After the Fact: Pepe LePhew


Skunks were frequent visitors at our house. We lived five or so blocks from the lower “range” of the Jemez Mountains and half a block up from a small canyon. The entire town was built on mesas, so wildlife roamed freely through our neighborhoods. Our master-gardener neighbor up the street tried every year to grow a lily that might win first prize at the State Fair. And every year, the deer would eat all of them the day before she planned to cut that ONE perfect lily. She may as well have sent out a menu.

Our house was “blocked in” rather like a mobile home with a crawl space underneath the floorboards large enough to accommodate plumbers and electricians and assorted animals. About the time Micki and I were in high school, a family of skunks took up permanent residence in the crawl space, right under our bedroom. There wasn’t a noticeable smell until one or another of the neighborhood dogs took up the chase and the ensuing spray leaked up through the floorboards. No matter how many times we washed everything in our closets, the essence could only be removed by leaving it all on the clothesline for several days. We were the only kids in town who wouldn’t wear a winter coat on the coldest day of winter (but we did “layer” sweaters, one on top of another on top of another). Skunks do not hibernate. They may nap, but they don’t curl up to sleep through the winter.

We had graduated, gone to college and had families of our own by the time Steve and Jami were old enough to drive. The skunk family was into its’ sixth or seventh generation when dad decided he’d HAD ENOUGH. He’d tried every deterrent anyone had recommended from mothballs to onions and the only outcome was to tinge the smell of skunk slightly with eau de mothball. Or onion. This time, he called the experts and borrowed some “have-a-heart” type traps. 

I wasn’t there so I don’t know what kind of bait he used or how many nights the traps were raided but not “tripped,” but it sounded, from mom’s description, as though the skunks were going to be in that house longer than our family. Finally, one morning, SUCCESS! There was a skunk in a trap. One. Dad didn’t have time to deal with the catch before leaving for work, so assigned the job to Steve. Steve enlisted Jami.

Being of better than average experience with wildlife, Steve threw a blanket over the cage so the skunk wouldn’t see him when he moved it to the back of the truck. They drove out to “horse mesa”, apart from any residential areas (at the time). 

Steve’s plan was that they’d open the gate on the truck, he’d drive “get-away” while Jami opened the door on the trap. Jami may have been younger but she wasn’t dumber. Nope, she’d drive the truck and Steve could open the door. Everything went as planned. The skunk dove from the back of the truck, Steve held on to the cage with one hand, the truck with the other and Jami peeled out. The last they saw of the skunk was a black and white blur streaking under a fence and into a barn.

A few days later, notes were tacked to all of the light poles along the street in front of the house. “If you see our black and white cat, would you please call XXX-XXXX.” Dad gave up the battle when Steve said he wouldn’t do that again, and Jami reiterated the sentiment. And the skunk family, according to Jami who bought the house when her daughters were teens, is still living there, rent-free.” Her granddaughters complain every now and again when they spend the night, but they’ll learn to live with the smell.

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