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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 40 - An Unwelcomed Visitor

Gayle Woodward continues her engaging story of family life in New Zealand. This episode involves a rat, a cat and a gun.

One summer night after both our boys were tucked up in bed and fast asleep, I went in to check each boy before getting ready for bed myself. I covered Mark with his blanket which he had pushed off then went to the other bedroom.

I opened the door to Jeff’s room which was ajar and not shut firmly. My heart did a big flop in my chest for there, sitting on his bed, was a rat. Its red eyes stared straight back at me and I froze. A million things whizzed through my mind as I tried to think of a way to deal with this creature without causing harm to Jeff and without waking him.

I backed down the hall and out into the lounge. “Woody,” I whispered, “there’s a rat on Jeff’s bed!” Woody looked back at me disbelievingly but got up from his chair and walked into the hall. As he did so, the rat saw us both and looked for escape. It scampered down from the bed and disappeared into the darkness of the room.

I rushed into the room and stood by Jeff protectively. I wanted that animal dead. The rat scuttled from the bedroom and rushed down the hall along the wall. It turned a corner into the lounge. I could shut Jeff’s door firmly after checking him and then proceeded to shut every door in the house except for the kitchen, lounge and dining area which could not be closed off.

We had the rat cornered in the living area. Or so we thought. It ran up the curtains and along the roof. It ran so fast we could never corner it with the brooms with which we were armed. We were determined but it was desperate.

It was eleven o’clock, dark and quiet outside and pandemonium inside. It seemed surreal. Finally after a huge lunge, Woody trapped it with a yard broom jammed up against the ranch slider door. The opening in that ranch slider had the side of the old playpen fixed across it for safety as there was no terrace built outside and there was a full storey drop to the ground outside.

Woody could not move. He had the broom pushed hard on the rat’s body but he turned to me and said, “Hold this broom. I’m getting my rifle.” I did not argue. It seemed at that time to be a perfectly logical thing to do, so I grabbed the broom. I had superhuman strength that night. There was no way that the rat was ever getting away from me.

Woody returned and opened the door behind the railing. He took the broom from me and quickly and forcefully swept the rat out through the gap and on to the ground below. It lay there, maybe stunned, maybe dead. Woody took aim and shot it, just to make sure. The silenced shot rang out around the valley. We turned to each other and grinned. A well completed job. We found out afterwards that it is not uncommon for rats to enter houses when earthworks are being done nearby. We decided to get a cat.

My life was busy. There were kindergarten walks and I would be called on as Mother Help some days. There were piles of washing, including nappies for Mark, a large house to clean, games to organise for Jeff, baking and sewing and cooking. One afternoon I could smell smoke in the house and went to investigate. I found, to my horror, an old foam camping mattress on the dirt floor of the undeveloped basement, on fire! A small campfire had been piled on top of the mattress and lit. The acrid smoke issuing from the burning foam had filled the downstairs area and hurt my throat.

The arsonist(s) had disappeared. All was quiet. I rushed at the fire with buckets of water and stomped on it until the fire was out. I dragged it outside still steaming and heard my neighbour calling out to me. “I have two frightened little boys down here,” she called. “They need to come and talk to you.” Jeff and his little friend from down the back appeared in front of me. Jeff was crying. “I didn’t mean to make a fire,” he cried. “We were playing camping and thought to make a campfire and I didn’t know it would light!” I asked him where he had found a match and he told me he had found Daddy’s lighter. Woody and I determined to take Jeff to see a house on fire as soon as we could. We needed to make him aware of just how dangerous fire could be.

Our rat-catching cat arrived; a much wanted pet on my part. This one was a tiny kitten, given to us by friends whose cat had a litter of unwanted kittens. The boys enjoyed having her chase screwed up paper tied to the end of string. Mark was just walking and he would toddle off precariously after the scampering kitten.

Woody was not too fond of the cat, but it did not matter because he was putting in long hours in his new sales reps job and often out at after hours functions. The cat became my responsibility. I knew she must have injections for cat flu at 6 weeks but at five weeks of age she disappeared. She was gone for two days. I was distressed. When she finally returned home it was to die. The poor little thing crawled up the stairs obviously on her last legs. She had succumbed to the cat flu; was vomiting blood and very weak. I called Dad to come and as always he did. Dad took our kitten off to the vets to be put down, luckily for me, because I could not do it. I was so grateful. We were advised not to have another cat until all trace of the flu had gone from the house. I did not know how long that would be but determined to have a pet cat before long.

A time saving idea that I had was to pop both boys in the bath at the same time. Mark was a year old and able to sit safely in his bath. They would play happily with bath toys, squirting each other and sailing boats and ducks. One night we heard a scream from Jeff. We came running. “Mark’s done poos and it’s FLOATING!” Jeff yelled. He was backed up against the taps trying to get away from the mess bobbing around in the water. We thought it rather funny, but it was not a nice job that I had, collecting the waste from the water, and then bathing both boys again, separately.

So, when another night Jeff told us that Mark was all red, we didn’t worry. He had been playing in the bath. I took him out, wrapped in a towel, and lay him down on our bed where I usually dried and dressed him in naps and pyjamas. As I undid the towel, his small body went rigid and he stopped breathing. His mouth was open and his neck was stretched back. I screamed for Woody to come. He rushed in. We both thought he was choking and Woody tried to hook, what we thought would be the soap, from his mouth. There was nothing there. I was crying and panicky.

Thankfully Mark very soon started breathing once more and his body went limp again. He was so hot; I thought he must be very ill. We grabbed Jeff from the bath where he had been, throughout all this drama and rushed both boys to our local doctor. We were told that Mark had a throat infection and what had occurred was a convulsion caused by his temperature rapidly rising with the fever that came with the infection. It was apparently fairly common in young toddlers for this to occur. I had never heard of such a thing and never wanted to see it happen again. But Jeff was now at Kindy and bringing home all sorts of infections.

Both boys got chicken pox. While Jeff was grumpy and itchy, Mark’s temperature rose again and he suffered another convulsion. It seemed that before we had a chance to see that he was sick, a convulsion was the first warning we had. We now knew that we had to sponge him down with cold water as soon as his temperature rose. It was distressing to do this as he would be grizzly, miserable and shivering as the fever took hold. It seemed cruel to sponge him with cold cloths when he was already shivering but we knew it had to be done. The infections were here to stay; we had to ensure that the convulsions did not.

The doctor prescribed a sedative for Mark to take each day. He would not swallow the sickly sweet medicine so we resorted to disguising it in a glass of orange juice. The medicated drink became known as ‘special orange’ and Mark would be invited to have a drink of this special drink. It worked. The blue plastic cup that the special drink came in was known as the special orange cup. He stayed on the sedative until he was three and although he had frequent fevers and lots of throat and ear infections, he never had another convulsion.

Even so, Mark was a happy little boy. He loved to dance to music, especially to Glenn Campbell’s ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’. He would stamp his little feet up and down and turn in a tight circle around and around, singing, “Like a Nine Stone cowboy!” He had the happiest of grins and was infectious with his humour. He had a special friend, a soft toy called Bow Wow. The toy was taken in the pushchair and to bed at night. When he was very young the toy was almost as big as Mark and he had to drag it behind him.


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