Power of Unconditional Love
By Joyce Rapier
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.
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
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.”
“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.”
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
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
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.
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
“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.
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.
towards said, “Did ja find any grubs’er crickets?”
Crickets? Whut about grubs’en crickets?”
crickets to feed the babies!” Grampaw said with a snicker.
said ary a thang ‘bout grubs’n crickets! We been a feedin’
em cows’ milk!”
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
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.