One evening last week, my son, Jimmy, and I were playing Scrabble in the family room. “Do you hear that?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Do you think it’s---“

“Sounds like it,” he said. 

The scratching noise on the other side of the basement door continued while we finished our game. The door is on a wall next to our kitchen and is the only way in and out of our concrete basement. When I finally eased it open a crack, I screamed and quickly closed it.  A skunk was sitting on the top step.

It wasn’t the first time we’d had skunk in our basement. Five years earlier, we’d had three of them down there. Our crawl space ends with a six foot drop to the floor, and three skunk/lemming hybrids had walked right off the edge only to find that they couldn’t get back. They, too, had scratched on the door, scarring it with their claws.

Dan, the critter man, had come and boldly gone where none of us dared go to set a trap with a tranquilizer hidden in a ball of food. When he’d returned the next day, we got the good news/bad news report. The good news was, he wouldn't have to carry a skunk in a cage through my home. The bad news was, they were all still loose in our basement.

I don’t know whose brainstorm it was, but finally a plank was positioned so they could walk from the basement to the crawl space and out of our lives. We could do the plank thing again as soon as the skunk left the steps, but before that could happen, things took a nasty turn.  

I was getting ready for church around 9:00 last Sunday morning when I smelled skunk. It was intense and got worse fast. Then, Jim called me into his room and asked if I smelled the other foul odor in the air. It was a different bad, but too mixed with skunk to identify. And, oh yeah, had I heard the commotion in the attic over his bedroom the night before? He described thumping and clawing and screeching noises that went on for several minutes. I hadn’t heard a thing from my upstairs bedroom.

Church was out of the question since we smelled like skunk, so we stayed home to air out the house, and thank goodness we did because it wasn’t long before Jimmy called me back to his room to show me the blood that was dripping from his tongue and groove ceiling.  Forget loosening,, heart strings were snapping with each gagging breath I took..

I called Dan, the critter man, and told him what was happening. He joked that even Steven King wouldn’t want any part of this, but quickly came to our rescue. He searched the basement, but couldn’t find skunk anywhere and reasoned it must have gone from the top step to a nearby beam and back to the crawl space.

But he’d found something else worth mentioning. The skunk hadn’t been able to go to the basement floor because the sump pump wasn’t working and there was about two feet of water down there. Additionally, it was rigged with no ground wire and in his opinion, was an electrocution and fire hazard. Swell. 

He was aggravated that none of the measures he had recommended the last time we had skunks had been applied. Things like attaching a wire mesh barricade so nothing could fall into the basement again. Or properly screening crawl space access so nothing could get under the house. I told him I would have seen to it if he’d given me the instructions and assured him that I’d see to it now.

Once he’d removed the plywood that serves as a door to our attic, we all knew where the putrid odor was coming from. Something had died up there and he could see it wedged in a space about six inches high between the attic floor and downstairs ceiling. 

He grabbed a Skilsaw from his truck and he and Jimmy went back into the attic. They would have to cut away wood to reach the dead critter. When my son emerged, he was carrying a plastic trash bag with a skunk in it. Somehow, an animal not known for its climbing prowess had made its way from the basement to the attic and into a six inch space where it had impaled itself on a nail or screw and writhed to death on the ceiling above my son’s room. Heroically, the next day Jimmy went back into the attic with a bucket of bleach water and a brush and scrubbed what was left of the skunk from the boards.

Mild weather has allowed us to air out the house these last few days, and as I write this, an ozone generator in my son’s room and another in the attic, are doing their best to rid us of two of the most noxious odors on earth.  

It’s still possible that the judge will award me this property, but no matter. I may choose to go even if I can stay. One of my sons and his wife and children are here, but I have children and grandchildren in Texas whom I love and miss. One of my daughters is headed to New Hampshire in the fall, and the other will be in the Portland area. Jimmy’s not sure what he’ll do next, and I’m still raising a cat and dog (though I refuse to homeschool them).  

While I was fretting over leaving here, I told my three youngest that I felt like I needed to stay so they had a home base until they were finished with college. One of my daughter’s answered, “Don’t worry, Mom. Wherever you are is where our home base will be.”

Those are the heart strings that matter. 

No house is without its problems, but a century old house has a century's worth of problems. As soon as my STBEx left, I began to realize how poorly maintained our property was. Add to that the normal wear and tear of time and use, and my children and I were bombarded with challenges. 

First to act up was our dishwasher. Isn't the water supposed to stay inside the door? The kitchen sink leaked, the disposal ground to a halt,  and the bathroom fan stopped working. Okay. Bad timing, but nothing out of the ordinary. Right? Then, an irrigation faucet broke and we had to cap a geyser. I felt a heart string loosen.. I love my home, but…

Winter rains came and washed a different set of problems our way. The not-so-handyman we’d hired to finish trimming the guest house had not properly sealed the two steps that led to the bathroom,  and muddy water flowed down the sloped ground, under the steps, across the bathroom floor, and into the garage. Another heart string loosened. I love my home, but, but…

Hoping to warm our way through winter as inexpensively as possible, I bought two cords of wood, turned down the furnace, and fired up the wood stove. All was warm and well until the afternoon a cloud of smoke filled our home and coated everything with soot. The chimney sweep I hired said the wire cap at the top of the chimney was clogged and the whole works hadn't been properly cleaned in quite a while. I’m pretty sure that hadn’t been part of my job description in the past, but I added it to my new and growing list of chores.  

Spring showers brought more seeping water, and another heart string loosened. I love my home, but, but, but…

Summertime equaled sunshine and baseball and swimming pool woes. Our pump quit working, but my daughters coaxed it back to life. The wood deck had long needed attention,, so we repaired loose and broken boards as best we could with my lady hammer and screwdrivers. 

As Autumn follows summer, winter, too, will come, and winter 2013-14 brought record breaking cold. Heartless, bitter temperatures froze and cracked our well pump and burst several pipes. We were ten days without running water.  
The day after our pipes were fixed, our 27 year old furnace died , and we dressed in layers and kept a round the clock wood stove vigil for 45 days. Installation of a new furnace required removing the attic door and cutting a larger opening. A promised new door never came, and a piece of plywood remains.. Next day, the wallpaper on our downstairs bathroom ceiling filled to bursting with water. Turns out, the furnace guys had jostled the condensation duct causing accumulated water to seep from the attic to the bathroom ceiling below. I was starting to feel picked on..  

Again, heavy rains washed muddy water down the slope, through the guest house bathroom, and into the garage. According to my STBEx,  the sump pump outlet had long had a habit of shorting out during the wet season. Gee, thanks for the better-late-than-never-I-suppose heads up.  Another, and even another heart string loosened. I love my home, but, but, but, but...

Ceiling lights and fans stopped working, and a window pane never more than barely installed fell out and broke. The board we covered it with matches the pane where a snowball left a perfectly round hole. And for good measure, our washer and dryer gave out within a month of each other.

Okay, God, I see where you're going with this , but, but, but, but...  I still love my home.  

And then...


I love my home sweet home - a turn of the century Queen Anne farmhouse built on three gently sloping acres. Its front porch is gateway to a house that grew willy-nilly over the decades, which sort of explains why my daughters can only access their bedroom through the main downstairs bath. Built-ins and wood floors and french doors with skeleton keys are reminders of an era past..
Halfway up the drive, a one room guest house is tacked on to the back end of the garage, and across the way, over the fence, and through the grass, a playhouse with front porch and a mailbox of its own is tucked under a tree. My three youngest children made it their own for the years that such things mattered.
The original barn still stands, home to a barn owl who trades lodging in the second story hay loft for all the rodents it can eat. A smaller structure squats in the shadow of the barn - part chicken coop, part garden shed, and so ‘primitive’ that others would have bulldozed it if I hadn’t stood my ground. 

To the south, a neighbor's vineyard borders our property, and I often sit in the gazebo next to our pool and gaze across rows and rows of grape vines to the verdant hills beyond. I do so love this place.

But, the path from love to covet can be a short one, so when my STBEx filed for divorce 2 years, 10 months, and some days ago, I knew what had to be done. I hadn't endured thirty difficult and lonely years for the sake of the people I love only to see it end by fighting over real estate. So, I loosened the first of many heart strings that bind me to my home and offered to sell it as part of our settlement. I included it in my first proposal, as well as my last, offered at our trial on January 16, 2015. We are still awaiting the judge’s ruling.

 I've spent many a day and night wondering how God would prepare me to leave my home, but He finally, surely has, and like all of His plans, it’s a one-of-a-kind humdinger.

Here's how it began…    


KarenGrace Reflections of an Invisible Woman