This post contains strong language and images that might be too intense for some readers!
While he was living, one of my father’s favorite stories was about the time he was crawling under our old tool shed in search of a possum that he thought was living under there. The story goes that he was under the shed about up to his waist, with his legs sticking out into the back yard. He was shining his flashlight around, thinking that old possum might come ripping and tearing at him at any second.
Just then my sister, who was quite small at the time back in the 1950s, grabbed him by the leg and shouted, “Do you see him, Daddy?” causing our father to rear up and bash his head on a support beam.
My sister got a good hiding — most-richly deserved — and my father got lots of mileage out of the story for years to come. I don’t know what happened to the possum.
That story was brought to mind today by a friend’s e-mail, complaining about finding a mouse in her house. It got me to thinking about unwanted visitors and the extreme measures we take to get rid of them.
I always loved the home I grew up in, and I gave my parents lots of grief when we eventually moved to a nicer place, but the truth is, the old homestead must have been going to seed. Some old apartments behind our house were being torn down, and the rats living there were apparently looking for better scenery.
We’d hear them at night, gnawing, scratching and playing football in the attic, so my dad bought snap traps and set them out, using bits of bacon for bait. Of course I had to help, and I remember Daddy yelling at me from above to get my ass on up the ladder, while Mama yelled at me from down below to make sure I didn’t put my fingers into a trap. Good times, I’m telling you!
The traps had a piece of twine attached, which Daddy told me to make fast to a beam. That way, in case the rat was just wounded, it wouldn’t be able to drag the trap into a corner where it would develop a really bad attitude by the time you had to go up there after it.
Eventually we’d start getting peace and quiet at night, and Daddy would forget that he’d set traps up there until someone caught a whiff of something festering. After a tough day at work, Daddy’s mood wasn’t improved one bit when he’d have to climb into the blistering attic and fetch down a putrefying rodent. Daddy would first saturate a handkerchief with Glade air freshener, then wrap it around his face like a bank robber. After climbing into the attic, he’d put the dead rat into a paper bag, which he’d then hand down to me, waiting there under the trap door.
Just burying the rat and the trap wasn’t good enough. Daddy thought the trap could be reused, so we’d have to lever the grisly corpse out of the trap first. Daddy would then insist that we wash our hands with gasoline, poured from the old red can he kept in the garage. What can I say, men were men back in those days!
But the best rat story occurred one day when we were sitting down to lunch around the kitchen table. Daddy had his back to the screen door leading out to the back yard, while I was at the opposite end of the table with a perfect view over his shoulder and out the door. We’d just finished the meal, and I was in mid-sentence, saying I was ready for my dessert. That’s when I saw the rat climbing up the outside screen, and in my excitement shouted, “I’m ready for my RAT cream!”
Mama screamed, and Daddy was up like he was shot out of a cannon. I guess he must have run out the front door and around the house, picking up my old Louisville Slugger baseball bat somewhere along the way. Well, all I can say is that Daddy would have made Hammerin’ Hank Aaron proud that day, as he knocked that rat off the screen and over the 420 sign in straightaway center!
I think we moved not long after that, but to this day in my family, ice cream is known as “rat cream.”
After I grew up and owned houses of my own, I vowed to use better methods to rid my home of rodents if they ever decided to invade, and sure enough, one day a couple of mice gained entry to one of our Texas homes, hitching a ride inside a bag of dog food. I went to the store and bought a “humane” glue trap, never stopping to consider the implications of trapping rodents with glue.
The next morning produced two lively specimens, hopelessly stuck to the traps in pathetic, contorted positions.
My first thought: “WTF do I do now?”
I guess most people would humanely drop the glue-trapped mice into the trash or something, but I couldn’t do that, so I popped them into a paper bag, set it behind the right rear wheel of my Chevy Suburban and put it in R. It worked, but I’m still scarred by the memory, though not as badly as the mice.
I guess the moral to the story is this: Home ownership may be the American dream, but unwanted visitors — be they rodents, insects or gnomes — can quickly turn that dream into a nightmare. Right now as I’m typing this, I see the first ant of the season marching across my ceiling. Should I get up and swat it, leaving an unsightly smear on the white paint, or just let him go? Before I decide, I think I’ll have a nice bowl of rat cream!