Once upon a time, about 1996 to be exact, the advent of the Christmas season had begun. We had purchased my grandmother’s old home (built in the early 30’s) the year before, and we had stored our Christmas decorations up in the old secret attic. To get into the attic, you had to brace the ladder on the steep, narrow, wooden stairway, and wrestle with the secret door leading to the attic on the side of the stairwell. As a kid I used to wonder where that secret door led to, imagining all kinds of secret passageways, but I could never reach the dang thing as it was way up high on the wall, at the deepest part of the stairwell, near the ceiling.
My husband Bernard dragged the big ladder into the house, braced it precariously on the stairs, and proceeded to clamper carefully up to the secret door. Twisting the small block of wood to release the hidden wooden door, he worked it open and then handed the heavy wooden panel to me, as I waited below on the stairs. First came the plastic storage container holding the Christmas lights for the tree and for the outside of the house. I carefully took the big box and put it on the floor at the bottom of the stairs in the kitchen. Next, Bernard reached for the white cardboard box, filled with a lifetime’s collection of Christmas ornaments. He didn’t notice as he lifted the box, the small ragged hole at one corner. He picked it up, and began to turn to hand the box down to me. As I stared in horror, I saw a dark, narrow face framed with white whiskers emerge from the hole, followed by a most enormous, huge dark, furry body. All at once, things began to move in slow motion, as the scream began in my throat. I watched my husband move as if in a dance, as the giant rat continued to squeeze through the small hole, and proceed to run up his arm. Auuuugggggghhhhhhhh – the sound ripped through the air straight from the bottom of Bernard’s lungs. He wrenched his arm away from his body, and the Mama Rat was flung writhing through the air, down the stairs – at me~! Still moving in slow motion, I ducked, and Ratty went sailing over my head into the laundry room beyond the bottom of the stairs. Aha! The Dogs, hearing the hullabaloo came dashing down the stairs, and proceeded to tear into the linoleum next to the washer and dryer, digging frantically after the prize. Adrenalin pumping wildly through his veins, Bernard shouted something about getting his gun and blowing the rat to hell, but I managed to stop that before it started (shooting bullets into your own floor isn’t really a prudent idea). After putting the frantic dogs outside, and calming down just a bit, I opened the white cardboard ornament box. Anything which was organic had been eaten. My son Joe’s nursery school macaroni ornament with his picture on it, the salt/flour bull terrier ornaments made with loving care, the unique paper Victorian watercolor house ornaments painted by my artist Aunt, the felt cutout animal ornaments made by the children years ago, the imported salt/clay ornaments given to me by my grandparents each year when I was a child, the yarn God’s Eye craft ornaments woven by little hands, the list was very long… all destroyed. After we had mourned the loss of those irreplaceable memories, we just stared at each other for a moment. We had less than ¼ of our original ornaments left to hang on the tree. Then we started laughing – and from then on, that became known as “The Year the Rat Ate Christmas”.
11 months ago