Su Lum: Slumming
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
In the summer of 1960, the year before Burt and I got married, we set off for a two-week camping trip to Maine in our 1947 Ford station wagon, which had toadstools growing out of the wood side panels.
We larked our way out of New Jersey and into Connecticut, where we stopped for a snack at a picnic area. While popping beers, we heard a loud racket coming from one of the 55-gallon trash barrels. Of course Burt had to investigate, and he found three adolescent raccoons trapped in the bottom of the empty barrel.
He was delighted – I was not.
“Just let them go,” I said, but he was already wrestling the raccoons, barrel and all, into the back of the station wagon. Our dogs (there were at least two, probably four) went insane.
“Do you know how much money we can get for these? A pet shop will pay a fortune,” he insisted, speeding toward Boston. The Boston pet shop we stopped at had no interest whatsoever in wild raccoons – wouldn’t even take them for free.
When we set up camp in southern Maine, Burt decided to let two of them go and keep the third as a pet. He had heard they make adorable pets. Always prepared, Burt strung a long piece of wire between two trees, put a dog collar and chain leash on the raccoon and attached it to the wire so it could run back and forth. Which it did, in a frenzied panic.
“Just let it go,” I begged.
“Just give it time.”
I couldn’t stand to look at it, but conflict with Burt was never worth the escalation, so I went to the station wagon and covered my head with my sleeping bag.
When I woke up the next morning Burt was making breakfast on the Coleman stove by the chain. There was no sign of the raccoon. Burt said it must have escaped. “Thank God,” I thought.
Following a cheerful breakfast, Burt set down his fork and said, “I have something very serious to discuss with you. I know that I didn’t release the raccoon, and there isn’t anybody around for miles, so you must have let it go, and I hope you won’t lie about it.”
I choked on my coffee. I certainly had not let the raccoon go. I feared both the beast and Burt too much to even consider it. I got up and examined the collar and leash, which were lying on the ground under the wire, but there were no explanatory signs.
Burt kept on and on, kept it up the whole day and evening. All he wanted, he told me gently, was a confession. He would forgive me; there would be no reprisals if I would only admit the truth.
“But I didn’t,” I insisted.
“Then who did?” he replied.
I began to understand why prisoners make false confessions.
When it got dark, Burt suggested that I sleep alone in the station wagon while he would camp under a tree. Both of us should contemplate the future of our relationship, he said.
Late into the night, Burt crept into the station wagon and put his arms around me. He was crying. I would probably never forgive him, but he had to tell me that it was he himself who had let the raccoon go.
Su Lum is a longtime local who didn’t know anything about abuse back then.