|"Little Rascal Still Appears"
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"Little Rascal Still Appears"
This article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest national daily newspaper since 1874. It was written by Kazuo Nagata of Washington, D.C. correspondent to the newspaper who had visited the Home and Museum. It was translated for the Sterling North Society by Bill & Mika Conway.
Thirty minutes after you leave Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, there is a sign along the interstate with a humorous picture of a raccoon stating, "Next Exit Edgerton. Home of Sterling North." I asked the woman working at the town hall where the North Home was. She said, "Second house after turning at the church. That's the tower where Poe the crow hid a ring." She was talking about the trickster crow (from the story) that would take anything shiny.
Edgerton is a quiet town of 5,000 people. You can feel by the brick buildings and old houses that it was the center of the tobacco industry in the 20th century. The story (Rascal), which has a lot of funny animal characters, is a point of pride for the people here. North's stoic house is white and green with two imposing stories. In 1980, elementary students that had read the story collected money. They petitioned the government of Edgerton to create a sign at the house. That was the beginning, and slowly the movement gained momentum. In 1992 a nonprofit group, the Sterling North Society, bought the house. They opened the house to the public in a replicated status to match the era of the book.
The Society's representative, Walt Diedrick, took me into the house. I was surprised by the Christmas tree which was behind a fence that reached the ceiling. This was the last resort, a desperate measure taken under the pressure of necessity by Sterling North to protect the tree from Rascal. "You can still see wild raccoons around the town these days, but there is almost no one wanting a raccoon for a pet, back then or now." Diedrick says, "That's because raccoons are tricksters and self-assertive creatures. They're no good for pets, but cute none the less." When Sterling North got Rascal, his mother had died already and his father, Willard (who would live to be 99) was indifferent. Walt, who knew them, laughs that this father and son loved animals so much that they didn't even care when Rascal would get on the kitchen table. "It was quite unique." Walt smiled wryly.
My impression of the story as a carefree animal story changed when I found scratchings by North himself on the wall of the white shed behind the house that said "Damn Kaiser Bill.” When Sterling was thinking about his brother Herschel, who was fighting in W.W.I, he had to call someone names, so he carved it with a knife. When I reread the story, I can imagine the boy living happily in a small country town, still unable to escape the scenes of war.
There is a unique passage where Rascal tries to wash a sugar cube and it melts. At the time, it was rationed, a rare commodity. During the war, sugar was "rare" according to the passage. Scavenging for metal was a child's responsibility at that time; therefore, Rascal helped the situation with his collection of shiny things. On Nov. 11, 1918, the war stopped. Herschel was O.K. too, but the American army stayed there, and even by spring Herschel hadn't come home. According to the story, Sterling, on Armistice Day, swore he would never kill anything, ever. He wrote, "I declare peace with all animals" on a sheet of paper and signed it. This is the only treaty in the history of the world that has ever been honored. Diedrick said, "I wonder if there are any wars that had meaning?" He shook his head as I said goodbye.
Leaving Diedrick I returned to Madison, the one-time center of the anti-Vietnam-war activities, and still the city is full of posters calling for the return of soldiers from Iraq. Over the definition of this Iraq war, America is still divided. It is for sure that in small towns in this big country, there are a lot of boys snuggled next to "Rascal" waiting for "Herschel."