Of Mice (and Spiders) and Men Part II

As I said in my previous post, I love spiders and hate rats. Here’s the explanation. I grew up in a small house near a lake in Central Florida. There are pests by the millions in Florida, and one learns to live with them or pays exterminators lots of money. Early on, I understood the usefulness of spiders. I allowed gray house spiders as big as my hand to grace the upper corners of my bedroom wall and protected them from my mother’s broom. My reasoning was sound. They quietly stayed put and devoured roaches and mosquitos. What more could I ask?

Roaches are prevalent in Florida. The big ones hide during the day and run around at night. They are ugly and dirty, and the most horrible feeling in the world is to have one of them fly down your night shirt when you get up to use the restroom at night. We sprayed with pesticides; we squished them beneath shoes; we kept our house as clean as possible so as not to attract them; but roaches are resilient pests. There is always another one. My big, leggy spider friend was a helper in the roach battle, and I rejoiced every time I saw one wrapped up in the fine gray strands, all its guts sucked out. Good spider.

Mosquitos are always around as well, sucking blook, leaving welts, spreading disease, buzzing in ears that are trying to sleep. When I was growing up, the city sent big, loud trucks to spray for mosquitos all around the neighborhoods. We ran from the clouds of spray they emitted and closed the windows of our house. It looked like the War of the Worlds, but I’m sure the practice had a good purpose. Anyway, once again, my spider friend was happy to trap the errant mosquito in his efficient web.

But my beautiful arachnids could not aid me in my battle with the rats. Whenever it rained, the water rats that lived by the lake escaped the storms by finding their way into our house. Like my husband does now in California, my father battled the rats, trapping and disposing of them while I cowered in the corner. There is one night that flashes across my mind every time I see a rat, even a pet rat in a cage. I picture my bedroom. I slept in a beautiful high wooden bed that had been my mom’s. It was covered with an old quilt, but I always kicked it to the foot of the bed because it was hot and we had no air conditioning. It was often a struggle to sleep in the heat and humidity, but the frogs and crickets that lived by the big oak tree in the back yard were like a lullaby, wafting in through the open jalousie windows. I collected dolls, and my father had made a shelf that ran all along the top of my wall to house my collection. My many books were stored on a built-in book shelf by the door. One night I was startled awake by the crashing of dolls all around the room over my head. I traced the pattern of the intruder as it continued its tirade on the shelf. It was a pitch black new moon night, and I screamed and pulled at the old quilt, covering my head in fear. The thing jumped from the high shelf onto my bed and ran over me on its way to the book shelf on the wall. I was so afraid, I couldn’t scream anymore. Both my parents, and two of my brothers brothers, bolted to my room, switching on the light just in time to see that rat escape behind some books on the shelf. He was the ugliest thing I had ever seen.

I would not enter my room at night for weeks after that. I went in during the day and cleaned up the broken doll pieces, reparing them if I could. We washed the quilt and the bed sheets. I watched a spider rebuild a broken web. But I wouldn’t go near the book shelf ever, and I slept in my brother’s bunk bed. My father assured me he had killed the rat and reminded me that I was not hurt, that he was just a little harmless creature like the spiders I loved. I was not convinced, but eventually I was forced to sleep in my own bed and grow up a little.

These battles with rats and roaches were not constant; they came in phases; and we had many years where there were no pests to speak of. But I almost always had a spider in my room. Many years later, after all of us had moved out, my mother was dealing with a new rat invasion all on her own. I was amazed by her courage and her ability to get everything done while my father was in the hospital with terminal cancer.

I grew up in a Christian home, but I think I am the only one of my siblings who still professes that belief today. My mother taught Sunday school and pinned Bible verses to our curtains so we could see them as we sat at our desks to do our homework. Her faith was noticable in her life. My father was a bit more the skeptic. He had been raised in the church, and he wanted to believe, but there were some church people who had been dishonest in business dealings with him. It turned him off. He wouldn’t attend church with us.

As he lay in his hospital bed, he asked me and my mom to share the words of the Bible with him. He wanted assurance that he would be in heaven in a short time. My mother was amazing in the way she quietly shared her faith without ever insisting that the person she was with agree with her. She let him listen and think for himself.

One day, I heard her reading to him from John chapter 14. “In my father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may be where I am.” She was reading from the King James, though, so the text said “mansions” instead of “rooms”. After reading, she said, “I don’t think it’s very fair that you get to go live in a mansion, and I have to keep living in our house that has rats.” I thought that would make him feel guilty that he wasn’t there to help her. Instead, he laughed and said, “I’ll make sure there are no rats when you get to heaven.” Then he handed her a picture of a good-looking young male model he had clipped from a magazine and said, “In the meantime, maybe you could get him to help with the rats and a few other things.” He winked at her. They both cracked up, and I left the room embarrassed. I loved my parents; I hate rats.

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