02. August 2006 · Comments Off on I’m really not that squeamish… · Categories: General, Memoir, Pajama Game

But then again, I’ve always had a problem with rats. It probably stems from the early-mid 1970s, when we moved to our house in the country. Before we built the house on our land, it had been a soybean field. In fact, when they were digging the basement, there were still soybeans around the edge of the field, left over from harvest, available for anyone to glean, or for the wild critters to add them to their winter stockpiles.

We built a large house – I’m hazy on the square footage, as I was only 12-13 when we were first planning it, but thanks to the internet I can confidently declare that it was over 3900 sq ft (I’m sure that includes the full basement), with 8 rooms, 4 of which were bedrooms, and 2.5 bathrooms, with an attached 2-car garage. Our dream house, this was supposed to be, but it quickly became the nightmare instead. But that’s another story, full of unfulfilled dreams, broken health, and failing finances.

This story is about rats. BIG rats. Field rats, that looked to be 12 inches long BEFORE adding in the length of their tail. The soybean field was THEIR home, and we dared to intrude. Normally, in a well-built house (which ours was), that wouldn’t be a problem. Why be normal?

In October 1974, our house was still just a shell. In a stroke of brilliance, we had had the house company build the parts that had to be inspected, and planned to finish the rest of it ourselves, leisurely over the winter and early springtime, always sparing time to work in the half-acre garden that would provide us with delicious fruits and veggies over the summer and the coming winter. So when the shell was finished, with the roof shingled, and electric boxes peeking at us from the bare studs, and an extension ladder serving as the basement staircase, we gathered our friends and family and began finishing out the house. My dad was a truck-driver, and instead of working 70 hour weeks, he chose to only work 40-50, so we could spend as much time as possible working on the house.

In February, the shell looked more like a house, but was still without plumbing, electricity, or sheet-rock. We needed to wait for spring to drill the well, as I recall, once the dowser found the proper place for it. And the septic tank still needed to be installed, once we knew where the well would be. Even so, we knew it was coming together nicely, and we knew that older houses such as the one we were living in took longer to sell, so we put our 1930’s city home on the market.

Imagine my parents’ shock when a nice family viewed it during an open house, and made an offer on it within a matter of days. They offered us $100 over our asking price, and wanted to close on it by the end of Feb. Early March at the latest.

Ooooookkkkkkaaaaaayyyyyyyy……… Sure, Mom said. We could do that! And so my aunt put her teeny-tiny travel trailer behind our house, we ran a line out to the electric pole for power, and we camped for the rest of the spring.

In what used to be a farmer’s field, that had not yet been landscaped. Amid the melting snow and the rising clay mud.

Our protection from the neighbors’ horses and our few beef cows was an electric fence my dad strung up, attached to a 220v power source in our garage. Yes, it would shock the heck out of whatever large animal hit it, but it would also break, after which it had no more shocking awe. We were constantly chasing the horses and steers out of our front yard. We carried water in 5-gallon buckets from the neighbors’ outside faucet. Through red Ohio clay-mud, that would pull the boots from your feet if you paused long enough to sink into it.

Mom hated camping like that. I didn’t mind it so much – after all, I was only 13. What I hated were the rats. (Remember – this post is about rats, not our old house). Our house was (or would be eventually) a well-built house. It was even a beautiful house, once it was finished. But in the spring and summer of 1975, it wasn’t finished. And the rats loved it. They loved our garage, where all our belongings were stored on plywood over the dirt floor. They would dig in the dirt, leaving holes under the plywood that made it unsafe to step on. And there was a gap, somehow, between the top of the basement walls and the floor of the house, which the rats used as their entrance into the basement.

If I had to go into the garage after dark, I would open the door just enough to snake my arm through, hit the light switch, and call “Ok, rats! I’m coming out! Y’all go hide now!” And you could hear the scurry of their feet, as they sought their hidey-holes. Same sort of thing if I was heading into the basement. Sometimes I would see them perched atop the concrete blocks that were the basement walls, or disappearing up their tunnel into the garage.

I don’t think we got a concrete floor in the garage until after I graduated from high school. It wasn’t as much of a priority as other things. We sold that house before I graduated from college – I was so glad to be out of it. And I’ve not had to deal with rats since.

Until today. When I found out I’m more squeamish than I realized.

As I was walking up the sidewalk from my car tonight, on my way in from work, I saw a brown furry object lying in one of my flower boxes. I have some 24″ rectangular plastic flower boxes filled with petunias lining my sidewalk. It’s my way of pretending I’m in a house instead of an apartment/townhome. But the petunias in this box were pushed to one side, and a dead rat was lying in the dirt. At least, I hoped it was dead. It *looked* dead. Unless it was sleeping.

I read Willard as a child – I know rats are not to be trusted. Maybe it wasn’t sleeping. Maybe it was lying there, waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting teenager – wait a minute…it’s been years since I was a teen-ager. It was a dead rat. It had to be. But how to be sure? I kicked the planter. No response. OK. That seemed pretty safe. But better safe than sorry. I prodded it with a broom handle. Definitely dead.

Now what? I couldn’t just leave it to decay in the planter, and I didn’t want to just toss it out to one side for the same reason. Plus, I didn’t know the cause of death. I’m suspecting poison, because my neighbor and I had talked about the new tenant in my store-room who was eating my finch seed, and we had discussed D-Con as a solution. Every time I walked by my store-room on my way to work, I thought to myself “Must buy D-Con.” And every time I walked by it on my way home from work, I thought “Damn! Forgot the D-Con.” Apparently my neighbor took care of it for me (I’ve not opened the store-room since he told me I had a rodent as a tenant).

This dead rat was nowhere near the size of the field rats I remembered from our nightmare house. At best, it was six inches long without the tail. If it weren’t for the size and the hairless tail, I’d have thought it was a mouse. Its brown fur looked soft, and it looked almost angelic lying there. But it was a rat, not a mouse, and I had to figure out how to dispose of it. I figured 5 layers of plastic bag between me and it, and a glove on the hand that held the plastic bags might provide a bare minimum of protection.

The rat is now in the dumpster, along with half-dozen plastic grocery bags that will never see the recycle-bin. But I brought the glove back inside. It can be washed, after all, with lots of bleach, and I’m really not *that* squeamish. I’m just hoping that it was only one rat in residence, and not a family.

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