The Great Bat Hunt
Karen Radford Treanor
© Copyright 2019 by Karen Radford Treanor
New England families abound in eccentric traditions, but I’ll lay odds none can match our annual bat hunt.
When I was a child, every summer without fail one or more bats would get into the house, usually by falling down the chimney late at night. The creature would eventually be run to earth and deported by the only member of family who had the knack of chiroptera-nabbing—my mother.
Mother fancied herself as a cross between Frank Buck and David Attenborough, and was always careful to evict the interloper with minimal damage to any of the parties involved. One year she managed to creep up on the bat with the vacuum cleaner, which is a harder task than you might think. “Sloorp!” went the bat, up the hose of the Electrolux, leaving Mother with a new problem: what to do with an angry bat, now imprisoned in dust and cat fur and not liking the experience one bit. This was in the days before disposable bags, so just throwing the whole mess in the bin wasn’t an option.
Deciding that no problem can’t be improved by sleeping on it, Mother tucked us into bed and said that in the morning we’d figure out what to do with the bat. Fortunately we were saved further trouble by the arrival of the oil man. Noticing the vacuum cleaner sitting in the yard near the cellar window, Mr Linehan soon learned the details from Mother. Never one to leave a lady in want of assistance, this sooty Galahad extracted the bat from the dust bag with the fire tongs and proceeded to beat it to death against the front steps. My sister burst into outraged tears and Mother coldly informed her champion that he needn’t have killed it. Departing amidst protestations that he’d done her a favour, Mr Linehan added, “You don‘t want to fool around with them critters—they’ll lay their eggs in your hair and drive you mad.”
“Nonsense!” said Mother, shepherding her daughters away from this latest example of country folk myths. Mr Linehan packed away his oily hose, scribbled out an invoice, and drove away, shaking his head at the silliness of females.
The following year a bat got into an upstairs bedroom. Panicked cries erupted from my sister, who recalled the oilman’s comments about bat eggs. Mother told Chris to hide under the covers while she sorted out the unwanted visitor. Several attempts with a flailing towel came to naught, but then modern technology was called in. Mother tuned the bedside radio to a band of high-frequency static, and while the bat was excitedly flapping around the room in search of this siren song, she scooped him up in a pillow.
“Quick, slide up the screen!” she ordered. I sidled to the window and did as ordered, trying to keep as far from the loaded pillow as possible. Mother flung the pillow and bat into the night and slammed the window.
“My pillow!” howled my sister.
“It probably needed a good airing anyway. You can get it in the morning,” Mother said, switching off our light and closing the door.
The year I graduated high school the bat hunt hit an all-time high when my father, who usually slept through the annual ruckus, got in on the fun. I was watching television in the living room when something whizzed past my head. I shrieked in surprise, which woke Father. As any good parent would, he charged downstairs to discover his firstborn being divebombed by a two-ounce flying monster. Surveying the situation with an expert eye, Father saw at once what needed to be done. “Oh, Virginia!” he called.
Mother appeared from the kitchen holding a broom. “I think it’s time you participated fully in this activity,” she said. “Why should we have all the fun?”
Father accepted the broom with the air of a knight taking his lance from the hand of his esquire. Approaching the creature as if it were a pterodactyl bent on carrying off his offspring, Father took a mighty swing with the broom. Chattering its teeth, the bat zoomed up to the safety of the bookcase, where it clung to a volume of Emily Post’s advice to the socially bewildered. Father took another swing and knocked down several books, but missed the bat, which began shrieking in a supersonic register as it again took wing.
Determined to overcome the foe, Father took a swing that would have put Ted Williams to shame, and swept the bat out of the air and onto the braided rug. With an atavistic yell, he belaboured the bat with the broom. It was not happy with this treatment, and told the world so in heart-rending tones.
“Oh, stop, he’s hurting!” I cried. This was all the bat needed: he clawed his way from under the broom and was soon circling the ceiling again.
Father, thoroughly exasperated, opened the front door and sat down on the top step to plan his next move.
At this point Mother assumed her this-has-gone-on-long-enough expression and told me to stand back. With a deft swing that told of many other bat hunts, she swept the invader from the air and out into the night.
Father looked up just in time to see the object of his frustration go sailing over his head and off into the dark from whence it came.
Serenity restored, I returned to the television and Mother took Father into the kitchen for a restorative cup of cocoa.
“You know,” she said, “that’s an old wives’ tale.”
“What is?” asked Father.
“Bats don’t really lay eggs on people’s heads to drive them mad.”
“Well”, said Father, moodily stirring his cocoa, “it would certainly make me mad.”
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