Just last year I went back to visit my parents, still living in the house they had built years ago. It was late August, hot and humid. I had my two sons with me and as usual, my parents insisted we all stay in the house instead of getting a hotel. My dad took me aside and said, “Have the boys sleep in the living room. You can take your old room.” There was a weird look on his face.
“Why?” I asked.
“We’ve had some issues,” Dad squirmed.
“What kind of issues?”
“Snakes,” Dad whispered, in case they were listening and trained to come when they called.
“How does this have anything to do with where we sleep?” As I said it, I realized the issues were coming from inside the house.
“Last Tuesday I got up in the middle of the night to watch TV. As I sat there, a snake slithered across the floor toward me.”
“In the living room?!” I asked.
“They must be getting in through some hole from under the house.”
“They must be getting in through some hole from under the house.”
“They?!?” The hair on the back of my neck was starting to rise. Like tiny little snakes.
“Have the kids sleep down there. They’ll sleep through anything.”
This is what is known as a quandary. Do I let my children sleep where there are known sssserpents ssssurfing sssatellite TV, or do I send them to safety and assign myself to a week of sleeplesssssnessss? And as I got to know more about how my dad functioned, I wondered how I ever survived childhood.
Send a kid out first to see if it’s safe. We’ve got four of them. We can get by with three. Suddenly certain childhood memories became much clearer.
The first night was rough. I made the mistake of going online to learn more about black snakes, the kind that had visited with my dad. While they’re not poisonous, they are aggressive, nasty biters, and can climb. As in onto a couch. Not a wink of sleep for me. I cowered on the couch, lights on, with a big stick. Every once in a while I’d pass out for a moment, only to startle myself awake, flailing my stick at the empty air.
Needless to say by daylight I was a zombie. I didn’t tell my boys why they were sleeping in my room. However, once they figured out that I insisted on sleeping downstairs, they suspected they were missing something and pushed to find out what it was.
Tommy: I need to sleep downstairs. Bobby snores.
Me: At least that way you know he’s still alive.
Bobby: Mom? Is there some reason we can’t sleep downstairs?
Me: I’ll tell you later. Would you like a candy bar for breakfast?
The boys were sleeping in my old room. Every once in a while we’d hear buzzing coming from inside the wall, near the window. Nothing on the outside of the house indicated anything unusual. I couldn’t find any holes. I suspected a raccoon had settled in, entering through the attic, but in August? Unless he had figured out how to pick up the satellite television feed and was watching daytime television, there was no reason for a coon to be inside. Between my snake stakeout and lack of sleep, I was already maxed out on worrying. Whatever was in the wall was staying in there, hopefully until we left.
I slept during the day by the pool, instructing the boys to wake me only if it was absolutely necessary.
Bobby: Mom, can I sleep downstairs tonight?
Me: You woke me for that? No.
Bobby: How come you get to have all the fun?
Me: How about a nice candy bar for lunch?
Bobby: Mom, it’s almost four pm.
Me: Would you like Snickers or Milky Way for dinner?
Once we left, I told my dad about the weird noises in the wall of my old bedroom. He investigated and found it to be a huge nest of wasps. The buzzing we heard was the wasps stabilizing the temperature in the nest. Or fighting over the television remote.
Through the years, other varmints that made it inside the house included:
Mice - One of my earliest memories was seeing a grey blur skitter under the couch with my mom in hot pursuit. This is probably why we got Princess, Tomcat Extraordinaire. And once Princess was gone, the rodents were kept out by the Leno-loving black snakes.
Bats – Pamplona has the Running of the Bulls. We had the Barrage of the Bats. Usually confined to the attic, every once in a while they’d swarm, skitter, and bump through the kitchen and living room. It got so bad that we kept a few tennis racquets handy, ready to take a swing as they made the turn into the hallway. Someone would casually call out ‘Bat!’ and everyone would grab a racquet. My hand-eye coordination greatly improved. Plus I was able to ‘accidentally’ hit my brother a few times. Oops.
The bats eventually left our home. My mother observed that they left for good at the same time I went off to college. Could I be the Pied Piper of winged rats? I often felt like that when I went out to nightclubs.
Squirrels – When my parents went away on vacation, leaving the house empty, a squirrel crawled down the chimney and house-sat for them. He eventually ran out of Chex Mix, got bored, and couldn’t get out. No matter how many window panes he gnawed on, how many curtains he ripped, it was hopeless. He eventually got stuck inside a vent in the fireplace, creating a stink worthy of a Republican at a no-host bar. Never, ever let a squirrel house-sit for you.
Moths – These were the B-52s of moths - huge, hulking, grizzle-suede, cargo bugs. They were slower and clumsier than the bats, and there seemed to be millions of them, swarming whatever light was lit. Nothing like sitting down to read a good book on a quaint, quiet, country summer evening, only to have your light source knocked over by flying lint buckets the size of your fist. I wanted to buy a bug-zapper and put it inside the house.
On rare occasions we could glimpse the food chain in action – a moth, followed by a bat, followed by my brother with a tennis racquet. How did the moths get in? Builders beware – nook your crannies properly, lest you be destined to live in the House of Mothra and his bungling buddies.
Birds – They attempted to get in, but it wasn’t really their fault. In our massive bowling alley of a living room, we had a picture window running nearly the entire width of the room. It was beautiful, but since we lived on a ridge, sometimes low flying birds would attempt a shortcut through the glass. Ouch.
Besides the varmints we intentionally brought into the house, these are all the critters I’m aware of that made it inside without a hall pass. There’s the viable chance that others infiltrated our abode and our parents never told us for fear of frightening us. Or for fear one of us would write a book about it. Oops.