A heavy shower of nighttime insects has invaded my house here in late summer. I am kept busy slapping, swatting and sweeping. This has led me to think about how much more closely we encountered bugs and critters in the house in days gone by.
I was put to swatting flies while my mother cooked. The object was to thin them out; no way was the house to be completely free of flies until freezing weather got them. The hand-pumped fly sprayer was kept filled up and outside by the back door. Flies attracted to the cooking smells would congregate on the screen in almost a solid mass. We would have to spray and kill them before we could open the door or they would swarm in as we went.
We ate our meals with curls of sticky flypaper hanging over the dining table. Not too pleasant to look at but it somewhat controlled the numbers of flies heading for our plate.
Nothing brings me bolt upright off my pillow faster than the sound of a solitary mosquito circling overhead. We fought them by the dozens on the front porch on hot summer nights. As soon as the dishwater was emptied, we turned out the lights and sat outside in an attempt to catch a cooling breeze. We slapped at the site of the bites on our bodies until we grew weary, went to bed and pulled the sheet over our head to deter any that might have followed us inside.
Mice in the house were much more numerous in those years. It was commonplace to see one scurrying across the room. We tried to remember to set a trap before we went to bed, and often we would hear the trap snap right away after the house became still. The cats would have a feast to fight over the next morning.
Now, rats were a serious nuisance. My father made sure that he kept rat poison on hand and he would quit whatever he was doing to put some in the rat’s reach once he heard one gnawing in the wall or attic.
A flying squirrel would find its way into the attic every now and then and it took a team effort to capture and send him back to the woods.
Chimney swifts (we said “sweeps”) managed to make their nests in the chimney before we capped it for the summer. Their fluttering and chanting was a disturbance we put up with until the hatchlings were grown and had flown away. We stuffed the chimney with lots of crumpled newspapers to keep the soot they stirred up from falling down in the fireplace and out into the room.
My grandparents had a two-story house and there I encountered bats that came down the chimney and into the attic. How exciting but scary an adventure it was to see those eerie creatures up close.
Soon after we married we lived in an older house with long, welcoming, screened-in porches on three sides. One day I was dust mopping the floors, pushed the mop under our bed and dragged out a snake. It was a small harmless green garden snake, but it was a snake, nevertheless. You would think that my close encounters with all sorts of critters as I grew up would have prepared me to treat the incident lightly, but I didn’t. I lost no time in chinking all visible cracks between porch floors and house. Give me things with wings and feet any day.