The Ravenous Rat

Wake up, head to gymnastics, ballet, tap and jazz class every Saturday morning. It was convenient because all of those classes were held at the same place every Saturday morning where my friends and I danced and flipped for many, many years together. I always enjoyed it. Honestly, I have no idea what my mom did during those hours, I suppose she went to the grocery store or ran other errands, but our town was so small, I’m not sure what else she might have accomplished, I’m thankful I still have the ability to ask her.

As soon as my mom would pick me up from my morning of creative classes, conveniently ending right before lunch, we would hurry home and begin preparing lunch for our farm help. Yes, the pig farmer, hired help on Saturdays to clean out the barns, move the livestock, fill the hayloft and whatever else needs to be accomplished on a fully equipped pig farm where the pig farmer also works a “city job”.  A week’s worth of physical labor had to be completed on Saturdays and it was usually done by boys that lived “in town”.

Our house was old and small, it wasn’t like one of those big two story farmhouses you see on TV getting a makeover; that was my Uncle’s house down the road. Our house was a small farmhouse with a cold,wet basement used primarily for making smelly milk replacements for premature pigs, calves, kittens, puppies, rabbits and just about any other animals in need of tender care. It also stored our freshly canned vegetables and fruits, a deep freeze full of frozen pork, wrapped in white butcher paper and labeled with a black sharpie indicating which cut of meat we could find inside and my dad’s work clothes. There was usually a puddle of water somewhere on the floor.

On a farm, not only do you have the animals you desire to have, but you also acquire the animals and rodents you don’t want to have. At one time, my bedroom used to be the end of the house, it had a window that looked out onto a porch. When my family needed more room, the window became a bookshelf and the porch became a bedroom. At night, I could often hear the mice running up and down the inside the walls. Sometimes, it was as though they knew my head was right on the other side of the plaster and they would begin to dig. Thankfully, I never had a mouse crack the plaster as far as I knew, in hind sight it was probably because several layers of wallpaper made it nearly impossible, but truthfully,  I think I secretly grew fond of listening to their scampering at night and their tiny squeaks.

However, one Saturday afternoon as we were preparing our spaghetti feast (because what else do you feed a crew of growing city boys?) a scratching noise began.  It was coming from the ceiling and right over our very large wooden table. The sound grew and grew and before we knew it, the scratching was beginning to produce scant shavings that fell from the ceiling. My mom, never being one to enjoy farm aroma or mess or animals of any kind really… had a high pitched shrill as she yelled for my father. As my mom shrilled and my dad sauntered into the kitchen, he recognized the scratching and crumbling pieces of the ceiling, now falling to the table and knew it was an aggressive and colossal sized rat in our attic.  Within minutes that tenacious rat; smelling the delicious food my mom and I had prepared, was beginning to make his way rapidly through the ceiling hoping to join the Saturday crew for a bite.

My dad, being the resourceful dad he is, ran and got his shotgun. Yes, I grew up on a farm with guns.  The guns were always clean, never loaded and most of them were locked away. We had gun safety sessions and rules and blah blah blah… guns were dangerous and we knew it and I never remember seeing my dad shoot with anything more than a BB gun, but on this Saturday morning I found out how my dad intended to use his shotgun. He loaded it and stuck that barrel right up into the ceiling where that little rat was sticking his nose down enjoying a waft of delicious Ragu and country sausage and BAM! He never smelled again. He had no idea his afternoon lunch plans would end so tragically. I remember holding my breath at what had just happened. My dad was constantly loading the attic with traps, live traps, traps that caused pain and even poison, but somehow those little boogers could multiply faster than a duck on a June bug.  If you are familiar with the scene in the Disney movie Ratioulle, when the old lady shoots the ceiling and then the ceiling collapses and thousands of rodents are exposed? Yeah…every time I watch that movie, I immediately think of our little farmhouse and just imagine that is what it could’ve been like.

My dad had some of the funniest solutions growing up and sometimes he still does. Yes, that shotgun bullet not only went through the ceiling, and killed a mammoth sized rat, but it also shot a hole right through the roof.  Our Saturday morning lunch was only derailed momentarily but that eager rat ended up also causing one Saturday morning to be spent patching the roof. Simple and memorable and not surprising to those that know my dad.  Occasionally and quite out of the blue stories like these will run through my head and I will be forever grateful for the boring, long and lonely days as a kid on a foul smelling pig farm. Saturday mornings were some of the most routine days of my life and probably some of the most memorable.