Dock and a Dirty Rat

Posted on June 22, 2009

I believe I have mentioned in passing, my great-grandfather, aka as “Dock”. From all that I ever heard or read about him, he was one of those men who stands apart from the rest. I imagine they called him Dock because Augustus Cicero was, well – more than a mouthful, if you know what I mean. Dempsey III and Elizabeth (his parents) must have had an affinity for Roman emperors to have labeled their little new-born son with such a moniker.

He’d come from a family who had migrated to the United States in 1682 from the mountains of Wales and settled in Virginia, around Richmond. From there, they had traveled to Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. They had fought in the Revolution, the war of 1812, the Mexican-American War and also the Civil War. During the Creek Indian Wars, there are record of Dempsey and Elizabeth securing a ‘passport’ to travel through the lines on their journey to Mississippi where they finally settled in Copiah Country.

Now, this family did not come to American ‘gentrified’.The records indicate that the first one to settle here was a brick mason. He earned his living on his own and later with the help of his sons and yes, finally slaves . Dock grew up on a plantation in Copiah Country – that is true, and in the census records, it indicated Dempsey as one of the larger slaveholders in Mississippi at the time of the war. On the other hand, there are also records to indicate that from the first settler of this family on down, each generation had taught the trade of brick masonry to not only all their own sons, but all of their slaves so that they all would have a skilled trade in addition to farming the land.

Learning was also a much valued thing in this family – all of the children and there were 15 – were well educated. Dock had served in the Civil War and returned home.

I don’t know if he was always that way, if it was a result of the war, or just happened as he got older, but he was pretty near stone deaf, according to what my Pa told me of him. He and his wife, who was descended from a family of preachers…well – they moved on to Louisiana after the war. The piece of land the bought in North Louisiana was purchased from some interesting folk – one of the family names was Davis – a fellow named Jefferson Davis and his neice. Yes, that one – the same one who was the president of the Confederacy.

Now, Dock was descended from men who were described as ‘long, tall drinks of water’ – meaning they were tall and lanky. In pictures of them, you see the ice blue eyes, the high cheekbones and the prominent, aquiline nose. When they referred to Dock as ‘short’ therefore, I imagine that it only meant he was somewhere under six foot tall – that being the median for all the others.

Dock settled into the life of gentleman farmer. He also had learned to be a blacksmith and practiced that trade. Additionally, they had a small country store in walking distance between the house and the blacksmith shop, which was in a large barn on the banks of the bayou.

He and Eliza had thirteen children and reared thirteen more who had been orphaned after the deaths of varied other family members.

You must remember that this story takes place before they obtained electricity on the place and so oil lamps or candles were needed to light the dark. Dock kept going into the store and noticing the evidence of a rat – a big one. This caused him great displeasure, as he liked his store to be spic and span. Evidence of a rat chewing into any of his wares was not only bad for business. – but might believe to lead some people that he was slovenly in nature and did not attend to such matters in a timely fashion. He would have none of that.

He put out traps several times. Each time, he returned and the cheese was gone, but alas – there was no rat. This caused Dock to unleash some fiercely unpleasant oaths. ( I have it on the best authority that he was renowned for the way he could cuss and swear. Not only was he partial to epithets such as sumbitch and hot damn – but lily livered and banty-legged when describing an adversary).

Dock was growing more and more impatient with this rat. He finally decided to stay in the store one evening with the lamp turned down low. That way, he thought, he could study the intruder and it’s habits and thereby determine the best placement of the traps to guarantee that the rat would soon receive dispatch from this earth most expeditiously.

Dock sat there for several evenings without seeing the rat – perhaps it spotted him first and laid low. On this night, in the dim light of the lantern, he had vowed to stay awake all night long if that was what it would take to spot his nemesis. So, there say Dock – sitting and waiting and watching.

Suddenly, he thought he was aware of something. As he was so hard of hearing, he could not hear the rat scratching and poking into the various wares, looking to see what items he would feast upon this night. Finally, Dock saw the intruder as it nibbled at various items in the store. This vexed Dock something fierce. It was all he could do to remain still and quiet himself instead of going after the dirty little varmint with his bare hands. Somehow, he managed to keep his composure while the rat sampled his wares and then watch quietly as the rat, stuffed like an ‘ole hog, made it’s way up into the rafters of the store across an exposed beam. Dock then decided that was the best spot to place a trap – right there on the beam. The rat could not choose an angle to approach that last morsel of cheese and would have to come at the trap head on – and then, Snnnnaaap . . . be promptly executed. As the rat retired for the evening, so did Dock, content with his newly acquired knowledge of the ‘enemy’ and with a plan for dispatching the rat and ridding himself of his problem.

Towards the end of the next day, while it was still light, Dock set traps throughout the store and then took a ladder and added the final touch – the trap on the exposed beam leading to what must be the rat’s sleeping place. He was quite delighted in setting the traps as he felt confident this time would be the last. He cut himself a portion of cheese and grabbed a few crackers. These would have to be his supper – he was remaining in the store so he could watch the execution of the offending rodent.

As darkness drew nigh, Dock lit the lamp and turned the wick down low. He did not want to scare the rat away with too much light – but he surely wanted to see the product of his labors come to fruition. He took a seat in a darker area of the store on a barrel, his shotgun by in side, just in case there was an intruder of another variety. He commenced with what he knew would probably be a wait of some hours. Dock could faintly hear the tick tock of the old clock on the wall.

Just as he was slowly rubbing his eyes to ward off tiredness, he noticed activity over on the counter. Could it be? Yes – it was the enemy – the rat! He nibbled and munched and moved on to the next of Dock’s wares that would now have to be discarded. Of course, although this made Dock furious, he was able to contain himself, knowing that the proverbial hairs on the rat’s head were numbered.

He waited quietly on the barrel, leaning against the shotgun contentedly, just waiting. As the rat finished his evening meal, he made his way up toward the exposed beam. Dock could hardly contain himself now – his heart beat wildly with anticipation. As the rat made its way across the beam, Dock got so excited, he actually held his breath and could feel a burning in his lungs. The rat came upon the trap with the cheese, sniffed the cheese and then sniffed again. Dock waited, knowing the moment of truth was at hand.

That is where, as the old saying almost goes, “the best laid plans of rats and men often go astray.” That rat sniffed the cheese in the trap indecisively a few times and then started to turn away – almost like he was going to make a u-turn. Doc had to steal a quick breath at this point. He wondered if all his plans were about to fail. Then, he saw the rat stop half way around making his turn, raise his leg like a dog and urinate on the cheese.

This was too much for Dock to take! This was war! I don’t know if he was giddy because of holding his breath, crazed at having his carefully laid plan ruined, or just plain mad as an ‘ole wet hen, but Dock turned loose with a steady stream of the vilest of cuss words while simultaneously raising his shotgun and cocking back both barrels. There was a demonic smile on Docks face as he pulled both triggers, unloading both barrels into the rat- and the roof of his store.

Now, of course, Dock was stuck with the consequences of his actions. He had to clean up the mess and repair the roof temporarily that night before he could go home. However, I have heard that there was never any evidence of another intrusion by a rat in his store – nor any other kind of intruder, once that story got out. But the family always tells of how Dock went to sleep a happy man that night – or one should say- in the wee hours of the morning – because, as he told it later on, he had not been outsmarted by any sumbitchin’ rat!

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One response to “Dock and a Dirty Rat”

  1. I was so hoping for a moral to the story. But it kept me interested the whole way through. Very descriptive. I was sitting there next to Doc watching the rat cross the beam!

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