2014-01-24 / Commentary

Stinking Memories

It’s not a criticism; It’s an observation
Mike Cox

One of the great things about acquiring years like crazy old ladies acquire cats is that one can browse through the internal catalogue and quickly bring to life memories from the past. Sometimes I’ll be walking along unaware and something I hadn’t considered in decades will appear as real as when it initially happened.

Old songs can trigger events. So can seeing someone with mannerisms of a long forgotten acquaintance. One of the best mechanisms for old memories is our sense of smell. There was a place on Fifteenth Street in Tuscaloosa that baked loaf bread. Almost anytime day or night one could pick up the scent when in the general vicinity and the wind was right.

As teenagers, we roamed the streets and railroad tracks in that area after sneaking out from whatever parents we were all staying with that Friday night. Almost all our shenanigans were orchestrated while we were hungry. If someone could actually make a food item that tasted as good as that bread smelled, he’d corner the food market. Label it shade grown, and he’d make billions.

While driving home from Greenwood the other night, I encountered another vivid aroma that brought back a flood of childhood events. Unfortunately, it was the scent of a skunk. I actually had two encounters with the legendary pole cat while we lived at my dad’s home place for one year. My brother Rick and I, along with Philip Desmond, were walking through cow pastures one day and saw one waddling across the meadow.

Being destructive little hellions, we decided to throw rocks at the thing, just to see if we could hit it. We missed more than we hit and got frustrated but probably not as frustrated as the skunk. Philip ran up close and hit the poor animal with a large rock. Rick was right beside him watching. The skunk, in a last desperate act, loosed a foul smell that engulfed both boys and remained with them for several days.

A few months later, a different skunk entered our dog trot style house and snuck behind the cupboard, trying to hide from all the general familial commotion. I can still remember my parents on either side of the cupboard, each one trying to force the skunk out the back door with all manner of noise, threats, and pleading. The number one bullet point on their action plan was refraining from exciting or injuring the animal so he would retreat safely and without leaving an aroma.

My father eventually got frustrated and hit Pepé Le Pew with a stick. This one also expelled a stench that filled the tiny room that served as our kitchen. My mother was downwind. I’m not sure what my father’s punishment was for that error, but, looking back as a grown man, I can imagine it was considerable and lengthy.

Twenty years after that event, Dad and I were walking the old home place. We dropped by that same house, long since abandoned. Rain had fallen earlier that morning, and you could still smell the skunk’s gift to us.

Vivid would be a good word for that.

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