I bought my first house when I moved to Illinois. With only five days to choose an address before my flight back to Alabama, I saw several unpleasant options and one gem, not yet on the market. My weakness for old houses existed long before the realtor pointed to a 1928 bungalow or its small painted porch with an envelope-style mailbox attached to the railing for the postal employee who still walked his route.
“Charming,” I thought. “A real doll house,” she said.
Previous owners had added a garage, and I purchased the house from a pastor and his wife, a sweet pair with one daughter and a second child on the way. A few college students rented houses on this quiet, orderly street, but I lived next to the neighborhood watchdogs, a couple who had been there 25 years and had every landlord on speed dial. With a music teacher’s home directly across from mine, I often read on my porch swing with classical piano or violin in the air. I could walk to a movie theater playing new releases on its two antique screens. (About 10 years later, that theater became a parking lot.) The basement was whitewashed, the attic a walk-up. Half the floors were original, dark hardwood, like the trim on the new Pella windows. Colorful plaster walls were in perfect condition. All I had to do was strip the kiddie-themed wallpaper border in the former nursery and replace it with something neutral.
I’ve never stopped loving that little house.
That first summer, a Midwestern challenge arrived in the form of an uninvited guest. Standing in my bedroom one evening, I heard a flapping, a fluttering, and I peeked in my living room to see a bird. Just a cute, tiny brown bird.
No. Not a bird. A bat. A small bat landing on the floor and doing that elbow-walking thing they do. By the time an Animal Control officer arrived wearing gloves I’d seen on the Animal Planet channel and carrying a coffee can with an aerated lid, the bat was hidden. I helped in the search.
I’d consider myself generally calm, capable and non-squeamish. I kill insects as needed, carry brown frogs into freedom from my Georgia garage and baited my own hooks fishing with my dad as a kid. Still, when I found the bat under a magazine, a shriek was heard in the room and that sound came from me.
I didn’t even get the expected benefit of a shocking story to tell at the office the next day, since almost everyone had their own bat anecdotes as well as opinions about the best way to handle these critters. Catch-and-release methods were emphasized, with a piece of cardboard pinning the creature against the trap of choice.
25% suggested an overturned trash can.
75% suggested I buy a tennis racket. “You can sneak up on them in the air, and then you get the cardboard…”
Thank you, but no.
Less than one month later, I opened my eyes from a deep sleep to see a dark form circling above my head. (Yes, I sleep with a night light. Sue me.) I sat up and exited the room in what felt like a single motion, shutting the door behind me.
Then, I pulled the door open. Nope. Not a dream. There were two bats in the room, and Animal Control returned. I never saw another bat, but it took a few weeks for me to sleep easily through the night. It’s not a ghost story, this tale of a Halloween cartoon spotted in real life. But it sure scared me…