Let Inga Tell You: A holiday miracle (sort of)


It was the Monday of Thanksgiving week, three days before the kids and grandtots would be arriving, when my kitchen suddenly smelled like a marlin had died on the counter top. I only had one question: Does God hate me?

Even I am not that bad of a housekeeper. I would have noticed a marlin. When a morning spent scrubbing the affected counters did nothing to improve the ever-worsening smell, I finally Googled “bad odor on granite.” The replies were chilling: “It’s not your counter tops. It’s the dead animal in the wall behind them.”

Uh-oh. A mere week earlier Olof and I had heard the annual late-fall scurry of little feet in our attic and had put two rat poison baits up there to discourage them. Pest control places tell you never to do that because a rat might die in your wall and then you just have to wait it out (weeks) while it odiferously decomposes. Had we lived back East, it would have turned into a ratsicle and we wouldn’t have known about it until spring. But this is San Diego, having its warmest year in recorded history.

I should mention that Olof and I are hardly vermin virgins, having dealt with rats for four decades in this basically indefensible house. We stage an annual Spring Rodential Offensive when we remove all 800 oranges (rats’ food of choice) from our tree and donate them.

Fortunately, rats confine themselves to our attic. But we don’t want them there either since they chew wiring and carry hanta virus. In times past, we’ve had pest control services come put traps up there but it required a two hour window every other day for the pest control guy to come check them. It was just too inconvenient to have our lives controlled by the rat guy. So we just put the rat poison up there in plastic-encased bait traps and have never had anything die in our walls. Until now.

I was hoping that maybe the smell wasn’t as bad as I thought. Then my cleaning lady showed up. “Huele muy feo,” she announced. If she says it stinks, it stinks.

One of the reasons I love hosting Thanksgiving every year is that I adore the wonderful aromas wafting through the house. This year, they would be interspersed with notes of eau de rodent mort.

In desperation, I tried calling pest control places to see if they might have any recommendations, short of breaking through our walls or burning down the house, both of which seemed suddenly reasonable.

Finally I got a place that I’ll call Rotting Rodents R’ Us to come on Wednesday afternoon, mere hours before the family was due to arrive. They weren’t cheap and my husband insisted we were wasting our money. But they said that in the (totally unlikely) event the decedent was in the attic, and not the wall, that removing it could reduce the smell considerably.

Alas, when the Rotting Rodents guy climbed down from our attic, he said he couldn’t see or smell anything up there. Dang! But then he says, “Do you have a crawl space under the house?” I’m nominating this guy for sainthood right now. It’s as nasty a spider-filled place as you can imagine. You have to crawl on your stomach, and our kitchen is the farthest point from the entrance.

I was already contemplating Plans B through T when the pest guy emerged 10 minutes later, a too-heavy-for rat, mercifully-opaque bag in hand. Holding it up like a Grand Prix trophy, he jubilantly announced, “It was a possum!” Right under my kitchen cabinets. Up close and personal, the horrible smell that had been in my kitchen was now magnified by a factor of 10. In an understatement of horkable oversharing, he added, “The ants and maggots had found it. Mostly only fur left!” I felt my entire last years’ meals rising in my throat.

Still, one of the happiest checks I’ve ever written. There would be a little residual odor for a few days, pest guy said. (I was fully prepared to blame the dog.)

No idea how the possum (a “juvenile”) could have gotten under there. It couldn’t have eaten the rat poison since the opening of those child-pet-possum-proof bait traps is too small. As with all unexplainable phenomenon these days, we’ll just take the default answer: global warming.

As we all know, this is the season for miracles and I truly consider this to be one, along the lines of the stories you read on the back page of Parade magazine. I can see the headline now: My Miracle Thanksgiving: How the day was saved when the dead rat in the wall turned out to be a dead possum under the house!

Thankful sure comes in mysterious ways.

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her by e-mail: