I wrote this story so my readers would get to know me a little better; personally. I normally write political stories, but I thought that I’d like to write a short story from my childhood. I insist that the story is true, well, at least the events are true; the skunk part did happen. If it seems unbelievable it is only that the event happened when I was a child, and it has only gotten funnier each time of it’s telling, and my wording has gotten much more exaggerated. I have told the story many times. The core IS true. And yes, if you pick up a skunk by it’s tail it can’t spray you. But be careful putting it down.
The Skunk With a Tail Handle
I was just 8 years old when my family moved to a German Canadian farming community in Grey County, Ontario. Get this, back as far as 1960 my father had had enough of commuting and decided to move the family out of Toronto. And in doing so, I think that in his subconscious, he had moved us to the polar opposite of civilization, to the other end of civilization. I often joked that if we had of moved a couple miles farther we would have lived where no man had ever seen.
The conveyer of truths was a most unlikely of people, and old German farmer, Bill Schwartz. He was born in Canada, but being in a remote area, the people spoke in German English. Cattle were cattlebeasts and when he would ask me to hand him something it was, “could you hand me that once”. I was always glad he asked me for it once because I thought that he wasn’t intending to keep the thing I gave him.
He wore old old clothes. You know that clothes are old when even the patches have patches of their own.
Bill came over one day, to teach us to grow potatoes. It was a mission of mercy. I think he thought that it was easier to teach us city people now to feed ourselves than to watch us starve. He found a flat surface in the yard; an old table that had decided to rot out there, and he dumped out the potatoes out of the pail he brought. Then taking up a potato he cut it up in the portions. “This is how many potato eyes that you need to assure that a potato would come out of the hole.”As he was cutting the potatoes he wove the oddest of folklore conversation. “If you cut off your fingernails and put them into a buttered piece of bread, and give it to the dog, the dog will become your dog. The dog will like you better than anyone else in your family”.
Wow, was I ever glad that my siblings didn’t like the idea of growing potatoes. To any 8 year old this was information worth talking to an old person With 5 other siblings it is always a bit of a contest of who the dogs will like best. This was the best of information to hear alone. My interest was perked and my ears eagerly listened for the next wisdom to drop from his sage lips.
And then came the wisdom of the ages, “If you pick up a skunk by its tail it can’t spray you”. Having had several run-ins already, there had never been words that struck me with that kind of force, to suspend my kid-mind into singleness of purpose. I had to do it. Do or die.
The day dragged on, but it finally ended and the sleep was accomplished. First thing in the morning I was out of the door. It was no small chore to leave the dogs locked up in the house. Each knew that adventures were outside and not in the dullness of the house. Moments later I was hiking down the lane of our 75 acres across the road.
It was almost like fate had dealt me a favourable hand. Shortly, I came across a skunk, munching on some grubs that it had found in a rotten old stump of tree. It was snorting and gnawing on their bodies, their crusty head crunching. In skunk bliss, it was not taking note of anything outside of the heaven it was experiencing. It’s tail was ticking back and forth in harmony of the crunching, like a white on black metronome of joy. Stinky was just beside an old split rail fence when I came along. I tested the direction of the wind to check if there was any problem there. The fates were with me, the wind was still. It was one of those situations where you wouldn’t want any wind, a breeze toward him could have alerted him of my presence, and a wind in my direction – and an explosion by Stinky – I didn’t want to think about it. I reached over the top rail, I grabbed the tail, lifted and as pretty as you could imagine I was holding up a wriggling, snapping skunk; quite angry of the indignity that I was causing it. This was a critter that never took any abuse.
I was flabbergasted, so amazed at the smoothness of the operation it took a minute to think of the most obvious thought, it had not exploded and I was still the same, if you know in what scents I’m speaking of.
“IT IS TRUE.” I finally recognized the reality of the situation in total amazement, when you have the skunk up by the tail it can’t contract it’s launching muscles to spray you. It is just the way Bill had said. I was living truth in that very moment. You hear something that you think is true, and that you really hope is true, and you test it out, that is the faith, and then you note the result. You find out whether it was truth or just a plain lie, or even an imagination that someone had. But this was true.
It would have been quite the sight, me dancing there, with skunk in hand.
This is the way of the discovery of truth, I had to share it. Trotting back up the lane, with my arm fully extended, I anticipated the amazement that my family would have at this greatest of new-found truth. The 5 dogs were outside now, and with eager joy they greeted me. Dogs were now jumping up and down, like rain leaping as it falls hard on a puddle, that sends droplets back up into the air. Dogs, whose tongues were hanging low from their laughing faces. Of course they were excited, I realized, it is not often they can mete out revenge on an foe-skunk that was now not loaded.
I struggled through the thronging dog bodies lunging around me, to the farmhouse; to the door that walked directly into the kitchen. My excitement was peaking. I was about to show my family truth. This was my young coming of age, my moment to take me from being the squirrelly kid to someone that would receive respect; and be more equal with adults. The doorknob turned, I opened the door. I walked in a few steps. I stood there, arm outstretched with Pepi hanging in a snapping, snarling blob.
The room, once bustling with action, the making of breakfasts, the pouring of cereal and milk was now quiet. Silent hell had broken out. Eggs and bacon that once fried so merrily smoked unattended. Toast that once sat in the toaster now popped in the silence of the room. I was alone, like I had never been alone before. The room that earlier bustled with activity was empty. I looked about, and from outside of the kitchen I saw eyes, peering around objects, like doors, and walls.
Then came a voice, crackling at first, then brave enough to utter from the nethermost part of the universe. It was the distant voice of my Mother. It was Authority speaking. “Paul Robert Gregory McQueen, what are you doing with that thing”.
“It’s a skunk”, I said . Even I nodded at the stupidity of the statement. Like I was telling her some that she hadn’t already suspected. “I went across the road and I picked it up by the tail and brought it here to show you.”The hole was only getting deeper.
The answer from the other room was, “just get it out of here.”
I was now not so sure of my conviction, and the truth seemed to stagger a bit, even though it hung before me, it did not seem so clear at the moment of my trial. My mind raced for a comeback, and for a vindication of my sanity. I have it, I thought, I could evoke the authority of an equal, to come to the assistance of my failing argument. “Bill Schwartz said that if you pick up a skunk up by the tail it can’t spray you, and here it is.” Sound wisdom, I thought, and it was the evidence from an adult.
“I don’t care what that crazy old man said. GET THAT THING OUT OF HERE” was clear enough a directive to obey.
Dejected, I opened the kitchen door and took Stinky with me. My arm was not so caulked with boldness, it was now hard to keep it up while the dogs leapt about me. Even though I was disheartened, the dogs were still reveling in their hopes of engagement. And though I was little, I still had to be strong enough so that I had to get the skunk away safely that I could bring the dogs home not smelling strong. I launched the skunk forward at a distance with a loop and the creature was back on it’s feet. The dogs, looked for a moment, and then turned themselves around and left. They recognized Stinky was once again armed..
As for me, I was deeply troubled by the state of the world, I couldn’t understand why adults would not believe the truth when it was held up before their faces.