Despite my eldest daughter’s assertions to the contrary- I was young once. There was awhile there when I thought about getting a signed affidavit from her Grandmother attesting that I had not been planted here by aliens. It occurred to me later that doing so was probably a bad idea as that would only introduce the possibility that Grandma was the ringleader behind the entire conspiracy. There are times when all you can do is scratch your head, tuck your antennae back under your cap, assure the kidlet that you love her, and just walk away.
This bedtime story starts in about 8 BC (Before Children) and I was spending the summer with my Grandparents in rural Tennessee. Being a young man (yes!) I was engaging in those sorts of activities that young men do when there’s no school, long hot days, nothing in need of baling, and a notable lack of parental supervision- shooting glass bottles by the burn barrel, throwing rocks at the water moccasins in the creek, driving the old Mazda pickup around on the gravel roads, tromping around in the woods with the dogs or just doing my level best to avoid being around for chores.
For the most part I had few chores but the most disliked had to have been cleaning up the trash after the coons and possums had spread it far and wide. In hindsight, I can acknowledge that the raccoons and opossums were just doing what it was that raccoons and opossums do. At the time- I was less understanding and generally annoyed about having to police up the yard in the mornings when I ought to be diligently working at sleeping until noon.
Grandpa Mac taught me how to trap possums that summer. It’s a fairly simple process- place some table scraps in a metal trash can, anchor the can so that it can’t tip over, wire a piece of one-by-six siding to the top edge for a ramp, and walk away. In the morning you’ll find you have a couple of belligerent possums that fell in and couldn’t get a grip on the sides of the metal can to get back out. (It’s worth mentioning that this won’t work with raccoons. They’re far too clever/athletic to fall for this trick.)
Old Man lived a couple of miles down the gravel from my Grandparents and sold hides for wallets and what-have-you. Old Man paid cash money for possums- music to any teenager’s ears when he’s “working” for room and board. The trash can would go into the back of the Mazda, the lid secured tightly, and we’d head down the road. I couldn’t tell you what Old Man looked like anymore. It seems to me that he was always sitting in the same place on his front porch and was about the same color as the weather-beaten siding. He just kind of blended into the house until you got within about twenty feet. I don’t recall that I ever heard him speak either. What I do remember is his dog. The dog was about the size of a well-fed rat and always left me with the impression that the only reason he didn’t start in on me immediately was because of a dislike for leftovers. Stephen King would have loved it.
Be that as it may, I’d fetch the trash can out of the truck and lay it slowly down on its side in the yard. The possums would retreat as far as possible towards the back of the can, sputter, and try to look menacing. The arena was set and it was time for the gladiators to have at it! The first time I watched this contest I’d have bet heavily against the dog. Any adult possum clearly had the weight advantage and there were generally three or four of them in the can. Old Man would snap his fingers, point at the can, and the dog would head in at a trot. There’d be some hissing, some growling, the scratch of claws on metal, and then a spindly tail would emerge from the can. The dog would grasp one of the possums by the throat and proceed to drag it out, backing up to the porch, where Old Man would reach down and quickly dispatch it by breaking the neck. A finger snap and the dog was back off the porch and into the can again. Once all the possums had been tended to, Old Man would produce several well worn bills, wave his hand, and our business was concluded.
6 AC (After Children) and my wife, young daughter and I were living in a fourteen-by-seventy trailer house in married student housing. Life was simpler in many respects, or maybe my memory is just colored by nostalgia. And there was the summer that the college decided to bulldoze a pasture behind the trailer court to put in a “sports and field” complex. Hundreds of tiny little field mice found themselves homeless that week and the occupants of the trailer court found themselves listening to the quiet tick-tick-ticking of mice scampering back and forth through seventy feet of furnace ductwork under the floor. Momma was thoroughly under-impressed, Dad tried to remember that it was just mice doing what it is that mice do, and our six-year-old girl was fairly delighted with all of her new potential friends. They were something.
We gave up on spring traps as they stripped the peanut butter off them as fast as we could replace it. I was beginning to wonder if we could get them with cholesterol. They’d walk across glue traps with the same aplomb Jesus exhibited at the Sea of Galilee. We didn’t dare poison them as we didn’t want to deal with trying to track their little corpses down later. Then I remembered the possums.
I took a strip of cardboard and taped one end to the top of a tall mason jar, a dollop of peanut butter went into the bottom of the jar, and a little bit of peanut butter grease was rubbed on the top of my ramp just to reinforce the idea that there was something tasty going on in there. And I walked away. My wife was skeptical of the idea that first night, having witnessed the repeated failures of the best mouse trapping technology available at the time. My daughter remained belligerent as “furries are our friends”. The cat, having lost a notable amount of fur to the open glue traps, was openly contemptuous of the contraption. I remained confident. It seemed unlikely that there’d be any money to be made selling their little hides for wallets, but there’s something to be said for a good nights sleep.
And it worked. I got an even dozen the first night and continued to catch them with my mason jar until they were gone. Even the cat seemed impressed. 21 AC and by golly I’ve got photographic evidence! He must have worked his way up from the back of the stove, through the fiberglass insulation, and poked his whiskered nose out from under the electric burner. We had Momma’s baked beans for supper tonight and while I’ve always praised her beans as being a food group unto themselves, I don’t think she’s going to appreciate the effort that mouse went through to find a way to the leftovers.
Mice are just one of those things you deal with when living in the country. I don’t get excited and am content with trying to keep the glue traps where the cats can’t get in them. Still, with four cats wintering over in the house this year, this little bugger is good! Maybe I’ve found one that’ll outwit the possum trap. Gotta love a challenge. And with any sort of luck I’ll have gotten him before my youngest daughter gets an opportunity to name him. With luck, a mason jar, and a dab of peanut butter . . .