Ridgway, Colorado
May 15
A sometimes artist and photographer, sometimes I write too.  


DECEMBER 24, 2011 1:14PM

The Christmas Rat

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This is a repost collected via the way-back machine in a nearly hidden digital archaeological strata from the beta days of Open Salon. It was my fifth post, put up in May of 2008, but it's really a Christmas story of sorts which is why I'm posting it again. We all know that OS is pretty much of the moment, that not much digging goes on, but that's ok—in a way it keeps the content and ourselves vibrant. I'll be approaching my 4th OS anniversary before too long—not many member numbers below mine of 198 still haunting the halls here.

This is a family Christmas story, when the kids were still quite young and we all lived vicariously through them to experience the wonder and beauty of the holiday. They're grown now, but home for a more subdued celebration. It's a time for love and reflection. I hope you enjoy this story from our and OS's past.

Happy Krismahkwanzahanukah to all, with much affection.


Christmas 2011 





This has been an oral story—a wannabe story-teller’s tale. I’ve told it several times and tried as best I could to get into that role while doing so. I’ve prefaced the remarks by warning those relatives present who had witnessed the activities to hold their tongue and not shout out interrupting “that’s not the way it happened!” as I was semi-serious about being the story-teller in a traditional mode.

I’ve also usually started out by talking about another story altogether, one told by a favorite author as a way of emphasizing the importance and responsibility placed upon the one passing on the oral history of the family.

Sherman Alexie is a Native American, from one of the tribes up near Spokane. He’s successful, having many books published and one series of short stories turned into an award winning film. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight In Heaven, was crafted into the movie Smoke Signals, which garnered some acclaim as a distinguished winner at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a favorite movie of mine, and features a string of small epiphanies for me every time I watch it.

An important character in a supporting role is Thomas-Builds-The-Fire. He had taken it upon himself to be the tribe’s story-teller, a mantle of considerable responsibility that has the additional burdens of providing a connective fabric for the community to maintain the continuity of history in linear time from past to present to the future. It was his job to create a social matrix that anyone willing to listen could tap into and thus reinforce the bond of communion. It also got him cool or needed stuff as he could barter for things in exchange for telling a story.


The Story

This is the way it happened.

At the time our youngest was four years old, and mostly good, but that night he had been a stinker. He was sent to his room for time out, with the hope that he’d settle down on his own. The banishment was due in part to the maelstrom of activity in the house that day, so it was natural that he’d be keyed up. He was normally one of the centers of attention, being the youngest and therefore considered the family pet. The focus that evening was elsewhere and perhaps he felt a little frustrated that the spotlight was diffused.

My bride’s family was in town for the Christmas holidays. My brother-in-law, his wife and their three kids were staying with my father-in-law, not far away, and they’d come over in the afternoon for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. We all got along, it was hectic, but nice. That night was for the extended family and all the hubbub. The following morning, by comparison, was more quiet and subdued.

They arrived in late afternoon after spending the day out in “the country,” my wife’s ancestors’ homestead. The family pioneers had settled the land while Texas was its own country still, before statehood. The community out there was comprised of a church, a former one-room schoolhouse now a community center, the homestead and family cemetery and farmland. On one of the farms the old white-colonnaded homestead is still standing, and was featured as the location film set in the movie State Fair—the one with Pat Boone, AnnMargaret and Pam Tillis. (There’s no reason to watch this movie other than your knowledge that it was filmed at the family ranch.)

The traditional feast for Christmas Eve is lobster tails and filet mignon—it required a bit of work but was well worth the effort. It’s nice when the challenge is met of having everything come out on time and done as close to perfection as is possible. A port wine sauce for the meat, warm clear butter for the lobster, mashed potatoes, asparagus and dinner rolls complimented the main courses.

It was during dinner that our youngest started acting up. He accepted the finger pointed to his room as inevitable, and trundled off to his solitary confinement.

Dinner was done, conversations still ebbed and flowed, and the dishes, pots and pans were being worked on amid contented and sated smiles. After things were restored to some order, my bride and partner realized that the little banished one had been quiet for some time. She went to check.

As one would expect, with all that expended energy, he had fallen fast asleep. And based on prior experience, it was deemed expedient to get him up and stand him in front of the commode before putting him back in bed and under the covers. He was frog-marched, still fast asleep, to the bathroom and placed in the strategic position. In a combined motion, the pants went down and the toilet lid and seat went up.

We all heard the blood-curdling scream. We heard the noises from the dash down the hallway. The door flung open and now panic stricken bride sprinted into the den, arms pumping, eyes wild.

Yes, of course she had abandoned her youngest flesh and blood child. We then realized there had been a secondary scream. After a second of paralyzed inaction we all dashed for the bedroom narrowly avoiding the Laurel and Hardy congestion at the doorway.

The forlorn child was trembling in fear.

It was quickly ascertained the mother’s bond was broken by a rat. One that had apparently crawled though a roof vent stack, down the pipe, through the sewer pea trap and into the toilet bowl—confused and waiting to be released. And released it was, only to be met with a large two headed monster screaming into its drenched and pinched little face.

The rat had vanished. It was then left to me to deal with it—not because of any prior experience or expectation, nor because I was the master of the house—but because no one else wanted to.

I quickly formed a plan. There were no firearms in the household, and I did not wish to blast holes in the home or anyone in it. But as the relatives had spent the day at the country, the brother-in-law had, as a rite of passage for the children, purchased several pump action Daisy BB rifles. I figured one would do minimal damage, and perhaps none if the plan worked.

Of course the children from the two families wanted to be witnesses, and were allowed to stay in the room. Even our little one was excited about what might happen next, his terror just moments before quickly forgotten.

I got some towels from the connected bathroom and stuffed them under the doorways to prevent an escape into the other parts of the house. It was crowded in the small bedroom, but simple enough to guess what had happened. The rat had gone to ground under the bed. A quick kick lifted the mattress and the guess was confirmed. As rats will do, it ran the perimeter of the room, scuttling along the baseboard and directly over the bare feet of the previously terrified child, who screamed again at three octaves above high C and jumped.

All the kids decided that was enough and left me alone as the rat’s only nemesis. It was a big rat, a honking big Norway rat, the mother of all Norway rats. And it had gone to safety again under the mattress so it was time to modify the plan. I moved a chest of drawers to angle away from the wall, to create a dead end. I pumped the BB rifle to its maximum pressure, and kicked the mattress up again to spook the rat. True to form it sped around the walls, only to find itself confused and hesitant for an instant in the trap. But I had taken my station and was ready for that moment and fired. The beast somersaulted and began to run back the way it came. It took two more shots to put it down, but not before it sprayed some blood on the wall and on some of our son's picture books.

It was done, it was dead. I picked the rat up by the end of its tail, put the butt end of the BB rifle on my hip and walked out of the room. Well, I had to put the rat down to remove the towel from under the doorway first, but then proceeded down the hallway to the waiting families. At the time I thought I should have torn my t-shirt for a more dramatic Rambo-like effect, as it turned out that was not necessary.

The first thing out of my bride’s mouth was a surprise. “Oh, honey…I didn’t know you had that in you,” she said with a hint of what may come later. It was better than being Fabio on the cover of a bodice ripper. The aphrodisia of manly manliness is a powerful drug.

I intended to nurse my advantage.




Now here follows a few of the other illustrations for the book, these done by the youngest, the third of three. I should also mention that the story in the book is not the way it happened—exactly—they took liberties. Mine is the only true story—the one spoken aloud in the tradition of storytellers.




Perhaps Evan felt that the cuisine wasn't up to his standards, which added fuel to his fussiness fire.


Going to time-out


The third of three battling the dread toilet monster




The children considering whom to sacrifice




Image at the top by my oldest son that was part of a collaborative book that was published in 2009. The other images are by Evan, the third of three. The black and white depictions of the family are from the Ron and Joe graphics collection that I've used for years—purchased and used with permission. 


The book was the second in the series that our youngest and the bride wrote together. He also illustrated most of the images in the book. It's called Evan Brain's Christmas List and Other Shenanigans: The Boy Warrior Fights Evil. It's still available on Amazon. 


Thanks for revisiting and my best wishes for you that your 2012 is your best year ever, the Mayans notwithstanding.





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This story is even more heartwarming than "A Christmas Carol," "It's a Wonderful Life", and "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" put together. The image of you with a BB gun on your hip and holding a dead rat by the tail should be on Christmas cards everywhere. (Although a Santa hat would have really enhanced the overall effect.)

"The traditional feast for Christmas Eve is lobster tails and filet mignon—" Oh and would you happen to have four extra spots at the table this evening; I promise if there's a rat present I'll kill it with my bare hands if there's a lobster tail involved.
Poor rat. I love the illustrations, particularly "Going to time-out" and "The children considering whom to sacrifice."
After all, what's Christmas without a little rat action. Or in your case, a giant rat action.
"The mother's bond was broken by a rat." I love it. Well worth re-telling and well told.
Margaret, you and yours are welcome anytime. Tonight's menu, alas, is sans lobster tails. But it will feature a pepper encrusted filet mignon, rare to medium rare, with a port wine and cherry reduction sauce, mushroom risotto with a sprinkling on top of that of some fresh micro-planed truffle and asparagus roasted in sesame oil. Cherry pie a la mode for dessert. I got a chateau briand, a big one, so there's plenty for everyone to share. xo and Merry Christmas to you and your kidlets. Thanks for stopping by and for your lovely words.

Mumblety, I owe you a PM, I'll just hint that I'm gobsmacked. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Steve, hope you and your own bride and beautiful son have a wonderful Christmast. Thanks friend, for the years of wonderful stuff you've done on OS and for your dedication to this place and your friendship.

jl, ha! yeah, it might be challenged at times, but the rat definitely broke the bond. Thanks for coming by!
Too funny! Our son would be begging us to spare the rat. Did Popper or that time period's cat get in on the fun at all?
Great Christmas story. Best wishes for a rodent free holiday!
Oh my goodness. I didn't think it was possible to adore you more than I already do. This is fantastic, incredible and wonderful in every way.
I am simultaneously repulsed and delighted by this story because I know that "The mother's bond was broken by a rat," would apply to me too. Merry Christmas to you and your family~r
Great story. I'm sure your family will never forget it. Merry Christmas to all of you.
Rats!! What a Christmas!!!
Nothing says hunky spouse like a little rat-slinging. Sigh. That it happened on Christmas is a little sugar dusted on the souffle. I may have to give mot bb gun firing lessons, though, since in our family it's the woman who wield the firearms. :) sending you fond wishes for a lovely and ratless Christmas, Barry.
In India the rat rules big time in certain temples. I always enjoy these tales from the natives so thanks so much for sharing this. They certainly do have a lot to reflect upon.
About the toilet monster, I once told my younger brother that one is in there and if you were not careful when sitting down, it could get up in you and.....well, I was a boy too when I told him that. So many years later he told me that he could not sit down comfortably for years. I felt so bad about it, although we had a good laugh over it.
I'm very proud of your doing what others would not do. It isn't easy to kill, multiple shots, planned attacks. The best part was the swagger down the hall, gun on hip, dead rat by the tail.
Ah, back now after tending to some happy family duties. Christmas was fine at the can see a picture of the Christmas Eve dinner, crafted by hand and delivered with love, here:

that was described in my first comment/answer to Margaret above. It was well received. Not shown was the opening of a bottle of Veuve Cliquot.

Vivian, thanks so much for stopping by and reading this well worn tale (tail?).

Laura, sadly we were sans cats at the time as the youngest was judged to be very allergic...The rat did go into a ziploc bag, if you can believe it, as sort of a scientific forensic experiment, so the kids could track the didn't last long. Even I was grossed out and had to dispose of the remains. Hope you had a lovely Christmas and will have a safe and happy new year.

Joan, with your comment and Margaret's above, I'm not sure I've ever been so complimented on OS...Thanks Joan, for all you've done on OS--for me and for all of us. xo

Anne, I hope you and your brave husband will have a terrific year safe and sound for both of you. xo

John, thanks so much for stopping by, I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

Candace, xo. You might have to give mot some close up and intimate lessons on how to handle a gun, not that you're lacking in love and intimacy, but you know--happiness is a warm gun. I hope you have great success and happiness, both of you, in the coming year.

Algis! ha! I'm glad you can both laugh now, sometimes we don't realize the consequences of what we say to our siblings, poor guy. Have a beautiful sojourn in Turkey and keep delivering your fabulous art.

Diana, you know, when the third of three was just a year older, I made a flip picture book of the story out of a spiral artists sketch pad, maybe 12 x 16 or so and told the story in his kindergarten class. It was a big hit with the kids and with the adorable teacher too. I'm saddened that I can no longer find the picture book, but maybe it's in some layer of strata in the middle beautiful daughter's room. I hope your new business keeps you happily busy in the new should, everyone for a 100 miles and more knows how talented you are.
i hope the flip book will be found, because i want to see it.
thanks for all your encouragement, here and in person.
btw, i am receiving that camera and lenses late this week!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
My knees get weak at the thought of Christmas and BB guns, but this story, the wRATh of Eve at Christmas, the RATional thought behind the murder and in the end, a book collaboRATion is truly one for Disney! Or at least his famous mouse....
Catching up on Christmas reading here Barry and SO glad I caught this. A fine tale (or is it tail?) that you can hold on high. Though no wise men (though that can be debated) or "pudding singing in the copper" this goes down in the annals of good Christmas stories with BB guns. Glad it wasn't taken one Grinch step further because lobster far outweighs roast beast. Rated for bravery and Fabio's reward.