Thursday, December 20, 2018

Audiobook: "Rascal" by Sterling North

Audiobook: Rascal by Sterling North, 1963, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I vaguely recall this book sitting around or being discussed in elementary school. I never read it. I sorta recall the Disney movie on television. I did not watch it.

At work we get occasional mailings from the Sterling North Society promoting his books and home/museum in Edgerton, WI which is about 20-25 miles away. Wait, let me check... 22 miles is most direct route. The Society plugs Rascal in their mailings. I saw the audio and tried it out.

Set exactly 100 years ago from Spring, 1918 to Spring, 1919. North is the youngest of four children and his mother died when Sterling was seven-years-old. His lawyer father often travels and leaves 12-year-old Sterling by himself. Sterling's three siblings are older and have moved away to live their adult lives.

One day Sterling and a pal are going through the woods when they scare an adult raccoon that runs up a tree leaving it's four baby raccoons behind. Being 12-year-olds they think the best solution is to climb the tree, knock the raccoon off, capture it, and reunite it with the baby raccoons. Sterling climbs the tree and the raccoon retreats to the end of a tree limb. Being a 12-year-old Sterling figures to use the saw blade on his pocket knife to cut off the limb and his pal will catch the raccoon, wrap the animal in his coat, and then... something. Who knows what the hell their entire plan was.

The plan, of course, fails. The raccoon falls, runs off, and three baby raccoons follow. Sterling takes the remaining baby raccoon home. Taking a raccoon home is no trouble since his father is often gone and demands little discipline or behavioral standards. Sterling already has a 170lbs St. Bernard, a pet crow, a guppy pond, and two skunks. He's been using the living room as workshop to saw and sand his way to constructing a wooden canoe.

Things happen. The raccoon spends a year growing from a straw fed baby to a 13 pound adult. There are plenty humorous stories and I enjoyed the novel. The raccoon is smart, affectionate, and adventurous. Rascal loves strawberry soda pop and cube sugar. He learns to hunt crawfish. One night he crawls into bed with Sterling after learning how to open the screen door and come inside. At night Sterling will fill en suite bathroom sink basin with water for Rascal to get a drink.

One story I repeated to my half listening children:
Both Sterling's crow and Rascal loved shiny things and would take items and hoard them. The two animals would often fight over objects. Sterling's older sister comes to visit and kicks Sterling out of her old room on the home's first floor. While putting away her belongings Rascal comes wandering into the room and Sister screams and jumps on a chair. Sterling is indignant, "It's rascal's room too!" but loses the fight. Rascal is locked out of the house at night.

One morning Sister goes on a tear looking for her missing engagement ring. She often loses the ring and one time Sterling and his father dug up 85 feet of sewer line before she found the ring in a purse. Sister is greatly upset over the ring and Sterling helps search. Sister is adamant that she took the ring off and set it on the sink of the en suite bathroom. As Sterling helps search he recalls that early that morning he woke to the sound of Rascal and Crow fighting on the porch. The fight ended and Sterling, half asleep, went right back to bed. Sterling realizes he did not lock the door the previous night.

Sterling theorizes that Rascal came inside, avoided Sister asleep in the bed. and went to get a drink from the bathroom sink. Rascal spots the ring on the sink, takes the ring outside, and Crow promptly steals it away. Sterling climbs up to Crow's nest in the neighboring church belfry and finds some missing marbles, a spare Oldsmobile key, and Sister's missing ring. Sister is so happy she lets Sterling keep the canoe in the house.

1. This is one of those Boy On His Own adventure stories where the boy has little supervision or takes off for the woods. Same as Tom Sawyer. Not quite a bildungsroman. the kind of story I enjoyed as a kid and would go, "Oh no! Not that!" when the kid would make a foolish and reckless decision.
2. What is the dad really doing on all these work trips? Avoiding responsibility of Sterling? Drinking? Skirt chasing? Sterling is often lonely while his dad travels as far as Montana.
3. Sterling has many passages about his mother. He seems to crave matronly affection and is happy to receive it from an aunt, teacher, and neighbor.
4. This is a memoir and Sterling writes about lousy behavior of a few adults and one classmate. A neighboring pastor is a prick. His uncle is a bully. His classmate is a bully and prick. This book came out 45 years after the events but the book has a greater impact than any else's stories or memories of those people. Weird how a short kid's story can forever tar a person's name.
5. I should drive over to see the North museum sometime. That'd be a nice bike ride in warm weather.
6. Sterling worries a lot for his brother in France. The brother does not tell them the truth of his extensive combat experience until after the war.

No comments: