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The Power of Unconditional Love

By Joyce Rapier


I don’t believe there’s anything as heavenly; than to sniff the cool night air as it gently kisses the cedar trees, dances like fairies across pond water and brushes against bitter weed grasses. Lying in bed at night with the windows wide open, you get a nice warm feeling as the cool breeze whistles across the brow of your face as it sneaks a peek beneath the covers. It makes a body sink further into the downy fibers of a homemade mattress knowing in your heart, Ma and Grammaws’ quilts would warm the very soul and secure a peaceful night’s sleep.

There’s absolutely nothing in this world worse than to sniff the cool night air and get wind of the aromatic wonder of a skunk or polecat, as we called them cranked up, going ninety to nothing, without an emission control. The odor created a sickening havoc for those in peaceful slumber. We rattled out of a good nights sleep. Awaking to moans and groans of everybody in the house was like hearing ghosts in torment.

The nose would automatically shut down. We placed pillows and anything handy across the face, sort of like a facemask: to eradicate further ingestion. Our eyes would begin to burn and smart with tears streaming down the face with lungs heaving in mighty roars of hacks and coughs and the stomach would turn over in gags and barfs.

Things only got worse when a body in deep desperation took facemasks off to alleviate suffocation. That, in turn, made the whole process futile. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t!

You see, our neck of the woods, so to speak was crammed full of all kinds of critters. Two of the critters, The Great Horned Owl (we called them Screech Owls) because when they made a noise, it sounded like someone scraping their fingernails down a chalkboard and PooPoo De’ Stink, (skunks) were bitter enemies. It wasn’t so much that they were enemies but survival of the fittest made sure they were not on somebody’s dinner plate.

Mind you, the skunks wouldn’t hurt the owls but the owls would scarf down the skunks’ whole body and regurgitate bones and fur into little heaps beneath their nests. Sometimes the owls would use the fur to line the nest for soon to be baby owls. In fact, walking through the woods, you could find piles of bones and fur from the owl feast. One swoop of their mighty claws and a skunk was history, except for the stink! Since the Great Horned Owl can’t smell a cock-eyed thing and skunks can’t fly, the only thing a skunk can do is release the putrid, stomach turning stink in hopes that the owl won’t swoop down and gouge out his gizzard. Wrong!

Well, this little tormenting stench went on for nearly three weeks. None of us was getting any sleep and our sunny dispositions were beginning to turn sour and defensive. Each morning, we’d awaken to find ourselves trapped in the midst of grouchy, touchy snippy remarks from cranky family members. We all smelled worse than Gertie's drawers and couldn’t stand the sight of one another. It was touch and go--you touch me and out you go. Literally! We had more sponge baths with lye soap than I care to remember and no amount of vinegar or tomato juice smeared on the hair would get rid of what was ailing us. Outside air didn’t help one little bit. Everywhere you went, the stench was over powering and every breath you took was like sucking down rotten eggs. We were stuck in a stink hole with nowhere to go.

Finally, Pa and Grampaw decided to find out where the stink was lurking. With rags wrapped around their faces and socks over their hands, they set out in search of the dastard little vile, juice squirting, black and white striped varmints. To tell you the truth, it wasn’t because they wanted to. It was because Ma and Grammaw were in such foul moods, threatening everyone with bodily harm and refusing to cook that lit the fire under Pa and Grampaw.

I overheard Pa tell Grampaw, “Them wimmens shootin’ bluddy fire frum thar eyes. We best git to findin’ thet critter afore we starve to daith. I’m shore nuff gittin' tired a eatin’ dumb old cold biskits. Don’t ritely know which of them females is the wurst. Fire shootin’ or stinkin’ puke shootin.”

Grampaw said, “We best split up. You go toards the bottom side of Frog Holler and I’ll scope out the barn and out buildins’. Yell fer me iffen ya find the critter. Don’t fergit, the thang mite be a foamer. One bite frum a foamer’ll give ya hydrophobe.”

Pa and Grampaw looked high and low for that polecat and decided they would just go back home. They were empty-handed. They were plum tuckered out and sat down on the front stoop trying to catch their breath. All of a sudden, Grampaw stood up real fast, jerked Pa off the stoop and told him to be quiet. Grampaw was a real big tall man and to watch him tippy-toe in clunky old boots was a remarkable sight. “I done figgered whar thet polecat is a hidin’.” he whispered to Pa, “it’s under the stoop.”

Pa gingerly sneaked over to the stoop, laid his head sideways on the ground and cautiously looked under the planks. The slope and darkness under the stoop prevented Pa from seeing the full scope of hidden things. He began crawling on his belly toward the center of the porch. He backed out from under the porch and told Grampaw to get a spade and two gunnysacks. “It’s a bit more than we done bargained fer.”

By that time, Ma, Grammaw, Effie Mae, Aunt Sukie, little Baby Jo, Tut and I had crowded around the porch. We wanted to know what was happening. “Did’ya find the polecat, Pa? What’cha need the spade fer? Whut’er them gunny’s fer? We were chock full of questions and weren’t getting any answers.

Pa told Ma to get us kids back in the house. Pa didn’t want us to see an unpleasant site. Grammaw stayed outside and helped Pa remove the culprit who had been giving us the dickens.

Of course, me and Tut sneaked back outside and watched what the grownups were doing. Grampaw handed Grammaw one of the gunnysacks and she placed the open end on the ground. Pa scooted a very large Mamma skunk inside the sack. The poor little thing was severely injured. It appeared to have had a gaping gash around her lower mid-section and was nearly dead. What was even more of a shock was the sight of two baby skunks. They were barely alive and still trying to nurse their mother.

Grammaw wrapped the baby skunks inside the clean gunnysack and headed toward the barn. While she was taking care of the baby skunks, Pa and Grampaw dug a small grave and buried the mother skunk. It appeared that the mother skunk stayed alive until her babies were safe and then simply passed away.

Tut and I raced toward the barn. Grammaw was there, sitting on a milk stool, tears streaming down her face saying a prayer for these little baby skunks. Beside her was a small pail of cow’s milk, tilted sideways to provide easy access to the milk. Dipping her fingers down inside the milk, she’d rub the noses of the baby skunks. She would tickle the hair under the nose and around their mouths in order to encourage them to suckle. At least, she hoped they would drink droplets of milk from her fingers.

Seeing Grammaw tenderly caressing those baby skunks made us realize: how blessed we were to have a Grammaw full of compassion and loving tenderness. Tut and I sat there full of awe and filled with perfect love for our Grammaw.

As Tut and I decided to leave the barn; only Grammaw, knowing in her own special way that the two of us had been watching, yelled for us to come on in. “J. D, Tut. Git on in here! I need ta be a tellin’ ya bout these here lil’ baby skunks. Pull up a chunk’o hay and sit yore selves down. Well, boys, I reckon ya knowed the momma skunk died--but do ya unnderstand the powerful meanin’ of why’en how the babies survived?”

Tut and I stared at one another and all we could do was shrug our shoulders. We knew about the love and tenderness we had just witnessed. It was a scene, forever etched into our minds. We also knew about the love for our family but didn’t understand what Grammaw was trying to do. She wanted to unearth from our minds, a greater form of understanding.

Grammaw continued, “A Momma’s full’o love fer their babies. It don’t have to be a human momma. A momma is a momma even in the animal kingdom. Th’ momma of these here lil’ babies gave the most lastin’ love of all. She died fer’em. Pore lil’ thang musta been in a fierceful fight but the thang she remembered most: wus her babies. I reckon she knoed to fill the air with her scent. Maybe she wus tryin’ to tell us to take care of her youngins. I guess whut I’m tryin’ to tell ya is-- love ain’t got no boundries. I reckon you boys will jist have to help me feed these here lil’ babies to make’em grow.”

Tut said with a lump in his throat, “Grammaw, thet’s whut my Momma done, ain’t it. She knoed to git back: whar the love wus a flowin’. I rekon she gave me and lil’ Baby Jo a good thang to remember’ afore she died.” Until this time Tut had never really said anything about his Momma. It made us all cry.

Tut and I threw our arms around Grammaws' neck, squeezed her with all our might and promised to help with anything she wanted. We were going to be nursemaids. We dubbed the little boy skunk Butterball and the other one, a little girl, Stinky.

In our haste to do anything Grammaw wanted, we didn’t have enough sense to realize the time consuming ordeal we had been snickered into doing.

However, a promise was a promise, regardless of the circumstances. Besides, those little baby skunks needed a Momma and we were going to find out in due course exactly what being a Momma entailed.

Since Butterball and Stinky were just babies, probably two to three weeks old and no bigger than a good sized sweet potato, still reeking of a major stench and in need of food every few minutes, we devised a plan and set it in motion.

Whew, the both of us still had the aromatic perfume stuck to our clothing and weren’t allowed back into the house until we had a full blown bath, so, we decided to stay in the barn until the skunks were big enough to fend for themselves. It wouldn’t have done any good to take a bath because we kept handling the babies and the babies in turn would lay the stink on us, all over again. The prospect of winning this battle of stinks was futile, to say the least.

That evening, Pa brought a coal oil lantern and matches, two plates chock full of fixings for us to eat, as well as a bedroll to spread down on a stack of hay. We tried our best to smooth out that hay--but hay is hay, and regardless of what we did, we wound up with hay sticking into our butts, throughout the night. It didn’t matter much because every two hours those little skunks would make throaty little noises in search of food.

Each of us would take a shift in feeding the babies and then try to get some shuteye. We didn’t mind feeding the skunks but it left a lot to be desired; cleaning up the runny, mushy piles of backside yuk. The first time we had to scoop up the mess wasn’t too bad but each interval of cows’ milk created an undesirable digestive disturbance. You could almost see their digestive juices churning. Those little stomachs would begin to growl and roll, rock back and forth like Grammaws’ old cane chair and then, without warning, the tail would hike up and spew green and black goop. It was enough to make a body turn inside out. Tut and I had the dry heaves all night long.

Just the sound of one of us gagging made the other one turn a light shade of puce green. I guarantee you one thing--looking forward to several weeks of wiping green and black goop off a skunks' bottom was not a favorable or pleasant experience.

The next morning everyone came out to the barn. Ma had food for us and the girls were anxiously waiting to see the baby skunks. As they stepped inside the barn, their eyes focusing in adjustment to the darkness of the barn all of them began to laugh their fool heads off. Tut and I were peering through, blood shot eyes. We looked and felt like a cornfield scarecrow. Each of us was holding a baby skunk in one hand, tightly cupping our mouths’ with the other one and hoping for a miraculous divine intervention from God.

Grampaw sauntering towards said, “Did ja find any grubs’er crickets?”

“Grubs? Crickets? Whut about grubs’en crickets?”

“Grubs’en crickets to feed the babies!” Grampaw said with a snicker.

“Ain’t nobody said ary a thang ‘bout grubs’n crickets! We been a feedin’ em cows’ milk!”

Grampaw gently took us aside and began to lay upon our feeble minds a powerful lesson: of wisdom. “Well, boys, ya still got a ton a larnin’ to do. Ya see, them lil’ baby skunks done been taught to grapple in the dirt’n fend fer themselves. Even tho’ thar Momma wus nursin’em, thet wus only temporary to the thangs whut made’m grow. Growin’ is larnin’ patience and seein’ the broad scope of thangs. It ain’t all jist one color. To be knoin’ the truth ya gotta seek the answers. Yore Grammaw knoed the two of you would be a hankerin’ to care fer the babies and figgered to larn ye a lesson ‘bout the whys and hows: of bein’ a momma. She knoed ye both would be gittin’ sick of the feedin’ and cleanin’. Grammaw knoed iffen ye survived the night with these here lil’ baby skunks, jist feedin’ em cows’ milk, ye could shore nuff see the job through by showin’ the baby skunks whar’un how ta find the grubs.”

Tut and I sat there in silence. Grampaws’ words of wisdom cut through us: like a hot knife slicing a chunk of butter. We had just experienced a taste: newly found humbleness. Whatever it took, we were anxious to fulfill our promise to Grammaw.

For the next few weeks, Effie Mae, Aunt Sukie, Baby Jo, Tut and I turned into full-blown; surrogate mothers. Everywhere we went the baby skunks would follow. As we turned over old rotten logs to expose various bugs and grubs, the skunks would take their powerful long claws and dig into the soft soil to unearth tasty treats. They managed to grow very quickly and were playful with each of us. They would run at us, pat their front feet on the ground, raise their tails high above their backs and back up. Not once did either skunk attempt to spray us with the aromatic perfumed flavor of the night.

One morning, as Grammaw said would happen, they disappeared. We knew in our hearts, for one brief moment in time, the meaning of love and the how’s and why--a mothers’ love is unconditional.

Copyright Joyce Rapier

* * * * *

Joyce Rapier is author of Windy John’s me ‘n tut, and Whisper My Name. This story is from her book, Windy John' Rainbow and the Pot ‘o Gold. Joyce lives in Arkansas where she enjoys many activities which include writing, gardening, oil painting and reading. You may visit her o the web at



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