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“The Paw is Old School.”

coonsfresh

The story of Glemie Dean Beasley plays like a country song. The son of a sharecropper, Beasley left school at 13 to pick cotton. He came to Detroit in 1958. His woman left him in 1970 for a man he calls Slick Willy.

Someone stole his pickup truck and then someone killed his best dog.

“I knowed some hard times,” Beasley says. “But a man’s got to know how to get hisself through them hard times. Part of that is eating right.”

The Detroit News’ Pulitzer Prize winner Charlie LeDuff has a regular Thursday feature called “Travels with Charlie.”

This week he brings us the tale of a culinary enterpreneur who serves up raccoon meat for nutrition and profit.

It’s good stuff.

Detroit – When selecting the best raccoon carcass for the special holiday roast, both the connoisseur and the curious should remember this simple guideline: Look for the paw.

“The paw is old school,” says Glemie Dean Beasley, a Detroit raccoon hunter and meat salesman. “It lets the customers know it’s not a cat or dog.”

Beasley, a 69-year-old retired truck driver who modestly refers to himself as the Coon Man, supplements his Social Security check with the sale of raccoon carcasses that go for as much $12 and can serve up to four. The pelts, too, are good for coats and hats and fetch up to $10 a hide.

While economic times are tough across Michigan as its people slog through a difficult and protracted deindustrialization, Beasley remains upbeat.

Where one man sees a vacant lot, Beasley sees a buffet.

“Starvation is cheap,” he says as he prepares an afternoon lunch of barbecue coon and red pop at his west side home.

His little Cape Cod is an urban Appalachia of coon dogs and funny smells. The interior paint has the faded sepia tones of an old man’s teeth; the wallpaper is as flaky and dry as an old woman’s hand.

Beasley peers out his living room window. A sushi cooking show plays on the television. The neighborhood outside is a wreck of ruined houses and weedy lots.

“Today people got no skill and things is getting worse,” he laments. “What people gonna do? They gonna eat each other up is what they gonna do.”

A licensed hunter and furrier, Beasley says he hunts coons and rabbit and squirrel for a clientele who hail mainly from the South, where the wild critters are considered something of a delicacy.

Though the flesh is not USDA inspected, if it is thoroughly cooked, there is small chance of contracting rabies from the meat, and distemper and Parvo cannot be passed onto humans, experts say.

Oh, small chance, you say? As in, there is a small chance.

Maybe there could be t-shirts: I Ate at Glemie Dean Beasley’s Coon Buffet and All I Got Was This Lousy Rabies.

coon1
Glemie Dean B: a trapper on the urban savannah.

Seems Mr. Beasley is quite suspicious of the food on store shelves these days. It ain’t what God intended, ya see.

He has a pretty good point when it comes to the sketchiness of hormone-laden meat, though we’re not sure about barbequed coon as a beneficial alternative…

Doing for yourself, eating what’s natural, that was Creation’s intention, Beasley believes. He says he learned that growing up in Three Creeks, Ark.

“Coon or rabbit. God put them there to eat. When men get hold of animals he blows them up and then he blows up. Fill ’em so full of chemicals and steroids it ruins the people. It makes them sick. Like the pigs on the farm. They’s 3 months old and weighing 400 pounds. They’s all blowed up. And the chil’ren who eat it, they’s all blowed up. Don’t make no sense.”

Hunting is prohibited within Detroit city limits and Beasley insists he does not do so. Still, he says that life in the city has gone so retrograde that he could easily feed himself with the wildlife in his backyard, which abuts an old cement factory.

He procures the coons with the help of the hound dogs who chase the animal up a tree, where Beasley harvests them with a .22 caliber rifle. A true outdoorsman, Beasley refuses to disclose his hunting grounds.

“This city is going back to the wild,” he says. “That’s bad for people but that’s good for me. I can catch wild rabbit and pheasant and coon in my backyard.”

Yeah, it turns out the “Pets or Meat” woman in “Roger & Me” was no freak, she was actually a harbinger of the Michigan varmint-hunting trend.

Apparently the cities left bare by the decline of the American auto industry are now overrun with small mammals ripe for the eatin’!

Detroit was once home to nearly 2 million people but has shrunk to a population of perhaps less than 900,000. It is estimated that a city the size of San Francisco could fit neatly within its empty lots. As nature abhors a vacuum, wildlife has moved in.

A beaver was spotted recently in the Detroit River. Wild fox skulk the 15th hole at the Palmer Park golf course. There is bald eagle, hawk and falcon that roam the city skies. Wild Turkeys roam the grasses. A coyote was snared two years ago roaming the Federal Court House downtown. And Beasley keeps a gaze of skinned coon in the freezer.

With the beast fresh from the oven, Beasley invites a guest to lunch.

He believes coon meat tastes something like mutton or pork, but to the uneducated pallet, it has the aroma and texture of opossum.

While Beasley preps his coon with simple vinegar brine and spices, there are 100 ways to cook a coon.

There is roast coon with sweet potato, sausage and corn bread stuffing; raccoon cobbler and roast marinated raccoon with liver and onion. It is this reporter’s opinion that the best sauce for coon may very well be hunger.

coon2
Glemie Dean serves up his finest coon meat for LeDuff.

Damn, is it lunchtime?

We could really go for some judiciously-seasoned coon stew right about now.

Needless to say, we’ll be keeping up with Travels with Charlie after reading this poetically-written piece of culinary reportage.

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About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

One Response to “The Paw is Old School.”

  1. Lee Richards says:

    When I was a boy growing up in michigan on a farm Mr Beasley came out to hunt every year,my dad was a bit prejudice but Mr Beasleys warm sence of humor and politness soon won him over and he became a life long friend, we always looked forward to his arrival with his humor and tales of the city was always a real treat. He always seemed to make it around thanksgiving time,my brothers and I would hunt with him and have a blast . this past thanksgiving we went to my mothers and once again were blessed with a short visit from our ole friend mr beasley. I miss those days I left Michigan for the hills of Tennessee in 1978 and mr beasley has always had an open invitation to come and visit, hunt or jst another place to call home but has yet to take me up on the offer in his travels. If you ever get a chance to meet Mr Beasley and listen to his adventures of life by almeans do so he one in a millon. GOD bless you Glemie and look forward to a hunt with you soon. Your friend Lee.

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