We were living 1000 miles from home that year in Northern New Jersey. Three little girls, ages 7, 6 and 18 months old. Rented a place that used to be a summer cottage. The windows were those horizontal glass panes you crank open and shut. We could not get the house warm, no matter how much plastic I put up.
I’ve been trying to come up with another way to put it, but long story short, we had no money. Our home was on a corner of Greenwood Lake Turnpike. The two lane curvy road served as one of the commuter routes into Newark and greater New York City. Twice a day, massive amounts of traffic whizzed by on a road never been intended for that many cars.
Our house sat next door to a bar/ restaurant. It changed hands a couple of times while we lived there. Right behind our house sat the garbage dumpster for the bar’s kitchen. Right behind the dumpster ran a little creek. I need to tell you these details because they are relevant to the rest of the story. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what we would occasionally see feeding in the dumpster.
There is a term in farming called “full feed.” It means your livestock have unlimited access to all the food and water they want. Your animals will grow really fast and they can grow really big.
Wasn’t long before we jokingly named our place “Grandma’s nightmare.”
If Grandma only knew….
Between the traffic, the occasional drunk that would knock on our door in the wee hours of the morning, the vermin on full feed that lived in a shed behind the house, a creek that flowed 15 feet just outside our back door..etc. etc, you get the idea.
That first winter we were there as the weather got cold, something moved into the ceiling above our bedroom. I would wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of gnawing… I would grab my shoe, bang it on the ceiling a few times and things would quiet down.
For Christmas that year, we decided to buy the girls a pet gerbil. Brought it home a couple of days before Christmas and set it under the night stand in of our bedroom. Our room was so cold, the gerbil made continuous scratching sounds, trying to fluff up the wood chip bedding to stay warm. I never realized a little gerbil could make so much noise.
Christmas eve, I went into our living room to set out the gifts for the girls. I’d made an Indian Tepee out of burlap and wooden poles, mounted on a circular ring. It stood 6 ft high and looked pretty neat. We’d also picked up some used school desks and a hand me down rocking horse. Amazing how your creative juices kick in when they have to.
Next morning, we were treated to lots of Ooooooo’s and Aaaaaaaaa’s! Then one of the girls discovered another gift inside the Tepee.
Two perfectly formed little brown turds…..
The same creatures that were feeding out of the dumpster, and gnawing in the ceiling above my bedroom had left a present inside the Tepee.
I got on the phone, called our Landlord and said, either he got an exterminator lined up, or we were moving.
30 years later, we now laugh about that morning. Daughter # 2 told my wife just last week, the tepee is still her favorite present growing up.