Before I tell Leo's story I want to talk about my Daddy-in-law for a bit. He was a big man, a logger and a hunter. He passed away last year. He enriched my life immeasurably and I miss him. Even though I had been divorced from his daughter for 20 years, he never stopped calling me his son-in-law. He was in many ways a wonderful man and he was a story teller.
I had never seen a raccoon close up. In pictures they look little and cute. After my close up encounter with them, I was telling my Daddy-in-law about it and he gave me that look. You know what I'm talking about. That look that says you don't know the half of it. And so here's the half I didn't know as it was told to me:
We were hunting 'coons one night and I got one tree'd. With the dog at the base of the tree barking, I was taking aim and just about ready to shoot. Before I could get the shot off, the 'coon bailed out of the tree and landed on my leg about the knee. I was wearing coveralls over my pants. If it hadn't of been for that, my leg would have been ruined. That 'coon shredded them coveralls from the knee down to my shoe.
One more thing before I get to Leo's story. I don't have any grown up photos of him because every time I try to take his picture, he comes sauntering or running over to me before I can get a shot. Here is a photo of Leo and me sometime when he was still a kitten. He would tolerate me picking him up and occasionally even snuggle a little but for the most part he was independent. My youngest son caught one of these moments in this photo:
I kept his food outside and he stayed outside except rarely he would come inside if the weather was bad. As soon as possible he would sit at the door and meow until I let him out.
One night when Leo was about half grown, I was awakened by what I can only describe as something sounding like it was tearing down the screen door. I jumped up and pushed open the door. Google tells me a group of raccoons is called a gaze. That doesn't describe what I saw on my deck and in the front yard. There were probably less than a dozen but it seemed there were raccoons everywhere. And they weren't little or cute. The dark bands on their faces made them even more threatening. I was dazed for a moment, then thought, "aww, they are just raccoons, I can shoo them away." So I began the shooing and stepping toward motions. The raccoons did not back down. They bared their teeth and even though they didn't lunge at me, it was a standoff.
About that time Leo came out from under the deck. In comparison to the raccoons he was tiny! But he bowed up, showed his fur and looked as fearsome as he could. The raccoons lunged for him. At that moment panic and fear and fury seized me. Most people who know my family well know an awful temper runs in it. I didn't escape that.
Suddenly I lost all common sense. I remember thinking, "they'll kill him" and uttering the words, "you son-of-a-bitches, one of us is going down!" I ran inside and grabbed the first weapon I could find - a broom - and came out swinging. I didn't see Leo but the raccoons decided, I guess, they didn't want anymore of the madman with the broom. This, especially after I broke the handle banging at one who was beginning to climb a tree.
It didn't take the raccoons long to leave once they turned tail. I called Leo, hoping on top of hope he was okay. He was and he came running up to me. I picked him up and hugged him.
"Little soldier," I said, "your bravery will be rewarded. You sleep inside with me tonight."
He was still trembling when he curled up on my arm. We slept good the rest of that night and we've been pals ever since.