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  • Writer's pictureSue Bowles

Taking Back Ground – The Quest of a Ragamuffin

If we were totally honest, we would all admit that there is ‘that one place’ in our houses which needs attention. The junk drawer. The closet where everything goes….and never comes out. The storage area. The garage. Wherever it is for your house, you have one. Admit it. You don’t want others to see it for fear of embarrassment, but you know it’s there.

But why is it we hide it? What are we afraid of? Reality? Others’ opinions? Less than you want others to view you – you know, protect the ole image?

I have such a place. I have a few such places. The one that has been on my radar this year is my garage. When I bought my house in 2006 we took 3 households and merged them into one. Which means we took the lifetime accumulation of ‘stuff’ from 3 people and put them all together in one place: in my garage on skids. My two car garage has been a 1 car for 9 years. Until now.

I still remember the day we moved. Hours after I closed on the house I had a cleaning crew of friends in and we cleaned the house top to bottom – every room. Then the carload by carload of ‘stuff’ began leading up to the official moving day. I had skids from work upon which to put all the boxes. Each of us had a skid. Most of the stuff came from the storage locker – the last thing we moved. My stuff was in back and Mom’s skids were ahead of mine. Scott really didn’t have much from a storage locker so most of his stuff went into his room.

All ‘good intentions’ indicated the garage would be part of the unpacking. We just didn’t specify it would take 90% of a decade to get to it! There have been a lot of hot summers and cold winters between then and now. The project actually began in 2013 after Scott left. We had a family work day and put a load of gravel down on the driveway as well as started attacking the garage. We got about 1/3 of the way done with the main pile of ‘stuff’ when the skies opened up and we had no more room to move. And that was the end of it. Attention turned to getting through Scott’s absence, and then as the time of his return drew near, getting the rest of the house ready for his return and party.

Earlier this year we became a 2 car family again for the first time since 2012 and the burr in my saddle to park both cars in the garage this coming winter began to grow. As we tackled 3 big projects last year, this summer’s house project was simply ‘get the garage clean so we can get 2 cars in there.’ Simple being a relative term of course!

I had to wait for the weather to break which this year was July 4th weekend. I made good progress those first couple days, figuring out a strategy for a seemingly overwhelming project. But once the first domino started I quickly reached the point of no return, which is where I wanted to be in quick order. I had about a month of not getting at it but made up for it this weekend, Labor Day weekend. But today’s discovery really got me thinking. And it is the reason I write.

I was working on the 2nd skid against the wall – the first time any of these have been exposed since move in day in July, 2006! My attack strategy has been to ‘triage’ the boxes. Open each one, assess the situational contents, deal with any obvious trash, and then repackage if needed or re-tape and label to make it easier for Mom to sort when she starts. Mind you that may be a while…there is an entire 4 shelf storage unit in the basement with her stuff on it that she hasn’t touched all year.

I got through ½ the skid on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend and was determined to keep pace on Labor Day. It took 4 hours but I made it. I FOUND WALL! But before I could fully touch the wall I had to lift the skid so I could clean up the floor. When I got the last box moved the next thing I saw was embarrassing. A little scary. A stark reminder. On the right hand side of the skid, stuffed in between the slats was a complex collection of shredded plastic bags and shredded paper. Naturally shredded paper. As in mice evidence. Now I knew I had mice. I put bait out all year and it has done the trick. I’ve been cleaning up their trails all summer as I clean. But I had just uncovered the nest. They were warm! I will give them that! They were hidden in the back, insulated, had easy access to everything under the skids (it was like their own tunnel system with no effort – the natural design gave it to them!).


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I have been working with disposable vinyl gloves since Day 1. I put on a fresh pair, as this part of the project was going to take a little extra. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find. All along I had found little squiggly bugs in a periodic box. That alone is enough to make a person jump. In this pile I was really hoping something with beady eyes and whiskers wasn’t going to go running as soon as I tipped the skid on its end. The skid went up, and to my pleasure, I heard no scampering of little feet.

With trusty old yellow handled garage broom in hand I started knocking out the plastic. Carefully aiming the brushes of the broom in between the slats the pile of colored plastic soon covered the cement floor I had just exposed. Intermixed was a collection of plastic Easter eggs and paper.

A few pieces of plastic decided to be particularly attached to its wood slat, but never fear, I prevailed! A little defenseless plastic is no match for my trusty broom bristles!

When I had won that round I looked at the 4′ round pile of plastic and garbage that now laid at my feet. With new trash bag in hand I started gathering dustpan full after dustpan full of garbage and carefully getting it in the trash bag as quickly as possible, as if I expected something to jump from within it. I did have a little further evidence that I had disrupted the critter campsite. As I emptied my pile of trash into the trash bag what did I see in the dustpan but 2 eyes of an adult dead mouse. I WON!

I finished my task and got the skid to the yard to get it out of the way and let any remaining spiders and garage dwellers find a new home.

I sprayed the area with bug spray and let it rest.

What was interesting throughout this project were the thoughts going through my head. I had been chronicling my project with Facebook pictures since I began…mainly for the information of my siblings who had started this journey with me 2 years ago. And while I took pictures of my discovery I sent them privately via messenger instead so that only they would see it and understand. I was embarrassed. I had to work that through. And all I could think about was being a Ragamuffin.

Think about it. We all have that area in our lives – or areas – of which we are embarrassed. We want to keep it hidden. What will people think? What judgment was I afraid of? What explanation did I suddenly feel I needed to supply? More accurately, what defense?

Why is it ‘easier’ or ‘more accepting’ by society to share scars of an emotional or physical nature, but when it comes to habitat issues we fear societal thoughts?

For me the mess of the mouse nest reminded me from where I have come. I can speak about growing up in a dysfunctional alcoholic home, amidst all kinds of other trauma. But when I take away the image I portray of it and just share what the house was like, suddenly the story speaks on its own. And I loose control of the situation. I don’t want people feeling sorry for me. I don’t want folks making judgments about my parents, or Dad specifically. I don’t want to be labeled as dirty or a slob or anything like that. It just is what it was.

I lived in a roach-infested house for a few years in my teen years. We had a great house, nice yard, and things looked great from the outside. Dad was VP of his company. Mom worked. The kids were getting older. But inside I remember being afraid to step into the kitchen at night, knowing as soon as I turned on the light I would see brown roaches running for the baseboards. Something about the kitchen floor crawling just makes the skin crawl, too.

Dad was a chemical engineer and had his own roach spray and would spray it every night. It smelled until it dried. Each morning there would be more bugs to sweep up. It was just a situational effect of the alcoholism. It’s also why I am so particular about bugs in my house that I spray “Bug Barrier” a couple times a year, even though one application is good for a year. A few years ago I had an ant problem and applied Roach Proof powder (boric acid powder) all along the foundation behind the kitchen. Haven’t had an issue since.

So when I came across the mouse nest I fell back to old patterns, concerns, and worries. I was reminded I’m a Ragamuffin. And roaches are a part of my story. And so are mice. And my story is one that is worth sharing. Even though some of the deeper details still have some shame and embarrassment attached to them, it is still worth sharing. Because it just shows all the more what God has done and that He still loves me, critters and all.

We all have that, don’t we? There are going to be parts of our stories that we don’t tell right away. There are going to be ‘details’ that we still keep to ourselves until we know it’s safe. And then, if it’s right, if there’s opportunity, we may feel more free to pull back the cover a bit more. Because we know we don’t have to be concerned about the judgment of others, or being embarrassed, or ashamed. It’s part of our story, and being a Ragamuffin is about continually embracing our story. Being a Ragamuffin is about taking back ground that was lost to all those fears and shackles. It’s about being real, and authentic, and knowing that Jesus Christ is absolutely crazy about us, critters and all.

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