Winding Gravel Road -1962 by Ginger Keller Gannaway
When the car turned onto the gravel road after dark and approached our family’s ranch style brick home, I looked out the backseat window to search the ditch to my left or the grassy roadside to my right for critters. I saw plenty of small brown and gray rabbits or the occasional opossum and a rare raccoon. The creatures would scurry alongside the car or make a Russian Roulette dash in front of the car. Their nocturnal eyes fascinated and scared me. Rabbits did the freeze-frame thing and acted like taxidermy projects. I never remembered the car hitting a rabbit on the short drive, about two football field lengths, and I admired the scared yet swift, soft yet wild things.
My sisters and I loved almost all animals. We always had at least one dog and several cats running around outside for entertainment and companionship. The kittens endured being dressed in doll clothes or becoming race kittens. From our first dog Lady, a queenly collie, to Footsie, a mutt with only three working legs, we counted on the loyalty of our dogs. Footsie kept one injured leg permanently bent up against his chest, like the way I tucked my left hand up and out of the way. He watched over us and endured our fickle behavior like a good dog does.
I tried rescuing less domesticated animal, like a featherless bird in a nest that had fallen from a backyard oak or a wounded mother opossum with six babies that lay in the grass next to the rice field a few yards from our garage. At first the opossum did its acting trick until I poked it with a stick. When it opened its pink eyes, barred its tiny pointed teeth and hissed at me, I ran to the kitchen to report the situation to Momma. She said, “Don’t you go near that animal! It will bite! Daddy will take care of it when he gets home.” My sisters of course wanted to see it, but Momma raised such a fuss, we settled for paper dolls inside.
We did look out the pink bathroom’s window, and I pointed to a spot too far away to make out what was there. “I see it,” said Kelly, but Gayle said, “All we can see in a bump in the grass.” Momma had even tied up Footsie in the side yard to keep him from risking a tangle with the critter.
My pity for the mother opossum and her hairless grub-looking offspring bothered me about eight minutes until my sisters and I got wrapped up in a paper dolls afternoon. By the time I remembered the sad rodent family again, Daddy had taken care of the problem. All that remained was a small area of flattened grass near the carport and a couple of dark sticky spots on the shovel in the garage.
Some people believe raccoons share a bunny’s cuteness, but I knew raccoons’ true nature – vicious and destructive. One winter a bandit rodent moved into our attic and its nocturnal movements overhead sounded like it wore army boots. Momma first alerted Dad to its presence above their heads as it traveled from the long bedroom hallway and settled atop Mom’s bathroom area. I could hear its night exploration as it scratched and marched the attic floorboards down the hall right outside my bedroom and rummaged through something clunky before it returned to my parents’ above-the-bathroom space. After several nights of listening to the unwanted visitor, I heard my parents discussing what to do. Dad had put “wolf urine” in the attic, yet the raccoon seemed unafraid. Mom talked about a “nest of babies,” and I felt a tinge of sadness. But before the family forced the raccoon to vacate their attic, it had torn up a large part of the attic and faced off with Footsie in the yard. I could not believe the size of it- like five cats all balled into one mass of furious fur, and I knew Footsie would lose the fight if the animals had been allowed to get to each other.
Once the raccoon left the attic and crouched by the backyard rope swing and glared with satanic eyes at Footsie who was tied to the wooden dog house, Dad shot his hunting rifle in the air and sent the raccoon running. I admired the intruder’s spunk but feared its hatred of humans.
At night along the winding gravel road, I tensed when I saw a raccoon or opossum’s eyes. From the side of the road these creatures’ blank stares turned sinister in the headlights’ strong white beams. I thought of the 1964 movie Children of the Damned and the aliens’ eyes. The blond boys and girls whose white illuminated stares forced people to kill themselves or attack others. A raccoon’s frozen gaze made me pray for the car to get to the garage faster as I held my breath and counted the seconds it took to drive past the evil running around our property.
The uncertain threats in the darkness contrasted with the familiar well-lit comforts inside our home. I could look at the untamed animals in the night and let my heart beat faster because once home I knew Momma would offer us nourishment and unconditional love while Dad gave us protection and confidence. In a way, scary movies and the wild rodents connected with real life dangers and made me believe in the safety and stability of home.