The Story

While I don't have this story as well memorized as many of Mom's tales of her childhood or of her and Dad's early years, the reader is nonetheless hereby charged to take the following events for what they are: entirely true. Slight license has been taken with modifiers, but all events are factual, bona fide SLC.


Shortly after their marriage in 1952, my parents were living on base in El Paso, Texas. Both of them were raised in Ohio in families who commonly had guns in the house. Dad was only a sometime hunter and years later opted for simply going out to hunt with his eyes for hours at a time, yet in our own house at the farm my grandfather's rifle and -I think- a shotgun and my dad's .22 rifle all leaned, unloaded, in a corner of the dining room partly hidden behind one of the dish wardrobes. These guns traveled with my folks to pretty much every place they ever lived.

In El Paso, Dad worked, as he did for most of his USAF career, in aircraft maintenance and welding. He had regular hours and would occasionally go out with the other guys from the hangar for a few drinks before heading home. One such night when Mom was home alone she heard a huge noise coming from the kitchen of their little cinderblock base house. She poked her head into the kitchen and couldn't believe the din being produced in the far end of the room. She figured out that something was in the paper grocery bag lining the trashcan, and to her ears it could only be a very large rat, judging from the noise of its scratching and occasionally thumping against the side of the trashcan.

The kitchen was divided from the dining room with a counter, cabinets above and below, and the counter itself had one of those pass-through windows with the little folding-shutter doors (like on Bewitched! which was one of the reasons I loved this story when I was little; we of course never had one of those reach-throughs, much less with Samantha Stevens' folding shutters). Picturing the kitchen and diningroom as a big flat "B," you would be entering at the top left corner of the "B" and the middle line would be the counter dividing the two rooms but would not touch the long straight line, leaving room for you to walk from room to room, through the swinging wooden louvered door that completed the division. If you went on into the cooking area of the kitchen, you would have the fridge on the wall to your right as you proceeded, the dividing counter would reach the far wall and turn right to continue around the kitchen (bottom half of the "B") counter-clockwise, sink on opposite wall, stove on the last wall (the "B"'s bottom line) and a tad more countertop. The trashcan in question was on the floor beneath this last little bit of countertop, next to the back door of the house.

The fact that my mother (like her mother before her and like many of the Booth women) was in no way a chicken about much of anything should tell you how big a sound was being produced. Still, this uncommonly nervy and bold woman was tentative in her preliminary investigations, poking her head through the swinging door into the kitchen, careful to leave as much of her body in the dining room, protected by the door, as possible in case the varmint suddenly leapt out of the trashcan. She was of course too far away to see much, somewhat to her relief. Yet the noise was still there so she went back into the living room shaking like a leaf. She proceeded to pace a bit as she thought about what to do. Every so often she'd look at the clock to ponder how soon it might be that Paul would return from his night with the boys. Then she'd pace a little more. The sound would stop periodically and she'd pluck up courage to step back into the kitchen, admonishing herself as she went for being so silly. Obviously whatever it was was gone. If it was still there, there's no way it could have been as loud or big-sounding as she thought. She'd get partway in and the sound would start up again, making her jump out of her skin even as she knew it was probably going to come back, and she'd do a fast tiptoe back into the living room.

This continued for the better part of an hour, to hear her tell it. She was more and more convinced of one thing: this was definitely something large. It dawned on her that being as whatever was in there was so big, firearms might be warranted. Luckily she had some. Sara Lee Clay was not going to be afraid of some creature when she had the tools to deal with it.

She went in the bedroom and got the rifle (you might have to ask my brother what caliber), got shells out of the desk, and loaded it. A few times during the proceedings she started to second guess the decision as the noise in the kitchen seemed to be taking longer between assays. "Oh for Pete's sake, Sally. It's nothing. Just go in and look again." Right about then the noise would start up again and she'd deliberate for a second and then go on with the gun option.

Rifle loaded, she entered the dining room with new determination. She quietly crossed to the swinging door between the counter end and the wall to go into the kitchen and as she pushed it open a few inches of course the noise started up with a vengeance just as she was stepping onto the linoleum. Rifle or no rifle she couldn't bring herself to step foot in there. She backed out, stood for a minute, pushed on the door again, stopped, backed out again. This sequence was repeated a few times, with added intervals for reflection. Finally she had to admit she was stuck on the dining room side. She stood frozen for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do, then looking around, saw that the solution was obvious.

Sally reached over and opened the pass-through shutters. Carefully holding the rifle in one hand, she climbed up onto the countertop to her left on all fours, and entered the pass-through with the gun, emerging on the kitchen side. There was just enough room for her to continue crawling in front of the upper cabinets towards the left side wall and the sink. Every time the noise restarted in the trashcan she froze, realizing that in a way she was more vulnerable up on the counter since she couldn't retreat as quickly. But after she turned right at the wall, it became one of those Harold Lloyd highwire moments: she was so committed it wouldn't be practical to go back and of course getting off the counter onto the floor for her retreat was completely out of the question, at least assuming that whatever was in the trashcan was more talented speedwise than jumping-wise. Continuing to follow the counter with her intermittent stops, she negotiated the sink, still with rifle in hand, and turned right again to approach and cross the stove. The noise struck up again just as she started across, but stopped abruptly almost as fast.

Obviously whatever it was knew she was there.

She realized that rifle or no rifle she didn't really have as much nerve as she thought where actually putting an eye to her quarry was concerned. Knees still on the stove, hands (one with rifle) on the countertop above the trashcan, she stopped just shy of being able to peer in, afraid of what would really be there. The noise had been absent a bit longer this time, which was almost worse than if it had kept up. What if the animal was preparing to spring up at her as she got above it? Maybe she really should start back? Maybe it had gone away entirely and what a dummy to be up here on the countertop, a grown woman! It was as if she was coming out of some kind of spell, finding herself up here this way. She knew she had had very clear reasons at the time, but... "Oh, come on. At least look in the can, Sal." She tightened her resolve, and scooched up a little farther to peak over the edge of the countertop into the trashcan...

...just as Paul came in the back door of the kitchen in front of her.

I kinda wish I'd been there. According to my mom he froze mid-step, door hanging open. He was speechless a long moment, and they both just blinked at each other while Mom was recovering from screaming to high heaven at the shock of his entry. Then he started roaring with laughter, barely able to breathe, tears streaming down his face, gingerly taking the gun from her as soon as he was able to stand up straight again. She, a tad indignant now, burst out a mile a minute about the trashcan varmint and he glanced down at the admittedly large Texan cockroach at the bottom of the empty paper trashbag.

All either one of them knew later was how lucky it was that the rifle wasn't cocked and that Mom hadn't had her finger on the trigger... Of course with our hindsight now we can also be thankful of how many years of mileage this story has gotten. Some of you have been waiting almost two years for this tale; hope it was at least partly worth the wait.

Great memory writing this that doesn't come to mind all that often for some reason: my dad in full-out laugh mode. You'd be hard-pressed to find anything more fun/ny to see.

Aucun commentaire: