It was 1977. My brother was thirteen and had a paper route. That would have made me ten and my sister seven.
There was an old guy in an old house. They were both white. Probably why my mother made one of her more notable parenting mistakes.
This old guy invited us all to come see his animal skins he made after hunting. My mom knew nothing about hunting, and assumed it would be a bunch of clean, store ready furs where we could see bunny fur and other animals in all of nature's abstract and purified wonder.
That was not at all what this was.
We get there and meet the old guy. He was a Hallmark grandpa. At least to me. The embodiment of southern sweet tea with a dash of chewing tobacco. No red flags. He took us to his large shed, chit-chatting as we walked. I don't remember much about what he said, adult conversations rarely interested me. But I caught something about thinking my brother Tim could benefit from seeing some of the things a traditional southern guy did, since my dad was a college boy and didn't hunt. I didn't take it as a criticism of my dad. Just someone's opinion of adult stuff that no one cared about.
He opened the shed door and emotionally scarred all of us, even if we didn't realize it for years.
When I close my eyes I can still see the inside of that shed. As sheds go it was well organized and tidy, considering. Laid out on a long table were the carcasses of animals off all types. Squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and some I didn't recognize. I didn't recognize them because they had all been recently skinned. Many just seemed like bloody meat bags with tiny leg stumps. Hanging from the ceiling in the back of the shed was a deer carcass and something that looked like a rotisserie with skinned cats. Next to each body was the cleaned skin of the animal. Educational as a kick in the balls.
"Wow," I said. My mom didn't enter, but stayed just outside, clutching my sister who was stretching her neck to see inside. My mom kept trying to casually block her view with her body. She was mostly failing.
"Y'all feel free to take a look closer. Ask any questions ya might have," said the old man.
I leaned in and stared at what I think was a squirrel. "What's the biggest and smallest you've done?" I asked while my brother was trying to figure out what part of the deer was the front.
"Smallest is that field mouse at the end. Biggest..." he thought for a moment. "I did a bear once."
I know some folks might think I was a bit messed up already. Despite an abundance of evidence, I wasn't a psychopathic killer in the making. I would never have killed any of these animals myself. That would have been mean. But finding one stuck to the grass on a cold day? Yes, I'd poke it a bit with a stick. Most boys my age would.
The old man tried again to get my mom to come in, but she insisted she was fine where she was. As soon as socially acceptable, she announced we had somewhere else to be, and we returned to her. She thanked the old man, and hustled us to the car.
On the way to the car I asked my mom, "Why would someone take the skin off a mouse?"
"I have no earthly idea," she said. And with that we were gone.
I literally thought nothing of all of this (besides thinking it was the coolest thing ever) for years. It was only on one of the many times it popped into my head that I realized, "Man, that was some fucked up shit. We didn't even know that guy."
When I was a young man I asked my mother about that day. At first she didn't want to talk about it, but eventually she said it was a horrible experience and she felt bad to have put us in it, but she worried about me the least because I had always been a bit macabre.
But she also said, "He was probably just a lonely old man who wanted to share his hobby. But I still feel like, if I had gone into that shed with you, none of us would have come out."