The first time I ever ate raccoon
was at Bellefontaine Cemetery
over on the north side of town.
know, that’s where your grandparents are both buried)
I was dating Norma Lynne Hoffman that summer –
her parents were caretakers
over on the Protestant
That day I went to work at dawn with Pop,
and grey felt
for the men to pick up before the weekend.
know, that’s one of those old hat blocks
your mother used to frame
your baby shoes in the upstairs hall)
We went extra early that day because Pop
said he couldn’t remember
a summer so hot even the mosquitoes
away, and even with the big fans
out from on the wall
and down from the ceiling
and up from the floor
it was warm enough back there to heat up our whole school in January.
My mother brought us lemonade
and cold fried chicken
and when we finished up, I hopped into my red ’52 Sunliner
and went straight to band practice.
I had that car for five years
until I wrecked it on my first date
with your mother)
I met up with Norma Lynne – we had a date
afterwards but we skipped band
down the ragtop,
to the river,
on the levee above those smooth
and spent the afternoon on the carousel
riding painted horses
up and down
around and around
making a breeze –
best we could.
So then we walked out over Chain of Rocks Bridge
with a pocketful
and tossed them one by one into the swirling
trying to hit the wide barge
slowly under us,
loaded down with fat
trunks of maple and oak.
(You didn’t know my cousin
Ralph Potter – he worked upriver
at that logging operation for a while)
When I took Norma Lynne back home
down the winding drive
past neat rows
of white marble
old Mr. Hoffman was standing
on their wide front porch swinging
the biggest raccoon
I ever saw by its tail.
(No, it wasn’t road kill,
it was caught in a fair and square sort of way)
He had a satisfied
that reached all the way to Illinois.
He asked me if I’d care to stay
Norma Lynne and I watched while Mr. Hoffman took out a bowie
knife he said belonged to his pop,
and cut off that raccoon’s tail,
but then Norma Lynne squealed
and covered her eyes
and said she couldn’t watch
so I chased after her red curls
all the way to the Catholic
side of the cemetery,
where we snuck
in the soft grass
behind the twelve foot marble crucifix
where Monsignor Ferretti was laid to rest in 1936.
there were still fresh roses at his grave almost twenty years later)
Finally the smell of spit roasted raccoon
called us back to dinner. Mrs. Hoffman had set a nice table
with buttery ears
of sweet yellow corn
and a mound of thick grits
with raccoon gravy
and a big plate of fresh dandelion
greens Norma Lynne said she just picked that morning from over in the field.
that’s where the new Bellefontaine Hospital
was built a few years later,
where you were born)
So then Mr. Hoffman set a big platter of roasted raccoon
in the middle of the table,
cut off a thick slab of meat with that old bowie knife,
and, still grinning ear to ear, said
well, this here’s one varmit won’t be messin up my compost heap again.
Well, we ate and we ate – that was a delicious meal – then Norma Lynne
took out her accordion
and played Auld Lang Syne
as the sun set
and I made a couple of oompahs
on my tuba
with her for good measure.
I heard that Norma Lynne was married and had a couple of kids by the time
we buried Pop there, about five years later.
Old Mr. Hoffman didn’t seem to remember me that day.
And he had passed on himself by the time we buried
right next to Pop
the next fall.
(But you know,
I thought of Mr. Hoffman and that raccoon
every single time I picked up some garbage
one of you kids knocked over and never cleaned up)
Hmmm? Oh, it tasted like chicken.