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Hartselle Enquirer

A country boy’s rat race

Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines “rat race” as a mad scramble or intense, competitive struggle. I can  easily identify with that definition from my farm boy experiences involving rats.

One of the daily chores I shared with my younger brothers was  shucking, shelling and feeding whole kernel corn to our flock of 300 to 350 white leghorn laying hens. It was a nasty, odoriferous job at this time of the year, The corn crib was located in the barn smack dab in the middle of a hog pen and a halfway covered with manure.  Even more discomforting to the nostrils was the smell of rat excrement inside. Since we needed both hands to shuck the corn, the only alternative we had was to keep quiet, breathe lightly and work fast.

Another matter of concern was identifying the location of a full-grown chicken/rat snake.  “It had the run of the barn on orders from our dad even though it kept us on our toes while we were sharing the same space.  The snake made it a habit of crawling into a cotton basket filled with shucks. That meant the only way we could regain ownership of the basket was to carry it outside and dump its contents.

The bedroom where three of my brothers and I slept was also in close proximity to where rats lived and played in the attic at night. Since the house was not insulated, they had a free reign to make a racket pushing objects around between the rafters. At times, it sounded like they were wearing cleats and playing baseball with steel ball bearings.

Fed up with the noise, we came up with an attack plan.  In one corner of our bedroom’s ceiling, the owner before us had opened a hole in the ceiling with what appeared to be an ax or hatchet. It was large enough to accommodate a full-grown house cat.

Fortunately, one of the four or five cats we had on our farm was allowed to come inside the house. She would be the centerpiece in our rat attack.

The next Saturday afternoon, we were in town to see a movie and get a haircut. However, our first priority was to visit the Western Auto and buy ammunition for my younger brother’s .22 caliber rifle.

“We need a .22 bullet that will kill a rat – a big gopher – at short range without making much noise,” we told the storekeeper.

“What you need is rat shot,” he answered and handed us a box of Remington cartridges.

Our plan was in motion. That night, after our parents were asleep, we hoisted our mama cat through the hole in the ceiling and waited for her to chase a rat through the hole.

Meanwhile, I tied my foot to the light switch, my bother cradled the rifle in his arms and we lay quietly waiting for something to happen.

It didn’t take long. I heard the sound of running feet, jerked on the light, caught the sound of the shot as they bounced off the wall and felt the bump of the cat as she landed in bed with us.

The cat met our dad as she raced out of the room and the first words we heard from him were: “What in the world are you boys doing?” After we were scolded about shooting a firearm in tche house, he went back to bed and let us rehash the details of an experience that would stay with us for a lifetime

The next day a dose of rat poisoning was placed in the attic for the next hungry rat looking for a easy meal and a fast escape.

 

 

Clif Knight is a staff writer for the Hartselle Enquirer.

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