It was the summer of 1971, and the Simpson family was living in a mobile home behind the Plateau filling station south of Blanding.
Woody, our paternal grandfather, was working in Cisco, CO clearing brush for the Nielson brothers, Connie and Skinny.
Craig, Barry, and I ran the service station, pumping gas, checking oil, repairing punctured tires, washing windows, and drinking Pepsi Cola.
At 11, 12, and 13 years of age, we were fully in charge. When one of us had a baseball game or other important event, the others would sub in. If for some reason we were all gone at once, Rose and Duke took over.
Woody, whose name was actually Woodrow Wilson Simpson, was a handyman’s handyman.
When it came to welding, “skinning” a Caterpillar tractor, or repairing a pick-up truck, there was none better. At times, it seemed he could design, build, and repair anything.
As for Cat-skinning, it was said Woody could level land so well water would run in either direction. Many testified they had personally witnessed this hydrological miracle.
After a week’s work in Cisco, Woody would often stop by the filling station to say hello and have a soda.
On one particular occasion, he came home a few days early. Upon pulling his old Ford into one of the fueling bays, he reached into the bed of his truck and pulled out a gunny sack full of squirming, chattering critters.
“What’s that?” we shouted.
“Coons,” he proudly proclaimed.
Apparently Woody had found a nest of kits. Their mother had either abandoned them or been run over during the clearing campaign, so Woody, being a lover of all animals great and small, decided to adopt the whole batch.
As it turned out, they were more than Woody could handle at his camp trailer, so he was intent on farming them out to friends and family members. We were intended recipients.
After considerable discussion, Rose and Duke consented, and we became the proud owners of a baby raccoon. Never known for our creativity, we named him “Bandit.”
Since our home had only two bedrooms, every night Craig, Barry, and I rolled out sleeping bags and slept on the living room floor. While he was small, Bandit crawled inside the bags and slept at our feet.
As Bandit progressed into full grown maturity, we realized our sleeping arrangements would have to change.
While building a run to confine Bandit, we put a dog house out in the yard and staked him to a chain, which was in line with the custom of the time.
Every morning Bandit would exit his temporary abode and pace back and forth on his chain, eventually wearing a semicircular path in front of his new dwelling.
During his tenure in the makeshift house, Bandit developed a fondness for the yellow tabby cat we called Tigger. That’s right, T-I double Ga-Er.
Tigger, on the other hand, realizing there was no future in the relationship, had no love for Bandit. Consequently, she avoided him at all cost.
Noting Bandit’s mobility had been circumscribed, Tigger began sitting just outside the perimeter of the raccoon’s walking path, licking her paws, and tempting him with her considerable charm.
That drove Bandit nuts, and he tried every conceivable trick to reach the feline. It was, however, no use, the cat always stayed just beyond Bandit’s reach.
One morning we looked out the kitchen window to see how Bandit was getting on and noticed he no longer paced at the end of his chain.
Instead, he had withdrawn a few feet and was pacing a short path back and forth. It was clear the cat was about to make a grave miscalculation.
Assuming Bandit was, as always, at the end of his rope, Tigger strolled out and sat down, just inside the worn semicircle. Bandit continued to pace until the cat began preening.
Sensing she was not paying attention to her surroundings, Bandit streaked out, scooped up the cat, and held it like one lover holds another.
Tigger, startled, howled, spat, and scratched, eventually slumping in Bandit’s arms.
Unfortunately Bandit was also shocked by his success, and after momentarily holding the cat firmly to his breast, decided he did not know how to properly care for his captive.
All those months of anticipation had given way to an uneasy climax. With no other alternative and knowing he would never again hold his beloved, Bandit gently released his prisoner.
Surely his heart was heavy as the cat scampered to safety.
When the trading post is slow or work difficult, and I begin yearning for something different, I think of Bandit and wonder what I would do if I actually got what I desired.