A Christmas Tail

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.


christmas gerbil




18 thoughts on “A Christmas Tail

      • Well, this year it is pretty low key as I have been laid up with severe sciatica, M was in Kansas for a week attending his step-Father’s funeral and helping his brother with the settling of affairs, etc… and came home with his nephew’s flu bug.
        So our tree this year is a large indoor fiddlehead fig with a string of lights and about six ornaments. I did manage to bake a couple dozen cookies and thank goodness we already have a ham in the freezer from our last half hog purchase! I’m an early shopper for presents so luckily I had that all taken care of before I hurt my back lifting heavy fence posts down at the farm.
        A typical Christmas is usually a whole lotta cooking and baking (and eating!) and we go all out with stocking stuffers – they are the highlight of the day as we try to find clever, funny and tasty treats for each other.
        This has forced us to take it easy, which is good for us, but a painful way to do it.
        Merry Christmas DM!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I had to google severe sciatica to see what you are dealing with. is it chronic or off and on? Is M’s mom still alive? I remember him having to go to Kansas a year to three ago to be with her because she wasn’t doing well…


          • I guess it’s on and off again but oftentimes I’m not as careful as I should be to not do something stupid like this time – I agitated it by lifting too many heavy fence posts. I should have known better but was trying to beat a deadline and didn’t want to ask M to stop his work to come and help each time I finished treating a post.
            As to M’s mom – much to everyone’s surprise she survived the stroke but is in a nursing home.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Mrs DM also has to watch her back….it can be fine for years, and then, in a moment, doing the most random thing..poof…can totally see how it would have happened w/ you moving fence posts. Thanks for the update on his mom. Tell him “hi” for me! DM


      • Glad she liked it. You know, your post reminded me of the hoards of rats we had at my grandma’s outhouse, I was scared a bit as a kid to go there in the middle of the night. It was surely a good exercise in bravery.

        Liked by 1 person

        • now your story reminds me of an incident where we were supposed to do some carpentry work on a local farm. 🙂 I’d never seen anything like it…several rats scurrying around in broad daylight…on the ground, in and out of holes on the building walls, they were brazen. Calf feed piled up in the barn alleyway (full feed for rats again) My thought was, wow, if there this many rats visible in broad day light..there must be a lot of rats on this farm!!! I would have to think twice about using your grandma’s privy..day or night 🙂


          • They did get rid of them eventually, but for some period of time, we did have rats both in the outhouse, and in the attic of the house. They kept grain in the attic, and then somehow rats got in there. I remember hearing uncle getting up in the middle of the night, going up to the attic, pounding something with something (killing the rats?) – I was afraid to ask. In her book, The Dirty Life, Kristin Kimball has the whole story of their fight with rats in the abandoned farm house, where she says no matter what they tried, they would not go until cats came.


  1. What a great memory! Reminds me of the house I bought on 8th street. We had a huge mouse problem in our drop ceiling. I called that place Andersonville. It was a mouse hell. Which led me to change the letters around in my name leading to micehell, my alter ego, which led to micey. Haha. It was the end of the 90s. My brain works in mysterious ways. Got your pretty postcard. Thank you for bringing me back to your place on the farm. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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