– Rats In The Rafters –

Some fifty-three years ago, when I was eight, I used to go camping and fishing with my dad, my Uncle Jim and a guy named George in the Colorado Rockies. George had this old World War II surplus Jeep that he had painted a bright yellow (so it could be seen during hunting season) and he would drive that thing all over the mountains trails or not.

Jim and George had found this abandoned cabin the year before when they were trekking through the woods looking for deer. There was a good stream just below that looked to them just might have some Rainbow trout in it. Since my dad and I were scheduled to spend a couple of week visiting, it seemed worth the trip back to see if they were right. The plan was set. All we had to do was wait for summer to arrive and hope Uncle Jim and George remembered the way.

When dad and I arrived there was the normal dinner and talking and drinking by the older folk. A lot of laughter, bad jokes and tons of smoke. Everyone smoked back then. It was considered odd if you didn’t. “Ah Hell boy, you wanna live forever. Here have one of these!” And someone who looked more like Grizzly Adams than the guy next door would shove a cigar at you big enough to be a pine tree.

Between the drinking and the smoking I never thought we would ever get started in the early morning but sure enough, while I was sleeping soundly in the back bedroom, Josephine was dishing out the coffee and eggs to my dad and Uncle Jim while they waited for George to arrive. I could never figure out how those guys did it. It didn’t matter what they did the night before, they were always up and rarin’ to go way before my eyes were even thinking about opening.

Josephine, Uncle Jim’s wife, made me some breakfast and packed us a lunch to take along just in case the fish weren’t to cooperative that day. You could never be too sure about fish. Sometimes they had a mind of their own and didn’t want to get caught. Go figure?

We headed up the mountain road that had the ever present stream/river running next to it. It was a stream when the winter melt calmed down a bit. Till then, it was a river. Dad, Uncle Jim and George would stop periodically to throw a line in the water where the fishing looked promising. Sitting up high on the road, those places weren’t hard to find. You could easily see the trout swimming against the current not actually going upstream but virtually standing still. I would stay high on the bank next to the Jeep and watch the men wade out into the stream and cast their fly lines. It always struck me funny why they tried so hard to catch fish that were swimming right beside them. If they would have just opened up their creels, the trout were close enough to swim right in.

After a couple of stops like that, we finally reached the turn off for the cabin in the woods. It was no more than a fire lane and, it was none too level. This fire lane ran along the side of the mountain and was obviously not used very often if ever. We crept along at a snails pace when all of a sudden the Jeep started to roll to the left. The right side was high side to the mountain and the left side was low. A Jeep is not known for its ability to drive perpendicular on the side of a mountain and we were about to prove it big time.

George was driving, it was his Jeep after all, Uncle Jim was riding shotgun and Dad was next to me on the right. Dad and Jim jumped out while George tried to keep the wheels straight. Jim and my father held on to the side of the Jeep putting all their weight on that side. George eased the Jeep to a more down hill direction which kept it from wanting to roll over.

In short order we reached the abandoned cabin which still had a half decent bed, wood burning stove and old but serviceable table and chairs. Once again, there was much talking, a little card playing, the lunch that Josephine had pack that morning, a fair share of beer and whiskey for the men and soda for me and then sleep.

You can’t ask for any more than being in a cabin in the middle of the Rockie Mountains where the only sound is nature all around. Dad and I got the bed while George and Uncle Jim slept on the floor near the fireplace. It was always cold in the Rockies at night so the guys had a hearty fire going in the fireplace which only added to the atmosphere. Yes, it was going to be a good night to sleep.

I don’t know how much time had passed but I do know I was in a sound sleep when the loudest thunder I had ever heard went off and it sounded like it was right next to my ear. I was just shaking myself out of what had once been a sound sleep when another blast of thunder went off and this time it was complete with lightning. How could that be? We were inside.

I was more awake when the next thunderous blast went off. The smell off gunpowder was getting strong in the cabin as another shot rang out. It was then that I noticed Jim holding a flashlight and shining it up into the rafters of the cabin. There were two rats running back and forth on the lower cross beams while Jim and George and my dad were trying to pick em off with their sidearms. After they had expended enough rounds on those two terrified rats, they finally gave up, laughed it off and went back to sleep like nothing had happened. Ahem, gunfire, cabin, impressionable kid present. By the time I got that thought out they were all back to sleep. Actually, it was an alcohol induced coma, if you ask me.

The next day started out normal enough, we fished until we were tired and ate trout until we were full. Dad and the guys drank some more beer and whiskey, what else, but they didn’t shoot at anymore rats. You see, it rained that night. We got wet. They never said a word. I wonder why!?!

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