When Rick and I went looking for our house, we had next to nothing for a downpayment. We knew we were looking at a major fixer-upper, but since Rick was a carpenter and could do pretty much anything, we were fine with Buying Neighborhood first and a House second. We found our teeny little story-and-a-half bungalow on a wonderful tree-lined street where our kids would attend the same schools their father did. Jared was only a few months old, and we lived in our apartment for a month while we got as much of the house ready as possible to move into.
It had been a rental for years and years, its landlord in Florida, its last inhabitants forcibly evicted. The place was a disaster, but it had beautiful woodwork and lots of potential. We worked hard getting things ready, and fought off an invasion of carpenter ants which came literally cascading out of the wall behind the bathtub. I never stomped so much or so hard in my life, screaming the whole time. That was almost a dealbreaker.
One afternoon, as we were sweating and working, we heard a strange tapping at one of the windows at the side of the fireplace. I walked over and was astounded to see a caricature of an old woman, hunched over her cane, standing in the driveway of the house next door. She had apparently banged on the window with her cane. As soon as she saw my face in the window, she squinted up at me and said something unintelligible.
"I'm sorry, but I didn't hear you. What did you say?" I raised my voice in case she had trouble hearing me. She took a wobbly step toward the edge of her driveway and fixed me with a severe look. "I said That's a bat house! You bought a bat house. You should have bought my house, but you bought a bat house. There's bats in that house. Shoulda bought my house."
I was so amazed that I almost shut the window and walked away, but St. Patsy didn't raise me that way. "We haven't come across any bats, but thank you," I said as politely as I could to this bizarre woman. "And your house wasn't on the market when we were looking. It had a buyer at the time. Again, thanks for your concern." I walked away with what I hoped was a pleasant smile and wave, but she was unimpressed. "That's a bat house!" she said, decisively.
My memory fails me as to when the first bat appeared, but it was quite some time, and Mrs. Jessie had moved away by then, replaced by a couple our age. Jared was already upstairs in a Big Boy Bed, and his scared little cries on the monitor about something flying around up there woke me. Super Rick went galumphing up there in his underwear, and as soon as he told me it was a bat, I had a Bat House Flashback. I called up to Jared that it was "a nightbird who was lost" and that he had to get under his covers until Daddy said to come out; then I cowered downstairs with a sinking heart. Holy crap. What if we did have a bat house?
After wounding/stunning it with a tennis racket, Rick put it in a towel and took it right outside to beat it to death in the driveway. The neighbors, of course, came out to see What In The Hell Was Going On. From that moment on, Rick became known as Batman. And I was Mental Case. I could not stop thinking about Mrs. Jessie's dire pronouncement. We Had Bought A Bat House. My precious child lived in a Bat House. What kind of parents were we?
It seemed like once a week there was a bat incident, one even swooping down the steps and into the living room. Jared would run downstairs into our bedroom and he and I would tent up under the comforter, waiting to hear Rick come downstairs announcing, "Got it!" and listening for the inevitable applause from the neighbors (if it were not in the middle of the night). Rick had even taken to leaving a tennis racket and fishing net at the top of the steps, along with an old pillowcase--his BatKit. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I dismissed the idea that it was just wayward bats sneaking into the house. I had to admit that they were already there. It was time to call an exterminator and see what we were dealing with. It was either that or put our house on the market, something I had wailed more than a few times.
We were so strapped financially those early days! And we would not borrow money from family; I remember so many birthdays when Rick's gift from his grandparents was a car payment. But it was clear that we had to hire a professional for The Bat Problem or I was going to need another kind of expensive Professional Help.
Enter Critter Control, a pest control company who specialized in bat and raccoon problems, and whose name I found warmly reassuring. A sturdy, capable-looking gentleman went outside to have a look around, then went upstairs to inspect the crawlspaces after hearing my story. When he came downstairs, he spoke to me in the tone of a doctor who is about to break The Worst News Possible to a fragile patient. His eyes were doe-like, and his voice was like warm pancake syrup. "Ma'am, first of all, we're gonna be able to help you, no problem at all. We'll do what we need to today, and it won't take but a night or two, and everything will be taken care of. No more bats. And that's a guarantee." My eyes teared up immediately. The sense of relief I felt was immense and overwhelming. But he wasn't done. "Now, Ma'am, what you have up there, in your crawlspace--in a void wall--is a bat colony. And at dusk--"
And this is where I stopped him. I stopped him because I felt like I was going to throw up or faint or both. I had a colony. Of BATS. In my HOUSE. Right now up there and he was just standing there. I tried to remain calm as I formed my question. "When you say colony, what...how big...how many...?"
"Now, Ma'am, we don't want to get into specifics. We really truly don't. It doesn't matter. Because here's what we'll do...." And in very simple, clear language--with visuals--he explained to me exactly how he was going to turn My Bat House back into My House in just a day or two. In that lovely, hypnotic, Mrs. Butterworth voice. And I remember how I stood there, nodding and understanding and feeling relieved all over again. He was like...an Extermivangelist.
Just as he said, my bat problem disappeared immediately. Rick's tennis racket and fishing net could return to their original purposes, and the neighbors could find other forms of entertainment in the evenings and wee hours (although reenactments and Talking About It still provided plenty).
For those of you scoring at home, that's Us--2; Wildlife--0.