Courage at Twilight: Stories of Cockroaches and Fleas

Dad, this morning: “I was sitting here remembering an odd experience.  When I was a missionary in Brazil in 1956, my missionary companion [missionaries work in twos] rented a room in a house, where we lived.  He got up in the night to use the bathroom, and when he turned on the bathroom light, the walls and the floor were covered with skittering cockroaches, and my companion screamed and woke everyone in the house up!”  Dad is a storyteller, and when I hear, “I remember when…” I know a story is coming, and I had better just plant my feet in the floor for a few minutes.  His stories are always touching or funny, even after a dozen tellings.  I have typed up every story I have ever heard Dad tell about his life (and Mom’s stories, too).  “I was allergic to flea bites.  The bites would swell in great red mounds.  The itching was terrible, and I scratched the bites with a wire brush—better the pain than the itch.  I got good at catching fleas.  Once I wrote a letter to my mom out of dead fleas.  I stuck them to scotch tape, forming the shapes of the letters with the fleas, then taped them to the paper.  I don’t know how I survived it—I poured a can of DDT in my bed so I could sleep without being eaten alive by fleas, with the sheet tucked up tight under my chin so I wouldn’t breathe in the power.  The DDT killed the fleas, and I’m surprised it didn’t kill me.”  Thirty years later, as a young church missionary in Portugal, I suffered from bed bug bites—the bugs crept out of their hiding places at night while I slept, and bit the backs of my hands dozens of times.  Every morning I awoke with fresh and painful red bites.  I did not know yet of Dad’s mission pesticide story.  As if reenacting it, I bought a can of Raid and sprayed all the wooden joints and slats of my bed and sprayed under the mattress and on sheets.  Fearing illness, or worse, I did all the spraying in the morning, hoping the bed bugs would be dead, and the poison dissipated, by bedtime.  It seemed to work.  And I have my own cockroach story: as a ten-year-old in Brazil, I reached up to open a high closet cupboard, and out poured dozens of two-inch cockroaches landing all over my head and face and shoulders.  Shiver.  I still cannot stand the sight of a cockroach.  I look forward to Dad’s next stories, which likely will be told today.

 

Pictured above: Dad (far left) and his mission colleagues in Brazil, circa 1958.

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