Abram was a raccoon who lived with his raccoon family near the corner of Back Road and Highway 12. Sarah, his wife, was originally from the lower end of the island, across the creek. Her family first came to Ocracoke when the raccoons and possums on Portsmouth Island started following the dumpsters across the sound. Abram’s people were long time residents of Ocracoke, referred to locally as “raccooners”. After they were married, Abram found a nice home in the small patch of woods across from the Pirate’s Chest. It was right in the middle of the island. They were close enough to visit her relatives on Lighthouse Road and see his cousins who occasionally took the ferry from Cape Hatteras. Life was good.
Then there was Lot. Abram could never forget Lot. Lot was his nephew. Lot was hard to live with some days. Yes, it took a lot of love to love Lot. Raccoons are prone to rabies because of some of their lifestyle choices (eating dead things and living outside) but Abram and Sarah stayed relatively healthy. Lot, on the other hand, always kept a case of the rabies. Abram would ask, “Lot, do you want to go with me and hit the dumpster by Blackbeard’s Lodge?” “No,” said Lot. “You know I still got the rabies.” Rabies kept Lot out of community college, prevented him from working on the ferry, and finding his own tree. What could Abram do? Family was family. He was stuck with Lot.
Abram did his best work at night. The roads around the island were quieter. Sure, there were the occasional drunks on golf carts and kids on bikes. But for the most part, his corner, within sight of the Pony Island Motel and around the corner from the big dumpsters on Back Road, was the perfect place to be. Find the food, look for the best burnt, fowl (Abram loved chicken) tasting garbage on offer; then bring it back home to Sarah’s crock pot. There was nothing better than seeing her black circled eyes light up when he managed to bring home seafood scraps.
Last Thursday night, Abram left as he usually did, around 6:30. Just before dusk was prime trash picking time. Besides, it was important to be in place before the humans got home. Humans made him nervous. Lot never took Abram’s advice to stay away from humans. He liked to play pool at one of the local bars and had been known to drink too much. Last summer, surveillance cameras at the campground caught Lot fighting with a mouse and an Osprey from Vermont. He was still on probation.
Jay was a squirrel who lived behind the Pirate’s Chest. His corner, trees, and family were right across from Abram’s patch. You might say they were neighbors; in a feral rodent way. Jay and his family of squirrel children had just returned from a week-long vacation to El Salvador. “Hola,” said Jay, trying to impress Abram with his newly learned Spanish. “Hello,” waved Abram. Jay wasn’t finished. Rule number one, never get sucked into a conversation with a squirrel. They can’t shut up.
“Don day es tah too en caint ador a es poza Sarah?” Did he really want to know where Sarah was? “Sounds like you made quite a bit a progress on your Spanish,” said Abram.
“Yeah, you know me,” said Jay. “I’ve got the gift, those people down there just looked at me like I’d been speaking it all my life. Y’all ought to go some time. The native rodents couldn’t have been friendlier.”
“I’ll run that by Sarah. I better get going.” If he didn’t leave now he’d end up hearing stories El Salvadoran flying squirrels all night long. “Come back soon,” we’ll show you the video we took with a nice mouse family we met from Belize.
Abram wasn’t going anywhere. He liked the corner of Back Road and Highway 12. This was his home. He lived here and his raccoon parents had lived here. Abram and Sarah had done well for themselves. Nothing was going to move Abram the Raccoon to a new forest, a new tree, or a new corner. Squirrels and cats traveled. Abram J. Raccoon did not. Or so he thought.
The lights came from around the corner. Most people took the curve too fast, that’s why he stayed well off the shoulder. These lights were bigger than many the human cars on the island. Trucks have hundreds of lights or so Abram thought. Cars might have two, three or four. To be honest, he never bothered to count. If he got too close to the light, he was probably, already, most certainly dead.
The lights stopped about four and a half raccoons in front of him. He knew no other was to measure distance. At first they were big, like the human cars; then they became smaller and distant, as if they were stars. Which were they, lights, stars, or both? This was not a regular occurrence in raccoon world.
Abram, like most of his raccoon friends, had learned to stand absolutely still when caught by a light. Light never revealed his good side. Motionless in the high beams of an F-150 or a minivan, he was usually found to be eating something. Abram froze with crumbs in hand. He hoped his innate cuteness, black eye circles, and brown fur might make him suddenly invisible.
It didn’t work. The light, becoming distant again, began to speak.
“Abram, this is God. I am God of the humans, your annoying neighbor Jay, and even raccoons.”
Abram didn’t know there was a raccoon God. He and his family practiced what religious sociologists called moralistic therapeutic deism. (To be honest, Abram didn’t know that term either, but it’s what they were doing.) Basically, this is what he believed:
God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
Good raccoons go to heaven when they die.
Was he about to die and go to raccoon heaven? He really didn’t think much about God unless Lot was having a rabies attack, one of the neighbors died, or he had a problem-like the time his fur started falling out and the doctors had no answer. It turned out to be stress. Being a seventy five year old raccoon on an island in the Atlantic Ocean is pretty stressful.
Abram came to know the raccoon God as he waited for more words to emerge from the fading darkness. God may not have been a raccoon but God knew Abram’s name. On a good day, Abram was about a one raccoon tall. That’s nearly a foot in human terms. With all the strength he could muster, he stood up straight, and tried for an extra inch. “Tell me God of raccoons and humans, what do you have to say?”
“Go from your land, your precious little spot on Back Road by the corner of Highway 12 to a new place I will show you. I will make you a great raccoon nation. I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.”
“I’m going to be a blessing!” exclaimed Abram. He looked around to the left, then to the right, and realized no one was there. Then he said it again.
God spoke raccoon. Abram didn’t know where he learned it but his accent was flawless. God knew raccoon. This amazed Abram! “God speaks my language!” Wait till he told Sarah.
Wait till he told her about moving. She was not going to like this. Talk about being settled, she didn’t want to go anywhere, especially at her age. And Lot, we will have to bring his no good, rabid behind with us.
“God,” asked Abram, “are you sure about this?” Abram loved the idea of being a blessing, particularly in his own little bubble of woodland comfort. He knew Baron the Osprey, Jay the Squirrel, and two new possums had moved to Middle Road. They had friends here. Moving was expensive and he had no idea where or how far God wanted them to go.
“Listen, Abram,” God said, “I know this is a lot for a raccoon to digest. But I need you to go and be a blessing to other raccoons, squirrels, cats, dogs, and even a few humans. Do you see my lights? You are going to be a light. Better yet, you are going to reflect my light.”
Abram did reflect light very well. His shiny coat and fur, with hints of brown, white, and black could be seen in most headlights. Sarah was just as reflective as he was. When people saw Abram and Sarah, they stopped in their tracks.
“It’s not just about me being there when you’ve got a problem, no food, someone dies, or Jay the Squirrel talks on and on about the lack of nuts,” God told Abram. “I ought to factor to into your life, like a friendship, not a crutch.” Abram had seen humans on crutches leaving the doctor’s office.
“So where are we doing?” asked Abram.
“You’re going to take everything you have and move to School Road, over by the Methodist Church.”
“But that’s like a whole other country,” Abram exclaimed.
“I know, it’s the place where I want you to go and be a light. Go and be a blessing in the most unexpected corners of people’s lives. Abram, you’re a raccoon, you live for garbage. Help bless people’s garbage, junk, and the things they can no longer carry. People need help with their garbage.”
This was going to be a hard sell to Sarah. She had spoken recently of getting a cat for their tree. Abram hadn’t said anything, but he didn’t think it was appropriate for raccoons to keep cats. Who knows, he’d tell her, maybe they would have cats needing to be blessed over by the Methodist Church.
*I’ve used the conventional spelling of Sarah, not Sarai. This was intentional.