family.  His mother was leading him and a couple of his sibling kits across the road in front of my grandparent’s farmhouse when they were run down by a speeding truck.  Only Trouble, although this was not yet his name, survived the incident.  My granddad found an old crate which he wrapped with chicken wire and this became the little racoon’s home.  My grandmother fixed a bottle used to feed young calves and nourished Trouble until he was fully weaned and began to take a real interest in solid food . . . mostly table scraps but also the ubiquitous acorns produced that autumn by a gigantic oak tree between the farmhouse and the chicken coop.  I would gather these by the pail full and delighted in pushing them through the wire cage while watching as Trouble doused each nut in his water bowl as he chewed his way to the meat inside.  Trouble ate just about anything you put in front of him.  Samuel I. Zeveloff, in his book Raccoons: A Natural History, says that raccoons "may well be one of the world's most omnivorous animals."  Trouble certainly proved him correct.

Unfortunately, the older Trouble got, the more he lived up to his name.  He would frequently escape, but knowing what a good thing he had going, he never wandered very far.  My granddad would always manage to find him nearby and capture him or coax him back to his cage.   More of a nuisance than trouble.  The older and larger he got, however, the more unpredictable he became and I was warned in no uncertain terms to keep my hands and fingers out of the cage when I fed him.

I remember it was a snowy morning when my grandfather returned from the milking barn cussing under his breath.  Trouble had escaped again and this time he found the chicken coop.  Need I say more?  Trouble had finally become trouble with a capital T.   I did not realize this until that afternoon, having returned from school to find Trouble’s cage empty again.  I took my pail and filled it with what acorns I could find under the snow, all the while looking for Trouble.  He was nowhere to be found.  I asked my grandmother and she told me to be patient; he would come back when he got hungry.  She reminded me that although I thought of him as a pet, he was a wild animal and belonged in the wild.  The next morning, before heading off to school, I checked the cage to see if Trouble had come home during the night.  The cage was gone.  And, as I left for school I saw my granddad walking up the hill from the chicken coop with his .22 rifle over his shoulder.  I never saw Trouble again.

Oh trouble move away
I have seen your face
and it's too much for me today.

[*] “Trouble” lyrics by Cat Stevens.  Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

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