I’ve been waiting impatiently to announce this for a while because I wanted to surprise my mom with the tribute in person. I gave her a copy over Easter weekend and her smile was as wide as I’d hoped. And now you finally get to know too!
My short story “Badger Fierce” was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Mom Knows Best edition on March 19, 2019! To read all the stories, you can buy a copy wherever books are sold or request it from your local library.
My mom is happy to share her strong opinions. Once, when I told her I planned to skydive, she replied, “Oh, great! You’ll probably fall out of your harness and hang upside-down by your panties.” This prophesy was accompanied by a YouTube video of an unfortunate grandma in that exact situation.
In the grocery store, mom caught a man leering at me. “Hey, you. Watch it, buddy. Yeah, I see you,” she called out, in fierce protective mode. His face reddened, and he looked away.
Mom is also fiercely helpful. I experienced this when she cared for me post-surgery. My medications were administered with the efficiency of a drill sergeant. My couch-bed was plumped and cleaned, with stacks of books and the television remote within reach. She protected me from pushing myself too hard, and guided me with gentleness and patience to the porch for much-needed Vitamin D. On top of that, she was a fun nurse, which led to one of our oddest schemes yet.
It all started with a rumor.
Judy told Peggy, who told my dad, which I overheard in a post-surgery stupor, that Judy’s husband Mike saw a badger in an irrigation pipe at the front of our horse pasture. The Bureau of Land Management was called to set humane traps to capture and relocate the fierce creature.
“A badger? In our pipes?” I blinked away my Percocet cloud, and then grinned. “Finders keepers.”
Mom and Dad offered tolerant smiles. After two weeks, they were unfazed by my pain-killer-induced ramblings. Their trivial discussions were a blur of noise behind me. I pondered how to reach this badger. When Dad left for his office, I seized my chance.
“Wanna have an adventure?” I asked my mom. I couldn’t hide my grin.
“Maybe?” Mom said warily.
“Let’s go look at the badger!”
“You can hardly walk!”
“Hardly walk?” I protested. “I’m more upright than yesterday. Besides, I need to see the sun and feel the wind on my face. I’m going crazy!”
“Badgers are fierce animals, and you can’t run away. What if it’s rabid?” she cautioned.
“It’s probably hiding in the pipe until it can escape tonight.” Badgers were not uncommon in the high mountains of Wyoming, but they rarely ventured down to our valley homes. I couldn’t miss an opportunity to see one.
“You’ll be exhausted if you walk that far.” She referred to the mere distance of seventy-five yards from couch to pipe.
“We’ll drive. We can just peek from the window.”
Mom chewed her lip, caught between common sense and a willingness to make me happy. My newfound eagerness after listless days on the couch was too great for her to deny. Without Dad or my husband to convince her otherwise, we began the laborious process of loading my bloated carcass into the truck. Mom supported me, never rolling her eyes at my piteously slow state.
“What if it won’t come out of the pipe?” she asked.
“We should take a peace offering,” I said, even as guilt gripped me. All nature lovers follow a staunch don’t-feed-the-wildlife code. Apparently, Percocet had loosened my morals. “Deli ham?” I suggested.
Thusly armed, we drove to the pipe. Mom parked the truck, and we waited. And waited. Nothing happened. We waited some more. Surely, I earned my National Geographic Wildlife Photographer Patience Badge.
“Try the ham,” I urged.
Mom rolled up a slice and tossed it out my window into the dirt. It landed about a million miles away from the opening of the pipe.
“Oh, kiss my grits,” Mom grunted as she released another blob.
It also landed remarkably off-target.
She did, and five pieces later, the ham landed with a satisfying plop near the entrance of the pipe.
My eyes widened at a slight movement. There was indeed a fierce, scary badger in there. Then, a little nose emerged, quivering as it sniffed. A flat face peeked from the shadows, striped black and white. It had large, liquid black eyes and was the size of a loaf of bread.
“Oh, my goodness,” I squealed. “It’s just a baby!”
Moments later, a truck rattled past, its side emblazoned with Bureau of Land Management. The vibrations scared our sweet baby badger back into its pipe.
The Fed gave us a friendly wave, but terror washed over me.
“The ham!” I shrieked.
It was lying all over the ground in incriminating piles. We could be fined, imprisoned or, worse, splashed across the front page of the local tribune.
“You have to pick it up.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Mom protested.
“We can’t leave it!”
“I am not bending down with my face near that pipe.”
“Use the rake.”
“Do we have time?” Mom glanced up the road. The federal officer would realize he missed the correct pipe and turn around soon.
I looked her square in the eye and summoned my gravest superhero face. “We don’t have a choice.”
Mom nodded and leapt from the truck, grabbing a rake from the bed. I caught one more glimpse of the badger’s nose before Mom sailed around the front of the truck. She flipped dirt-coated ham into the sagebrush-filled ditch.
“There are rake lines. You have to make it look more natural!” I yelled. She groaned and kicked dirt into a great cloud, clarifying the lines with evidence- linking footprints.
“Never mind, I see his truck,” I wailed.
Mom let loose a curse word, and I gasped with laughter. This was even more of an adventure than I imagined.
We charged back to the house, slamming the front door just as the man’s truck pulled parallel to our driveway. We leaned our heads back, panting and laughing.
I looked in her eyes. “Thank you,” I said seriously. “I really needed that.” Mom hugged me with half her normal strength, mindful of my stitches.
We found out later that the precious baby badger was safely relocated to the mountains. I thought of his hesitancy to enter the big world, mingled with curiosity for its delights. All he needed was ham to pull him from the safety of his irrigation pipe. Mom lured him, however momentarily, into the great world.
She does the same for me daily. She assuages my doubts. She encourages me to work for my dreams. I am still in my baby-badger stage, learning and growing into the person I wish to become: fiercely loyal, kind, and humble; fiercely sassy, fun, and hilarious. Fierce like a full-grown badger. Fierce like Mom.
—Shelby Kisgen— copyright 2018