There are certainly advantages and disadvantages of being the youngest in a family of six children; but being the only boy with five older sisters carries with it a whole host of challenges. For instance, I can honestly say I never used the single flush toilet in our three-story Victorian home until after my three oldest sisters had moved on to marriage or nursing school. I was told by my sisters that “boys use the outhouse and girls use the bathroom.” A similar rationale was given for why I was always the last one in line to have my Saturday night bath. My bathing ritual consisted of sitting in three inches of tepid bathwater after Emily and Elizabeth had already had their turns. Edna, the oldest, told me “It is more important for girls to be clean than boys.”
I shouldered these gender biases because, well, I didn’t know any better. That lack of enlightenment on my part was probably why I also accepted being the recipient of a steady stream of practical jokes, some funny and others not so much.
The most notable of all pranks occurred on April 1, 1960 when I was eight years old.
We lived in the country surrounded by forests, fields of corn and soybeans, streams, ponds and the like. With that came all of the critters one would expect to see. There were foxes, woodchucks, deer, squirrels and rabbits aplenty.
We also had skunks.
It wasn’t uncommon for foxes and skunks to meander through our farmstead in search of the stray chicken so when Edith saw a skunk slip into a woodpile her evil mind immediately went into action. It was a Friday afternoon and we had all gotten home from school and were doing our chores. I was cleaning out the chicken coop when all six girls descended upon me and told me they needed my help.
With a tone of fake desperation in her voice Edith said “Edmond, there is a little kitten stuck in the woodpile by the barn! You have to get her out! She might die!” And on cue Emily and Elizabeth produced a torrent of fake sobs. “You have to help it; you’re the boy of the family!”
Without a moment’s hesitation I threw down my shovel and ran to the woodpile to rescue the stranded feline, all the time thinking I would be a hero. My standing in the family would be elevated. My sisters would finally regard me as a brave man worthy of respect.
It had been a fairly mild winter and our woodpile was still rather large so I was listening for the cries of the kitten when Eleanor said “It is too frightened to meow but I saw some movement over there.” She was pointing to a gap in the wood pile; just big enough for me to crawl into.
“You are going to have to crawl in and pull her out. Be careful; don’t hurt her” said Elizabeth.
I was beginning to feel like Rowdy Yates in my favorite TV program, Rawhide. Rowdy always beat the odds and used his brain and brawn to win the day. He always came out smelling good.
Sadly, smelling good would be the furthest possible result of my efforts to rescue ‘kitty’.
I crawled into the wood pile on my belly with just my legs exposed to the light of day when I saw some movement. I grabbed for the critter…and was immediately sprayed in my face by a skunk. I let out a scream and backed out of the pile to the band of sisters laughing hysterically.
I was screaming while running around in circles, rubbing my face and eyes, when Mother appeared from the kitchen. My sisters knew better than to lie to her so they confessed of their little April Fool’s gag. Suffice to say, Mother was not pleased. She ordered Edna to draw a full bath of hot water and for Edith to get some of the bubble bath her boyfriend had given her for Christmas. Thankfully it was an unusually warm day for April so Mother first scrubbed my naked body outside with her homemade tomato sauce and then took me to the bathroom – where my hot bath nearly to the very brim of the tub complete with bubble bath was awaiting me.
I had never had such a long, luxurious bath in my life.