Yes, I’ve had bad dreams about rats.
Those dreams and, as I mentioned in freedom in the screwed up places, a habit I yet have of darting side-long glances at certain types of peripheral movement (though it has diminished over the years) originated from our years working in an old building at 1512 West Madison Street on the west side of Chicago.
Part of that building is still there, incorporated into a new structure at the corner of Madison and Ogden. Gail and I were there for several years during which we oversaw construction of what is the 3rd iteration of the Chicago Temple Corps at that corner.
The new building was made possible in part because of rats. When we arrived in 1984 our old building had them. These were what are called sewer rats. They are big. I would regularly kill specimens with 12″ bodies; tails extra. Gail claims she once entered the kitchen to find a rat the size of a house cat on top of the fridge, just looking at her. It creeped her out.
The building was so old, it was so full of holes. Enter rats. We set traps baited with peanut butter. Works better. But we often walked in to find our traps licked clean. Rats can be clever.
The rats that survived the traps taunted us. They would jump down from the refrigerator when Gail entered the building in the morning. They would run across the kitchen floor when Major Mary Garrison was cooking in the evening. A rat even ran between the Major’s feet as she stood in front of the stove.
Our son John once came running out of the nursery with Carl and Dennis. A rat! I slowly opened the door they had shut behind them, stick in hand. Peered in. I saw it. I saw its hind legs perched on a chair rung, motionless. I feint. It runs. I dispatch it with a sharp rap.
One evening we were meeting in the chapel, heard a squeal, then random notes from the piano across the hallway. I went to investigate and found a rat on the floor next to the piano, twitching, its back broken. It had dropped out of the high ceiling onto the piano top, bounced off the keys before landing on the floor.
I finished it off with my stick I kept for killing rats. The stick would get those the peanut butter didn’t. One time the stick wasn’t at hand so I sailed a stock pot lid across the kitchen. I think I missed.
But I became somewhat skilled at getting my rat. I felt buoyed by moral authority; rats don’t belong in our building. The crusade against rats was righteous.
The day came where we knew that the old building would no longer be needed. Our new one was nearing completion.
Gail had turned the oven on for Sunday morning’s breakfast and heard a noise. Preparing breakfast with whatever we could offer for the young people was a weekly ritual. Day old rolls from a bakery were to go in the oven this morning but they never made it. Gail came to get me. Please, check the oven.
I stood in front of the oven with my stick. From underneath came waddling a rat with its hair singed into a fro. When Gail had lit the oven, somehow the poor rat had been flash broiled. It slowly waddled out toward me. It couldn’t see. I could. I struck.
Ratting came with a cost. During those years Gail told me she woke one night to find me kneeling on the bed, crouching at some unseen enemy. She asked what I was doing. I said “Norwegian rats” and kept my alert pose. I have no remembrance of this.
I said earlier that the new building in part was made possible by our rat problem. It happened this way.
One night we were working with young people and families in the fellowship hall. We were surprised to hear the sound of a rat trap. In the kitchen. Kirsten!
A rat trap is a more serious danger than a mouse trap. Its bow can break a finger. A two year old could lose a finger to a trap. Our two year had found the peanut butter on the trap. She was fortunate to have set off the trap before it could crush her fingers. The story of Kirsten’s close call traveled to headquarters. A new awareness of our building needs. It resulted in the new building on Madison at Ogden.
That new awareness and genuine concern led to a visit by the Divisional Commander accompanied by a Major Bill Roberts whose son I just saw this morning in Chicago. Brigadier Jack Cheyne and Major Roberts visited our old building on a Wednesday, to see and to listen. Verbal assurance was given of priority to our project.
The following Monday a building next door fell over onto our building. It was October 19, 1987, Black Monday, as it’s known in finance history. Which young Bill Roberts this morning mentioned to his audience.
Black Monday sort of sealed the deal for a new Chicago Temple Corps building.