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Skunked

No, this isn’t a story about a football game with a score of 42 to 0. It’s about a real skunk. But first, the backstory.

My favorite pal Susie was a great playmate for several reasons: 1) She lived across the alley and down one house, so she was readily available for play; 2) She was a year younger and small for her age, so that made me feel superior; 3) (And the best) Her parents had the first air conditioning window unit in the neighborhood. Her mom would let us come inside to cool off on hot summer days. It wasn’t good enough to be in the room; we’d stand in front of the unit so the cold air blew directly on us. Heaven! The only other air-conditioned places in 1950’s southern Indiana were the movie theatres. Remember the sign out front? “It’s COOL inside,” with snow dripping off the letters.

By way of qualification, I should say that Susie was a great daytime playmate. She was a good sport, and as willing to play dolls under a shade tree, as she was to ride bikes. I often invited her to stay all night, which she wanted to do (key word: wanted), but come bedtime, she’d decide home was where her heart was and she wanted the rest of her body there with it.

My mother would call hers and they’d arrange to meet halfway in the alley behind the houses, Mom in her hairnet and coat-covered nightie, carrying a flashlight, with Susie’s mom there, ready for the “hand-off.” Susie tried multiple times, but could not be gone from home overnight.

However, the girl had other redeeming qualities. She loved all animals, especially horses, and she bought little toy ones to sit on her dresser. She even talked me into helping her muck out stalls at the nearby stable so she could get free horseback rides.

Her favorite game was—you guessed it—Horses. This involved one child playing the horse, while the other controlled the reins. That jump rope sure got tight around my waist when she called “Whoa!” On the occasions when Susie played the horse, she did an admirable imitation, whinnying, pawing one foot and rearing her head back and forth before galloping. It was Susie’s love of animals which brings us to the skunk part of the story. One of the older boys in the neighborhood had been given a “de-scented” baby skunk. This cute little critter escaped its cage and was out exploring our neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Susie and I were busy making mud pies in my backyard when she saw a flash of black and white on four legs. She approached it carefully, murmuring, “Here, Kitty Kitty,” while I was a respectful distance behind her. The shy little creature tried to hide in the next-door garage and found itself cornered, as Susie approached. In minutes, she discovered the skunk wasn’t as “de-scented” as advertised.

I smelled the stench at the same time I heard Susie scream. Ever the good friend, I ran like hell into my house. Meanwhile poor Susie was tossing her cookies and crying at the same time as she went wailing home for help. Her mother told mine that she bathed Susie and washed her hair multiple times and had to BURN her clothes. The foul odor lingered for days in that garage. Believe me, Susie and I had a healthy respect for skunks after that.


So when the riddle asks, “What’s black and white and black and white?” The answer may not be, “A nun rolling downhill.” It could also be “A skunk running fast.”


Note: I shared this article with Susie via email, for fear she might be offended, and then we spoke by phone afterward. She was very gracious about it and said, “I told my kids I got lots of invitations to stay all night, because everyone knew I’d never really DO it!” See why I like her so much?

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