My Take Tuesday: Hazel and the Skunk
As a teenager growing up in the small town of Castle Dale, I looked forward to summers at the end of each school year. Summer meant freedom from both homework and sitting at a school desk.
For me, a perfect summer day would have to include vanilla ice cream, snow cones and strawberry shortcake. The tranquil Castle Valley evenings provided frequent opportunities to cook hot dogs, hamburgers and steaks on the grill, corn on the cob on the stove, and juicy Green River watermelon slabs with each meal.
Summertime also meant hard work. Apart from the irrigating and farm chores, there were a number of elderly widows in Castle Dale that would hire my siblings and I to mow their lawns each week during the summer.
Hazel was my favorite. Her small house stood just north of the new recreation center in Castle Dale. Hazel was like family to me. Her friendly demeanor and kindness were manifest each and every time I mowed her lawn.
She had a small but verdant lawn that surrounded her small gray house. Along the south end of her property, huge trees stood as sentinels protecting the house from the frequent Castle Valley wind. The deep green leaves of the tall trees overlooked a perfectly manicured garden with straight rows of Swiss chard, chives, radishes, peas, carrots, spinach and lettuce.
Her lawn was difficult to mow. The frequent flowers and bushes required extreme care and precision with the lawn mower and edger. I would frequently graze her chives and the onion smell would instantly give away my error.
“On no, you hit my chives!” she would say. I anticipate that she planted larger quantities each year knowing that some would certainly fall prey to my mower.
After finishing the mowing, Hazel would prepare red punch and cookies. I would sit on a couch in her living room as I savored the snacks week after week. Hazel would ask about how my life was going, and she would tell stories of her Seely and Livingston pioneer ancestors that helped settle Utah and build the iconic Salt Lake Temple.
Hazel loved cats. She had a cat door that would lead out to the back yard from her kitchen. She would place a large bowl of cat food in the center of the kitchen and the cats could enter and leave as they please.
On this particular day, Hazel commented about how much cat food she had been going through. She noted that she would have to fill the cat dish 3 or 4 times a day and that each time she entered the kitchen, the bowl would be empty.
As I sat on the couch, I had a clear view of the cat bowl in the kitchen. As Hazel spoke, from the corner of my eye I noticed some movement near the bowl. As I turned my head and looked into the kitchen, the biggest skunk I had ever seen wobbled over to the food bowl and began gorging.
“Hazel!” I exclaimed. “That is not a cat, it is a big fat humongous skunk!”
“My laws!” she gasped. “Get it out of here!”
As I jumped up, the startled skunk made a dash for the door. Its overweight body condition inhibited it from any appreciable speed. The large belly nearly dragged on the ground as it meandered away. As it leaped for the cat door, the front half of the body exited perfectly, however, its back half didn’t quite make it. As the obese animal heaved its back end though the door, it simultaneously and voluminously sprayed the contents of its scent glands in my direction. This wallop of its defense mechanism filled the entire kitchen.
If you haven’t experienced the mephitic smell of a skunk from up close, the odeur fétide is actually a thick, volatile, oily liquid that obtains its pungency from sulfur-based thiols. There in nothing that smells worse than skunk spray inside your nose!
Hazel and I exited out the front door. We propped open the kitchen door and placed a fan on the floor to help air out the house. We laughed about it for hours.
Hazel passed away shortly after Memorial Day in 2003. I sure do miss her.
Each and every summer day brings back the fond memories of Hazel, the obese skunk, and the all-you-can-eat Mephitis buffet.
And that is my take!
N. Isaac Bott, DVM