This is the third in a series of short stories about my Dad (“The Kid”). These stories are adapted from a narrative Dad wrote in 1988, at age 70, about his boyhood and adventures with his dog, Prince.
One hot day in late July a brisk breeze stirred the air sparking a thunderstorm and a brief but cooling summer shower. As the rain subsided, the kid decided this was a great time for a walk in the woods. “Come on, Prince”, he shouted as he bounded down the back steps and headed across the yard. Prince came running from the direction of the barn and almost knocked the kid down as they headed through the back gate at the same time.
The well-worn path took the kid right past his Dad’s large tomato patch where green and freshly ripe red tomatoes dotted the ground like fat round balls. The thought of enjoying a juicy tomato was too much to resist so the kid stopped to look for a nice plump one while Prince ran on ahead. Finally selecting just the right tomato, the kid wiped it off with his shirt and took a big bite, squirting juice in every direction as he did.
Instead of following the tree line toward the woods, Prince had run barking and yelping into the potato patch on the other side of the lane. The kid figured Prince was tracking a rabbit so he took his time finishing the tomato then headed in the direction of Prince’s howls.
The kid had no more than reached the potato patch when Prince’s yelps and howls turned into a fierce growl and then almost as quickly into a whimpering whine. The kid could see that the skirmish was five or six rows over so he quickly leaped from row to row to see what Prince had tangled with.
As he cleared the last row and looked down, all the kid could see was a big ball of black and white fur rolling around in the middle of the row. From the pungent odor that hit him in the face he knew the critter was a skunk, but Prince was also black and white and for a few seconds the kid couldn’t tell which part of the ball of fur belonged to the skunk and which part belonged to Prince. A moment later that puzzle was solved when the skunk broke loose and waddled away, leaving poor Prince rolling in the dirt, clawing at his eyes with both front paws as he continued to whimper and whine.
The kid’s eyes were starting to water and burn from the odor and he could barely breathe, but he knew he had to help Prince. Prince had a bad scratch on his nose, and there were spots of blood on his white hair. The kid pulled off his shirt, reached down and wrapped it around Prince, then scooped him up and headed for home. He felt dizzy and sick to his stomach but he knew he had to get Prince home.
By the time the kid reached the backyard his Mom and Dad, and brothers and sisters, were all standing at the foot of the back steps. His sister had heard Prince’s wild yelps and alerted the rest of the family that something dreadful must have happened. The kid didn’t have to tell them what that dreadful thing was, the smell was explanation enough.
“Hold it right there”, the kid’s Mom called to him as he came into the yard. “Go to the barn and take off your clothes.” The kid could hear his brothers and sisters giggling as he headed toward the barn, still carrying Prince, but this was no time to do anything except what his Mom had told him to do. His Dad had already retrieved the washtub from its hook on the back porch, and was following the kid to the barn. In the barn his Dad found another old tub and told the kid to put Prince in it, and then to get in the other tub.
Meanwhile the kid’s Dad was barking orders like an Army sergeant, “Get a shovel and take his clothes to the end of the field and bury them as deep as you can dig”, he told the kid’s younger brother. And then he told the kid’s older sister, “Start bringing buckets of water and keep them coming.”
The kid, now sitting naked in the tub, was thankful to see his Dad close the barn door, leaving it open just enough to take the buckets of water as they arrived. He was also thankful it was summertime as his Dad filled the tubs with the buckets of cold water.
The kid’s Dad started scrubbing Prince while his Mom started scrubbing him, passing a big bar of lye soap back and forth as they scrubbed. Neither spoke a word but they both kept wiping their eyes and brushing at their noses like they had an itch that wouldn’t go away.
The kid lost track of how many times the water was dumped on the barn floor and the tubs were filled again, but after what seemed like an hour of continuous scrubbing the Kid’s Mom turned to his Dad and said, “Well Boyd, I think that’s about as clean as they’re going to get.” His Dad nodded his head with a smile and handed the kid a towel, then started drying Prince with another towel. One of the children had brought some old but clean clothes to the barn, and as the kid was getting dressed he heard his Mom say, “I think I can boil the smell out of these towels, at least I’ll try.”
“You’ll be sleeping out here tonight”, the kid’s Dad told him, “Maybe tomorrow night too.” And sure enough, the kid and Prince slept in the haymow for the next two nights and weren’t allowed in the house, not even to eat.
The odor finally wore off and life got back to normal but, the funny thing was, anytime the kid took Prince for a walk after that, never once did Prince stray off the path toward the potato field.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.