Gut Rumbles

January 18, 2008

Rats in the basement

Originally published December 9, 2003

When I lived in Kentucky, I saw a lot of homes with earth-walled basements. Usually they had a coal chute leading to the coal bin, where I got my ass whupped more than once for using that chute as a slide and landing in the coal and getting all dirtified the way my daddy looked when he came home from the mine.

But, I digress...

Those earth walls were made of rocks and red clay, and they turned out pretty and smoothe if you wet them down and sculpted them. A lot of people did. The clay hardened like a brick and the rocks helped keep the wall nice and solid. I learned to love the smell of an earthen-walled basement.

But nobody could keep rats from burrowing into the basement. I remember all the rat-tunnels I saw back then and I remember more than once being in somebody's basement and hearing dirt hit the floor. I'd turn around and see a rat poking his head out of a freshly-dug tunnel in the wall.

I don't know if this story is true or not, but I heard my father and my Uncle Virgil tell identical versions, years apart. Several miners got likkered up on moonshine one night and saw a rat stick its head out of a freshly-dug tunnel in somebody's basement. The miners became pissed at the audacity of the rat and decided to get even.

They put together some dynamite (which was always readily available in a coal mining camp), hooked it up to a long fuse and shoved it as far as they could down the rat-hole. Then, they lit the fuse.

When the explosion occurred, it blew six outhouses right off their foundations. The rat tunnels were all inter-connected to the outhouses in the camp and the tunnels were filled with methane gas. That crap-gas went up in a blue flame that lit up the mountains. It made a noise louder than coal-trains coupling in the switchyard. People had fire and brimstone flying out of their basement walls. Rats with their asses on fire went running everywhere in the night. The Sheriff woke up and reached for his pistol. Widow wimmen pissed their beds. Little children started crying in fear.

According to local lore, no one ever confessed to setting off the dynamite that night, but everybody had a pretty good idea about who did it. They kept their mouths shut, however, and they never were arrested. Nobody got hurt, so the investigation was short and sweet, then forgotten.

I'm just glad that I wasn't sitting in one of those outhouses that night.

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