2018-03-09 / Commentary

Stinking Little Skunks

It’s not a criticism; It’s an observation
Mike Cox

A man in Ferndale, Michigan, is making headlines in the Great Lake State and beyond after setting his house on fire trying to chase off a family of skunks living in his crawl space.

The homeowner tried to evict the skunks by using a homemade smoke bomb, which started a fire that destroyed his home.

Mr. DIY stubbornly fought the fire for 15 minutes before calling the local fire department. I feel his pain.

There is something about skunk encounters that bring out the stupidity in most people. Modern humans aren’t very good at dealing with nature to begin with; likely a case of misplaced overconfidence, since skunks offer no serious threat of bodily harm. We are brave until we consider or encounter the incredible smell associated with making a mistake.

When I was a fourth grader, my parents confronted a similar situation. My dad wasn’t a DIYer; no one was in the late 50s. Living deep in the country, an RFD community known as River Bend, in central Alabama, we were on our own in an emergency.

Our place, the Cox family homestead, was nearly three miles from the main county road, which was ten miles from the nearest town. My father was trying to consolidate the property after decades without wills or deeds, keeping it in the family, and raising his children there.

He had installed electricity, added a bathroom without a bathtub (we cleaned ourselves in a number three washtub in the kitchen), and replaced the hand pump to the cistern with an electrical one so my mother would have running water.

The house was a dogtrot style house which meant there were two rooms on either side of a long, open hallway through the center. One evening a hungry skunk, likely smelling the crackers in the pantry, snuck through the back opening and into the kitchen.

I can’t remember who discovered the varmint, but my father’s plan was simple. While my mother tried to force the skunk from the kitchen to the dogtrot, where he could either run into the darkness or face off against my father, who would be waiting with a big stick. His shotgun was leaning against the wall in case he needed backup.

The cowardly animal refused to budge until we waved flaming newspaper behind him. He stuck his head out the front, and my overeager dad took a swing with the stick. The skunk retaliated with his only weapon, which was pointed at my mother.

Details are sketchy from there. My parents were yelling at each other from a distance, and no one wanted to enter the kitchen for months. If you believe skunk odor is overrated, consider this: 20 years after the incident, my dad and I were exploring the property on a damp, fall morning. When we walked through the hallway toward the back, we both detected a faint skunk smell.

We didn’t destroy the house that night but did move to Demopolis the following summer. I’m not sure how long before my mother spoke kindly to my dad or how long the neighbors avoided her.

Anything more involved took much, much longer.

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