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by Pat Carbonell
When I was a kid, we lived in this old farmhouse in Rochester Vermont. This place was so huge, we closed off the upstairs and all lived on the ground floor in the wintertime to save on the heat. Mom and Dad slept in one room, and my two sisters and I shared another, which was right outside the bathroom.
One night, Dad got up in the middle of the night to pee, which was a usual thing. What wasn't was Dad heading back to the bedroom moments later to wake my mother up and ask her what she wanted him to do with the squirrel swimming in the toilet bowl. Mom wasn't at her best being woken up with ridiculous questions, so when she got the sense of what he was asking her, she kinda yelled at him to just get rid of it! So Dad grabbed a towel, fished it out of the toilet, dried it off and tossed it out the front door. My sisters giggled on and off all night.
The next morning Mom asked Dad why he woke her up to ask her what to do with it. He said "Well, it wasn't mine, so I thought it had to be yours."
One of the things that my wonderful, Brooklyn born-and-bred Dad thought was that he had to protect the womenfolk. One night we heard this commotion just north of the house, so Dad went out with his rifle and his flashlight to find out what it was. We watched him as he walked about 50 yards north of the house, shining the flashlight around to find the source of the squalling. Then he shone it up in a tree, paused for a moment, and was suddenly headed back to the house at an amazing pace for a man who weighed in at around 300 pounds. What he'd spotted up the tree was a black bear cub, stuck and calling for it's mommy. He got back in the house before mommy got there!
We had a gift shop about 500 yards south of the house, with a large gravel parking lot. I used to ride my bike down and back every day, 'cause there was a great hill to coast down to get there. One day I was riding back through the gravel lot and almost hit this five foot long snake. It's size was freaky enough, but then it rattled at me!! I set off for the house, peddling for all I was worth, screaming for Dad 'cause a rattlesnake tried to get me! Dad grabbed the rifle and the garden rake and followed me back down. He managed to get the snake tangled in the rake and shot it. Up until then we hadn't known that there were rattlesnakes in Vermont. Shit!
When I was fifteen, I'd inherited the tiny bedroom on the second floor that had the enclosed stairs from the attic inside it. It was a cool room, but the stairs made for a couple of interesting encounters.
The first was the night of my first ever slumber party. Now, my room was too small, so we'd put down a bunch of mattresses on the floor of one of the spare bedrooms, and that was where all my girlfriends were hanging out when I took Anne into my room to show her something. She pounded on my arm and pointed to my window. On the inside of the window was this tiny little bat, hanging upside down, wings curled in, asleep. By the time I turned around, she was gone. I went back to the other room and found all the girls plastered against the wall. Silly me, I asked if anyone wanted to help me catch and release the bat. All I got for an answer was squeals. So I went back, took a small blanket and scooped it off the window. Bats squeak like mice, I found out. I carried it downstairs and outside and flapped the blanket. It took off into the dusk. Pretty thing, too.
The second was one night, as I lay in bed reading, I heard something come thump-tumble-crash down the attic stairs. I opened the door at the bottom and there was this very groggy crow sprawled on the bottom step. It had gotten into the attic and couldn't find it's way back out, and had tumbled down the stairs. Out came the small blanket again, and I repeated the performance, just this time with a crow.
The next close encounter wasn't mine, it was my fifteen year old daughter's. When we moved back to Vermont fourteen years ago, we spent the first couple of weeks living in a National Guard tent in a friend's backyard. We had our two cats with us (which was why we couldn't stay with my sister), and it took them about a week to figure out how to get out of the tent. At that point, I started sleeping in the car with them, so my friend's wife wouldn't run one of them over when she came home from work at midnight.
One night, Jo was sleeping on her stomach on her cot, and felt something four-footed walk across her back. Half asleep, she brushed it off, thinking it was one of the cats. Then she woke up enough to remember that the cats were in the car with me. She pulled her little Maglight out and turned it on, and there was this skunk, standing a couple of feet from the cot, looking at her. Apparently it was in a good mood, or decided that she was a stupid human and it would be merciful, 'cause it just turned around and walked out of the tent. Next thing I know, I've got this hysterical kid pounding on the car window, yelling "Let me in! Let me in!" We both slept in the car until we got an apartment the following week.
Then last year, I wound up with the best 'what I did on my vacation' story. On the second day of my vacation, a Sunday, I was meeting a friend out at his farm in Whiting, except I got there before he got home from church. I decided to go out to the barn to see the baby chicks they'd just gotten that week. When I opened the barn door, I heard the adult chickens in their pen going nuts - for good reason, because there was a skunk in their pen chasing them!
Part of me was really fascinated, because it was a reverse skunk - white with black stripes, but mostly I didn't think anything except how could I save the chickens and not get sprayed. I opened the door from the barn into the pen, and then the door from the pen to the outdoor run, hoping to get the stupid chickens to go outside. Nope, the stupid chickens ran past me into the barn. I caught the skunk with the inside door, and then pulled it closed a bit so it could get outside. Instead, it jumped past the door, landed on my foot and bit into my second toe (sandals, of course). I yelled at it to let go, which it did, and then bit again deeper.
At that point many years of cat ownership came into play, I grabbed it by the back of the neck, tore it off my foot and threw it out the outer door! Last thing I saw was flying skunk! I slammed the door shut, closed the remaining chicken in the pen, let the other two run around the barn having fits, checked that the babies were okay, and went outside to wait for my friend. All I had for water to clean the bites were two cans of seltzer, which I poured over my foot.
When my friend got out of his car, looking very confused (I was sitting in a canvas deck chair, behind my car, with a six-foot walking stick), I told him there was a slight change in plans, he needed to take me to the emergency room.
Everybody at the emergency room in Middlebury agreed that it was pretty odd behaviour for a skunk, so I got (1) tetanus shot, (1) rabies vaccine shot (four more to follow), and four shots of rabies anti-globulin in my thighs and ass, in addition to the four shots of it IN THE DAMNED BITES! It's a small toe, it doesn't have a lot of flesh on it, so it frigging hurt!!!! At least the doctor who had to give them to me didn't lie and tell me it wouldn't - he apologized instead, and told me it would.
Ah, yes, the wildlife of Vermont.
Pat's signature wrestling move is the Reverse Skunk