Thursday, May 1, 2014

Life with Fred & Lucy, Episode 27: Rat Patrol


My father was adamant about keeping our building roach and rat free, especially because of the stock that we sold in our grocery store. When you live in a big city, you’re bound to encounter a roach or rat at some time in your life and Fred’s store was no different.
My father had an exterminating company do our entire building from top to bottom every month, and then as an extra precaution, Fred would spray his own concoction in between visits from the professionals. I pretty sure Fred’s ingredients would have been listed as dangerous toxic waste material by today’s standards, but in the 50’s and 60’s DDT ruled. It wasn’t until Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring caused a big uproar, that dangerous poisons were taken off the market and palmed off on the third world countries.                                                           
I went my entire childhood never encountering a roach, but one day we did have a visitor from the rodent family. The rat had arrived via delivery of stock from one of our vendors. Fred was unpacking one of the crates when he met the rat face to face. My father dropped some curse words and the large rat showing absolutely no fear, sauntered away to hide somewhere in our stock room.

My father made the mistake of telling my mother and us four kids which elicited two different reactions. The kids wanted to keep the rat as a pet and my mother channeled her “Release the Kraken” personality and let out a scream heard all the way to Naples, Italy. “I’m not staying in the same house with a rat,” she declared and ran out of the store and to Grandmom’s house. She’d forgotten to take us with her, which was a foretelling of future events.                                                                

My father wanted a quick solution to the rat problem. He needed a cat and not just any cat. He needed a Terminator. We didn’t own a cat.  “Go find me a cat,” he ordered.                                                                           
Jane and I had no idea where to find a cat, but we knew there were a lot of strays up the alley. Taking a quart of milk and bowl with us, Jane and I went on a big game safari. We lucked out and on our first expedition up the alley, found a tom cat with a taste for cold milk. He followed us home, just as my mother pulled into the parking spot in front of the store while giving a slight tap to the bumper of the car behind her. She was just as bad at parking as she was at driving.
My father closed the store so we could take care of the rat. He first placed a wooden board that was close to three feet high at the doorway of the stock room to keep the rat trapped in the room. My mother held the cat in her arm, while my father used a broom to coax the rat out from behind the stock boxes. Mom had one job only and that was to release the cat as soon as the rat showed his head.
While my father searched for the rat and my mother stood guard with the cat, their children were begging for the rat’s life. “Can’t we keep it as a pet?” 
Suddenly, the rat scurried out and my father screamed, “Lucy, the cat!” But…Lucy was nowhere to be found. She took off and ran outside with the cat in her arms. “Where the *&#$&%$ did your mother go?”
I took a peek out the side door and replied, “She’s on Shunk.” My mother had made it to the end of the next street in Olympic record time, “And she’s still going,” I added.
“Go get her,” my father ordered, but I wasn’t so sure I would be able to talk my mother into returning.
Later that day, my mother returned covered in scratches and sans cat. It was almost dinner time and we were busy with the dinner crowd. Lucy was in her playpen where we could keep an eye on her. “Where the hell is the cat?” my father asked her when the store had cleared.
“How the hell should I know,” Lucy replied, as she began to prepare dinner. “And…don’t involve me in any more of your crazy schemes,” she added, slamming the frying pan on the stove top.

My father had to enlist the help of Uncle Jack and another cat later that night, while my mother and we four kids visited with Aunt Louise. I guess ‘Operation Rat’ was a success because we didn’t see any trace of it or the cat.
Like I said, DDT isn’t used now, but back in the days it was, and…it was probably in the spray the trucks used as they rode up and down the Philadelphia streets spraying for mosquitoes.

I remember chasing after those trucks with the rest of the neighborhood kids and getting splashed with the mist from the insecticide spray they were using. What did we know? We were told it was safe. Scary, right?


  1. Oh my gosh, Marie, this story is too funny. I can see it all happening as I read. I remember the mosquito trucks, too. Kids from my neighborhood also road behind the trucks in the mist. It IS scary to think about this. ...But we didn't have the mosquito problems we have today. Not that I’m saying it's a good idea to spray poison around the neighborhood and allow children to ride in its mist, though. Thanks for sharing this anecdote with your readers.

    1. Thank you Victoria for your compliment. I'm laughing my head off whenever I write one of these stories, because I can't believe we had so many crazy adventures at that store. The mosquito trucks did work, but Bats eat lots of mosquitoes. Sadly, the bats and bees are dying because of climate change, but the mosquitoes are doing just peachy fine.

  2. thats awesome great story!!!

    1. Thank you, Stacey, and it's all true:)