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Sunday, September 19, 2010

I Remember The Rats

Now don't shudder with revulsion!  We lived in a small two-room house close to a ditch which is an old creek bed that had been dredged out for drainage. The house was built on ten-inch diameter cypress logs laid lengthwise on the ground instead of being set on blocks.  Over time these logs had settled, causing the house to sit almost on the ground. It was just an old farm shack.  It was what is called today a clapboard house, it had one wall, not an inside and an outside side wall, just one single thickness of wall.  The outside of the boards was covered with small strips of wood and the inside of the same boards was covered with cardboard and wallpaper. The whole house was built with single thickness, walls, floors and ceilings. There was no insulation or even air space since the wall was one single board thick. It is difficult to describe, I guess you could say it was just like a barn.  Needless to say it was not a warm house in the winter so a fire was kept going in a pot bellied stove all the time. We lived there from the time I was eight or nine until I was twelve, four or five years.

During the winter the rats would come from the woods on the ditch and burrow under the house because it was warmer than living in brush piles in the woods.  Now you think that rats are only found in places of filth and poverty, well we had the poverty but there was no filth.  My mother was one of the few people I have known who could keep dirt clean.  These rats were just the garden-variety woods rats that live in the wild all over the world.

Every winter it was a battle between the rats and me. Now I am talking some big rats.  One night mom left a head of cabbage on the table. A rat dragged it off the table on to the floor, all the way across the floor to their hole.  When it wouldn't fit through the hole, they ate it during the night, through the hole, from under the house, until it was almost gone at which point we discovered the theft.  They would carry off anything that even faintly smelled of food so you had to be careful and not leave anything lying out at night.  My mother and two small sisters slept in the front room, which was where the pot-bellied stove was.  I slept in the back room, which was both my bedroom and the kitchen.  The rats could chew a hole through the floor in one night, remember the house had only one floor nailed to the logs supporting the house not a floor like we have in our houses today.  The house had also sunk into the ground over time until it was so close to the ground that during rainy times when you stepped from one room to the other water would slosh through the boards. You could nail a jar lid over the hole and the next night they would chew another hole somewhere else.  Now sleeping and listening to chewing rats doesn't go together so I would leave one hole uncovered.  We had one single light in each room, hanging by its own twisted electrical wire from the ceiling with a pull string to turn it on and off. I had lengthened the string on my light to reach the footboard of my bed.  Each night I would lay in bed waiting with the lights off, listening to the scurry of little rat feet in my kitchen, bedroom.  When I thought they were far enough away from the hole I would jerk the light string thus turning on the light.  As the rats would scurried to their hole to escape the light I would shoot them with my BB gun. I don't remember ever killing one of them, they were just too big but I guarantee I was a good enough shot to hit them as they ran.  Can you imagine any mother allowing a young boy to shoot a BB gun in the house?  Well think about it!  Rats are smart.  As long as I kept up my nightly vigil they stayed wary and would only ventured so far from their hole.  If I became lax and didn't shoot at them regularly they would become bold.  If they couldn’t find any other food they would climb into our beds and chew on us.  Each of us was bitten at some time while we lived in that house.  I know, yuck!!  Don't judge too quickly. 

A lot of people lived in that part of the country in the same impoverished conditions. Thus has ever been the plight of migrant and non-migrant farm workers so our situation was not that unusual.  We didn't really notice that we were that poverty stricken, at least at seven years of age I didn't notice. My mom probably did since she had seen better times.  I don't remember the poverty as such or the rats as that bad.  I remember the trust my mom placed on me to do this small task and that it was kind of fun.  In perspective bad times can have their good points after the fact even if they are difficult to see at the time they occur. Things we consider bad now were not necessarily bad at the time they occurred, just a matter of perspective.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my, another one that I can relate too... I'm the reply with the BB gun. We had rats also. I remember very well taking old Mason jar lids and nailing them over the holes. My stepfather would actually open the basement door (it had a dirt floor and a coal shoot from outside and was infested with rats) and shoot the rats with a 22 Long Rifle. I must admit it was a little unnerving to have a drunken lunatic shooting a rifle in the house. One year in one of his drunken stupors he got the gun out on Christmas Eve and opened the front door firing off a shot and yelling "I GOT THE SOB" trying to convince my (at the time) five year old sister he'd shot Santa Claus. She was inconsolable. Being five years her elder I tried to convince her that he'd only been "goofing around".