By Bob Huber: Local columnist
When spring rears its ugly head in these dusty parts, I always get claustrophobia — a fear of being trapped in a 1957 Chevy with a polecat. I caught that terminal ailment when our kids were small, and our family drove through a rain storm.
What happened was, we went to the mountains one spring day on a fun-filled family adventure. To outdoors aficionados our woodsy paraphernalia may have appeared a bit lacking — Army surplus pup tents, some blankets, a coffee pot, a frying pan, a Zippo lighter, some basic grub, and our dogs, named Lucky, Curly, and Mary Louise.
We’d planned to spend only two nights up there in the thin air and didn’t need a lot of stuff cluttering up the car trunk and crowding out my fishing gear.
After we set up camp, we sat around the fire singing songs and roasting marshmallows until I finally yawned and announced bedtime for the kids. “Aaaaw,” they wailed. “Can’t we wait until the sun goes down?” I reached for a big stick, because in those days I was a disciple of an ancient Teutonic canon that said, “The threat of physical violence is the bulwark of parental peace of mind.”
But it finally did get dark, and we snuggled down in separate tents, the dogs with the kids for protection against pterodactyls, and my wife Marilyn with me for the same reason. I didn’t phrase that correctly, but you get the drift.
We had been asleep only a short while when I was awakened by a metallic clanging in the darkness outside our tent. Marilyn sat up and peered through a tiny peephole. “It’s just an empty can of potato sticks,” she said, “being rolled by several black and white floral arrangements.”
I pushed her aside and took a look for myself. Our campsite was moonlit, and there, frolicking and flashing their fluffy tails, were a half dozen skunks.
At this juncture let me point out that skunks derive their name from the Native American term, “See-gon-kee,” which, precisely translated, means, “Holy bleep, Kemosabe, was that you?” They are members of the weasel family Mustelidae and are biologically kin to rotten eggs, only worse. They are often seen smooshed on highways and can ruin your day if you breathe as you drive by. Chief characteristic of the animal is its acrobatic ability to point both ends of its anatomy in the same direction, followed by a barely audible hissing and an evil chuckle.
Anyway, as I looked out the peephole, I saw the flap on the kids’ tent fly open and heard them yell, “Get ‘em, boys! You too, Mary Louise,” and out raced our three canines, teeth barred, hairs standing on end. The skunks, of course, went into their unique U-shaped stance, hissed, and then chuckled. The dogs, being outnumbered, stopped abruptly, sniffed, choked, and raced back to the kids’ tent, pulling the flap shut behind them. Their re-entry caused the kids to break into Biblical lamentations: “Oh Cheese! Aaaii! Yuuk! Urrrgle!”
The incident might have stopped there except that Marilyn, hearing the woeful chorus from the other tent, cried “The children!” and burst from our shelter, bounding barefoot across the skunks like Eliza crossing the ice flow. All the while she was yelling, “Oh God! I’m coming, kids! Oh, excuse me! Oh God! Oh mercy! Oh my God!”
I don’t want to talk about the ride home. You see, our windows were rolled up because of a spring rainstorm, and I’ve had claustrophobia ever since.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. Some of his stories are mostly true. He can be contacted at 356-3674 or by e-mail: