“Come on, you can do this.” How often have do we say those words to our children? Where does bravery come from? Where do we get “grit”?

When Kay Wheeler’s son decided to show his Pop Warner teammates the cistern under the family’s barn, someone was waiting for them. Debbie Steinhausser/Shutterstock.com

For boys, we think sports make them stronger, with more grit. For girls, I’m not sure at this point. Is bravery physical? Is grit the power to punch someone out? Or is it in your mind?

When my son was 8 or 9, he joined a Little League baseball team and they did well. Then his father encouraged him to join their Pop Warner football team. We all know how rough and tumble football is, yet we weren’t concerned because we knew our boys had to be tough – have grit.

Probably the most fun of Pop Warner football was the cool outfits. The shoulder pads, the spiked shoes, the helmets, etc. We had a large field next to our barn and many times, the boys practiced there.

One day, after a fairly successful football practice, they all tramped into the barn to get water. It was a beautiful old barn, with three beautiful box stalls, a great hayloft and something unusual: a cistern under the floor. During a rainstorm, the rain from the roof was channeled to the under-the-barn cistern. I have no idea how it worked because the barn was built in 1840 and this was about 1972.

The large brick enclosure was dry. It had a lift-up cover on the barn floor and a ladder going down to the floor of the cistern.


My son wanted to show this oddity to his team members while they were drinking their water and resting. They opened the cover, shined a flashlight down into the cistern and, lo and behold, there was a skunk, seemingly trapped in the cistern. Well, the big discussion among the young brave future men was “Who is going to go down and rescue the skunk?”

My son’s little sister and I were out in the yard and overheard the discussion in the barn. We were curious and went into the barn to see what this team of macho creatures were discussing. We listened as they debated who would go down to rescue the creature and how, because we all know skunks can ruin your day. None of them seemed willing to take that chance.

I was watching the boys have their discussion and wasn’t aware that my 5-year-old daughter was climbing down the ladder into the cistern. In fact, I never dreamed she would do that.

It was when I heard her say, “Mama, look!” that I realized what had happened.

She was just getting off the ladder back to the barn floor. She was holding the skunk by the tail and asking me where she should take the little baby. I don’t know when she heard us discussing the fact that a skunk can’t spray if you are holding it by the tail, but there she was … holding the skunk … by the tail.

The boys were speechless as my 5-year-old and I headed out of the barn to take the skunk to the orchard.

We put it down on the ground, it turned and looked at us then ran off. We were smiling and I was thinking, “This little girl has lots of grit.” She still does.

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