A Special Gift by Gary Benton
The smell was offensive, very strong and staggering. I knew immediately what it was, a skunk. Burrhead, my younger brother Larry, just stood there with his eyes squeezed shut, making little jerking movements from time to time. Lady, his dog, had her head down, eyes wide open, was making whimpering sounds as she clawed at the snow-covered ground. Nearby was my rabbit trap, or rabbit gum as we called them, with the trap door removed. It was now, anyway, empty. We had sure made a dumb move, but of course, it had not started that way.
The morning had actually started out normal, well, as normal as our days start. After breakfast and chores, we waded through the snow to check our rabbit traps. The rabbits we caught supplemented our meat supply and both of our parents welcomed the meat. It also gave us boys a sense of achievement. This morning was to be different from most and I somehow sensed it after I opened the trap door on the first trap– ‘possum! I hated the rat-looking things and turned the trap upside down to drop it onto the snow. The dumb thing didn’t even run away. It just lay there, “playing ‘possum.” It didn’t matter much to me, we didn’t eat them, and therefore I didn’t need them. I reset my trap and walked to the next one.
The temperature continued to drop and the air hurt my chest as we walked. Burrhead’s cheeks, nose and ears were bright red and he told me his hands were cold. I can remember telling him we only had three more traps to check and then we could return to the house. We had a rule in our family; you checked all traps every day. This was to prevent the animal from starving, but mostly it was to prevent the rabbit from getting away. Some mornings it took a lot to go out into the cold, wet, or other miserable weather to check those traps. Usually I would imagine I was a mountain man or Daniel Boone and it was the early 1800’s. I would keep an eye open for Indians and observe animal tracks as I checked each trap. Often I would say to no one in particular, “Cain’t be too careful when in the mountains with all the wild animals.” Of course, the meanest thing around the Ozarks back then was my uncle Henry and he never came out much after the first snowfall. To the casual observer, I must have looked and acted very strange as I made my way from trap to trap. On this particular day, all went well until the last trap.
I knew something was different by the partially covered tracks leading to the closed door on the box trap. The tracks didn’t look like rabbit, but due to the snow I was unable to make out just what were. Some critter was trapped and it had to be removed. The questions was, who was going to do the removing?
Still somewhat sore at my brother for branding me with a red-hot coat hanger a few months back, I said to him, “Burrhead, probably another ‘possum. Why don’t you dump ‘em out and let’s go home?”
I never dreamed it would be any other critter. I actually thought it was a opossum or maybe a bobcat that had taken shelter from the snow storm. It all made sense to me. It would have shelter and a snack in the trap while the weather pounded the hillside.
Larry looked at me and said, “It’s yer trap, whatever is in it is yourn. You empty the thang.”
I had to think quickly, “Ya can have the pelt,” I replied. I had him there. He wanted to make a rabbit fur coat. As he bent over to lift the front door of the trap, I heard a low growl from Lady.
As soon as Burrhead lifted the door, he received a special gift. It was a special liquid gift from one mad skunk. Dropping the whole trap, Larry twisted and turned to get out of that skunks continuous line of fire and it worked. Lady, being very protective of him growled and started after the now released skunk. The skunk had absolutely nothing to worry about and knew it. Its tail came up, the rear legs twitched a few times, and then Lady fell to the snow covered ground. The dog was on her left side and rolled around and around in the snow, pawing at her wet nose and eyes. For those of you who have never smelled a skunk before, let me say it smells far worse than uncle Henry. It will for sure wake you up! Nonetheless, here I was, about a mile from home, with my brother and his goofy dog . . . both skunked. There was never any doubt, well maybe just a little bit, about what I had to do. I took Larry’s hand and we started for the house, stumbling as we went. I left the poor dog on her own.
At the house, mom was torn between giving him a bath inside or outside the house. She knew that once she brought the boy in the house the skunk’s presence would be smelt and felt for days. She finally elected to bring him in, but only because of severe cold weather. I disagreed with her, but mom was mom and you didn’t and still don’t argue with her long. We tried all of the old fashion Ozark home remedies to remove that scent, except nothing seemed to work. Finally, out of desperation we dried him off and then rubbed him down with vinegar and had him sit in a far corner of the living room. We would just have to wait for the smell to go away. Until then, we lived with it.
Well, I did learn something valuable out of all of this. If you’re never exactly sure what is in a rabbit trap, let a younger and dumber brother open it for you. Oh yea, and be sure to stand up wind at the time he opens the door.