I still live in the old farmhouse where Jim and I made a home together. In our house every fall, we could count on the rush of field vermin that wanted to cozy up with us for the winter. Mice, small field rats, squirrels and chipmunks all found our house’s rockwall foundation an easy gateway to warmer quarters in our house. While squirrels and chipmunks were a more rare occurrence and easily dealt with through live traps, small field rats and so many mice were a different matter.
Jim actually had a jar of peanut butter dedicated to the baiting of mouse traps. It was stored in an old kitchen cupboard he had installed on the interior garage wall, so that we wouldn’t confuse it with the “people” peanut butter in the kitchen cupboard. The signs of trouble were always clear. It was in the telltale scurrying over our heads in the tin ceiling in our living room. It was in the gnawing and skittering in walls around us. It was found in holes chewed through the old, thin wallboard inside our kitchen cupboards. And it was clear whenever our dry goods would spontaneously be scattered about.
Jim always knew just what to do. He would rummage through the junk drawer for an old-fashioned mouse trap, load it with peanut butter from his special jar, and strategically place the spring-loaded trap where he thought he would have the best chance of capturing the intruder — and not a curious Brittany dog.
He usually was successful. So it would stand to reason that the whole thing was easy peasy, right? Wrong.
I quickly discovered that Jim’s almost fail-proof technique … wasn’t so fail-proof for me.
The December Jim died was kind of mild so the ground was not frozen through yet. That meant the field critters were not all settled in their winter bunks yet either, and I found myself face to face with a mouse issue soon after Jim had died. I found an old-fashioned mouse trap in the junk drawer, retrieved the special jar of peanut butter from the cupboard, baited the trap and was stopped in my tracks.
I couldn’t figure out how to set the trap.
It was one of those moments where I realized that I could use some remedial lessons on my basic life skills. I’d known how to do it before I was married, but I hadn’t set an old-fashioned mouse trap in so long, I couldn’t remember how to anymore. I fiddled with it for a bit, snapped myself a couple times and then finally threw the trap in the trash.
Easy peasy my foot.
And worse, this wasn’t one of those times I could just ask for help. No, it was too silly. I couldn’t even ask my parents, who love me no matter what stupidity I exercise. I mean, really: Who can’t figure out a simple mouse trap? I used to set them and leave them on the edges of counters to deter my Brittany Rosie from counter surfing when she was a young dog years ago. Too bad she was smarter and figured out how to spring them without getting snapped. But that was before I was married.
Instead, I found a better solution for me … new traps. Other, newer designs on the market were easier for me to use, although more expensive to buy. Trust me: They were worth every penny and I was able to manage the vermin that found their way into the farmhouse that winter and every winter since. We adapt.
The mousetrap debacle is a prime example of some of the things I found I didn’t know how to do when Jim died.
As adults, Jim and I had our eyes on the big picture, making sure we had insurances on our larger purchases such as the buildings and cars, obtaining life insurances and making out last wills and testaments to protect each other and our family in the event of our early demise. It gave us a sense of security and peace to know there was a plan for those left behind.
Those were the expected areas of preparedness.
But what about everyday things? Like the combination to the lock that is on the utility trailer hitch? Or who the septic tank guy is? Or how often you have to put salt in the water softening system? Or how to use the air compressor to inflate a low tire on your vehicle? Or which switch controls which outlet in the workshop? Or, even, how to set a mousetrap?
After facing those questions and many others like them, I have redefined what I consider “covering the bases.” A master list (I know. Here I go with another list.) of regular repair, service or other companies, their function in our lives and their contact information would have saved me a lot of headaches.
Or barring such a list, if I had only paid closer attention to those little details of our life that helped our household run smoothly, I would not have had so much frustration in my trial and error approach to figuring out the answers to some of those questions. It’s the hindsight is 20-20 factor.
Although I didn’t have the common widow issue of not knowing what the bills were and how to pay them because I handled our bills anyway, I was a joint account owner on some of our bills and had to switch them to just my name. It often required a death certificate to be sent or some other type of correspondence, but I found most companies to be sympathetic to my situation and very helpful.
Also I learned the hard way it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your own credit report when you cancel your spouse’s credit cards. If you are an authorized user on an account, some credit card companies may try to hold you responsible for the ultimate disposition of the account. My husband had one account on which I was an authorized user but not a joint owner of the account. We had insurance that kicked in as soon as I reported my husband’s death to the company. I was told not to make any more payments to the credit card company as the insurance would take care of it. Well, it took a couple months, so the credit card company’s electronic system considered the account in arrears and it actually ended up on my credit report. It took me two years, many phone calls and letters and a financial officer from my personal bank to finally get it off my credit report.
I had a warehouse club that requires an annual membership fee actually send me dunning letters, trying to force me to renew my husband’s membership, even though they had a copy of his death certificate on file, he was paid up to date when he died, and the new membership period would not have been in effect until a month after he had died. Letters and phone calls threatening my personal credit report became normal from this company and I finally promised them legal action if they didn’t leave me alone. They backed off. I again watched my credit report for any issues.
As for the smaller everyday things like lock combinations, there are usually ways around those issues, although less direct and a little time consuming, but doable nonetheless. Locks can be cut off and replaced. Regular service and repair companies can be determined from old checkbook registers, receipts or magnets on the refrigerator. The people at my favorite hardware store have been very helpful with advice about salt for the water softener and similar types of issues. As a matter of fact, we are on a first-name basis there. They see me hurrying through the store and know I have another “project” and quickly offer their assistance. The switches and outlets in the workshop is an ongoing trial and error experiment, but someday it will be second nature to me I’m sure.
And lo and behold, I already knew how to use the air compressor, having assisted my husband with it several times not too long before his death. I will take my little victories where I can get them, and be grateful when I can find a Plan B for the rest.
As for the mice, it’s fall again and the annual ritual has begun, but you know, there’s a new type of mouse trap out this year I think I will try.