|My father, James A. French,
age 5 or so
Warning: If you’re squeamish about bugs, read no further.
My father was a Super Dad. He was the exterminator, in more ways than one. He banished monsters from under the bed. He shooed ghosts away. He could rid our house of darkness by repairing one television set. Within hours we had light again. A poor family’s hunger was squashed flat because he brought them two of our chickens. With the threat of a dose of castor oil he fought away a dread disease that threatened to keep my brothers home from school, and miraculous healings occurred.
He was a master at magically fighting all. But most amazing to me was the fact that he could rid our home of roaches. Now, these days this prolific and nasty insect is not that much of a problem with modern chemicals that promise to last for years.
But back then, in the 1950’s and 1960s, roaches were like the plague. Especially in the part of town we lived in. They were huge beetle-like creatures. And they flew! A fly-swatter was sometimes the weapon of choice. Daddy sprayed them with something, perhaps it was DDT, I don’t know. But they would always come back after a few weeks. I suppose the chemical killed the live bugs but didn’t harm the eggs, so after the new hatchings became big enough to make their presence known, he would have to spray again. And again. Especially after Mama found a roach in the loaf of Sunbeam bread. Or lying belly-up in the pot of vegetable soup. Her screams called for immediate action. That would do it. So Daddy brought home a new chemical that someone said would work better than the last thing he tried. Always this magic liquid was praised as the new miracle. Something to save us at last from the creatures’ soft legs that skittered across our faces in the deep dark of night.
One of the most graphic true stories I ever read was in Don’t Quit Your Day Job, a collection of essays on writing by writers compiled by Sonny Brewer. The piece was by Pat Conroy on his work as a youth sent out by Roman Catholic nuns to assist the indigent in a public housing complex. Conroy deftly describes his journey into this forbidden den of drugs and violence to help those in need. In his innocence, he has no fear, and he has faith that his help is needed and desired. He comes upon one of his assigned apartments where a woman lives who is blind. She is a prisoner in her apartment because of fear of being harmed by the vermin who prey on the less fortunate. Over time, and because of Conroy’s youthful tenacity, she finally opens her door to Conroy and he enters her less-than-spotless home. He takes in the scene and tells it so explicitly that I am there, looking over his shoulder. He describes the kitchen wall. It is black. And it is moving. He realizes the wall is covered in roaches.
|A vintage metal pump sprayer. (from Etsy)
Our house was certainly never that bad growing up. But I can certainly relate to that description. Just the sight of one of those critters and my imagination grew them out of proportion to their true size. They were giants. So my father would bring home the magic formula that promised to rid our abode of the beasts once and for all. The method was simple. The instructions called for mixing the insecticide with a certain percent of water before spraying. I can only guess how my father mixed this – he was a stickler for following directions so I’m sure he did exactly as instructed. The sprayer was a simple metal canister attached to a hand-pumped sprayer. You filled the canister and re-attached it by screwing it onto the hand pump mechanism. By pulling back on the hand-pump, the liquid was sucked up into a tiny metal tube. By plunging the hand pump forward the liquid was sprayed out by the force of the air across that tiny metal tube.
Over and over again, Daddy pumped and sprayed, pumped and sprayed. His face and wrinkled brow bore the look of determination to save his family. The rest of us would all be fast asleep as he sprayed along every baseboard in the house, around every door, in the closets, everywhere vermin could hide.
The next morning they were gone. And my father was his jovial self again, going off to work as usual. Thus the life of the exterminator, off to repair another television so the silence in our house would be eliminated after the phone bill was paid.
How did your dad “save” your family? What are some memories of your father, as we approach this Father’s Day?