Brew your perfect cup of tea and sit down with me. It’s been a while. Let’s chat.
In today’s story, we’ll tip our hats to a tough cookie of the male gender, my brother, Richard. I’m not sure how excited he would be to be called a tough “cookie.” I think he might prefer simply, “tough.” We’ll deviate slightly for his sake. You and I can sip on tea and snack on cookies, but Richard is one tough hombre.
To set the stage, I have to tell you that Richard was born when I was three. I was proud of him from the very beginning. Mother says that when he was a baby, Richard could talk, but he didn’t have to. I did that for him. If he squeaked or squawked, I translated, “He wants this” or “He wants that.” He let me do his talking for him for a while, but that did not last long. He has always known how to be heard without a bossy big sister barging in.
Growing up with him in Nevada was never dull. We lived in the Sierra Nevada foothills and created many adventures in the sagebrush based on Daniel Boone, Gunsmoke and Wild, Wild West. We hiked, fished, camped and hunted in those mountains with our family.
Zoom forward a couple of decades and this story takes place in Oklahoma, where we all ended up on the prairie. Like many of my stories, this one takes place on a Sunday in the Bible belt.
I made my way to the driveway and our red, family van with my three little daughters, dressed to the nines for church.
In Oklahoma, you can expect anything, and I do mean anything, by way of critters working their paths across the plains. This Sunday, on this territory, (mine, to be exact) the critter was a skunk. That’s certainly not uncommon. My usual response to them is, run fast, run far.
This day, however, the skunk was not walking. It was weaving. It appeared to be a drunk skunk. On a Sunday. A heretical, whisky-drinkin’, drunk skunk. It looked rough, like Rowdy Yates had practiced for Rawhide, up close and personal on him. Scrawny, scroungy, damp and scary. We’re not talking cute little Pepe, here. If you’ve ever seen a live skunk within a few feet of your person, you know fear. To protect themselves, skunks can be vicious, (odor not withstanding.)
This skunk had either been attacked by another animal and did not fare well, or it was rabid. That appeared to be the most likely possibility. It was a sad inevitability of life in the country.
The girls were already in the van. I ran back into the house and called my brother. He lived next door and the skunk was winding through the property between our houses.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
“Skunk on the road! Rabid, I think! Get your gun!” I was worried, of course, about being sprayed and of rabies, but the skunk was miserable, too. He needed to go to skunkie heaven. (Where is that? A sprawling meadow where they chase dogs and spray all day?) (A vast field of daisies where they chat with Bambi, Thumper and Flower?)
In a few moments, dressed in black jeans and a black shirt, as if he knew his role, Richard came swaggering out of the door, John Wayne style, with the rifle.
I heard echoes of that famous, haunting flute whistling the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” floating on a breeze in the background.
Richard, i.e.: Hondo methodically surveyed the scene. Yep. He agreed. It was not pretty.
In slow motion, he carefully lifted the barrel, sighted the mangy critter, and with one shot, “Boom!” In True Grit style sent the pitiful, striped stinker to the happy hunting ground.
Richard tipped the barrel of the shotgun up, blew the smoke off like he was Adam in Bonanza, propped the gun skyward over his shoulder and did that slow swagger back to the house. If I had not just witnessed the scene, I would have sworn he had shot a bull-elk or a bear.
I know that I heard that great cowboy-in-the-sky whisper from the clouds, “I never shot nobody I didn’t have to” and “Everybody gets dead. It was his turn.”
Mesmerized, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, I turned to my impressionable little girls. They sat wide-eyed behind the van window. That day they learned that life is sometimes hard, cruel, and somewhat frightening.
At the front door of his country home, Richard turned slightly and tipped his finger to the front of an imaginary cowboy hat. The Legend vanished until the next episode.