And Other Psychotic Pastimes
One of the things I grew up hearing about my father, and was thankfully too young to remember seeing, was his penchant for rat catching.
My house has two large, spread out yards. The backyard is somewhat separated from a stretch of ditches, scrubby land, and swampy holes. Ever so often when the rain has been heavier than usual, rats tend to shift from their hidey holes (which I assume, fill up with water), and show up on our side of the fence. It’s not unusual anymore, and the rats don’t make a nuisance of themselves. We see them maybe once in the morning, for a couple of days, and when the rain stops and the water vanishes, so do they. Over the time we’ve built a tenuous understanding of sorts with each other, which mostly involves looking the other way from each other. I even managed to make friends with a couple of bigger fellows who even learnt how to sit up and beg for food, or to sit on our sun-rock and wait till someone saw them, and do their begging trick. The cats remain supremely unconcerned of all these goings on, and for the most part, so do we.
Till last week, though.
Friday morning, I woke up earlier than usual. Thought I’d make myself coffee and sit in the yard, watch the morning come in. When I peeked outside, Dad was standing like a knight in boxer armor, holding aloft a Mop-Lance, preparing to sneak up on one of the rats and smack him with the pointy end. The rat was just sitting there minding his own business, probably waiting for one of us to toss him a fruit loop or something. The minute Dad went in for the kill, I nearly spat out my coffee and went running down to stop him. The rat saw me before he did, probably thought I’d gone mental, and skittered off back into his burrow. Safe, though, thankfully.
After a morning of explaining to Dad how the rat system works (and listening to a lot of rants about the bubonic plague and hygiene and what not), the entire matter was settled. Later in the day, mom told me this story- or should I say, horror story.
So apparently, this rat business has been around for ages. Since my grandparents time, even. They show up in the rains, when the lower levels are flooded, and go away on their own. But rat catching has always been a huge favorite of my dad’s. His preferred method employed a wire cage, bread, a sharp iron poker, and boiling water/hot oil. My mom first saw this stake-out-and-trap-the-rat business in their first year of marriage. Mind you, in my opinion that should’ve been warning enough, but she ‘had faiiiiith in him’, back when she was still naive and what not.
The process went like this. When the rain started, Dad would rig up those trapdoor sort of walk in cages for the bigger rats. He wasn’t after the small fry. He wanted a good fight on his hands, or something. The bread anc cheese would lure the rat in, the trapdoor would snap shut, and next morning, the torture began.
First, he’d bean the poor critter with the poker. When he got tired of that, he’d pour boiling hot water or oil on it, so it was essentially fried alive. And then, triumphant and victorious, he’d be mighty satisfied with himself for the next few days or so. Till a few months later, or till the next time it rained for a few days straight.
Obviously, mom was beyond horrified. She told me how she stated crying when she saw the brutal scene, and later told my dad never to do that again. And obviously, dad was all ‘nothing-wrong-with-that’ and ‘religion-says-you-should-kill-harmful-pests’ and all. After seeing how defensive and vehement the topic made him, she dropped the argument. But she saw it happen a couple of times more, and couldn’t take it. She pointed out that his defense of ‘religion-says’ doesn’t work because ‘religion says that you’re NOT, in ANY way whatsoever, supposed to torture any living being, pest or not’, and boiling water, oil, and those beating to death sort approaches, are even more strictly forbidden. You are, under no circumstances whatsoever, to give pain to any animal. Kill it mercifully, or just release it somewhere else. No oil and poker shenanigans.
Well, that put a damper on the rat catching. Thankfully, I should add. I don’t know where those genes went but all my siblings inherited mom’s Love Thy Rat and Love Thy Every Animal philosophy. I’ve had pet house lizards, pet spiders, pet crows, pet random assorted birds, and God knows what other animals. Other girls’ mums would forbid pets, or picking up injured animals. My mom welcomes them. We even had an electrocuted crow who she nursed back to health for three months. He actually flew away on his own two wings afterward, it was the most beautiful sight to see. Dad would’ve probably been like, “yum, yum, roast crow” or something.
He’s a lot more civilized now. The traveling and the job and the money have taught him how to maintain the veneer. But after hearing all that, as I sat opposite him laughing and joking around with his actually civilized friends, and doing a brilliant job of faking it, all I could think of was the barbarian who lives inside his ‘gentleman shaped suit’.