An Uninvited Guest

It was the fall of 1977.  My husband and I, with our 14 year old daughter, Amy, were leaving on our first trip to mainland China.  It was early days, before the United States had full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic.  I was a journalist at the time, writing for a chain of suburban newspapers.  A colleague of my husband advised us to say that I was a housewife, because his wife had been denied a visa when she stated on her application form that she was a writer. 

A young married couple, with their two daughters, who were family friends were coming to stay with our two younger children.  I had some misgivings about leaving the girls in the care of people they didn’t know all that well.  We would be so far away, virtually unreachable—but we had grandparents and other relatives who would look in on them and I had left detailed lists for every possible contingency that might arise.  So I thought…

The morning of our departure arrived.  I had to go down to my office, which was in the basement playroom.  I opened the door, and almost stepped on a little ball of black and white fur.  Asleep on the top step was…a baby skunk! 

Quietly…very quietly, I closed the door.

How did it get there?  We realized we’d had the basement cleaned a few days before, and  the cleaners must have left one of the casement windows open.  There was a window well outside, behind a dense cluster of bushes.  Evidently a family of skunks had taken up residence there.

What do you do when you want to get rid of a skunk, but to wake it would be disastrous?  We called the ASPCA.  Although they didn’t offer to send someone over to deal with our problem, they did give us advice.  Turn on a light and the skunk will head for a dark corner, the woman said.  Take a large garbage can with a top and turn it on its side. If you shine a light in the skunk’s eyes, it will run into the darkness of the garbage pail. 

She made it sound so simple.  I had visions of our house smelling of skunk for the next six months. 

My husband dressed in his oldest clothes.  When he opened the door to the basement, the skunk had disappeared! Our intrepid hunter tiptoed down the stairs, armed with his garbage can and a flashlight.  The skunk, he discovered, had sought refuge in a dark corner under the staircase.  Shelly turned the beam of the flashlight into its face, praying he wouldn’t be sprayed.  Sure enough, the little fellow dashed into the shelter of the garbage can.  Shel clapped the top on and carried the container outside to the woods at the back of our property.  When he removed the lid, this cute little furry animal waddled off into the woods, without leaving a trace of scent.

But what if it had happened when we were on our way to China?

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