The Professional Guest: Living with Critters

Norway RatLiving in Florida, I’m learning to live with critters. They proliferate here…like waaay beyond anything I’ve experienced in Minnesota where at least the winter will kill off some of the undesirables. Here, the mosquitos, noseeums, rats, black mold, rust, and critters I don’t even know about live and flourish.…and creep forward.

I saw a rat run across the porch yesterday morning. That made me remember a story my mom told me about her younger days of raising a family in South Minneapolis when they had to contend with Norway rats. This was before I was born. Norway rats are bigger than normal rats… twice the size. She sat in the kitchen, armed with a shotgun and was prepared to blast away at them.  Back in the 50s, this was okay. Nobody questioned you if you fired off a gun in the middle of the night. You were defending your territory from marauders. Totally legit. The next day, over the backyard fence, you might tell the neighbor’s wife about how you shot two rats the night before. Nobody asked any questions and nobody called the police.

My mother had fears, lots of them. But most of them were relational fears because of her childhood. When it came to evil critters, she was fearless and had no problem aiming a shotgun and taking them out. I liked this part of my mother. She was brave…. Lucille Ball brave.

So when I saw that rat running across the porch where I live now, it prompted a memory of my own. Back in the late 1970s, early 1980s, I lived in Hawaii. I was part of Youth With A Mission, a young pioneering mission agency that worked kind of like the Peace Corps. They went in to the hardest refugee situations and helped, bringing medicine, food, blankets, and the Gospel. Youth With A Mission (or YWAM, for short) bought an old, run-down hotel in Kona on the Big island of Hawaii. There we all lived in meager living conditions with meager supplies but we were dedicated to the cause. The old hotel had rooms with lanais but nothing was cockroach, gecko, spider or rat proof.

Each night we had to kill invaders. I learned that a bottle of rubbing alcohol will kill roaches faster than RAID. And geckos are our friends because they eat cockroaches. Cane Spiders who measure the width of your outstretched hand are also your friends, because they too eat cockroaches. That was a tough one for me. I’m deathly afraid of spiders. But I’m learning… spiders are actually our friends against a common enemy.

At the same time, we were woken up in the middle of the night with bottles crashing, stuff being knocked off the dressers as the rats found their way in. I slept with a pair of platform sandals and a broom next to my bed. When I heard a crash in the middle of the night, I first listened to pinpoint the direction of the sound. Then I got my arm ready to turn on the light but only after I got my other arm on the broom and my feet in the platform sandals. Once I figured out where the sound was coming from, I turned on the light, jumped up in a flash with the broom, and chased the rat from its place out the front door.

I will never forget the look of terror on my little Korean roommate’s face one night. She hardly spoke a word of English but through hand gestures and nods, we managed to talk to one another. She introduced me to Kimchee which I still love to this day. When we heard the crash of bottles in the middle of the night and I turned on the light, I saw her eyes were wide. All she said was, “LIKE MOUSE, ONLY BIGGER.”

This happened night after night. Finally, I figured out the rats were coming in under the bathroom sink. So I placed rat traps with peanut butter there, still keeping my broom and sandals near my bed. Now, instead of a crashing sound, I would just hear “THWACK! thump, thump, thump, thump, thump” while the rat who had just gotten his head caught in the trap was going through his dying motions. In the morning, I’d throw him out over the lanai into the field and we’d go through the same thing the next night until someone repaired the hole under the sink they were coming through.

So, no, I’m not afraid of rats here in Florida. Been there. Done that. And yes, I will kill you if you mess with me in my house.

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