CHRISTMAS, FAMILY, RATS and CATS

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“At Christmas all roads lead home.” Marjorie Holmes

      I was single, financially secure with a job I loved, owned a downtown Toronto two bedroom condo with access to the PATH, which is a network of underground connections between buildings in Toronto’s downtown core. Over 200,000 people use it daily and is considered the largest Mall in North America. From the PATH you can get to the subways or Go Train, or go from your home to your office, never requiring a winter coat. It has over 1200 stores, restaurants, food courts and connects to museums, hotels, banks and the financial district of Toronto. You can live your entire life just using the PATH. I leave my condo and walk to my office without ever having to brave the cold winter weather or the hot summers and enter my office building, ride the elevator to the 43rd floor and look down on the downtown traffic. It was noon of Christmas Eve, as I hurried along the walkways of the PATH. I took the afternoon off and on my way home, I stopped at the liquor store, at the grocery store, and had my purchases delivered to my building to the concierge. I also asked him to have valet service bring my car around in half an hour. I considered myself lucky and care-free. I didn’t even own a gold fish.

The previous October, I invested my money in real estate. I bought an 80 year old stone country home in an exclusive village north of Toronto. The interior of the house was totally renovated, though preserving all the charm of a gentleman’s week-end country home. The circular drive had plenty of parking for guests, the old barn became my garage and the kitchen windows provided a panoramic view of rolling country with pasture lands and clumps of blue spruce and pine trees not forgetting the babbling brook crisscrossing my twelve acres, one of the smallest acreage in the area.

By 1:30 I was on my way. Fat snowflakes drifted lazily through the air and the city was abuzz with holiday rush and good cheer. I had all my delicacies in the car for the Christmas Day family dinner. On my way, I stopped at the Five Thieves, so nick-named because each tried to outdo each other being more gourmet and more expensive. We all knew it, yet we still shopped there. From the Gourmet Bakery, I picked up the sinfully delicious and equally expensive Black Forest Rum flavored cake that I had ordered and was merrily on my way. I wanted everything to be perfect for Christmas Day.

I arrived at my cozy home away from home and pulled into the plowed circular driveway. Tony, the village handyman, so named because short of delivering babies, we all depended on him for home maintenance, small renovations, landscaping and in the winter snow-plowing, had cleared my driveway, including the extra parking spots to the right of the house, including the gravel drive to the barn where I kept my car.

After I unloaded the grocery bags and the Christmas gifts from the trunk, I stacked up beside the family sliding glass doors enough logs for two days for a comfortable slow burning fire in the huge old-fashioned fireplace, I made up the upstairs beds for my family and the pull-out couch in the family room facing the fireplace for myself. Then I pre-prepared everything for the big feast the next day.

I went to bed early knowing I’d have to be up by 6:30 to have everything perfect by noon the next day when the whole gang was scheduled to arrive. I put two big logs on the fire to keep the embers hot and went to sleep.

By noon the next day, I had the chestnut stuffed turkey breast ready, the pork tenderloin marinated in garlic and white wine, the vegetables ready for stewing, the salad washed just lacking the dressing, the potatoes and rice ready to go, and the shrimp bisque warming in my crock-pot.

The table was festively set, the appetizers ready to be served, the Christmas tree with my presents laid out underneath lit with white miniature bulbs. I plugged in the colorful outside lights, a nice contrast to the white lights indoors, made sure I had fed the logs just for an easy going fire and set the dining-room table.

At 12:20, a caravan of four cars with happy family members pulled into the driveway. Amidst commotion and chatter and hugs and kisses, their presents were all brought in and laid under the tree.

After the hugs and kisses, they all decided to go for a short walk in what was best described as a winter wonderland. An hour and half they were back just as big, fat snowflakes floated through the air.

I served the appetizers and amidst a happy cacophony of shouts and joy, the gifts were opened. All that remained of the carefully, lovingly wrapped presents were torn paper, lots of it and empty boxes, which we all piled into a corner next to the Christmas tree.

My dinner was a great success, and after helping me load the first batch of dirty dishes, they retired around 11 p.m.
I prepared the next morning’s brunch. I was serving egg frittatas with hot rolls, fruits and waffles with a choice of maple or blueberry syrup, toast, cold cuts from the Italian Deli and coffee. I also had three bottles of champagne chilling with plenty of orange juice for the Mimosas.

Finally, with a glass of Chardonnay, I lay back on the sofa bed, enjoying the warmth of the fireplace embers and with a happy sigh of contentment turned on the TV, to watch an old episode of Perry Mason (my favorite show.)

As I lay on the sofa, I thought I had heard a rustle from the pile of discarded Christmas wrappings. I sat up and looked over but all was quiet. I lay back to watch Perry Mason, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement by the stack of wood beside the hearth and it wasn’t Santa Claus stopping by to say Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas. I leaned forward and gasped. What I thought was a field mouse that had on occasion snuck into the house, was a lot bigger. I gasped again and looked closer. It was a big, fat, rat, with a long tail, and beady eyes staring at me, daring me to go and get him. I grabbed the afghan off the sofa and threw it on him. Or, so I thought. I saw this enemy scuttle off along the side of the wall, behind a bookcase, through the kitchen, into the newly added sunroom and disappear. I spent the next hour trying to find this fat rat without any success. It just disappeared. By now, Perry Mason was long over, I was hot and sweaty and frustrated, my wine was warm and so I decided to go and sleep hoping that this creature won’t make an appearance during the next day’s brunch.

The following morning, my 12-cup coffee machine spread a wonderful aroma through-out the house. I had croissants warming in the oven and everyone was in a festive happy Christmas spirit. The blinding sun shone brightly and the whole gang decided to go on a long walk. I was relieved. It gave me an opportunity to hunt for the enemy. I gathered all the discarded wrapping, shook pillows and banged on furniture, but to no avail. By the time they came back all was set for brunch.

Again, it was a happy gathering and most of the food was devoured. Even though I was enjoying myself thoroughly and felt quite relaxed, (blame it on the Mimosas and the white wine) my eyes kept roaming around the room watching for the enemy. Luckily, he/she, whichever, didn’t make an appearance. By five o’clock all were ready to go home. I wouldn’t be seeing them till the 28th when my mom had her Christmas dinner.
I stood in the doorway and smiled and waved and then made a mad dash inside to look for the Rat. It seemed to have disappeared. Since the following day was Boxing Day and everything was closed, I knew I had to wait till the 27th.
The first thing I did that morning was carefully make my way on the slippery, winding country road into the small village and the hardware store. More snow had fallen through-out the night.

Mike was very helpful. He explained to me not to worry. I’m not the only one with this problem. It’s mostly those that have the week-end homes. These rats are like the field mice, they don’t harm anyone. They just want shelter and food.

“That’s fine, “I exclaimed, “as long as it’s not my shelter and my food.”

“Follow me, “Mike said and led me to Aisle three. “This is what you need,” and he showed me this contraption.

“What is that?’ I innocently asked. After all, I was a city person.

“It’s a rat trap,” he exclaimed unceremoniously. “It’ll solve your problem.”

“How?”

“See here?” I nodded. “This is where you put the food, cheese, maybe some meat and then the rat goes to get it and wham, no more rat.”

“And then what?” I asked.

“Then you get the dead rat, get rid of it and set up the trap again.”

“Oh my Lord. I never had to do anything like this. I live in the City.”

Mike chuckled. “The City has a lot more rats, but you don’t see them. They eat the garbage and live in the sewers. They’re the lower class. These field rats are more sophisticated.”

I stared at Mike, not knowing whether or not to believe him, till I saw the twinkle in his eye.

“Tell you what. If you catch a rat, call me and I’ll come over and get rid of it for you.”

I thanked him profusely and was on my way with the rat contraption.

The following day, I was ready to go back to the City. I carefully laid out the trap, stocked it with fine Brie and Italian cold cuts and drove back to my city condo.

                 “I wouldn’t mind the rat race-if the rats would lose once in a while.”                                                                                                                                    TOM WILSON
New Year’s came and went and on January 2nd, I went to spend a few days at my country home. Anxiously, I opened the door. No foul smell hit my nose. Dreading what I will find, I stepped into the family room, leaving my boots on, in case I needed to leave the house suddenly.

I peeked around the corner. There was the trap empty and I do mean empty. All the food was eaten, without the trap being set off. I got into my car to see Mike. He was just closing up. I explained what had happened. He took off his cap, scratched his head and remarked.

“Seems like you have one smart rat.”

“What do you mean one smart rat?”

“Smart. He knows how to get the food without setting off the trap.”

“What should I do?”

“Put something in the trap that they have to work on getting. That might catch you a rat. Each time you’re here, set up the trap, but change the menu.”

“What do you mean change the menu? I’m not a restaurant.”

“You want to catch the rat or don’t you?”

“Of course, I do. I don’t want to share my house with a rat. And soon he might introduce a wife and little ones.”

“Yup, that can happen,” Mike grinned.

I groaned. “Okay, I’ll change the menu.”

So, this time, I left Camembert and chicken.

Next week, the same thing happened. The food was gone, but no rat.

This went on for another three weeks. Frustrated, I went to see Mike again.

“Hi Mike. I’ve been changing the rat’s menu each week, and nothing. No food and no rat.” As I said this, I thought, listen to myself, I’m talking about a rat having a menu.

“Okay, this is a cunning rat. To beat him, you have to get a cat.”

“A cat? Like those furry little things with claws? My mom has two of those and they hate me. And now I should get one?”

“Two would be better. You work and they can keep each other company.”

“I don’t even own a gold fish, and now I should get two fur balls?”

“Well, as I see it,” said Mike, “it’s either cats or rats. Your choice.”

“Where am I going to get these vicious little fur balls?”

“Your local animal shelter. Lot of them need to be adopted.”

“You mean I have to adopt a cat or two?”

“Yup. Not only would you solve your problem, but you’d be doing a good deed.”

Huffing and puffing, the following Monday, I found the closest animal shelter in Toronto and off I went to adopt. I couldn’t believe I was doing this.

I was amazed how many fur balls were sitting in cages waiting for a good home. My heart softened, just looking at them. I picked out two, a brother and a sister. Both were long-haired, beautiful eyes, bushy tails and as I picked each one up, and felt their purring, I knew I found two sweet little four legged companions. The female was a soft silver grey and the male was jet black. I named the female Bijoux and the male, I called Midnight.

              “The clever cat eats cheese and breathes down rat holes with baited breath.”                                                                                                                                                 W.C. FIELDS

The following weekend we headed out to the house. They felt at home right away. In less than a week, we became not only best friends, but we became family.

The next morning as I got out of bed, I saw a dead rat at the foot of my bed. Their gift to me.

This happened ten years ago, but ever since then Bijoux, Midnight and I are family.

“I had been told that the training procedure with cats was difficult. It’s not. Mine had me trained in two days.”
BILL DANA

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