A Christmas Tale of the Robber Raccoon
The raccoon first came to our little cabin deep in the forest of Southern Oregon in early fall of 1986. He must have decided our home was a fascinating playground of unusual delights for he showed up at our door, day after day.
His arrival delighted our four sons. We had been living without electroity for more than a decade by then, so our boys – ages 6 to 15 – did not have video games or TV to entertain them. A friendly raccoon was interesting!
The weeks passed and the leaves fell from the trees – and the raccoon kept coming to our door.
More weeks passed and the first frost transformed the pines and alders into ice sculptures by the creek – and the raccoon still showed up every day to our door.
The first snow softened the air to a muffled silence. Surely the raccoon would be finding a den to sleep in where it was warmer. Nope. The raccoon stayed close by, making daily trips to our door.
Rocky was not starving. I suppose when my sons fed the raccoon from a spoon they encouraged the creature’s devotion. Certainly his belly never showed signs of winter food shortages.
In fact, my experimental efforts at vegetarian cooking seemed to disappear more quickly when the raccoon was around. I suspected my sons were feeding the “experiments” to our four-legged visitor and later hitting the peanut butter and jam for later night snacks.
We had nicknamed him Rocky the Robber Raccoon, Rocky for short after he tried to steal my bra. (A story for later. Smile)
The name stuck after the Nanaimo Bar theft.
You may be wondering what a Nanaimo Bar is. It is a rich, yummy and decadent bar served in Canadian homes at Christmas for generations. It is one of the best of Canadian traditions, according to my children. (Yes I know the jokes about Canadian food. No Canadian cuisine restaurants. Ha Ha) The Nanaimo bars were awesome though.
I kept the tradition of baking a batch every December all through the years of hippy, tofurkeying of Christmas in our little cabin in the forest.
Nanaimo Bars have been part of my family Christmases since I and my two sisters were children in Canada in the 1950s.
I loved Christmas as a child and the traditions that we carried on, year after year. There were family parties, tree trimmings and decorations decades old.
Every year my sisters and I would have our photo taken with Santa. We would be dressed in clothes my mom made for us, the dress or coat the oldest wore often seen in future years on a younger sister. I have most of those photos still and they make me smile.
My cousins lived near by and always came to Christmas dinner. At first our Chirstmas dinners spread across two tables. More tables were added over the years as new cousins were born.
Cooking for Christmas started in November with the plum pudding and fruitcakes that were soaked in rum or cooking sherry for a month. Shortbread, Nanaimo Bars and rum balls were made in early December.
As I write this I realize Canadian dessert recipes sure used a lot of rum and port and other alcohols. I never noticed that until now. I wonder if that had to do with the long nights and cold winters or just the happy cooks?
I would not have blamed my mom for sipping the cooking sherry. The holiday season with three very active little girls was a whirlwind of parties, Christmas concerts, making presents and keeping traditions alive.
The Christmas concerts back then involved costume making by my mom and dad. When I was the Fairy Queen in a Christmas concert at Queen Mary Elementary School mom sewed the costume with stars embroidered on the gown. Dad made the crown and wand out of wood and Paper Mache.
My mom and dad made many of our presents as well. Money was tight but homemade presents were considered special, my parents told us.
One year I got dolls from all over the world. My mom and my sister Lynn made outfits for them – lederhosen, hula skirts, Eskimo snow jackets, deerskin Indian beaded dresses and more. My dad made a doll house and a miniature wooden closet for the clothes.
Some things remained the same year after year. My parents wrapped presents late into Christmas eve while listening to Christmas music as I and my sisters supposedly slept. We opened stockings in bed on Christmas morning and only went downstairs when the Christmas angel chimes played.
The other predictable, delectable, diabolically delicious event was the eating of Nanaimo Bars after dinner. My cousins and I would pretend to eat only one like good little children. We had the routine down perfectly, sneaking extra ones in our pockets or behind our backs.
Which takes us back to Rocky and his theft of the Nanaimo bars. I really do understand why he did. After all he was almost part of our family, or at least he thought he was. All true Brinks, Rocky included, love Nanaimo Bars.
Back in the 1980’s they were even more treasured as my passion for healthy vegetarian food meant no burgers, fries or candy bars in our little log cabin with cold running water and a wood stove. The Nanaimo Bars were the only sugary departure from tofu and garbanzo beans.
That year, 1986, we had decorated our Christmas tree with homemade ornaments as usual. It was our 14th year without electricity so no Christmas lights adorned the tree. At night the tree shimmered in the light of kerosene lamps and candles. Sometimes I would shine a bright flashlight on the ornaments, telling stories about when each child made them.
The children were tucked into bed when I went to the kitchen and started THE Nanaimo Bar batch. I ground the graham crackers and chopped the walnuts and coconut. I melted the chocolate on the wood stove while heating water to wash the growing piles of cooking bowls and utensils.
The steam and scent of chocolate drifted upstairs in swirls of Christmas memories. Two little faces leaned over the railing.
“Mom, are you making Nanaimo bars?”
Two more faces appeared and soon all four were downstairs licking the bowls and spoons while I patted each layer into a pan. We covered the completed bars with tin foil and since we had no electricity and therefor no fridge, we placed the baking pan outside in the snow to cool. Mistake Number One
I placed a board on top and more snow and rocks so no creature would get in it. Mistake Number Two
We went to bed thinking all was safe. Mistake number Three
It had snowed even more overnight. We woke to another snowy day. The boys huddled under the covers while Bruce and I started the fire in the cookstove and threw more logs in the wood stove.
The boys grabbed their clothes and raced to the woodstove, each trying for the warmest spot to dress.
Then they remembered the Nanaimo bars and the cold did not seem so cold. Half dressed they rushed outside, ignoring my pleas to at least put on boots.
I wish I had a picture of the tray of Nanaimo bars and of the boys’ faces as they saw what happened. This picture does not come close to what we found outside in the snow.
There were Nanaimo Bar crumbs everywhere. Little Rocky footprints coated in chocolate made repeated trails from the pan to a log where he must have gorged himself. Chunks of the sweet treat were flung here and there as if he was taste testing for the perfect morsels.
Other chunks were further down the path accompanied by a chocolate trail of little rodent prints of various sizes. Rocky must have had some dinner guests. I restrained my two youngest boys from scooping up chunks to eat but pretty soon we were all laughing and throwing crumb-decorated snowballs at each other.
It turned out to be a perfect Christmas. The photo I have of that year is fuzzy, the negative having partially melted in the house fire years later. The memory of that year though is clear and touched with laughter.
I am glad to report that Rocky was gone for just a few days. We presumed he was in a sugar shock. When he came back he looked a little thinner but soon was back to his old tricks including stealing my pantyhose.
And Nanaimo bars?
I still make them every Christmas for my children and now grandchildren who live across the world.