They did force me to keep my home clean.
by Marilyn Mackenzie
A few days ago, I wrote in my blog: Two nights ago, I sat on the porch and realized that the cold we're experiencing - ALEADY - has chased away the crickets. Hooray! There were so many this year and they were soooooooo loud.
But my joy was interrupted by another sound, and I listened and listened. Our yard is blanketed with leaves, most of them getting quite crisp from being off the tree a while. Something was crawling beneath those leaves. Actually, it sounded like there were a few somethings crawling beneath those leaves, because the sounds were coming from various parts of the yard at the same time.
I did see a mole in my neighbor's yard, so perhaps moles were what I heard crawling beneath those leaves. But...since I've lived in warmer climates before....my mind pictured an army of cockroaches under those leaves. And I had to retreat into the house.
Still, as I sat inside, pondering those sounds, I thought more about cockroaches. I started writing - in my head - about them. My first encounter with one at the age of 16. My move to Texas, where everything - EVERYTHING! - is bigger. Fearing going back to get my things from storage in TX, where they've been in boxes for 3 years. Hmmm. I just might have to write about those nasty creatures.
So here I am, writing about those nasty creatures.
I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Actually, we moved into an old farmhouse when I was about three to a neighborhood where there used to be many large farms and where most of the people were related. After living there just a few years, the farm across the street from our house was divided into hundreds of small lots and a huge sub-division was built there.
It may have disappointed the grown-ups to see so many houses being built, but at this time of year we kids loved the idea. Trick-or-treating was much easier with so many houses so close together, and back then neighbors used to try to out-do each other with the treats that they made or bought. Some folks made caramel apples; others made popcorn balls. But that’s not what the story is supposed to be about.
When we moved to that neighborhood, there were cows, horses, goats, and chickens on the neighboring farms. As farms were sold, the numbers and types of animals decreased. Soon there were no working farms left. Wild creatures disappeared as well. Gone were the skunks which blocked the roads at night when we tried to walk home from a neighborhood party. Squirrels and birds were fewer as well, and field mice disappeared as fields became building lots.
What we didn’t see in the suburbs were cockroaches. In fact, in my childish mind, cockroaches were something found only in projects in New York City. (I have no idea why I thought that way. We had projects in Pittsburgh, but I never considered that there might be roaches there.)
When I was ready to enter tenth grade, my family moved from the ‘burbs back to the city. We lived in Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh. High on the mountain top – Mt. Washington – is where the beautiful pictures of Pittsburgh’s night skyline were taken. And that’s where I lived, although not anywhere near the side of the mountain or the incline that took us to the bridges leading into downtown.
We had moved from one part of Baldwin Borough to another when I was going into seventh grade, so moving itself wasn’t an ordeal. But that first move, although it meant that I had different neighbors, didn’t take me from my school friends. Moving into the city meant new neighbors and new school friends.
The only person I knew in my high school was a male cousin a year older than me. His and my parents insisted that he walk to school with me the first week, and he was not pleased about that. Half-way to the school, we noticed a group of girls my age, and he dumped me on them. Thankfully, we connected (they were also shy) and they became my friends.
We already knew our schedules, and discovered that first day that we all had the same lunch period. That was great news. We made arrangements to meet outside the cafeteria before lunch so that we could all sit together.
I never ate cafeteria foods in junior high, so I was excited about trying cafeteria fare at my new high school. Not that I was a big eater. After meeting my new friends outside the cafeteria, we all got in line for food. I purchased just a salad and milk to drink.
We found a table where the six of us could eat together, then welcomed others that my new friends already knew. I sat closest to the wall, a brick wall. As I was eating, I looked up and saw the ugliest bug I had ever seen in my life. It was hard holding back a scream, but I did.
“What is that?” I inquired excitedly.
“What is what?” one of my new friends asked.
“That’s a roach. Haven’t you ever seen a roach before?”
“No! A cockroach? In the cafeteria?” I asked as I slowly moved away from the wall.
By then my new friends were almost rolling on the floor laughing. I didn’t see anything funny.
That was the first and last time I ate food prepared in that cafeteria. It was also the last time I sat and ate anything there. For the rest of my high school years, I purchased a wrapped Nutty Buddy (you know, ice cream cone?) and ate it standing up in the hallway outside the cafeteria. I actually lost weight that first year, probably because I was only eating one small ice cream cone for lunch and because for the first time in my school career I walked to school instead of riding a bus.
My friends didn’t think it was odd at all that there was a roach crawling on the wall in our school cafeteria. They had seen them before – in their junior high cafeteria and in local restaurants. None admitted to having them in their homes, but I went checked our house periodically for them. Thankfully, I never found any in our house.
I never saw any more roaches in high school, nor any in college either. I moved to Michigan at the age of 21. (No roaches there, either.) Then five years later, I moved to Houston, Texas.
As I was moving my things into a newly painted and cleaned apartment, I turned on the light in the bedroom and saw a horrible creature crawling on the wall. I screamed and my friends came running to see what was attacking me. They laughed when they saw what had made me scream.
“It’s just a roach. You’ll get used to them.”
“A roach? That thing is huge!”
“Well, you’re in Texas now. Don’t you know everything is bigger in Texas?”
“Are you sure it’s a cockroach? It’s so big and ugly!”
“That’s tree roach. They’re usually outside.”
“Then why is he inside?”
“He probably crawled in under the door.”
“What? Is there room under the door? Are other bugs going to crawl in here? Maybe I should find another apartment.”
“That won’t help. You’re in Texas now. Texas has roaches.”
They were right. Texas had roaches. Our apartment managers scheduled spraying for roaches once a month. You had to empty your cupboards and cover foods with sheets of plastic and put them on the bed or something so the spray didn’t get in the foods. Of course, if your neighbors didn’t want their apartments sprayed at the same time, the roaches just hid there and came back later. I hated neighbors who didn’t cooperate with the roach spray schedule.
A few weeks after I was greeted by that huge roach as I moved in, I was awakened in the middle of the night by a strange sound. The noise came from the bathroom and sounded like a pretty big mouse chowing down on something. I turned on the light and saw nothing. After getting back into bed, I heard the chomping again. I turned on the bathroom light and saw and heard nothing. This went on about six times before it dawned on me that perhaps it was a cockroach. After all, they hated having a light turned on and they were fast enough to disappear before being seen.
I pulled a flashlight from the drawer in my night stand and crept quietly to the bathroom. I shined the light where I thought was the source of the sound. Sure enough, it was a cockroach I heard. The stupid thing was opening and eating my sore throat lozenges. He was enjoying them as if it was a Thanksgiving feast. Yuck. Naturally, I threw all the throat lozenges away and found a way to kill that bug for interrupting my sleep.
Some months later, I spent the night on the sofa of a friend. He was working a night shift and I stayed at his apartment to watch his two girls, aged 7 and 9. About 2 a.m., I was wakened by a noise in the kitchen. By then, I had seen enough to realize that a roach might have been the culprit waking me. I turned on a light in the living room (see? I was learning) and walked quietly to the kitchen. There I was the strangest thing. The paper grocery bag sitting on the floor (to hold trash) was jumping up and down. I just knew there had to be a mouse in that bag. It was moving too much for it to be anything else.
I approached the bag and peered into it, just certain I was going to be looking in the eyes of a small mouse. Of course that wasn’t the case. It was a cockroach, and it wasn’t even as big as the first one that I had seen months before on my own bedroom wall. In fact, it was about half the size and I was really mad that the stupid little bug had wakened me from a deep sleep.
A few years later and in another apartment in Houston, I was awakened in the middle of the night when something crawled over my mouth. You guessed it; it was a cockroach!
My friends were right. In time, I got used to seeing an occasional roach.
I married, had a child, moved to Florida, and discovered that warm climate was also conducive to rearing cockroaches. Once we were situated out in the country, however, things did get better. Perhaps the field mice ate the roaches. And I had larger creatures to worry about.
Now I live in the north again and seeing roaches is rare. Here in Cincinnati, I don’t have to deal with nasty creatures, just that white stuff that comes down from the sky.