The year the rat ate Christmas.

While I was growing up, my grandparents lived on a farm in Middle-of-Nowhere, South Carolina. A few days before Christmas one year, there was an outbreak of large rats, who entered the house through some vents and happily scurried around through the walls. (I should note that this was not common; there were always a lot of “creatures” around, but never, ever rats.) My uncle sealed up the entry holes and put out some poison pellets, so by the time my mom and I arrived for Christmas, the whole ordeal was winding down. Or so we thought.

On Christmas Eve, we added our gifts under the tree. I had found some sugar-free Werther’s candies for Mom; she had bought and wrapped up a silver charm bracelet for me.

Come Christmas morning, after the explosion of wrapping paper and ribbons settled, I noticed that the Werther’s bag was missing. Mom also looked perplexed, since she knew I hadn’t yet opened one important gift. That box didn’t seem to be under the tree either.

We searched and searched through the house and finally found the jewelry box behind the buffet in the dining room, with its corner heartily chewed through. We realized then that we had company … a rat must have been trapped in the house after all the escape holes were sealed. It’s no small feat (or small animal) to be able to drag a velvet bracelet box clear across the house. But luckily, he (let’s call him Rodney) had done no harm to the bracelet … however, there was still no sign of the Werther’s.

[I’ll just skip the part about how we found a rat body in the air conditioning vent while everyone was gathered for Christmas dinner.]

Fast forward to the day after Christmas. We were enjoying a lovely lunch at the kitchen table, when we were suddenly interrupted by a loud crunching from behind the refrigerator. I knew then that we’d found the Werther’s. Mom and I climbed on top of the refrigerator with a flashlight and saw that Rodney was indeed hoarding a varied collection of remnants from around the house … including my bag of Werther’s Originals. (They’re so good that even a rat can’t resist!)

The pest guy put out more death pellets and added strips of peanut butter-scented paper under all of the cabinets. Rats are apparently attracted to the aroma of peanut butter … usually to their detriment, I imagine.

That night, as we headed upstairs to bed, Mom and I happened to look down and see Rodney nonchalantly walking across the foyer.  ::shudder::

Then he got trapped on the sticky, peanut butter paper.

Which we knew because he started screaming. (Trust me, you don’t easily forget the sound of a rat’s screams.)

So … we did what three women alone in the house do in such a situation:  we shut off the lights and went to sleep.

By the next morning, Rodney had removed himself from the sticky paper and had escaped again. I guess that was better than being greeted by a thrashing, peanut butter-scented rat at breakfast.

It was just about time for us to go home, and Mom and I gladly hightailed it out of the farm. We learned a few days later that our friend had fallen victim to a pellet and that life at the farm had returned to normal. My grandmother sold that house only a short while later, so I think we celebrated Christmas the next year in a new place, clear of the memories of Christmas past. Well, Clarice – have the rats stopped screaming?

Let’s just say it was a Christmas we’ll never forget.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas! May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be rat-free.

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