Vintage Views: Making an unusual friend

  • Library of Congress Library of Congress

For the Monitor
Published: 5/8/2021 3:00:07 PM

We live in a world today where our pets are simply family members. We seek them when they are young, or adopt them when they are older. We provide some very interesting names and nurture them through their years with a deep love and affection.

Some people enjoy pets that are easy to take care of, pets such as goldfish, while other people prefer more interactive pets such as dogs or cats. We are no different in our desires to keep pets for our families than our ancestors were many years ago.

The people of Concord revered their farm animals because they helped them to survive by providing milk, butter, cheese and eggs. The farm animals were producers but aptly named for their personalities and protected for their contributions to family survival while being loved by the farmer's family and friends.

It was in 1905 that a gentleman named Mr. Eastman from East Concord, New Hampshire, encountered a scene while hiking alone in the wooded forest surrounding his home. A very sad scene indeed, he found the remains of a family of skunks along a wooded trail, the mother and her kits had been attacked the prior night by another animal.

Eastman was indeed saddened, for he loved everything nature including the many wonderful animals that roamed his property. As he approached to remove the dead mother skunk and the small skunks from the trail, he realized that one of the young kits was quite alive and huddled against his poor mother. The little skunk had survived the attack and cuddled with his deceased mother to survive the remainder of the evening.

Eastman scooped up the tiny skunk in his large hands and placed his new friend inside the pocket on his long wool coat. It was a cold and damp morning and the baby skunk was comforted by the warmth and protection within Eastman’s pocket. He brought the young skunk to his farmhouse with some reservations, for skunks are wild animals and we all know their defensive spray is not appealing. He found a small wooden crate in his barn and filled it with soft cloth and retrieved a glass eyedropper from his cabinet. Soon he heated some milk and fed the young skunk as he held it near his warm fireplace. Satisfied with nourishment, warmth and the heartbeat of this kind gentleman, the young skunk drifted off to sleep spending his first night apart from his mother in a wooden crate, asleep next to the man who saved his life.

In the coming days, Eastman traveled upon horseback into downtown Concord for some provisions, his new little friend peeking out of his long jacket pocket along the way. Eastman delighted the small children on Main Street with his little skunk and realized that his intentions of nursing the baby skunk back to health and releasing it would grow more and more difficult with time.

As the days passed and the affection between Eastman and his skunk grew a little more, he decided to stop into town to see his dear friend that was a physician, perhaps the good doctor could examine his skunk to see if there were any concerns about his health. The little skunk did indeed receive a clean bill of health that came with a warning, the doctor reminded Eastman that there would be issues with the skunk’s natural defense system, in time he would be sprayed by this innocent little animal. The doctor asked Eastman to return the following week while he consulted some books about skunks and suggestions for the future.

As the days passed and the friendship grew between the little skunk and Eastman his thoughts were questioned. He felt he should release the skunk, but winter was approaching and the chances of survival would be slim. He must protect this defenseless creature over the winter in his warm house and then release him in the spring with a greater chance of survival.

During his next trip to Main Street in Concord with his new pet, he stopped at the doctor’s office for advice. He was cautioned that the baby skunk would be grown before spring and naturally spray Eastman in the process. The doctor advised that he read in his books about a procedure to remove the scent from skunks if they were not returned to the forest. After much consideration, Mr. Eastman agreed to the operation to have his skunk de-scented and domesticated with a strong commitment to keeping the skunk in his home as his pet.

Following the procedure, the skunk once again recuperated and continued to grow. Developing a deep mutual affection for each other, Mr. Eastman named his “forever” pet that he committed to for his remaining years, choosing the name “Hector,” the name of his beloved grandfather.

They would frolic in the forest, Hector the skunk never venturing too far away as he searched for grubs and grasshoppers.  Eastman and Hector the skunk became well known along Main Street, especially with the young children and shopkeepers. Eastman did enjoy the occasional prank with his young pet, allowing him to walk along the street, especially as passengers arrived at the Eagle and Phenix hotels. Strangers would make a hasty retreat as they observed this wild animal roaming the streets of Concord, certain to send postcards to their relatives and friends back in Boston and New York boasting of their close encounters.

As the years passed and both Eastman and Hector aged, many a story was told and the love between a man and his skunk became local lore. They both enjoyed their lives together and helped each other immeasurable. Hector received a life of luxury while Eastman benefited from the companionship of a loving pet that was inseparable.

Sometimes in life nature does not always dictate a clear path. Dogs, cats, goldfish or skunks, the love we have for our pets is just as important today as it was to our ancestors. As you travel the hills and valleys around Concord this summer, think back to Mr. Eastman, embrace, love and nurture all of nature's creatures.

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