The cartoon shown is from http://www.deviantart.com, and was chosen to illustrate one day when my mother had to take charge of a nasty situation which impacted two Jehovah’s Witnesses. The illustration is used with a disclaimer, though. There has never been anything deviant about my mother. She is and always has been a straight-as-an-arrow person with strong opinions that are freely given. Additionally, when Mom decides upon a course of action, you can bet she won’t deviate from her chosen course. The particular incident this cartoon relates to took place when I was about twelve years old.
Where my brother and I had once built a “raft” in the backyard, a garage was deposited one day. It had been trucked to our yard on Pittsfield Street in Pennsville, New Jersey, from a neighboring property. Shortly before we acquired that garage, all the coal sheds in the yard, and the outhouse, had been torn down . A proper indoor bathroom had been added to the old house we called home. What luxury! The word luxury cannot be used to describe that house though. In the wintertime the old oil-fired furnace, which resided in a dank “cellar” just off the kitchen, could hardly keep up with the wind which blew in around the door and window frames. The hot water radiators would rattle and clang and emit just enough heat to keep us from freezing. The upstairs was never warm in the winter time, as the door to the stairwell was always kept closed to retain what heat there was in the downstairs living area.
That enclosed stairwell provided the backdrop for a bit of drama one day, an incident which became a family legend and gave my mother quite a reputation throughout the town. That old house on the corner was always a target of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for some reason. They’d come up and knock at the door, ready to convert us heathens. They were as difficult to avoid as the flu, and could talk the ears off a rabbit.
On this occasion, I was actually suffering from the flu or some other such winter affliction and was lying swaddled and swathed in blankets on the living-room sofa. There was no heat in the house at all, and it was bitterly cold. The less-than-adequate furnace had been turned off. Our next-door neighbor had put out some rat poison to rid his sheds of some of those pesky critters. Unfortunately for us, one of his targeted rat victims had already taken up residence in our house. That pregnant rat had built a nest in the wall of the bedroom where my sister and I slept. The nest was just alongside the pipe delivering hot water to our bedroom radiator heat source. After that soon-to-be doomed rat delivered a whole nest-full of babies, she ate some of our neighbor’s poisoned food offering. The mother rat came home to her babies, and the entire family died inside our wall. Their prompt and smelly demise began to fill the entire house with a terrible odor. Dad’s solution to the problem was to turn off the heat.
He, as usual, wouldn’t or couldn’t do anything constructive about the bad situation. He just never seemed at his best when things like that happened. (See earlier posting about a memorable trip to Georgia one summer in the family’s old station wagon). Anyway, after several days, Mom finally had enough and decided to take the matter into her own hands. That involved her getting wrapped up in one of Dad’s old lumberjack coats, wrapping a woolen scarf around her neck and nose, and a kerchief around her head. Grabbing up an axe from the garage, she headed upstairs with great determination. Soon there were loud crashing sounds, with falling plaster and lathe strips being wrenched noisily from the wall. Mom was knocking down our bedroom wall, adjacent to the radiator which hid the offending offal.
Meanwhile, at the front door, there came a persistant knocking. Two Jehovah’s Witnesses stood there with their pamphlets and paraphernalia. Mom was busy crashing and tearing about in the upstairs bedroom and the noise was almost deafening. A miasma of sickly-sweet odor was rapidly seeping throughout the entire house. Gagging, I got up and answered the door. I replied to the visitor’s query as to parental presence in the home, and they stood, hesitating in the doorway, with questioning looks in their eyes. I told them that my mother was at home. It must have been just at that moment that Mom finally reached the source of the rat problem in the upstairs bedroom. The crashing, thumping sounds quit and an even more gut-wrenching odor filled the entire house. I hollered for Mom and told her we had company. She came clumping down the stairs, muttering under her breath. Her hair was sticking out wildly from under the kerchief, she was covered in plaster dust, and she was carrying the wall-destroying axe over her shoulder. Those two Jehovah’s Witnesses took one look at her stomping down the stairwell, enveloped in a puke-inducing smell, and lit out of that house like twin bolts of lightning. No Jehovah’s Witness ever again knocked on our door. Those two proselytizers must have spread the story throughout their sect, and across the entire town, giving my Mom quite a reputation!
Dad never did overcome his aversion to dealing with unpleasant situations. Those were invariably left for Mom to assess and manage. She was almost always left alone to deal with the burns, cuts, diseases and accidents we four rambunctious kids managed to acquire. Mom took charge when the situation demanded it or her kids were in difficult straits!