I was just a tiny raccoon at the time. No bigger than a patch of blue in a cloudy sky. No smaller, though, than a grown shoofly. My attitude was seasonal. 'Twas all because of the grownup raccoons. You see, they all hid behind a log and talked and talked and talked. (In raccoon language, of course). But being curious from the very start, I hid under a giant elephant ear leaf behind a mulberry bush and listened to what they said.
Mostly they complained that there was nothing much to eat, 'cept a few bugs under the bark of an old tree or a dreary munch-a-crunch of dried juniper roots.
After a while the'd just sit without uttering a word. Then, quicker than you could say "mushroom cap", their eyes would light up. Why? Because a weathered raccoon with lots of white hair (more than the others) said "St. Nik". Yep. That's all he said.
Believe me, you could've lit a firecracker from the sparks that shot from their round raccoon eyes. Since I was so small at the time they did not notice me at all. They probably didn't think I would understand them anyway, since I was but knee high to a rainworm and my raccoon brain too young to know or care about Saints and such.
But they were wrong. Dead wrong. I would flip over on my belly and wiggle my four feet in the air for joy. For I knew what was coming. As you may know already, St. Nik is the guy who comes at night when it's really cold out (some call it snow time) and puts ashes in children's shoes.
Children are the small ones of those we call 'food friends'. You know, the ones who put things in cans they call 'garbage' and we in the raccoon world call 'supermarkets'. 'Xcept in this neck of the woods, the 'food friends' had turned to recycling and there was nothing to be had in those bins. If you can believe it, they would actually bury the food that we raccoons love so much. I still don't believe it.
But, there is a bright side to this tail after all. For St. Nik didn't care about such fancy new ways. He just kept bringing ashes for the bad children and - here comes the fun part - real apples for the good children. Not only that, but when he felt really happy because the children had been very, very good, he even put some nuts and dried fruit in their shoes, to boot.
As you may know from hearsay or from other raccoons, the custom of the 'food people' for a long, long time was to have their small ones put their small shoes out on the back step of their cottage at night. Then in the morning they would find out if they had been good or bad. You see, nobody really knew what a good or bad child was ('xcept St. Nik, of course).
Take brushing teeth, for example. Since we raccoons do not brush our teeth (for we don't eat candy as a rule) we are just naturally good if we don't brush. But some of the 'food people' think children are bad if they don't brush, and some others think it is good if they don't brush since they only eat vegetables. Some other small 'food people' say they brush, but don't, and others say they don't brush, but do. You see how hard it can be, don't you?
Anyway, when I was hiding under the elephant ear that day as a tiny little new raccoon, that's when I heard the wonderful story of the St. Nik night. That is the big, big holiday in the raccoon world (at least in our neck of the woods). That's when we get to eat all the apples, nuts and dried fruits our raccoon bellies can handle.
Right now you are wondering what happens when the small 'food people' find out that their shoes are empty in the morning. Right? Well, do I have a surprise for you. Would you believe, that after we newly stuffed raccoons waddle off into the woods, another great big 'food person' shows up - and don't ask me from where - not even the white haired one has ever seen where he came from - and fills the shoes of every single one of the little 'food people's' shoes? He has even been spied dumping out ashes from shoes and putting in gold colored nuts and almond cookies.
Fortunately we raccoons are by that time way too full to eat anything else. Besides, we don't like gold colored anything and certainly not almond cookies.
But when visitors come by and ask about the traditions of St. Nik, everybody is glad to tell them about the good and the bad, and the ashes and the apples. But to this very day, nobody talks about the Big Red who comes later and brings the gold colored nuts and almond cookies.
You can see why, don't you? If the world would find out that there are no bad or good little ones, and that all little ones are rewarded by a big red 'food person' - what would become of our raccoon holiday? How could we go through our entire raccoon lives without that spark that the night of St. Nik and Big Red brings?
I'm a big, grown up raccoon now and happen to have been adopted by a 'food people' family. So you can be sure I don't have to stay up all night one night of the year to get my apple. But I still remember (very fondly, I might add) those days when I was but a tiny raccoon baby, no bigger than a patch of blue in a cloudy sky and no smaller than a grown shoofly.