Have you ever wondered what goes on in one of those blue tents you occasionally see stretched over homes? You probably know enough to say, “They’re having their house fumigated” – but why and what does that mean? I’ll tell you my story.
Our first sign of something amiss was many pairs of small thin wings in my daughter’s bedroom. She washed all her bedclothes and clothing and scrubbed down the floor, but the wings kept reappearing. An on-line search alerted her: termites. An inspector from a pest control company confirmed that guess when he shone a light down under the crawl space under her room—scads of termite droppings. Since our garage was infested too, we needed more than a local application of chemicals, but tenting the entire house so that a noxious chemical could be pumped in.
Before that could happen, it was upon us to remove any foodstuffs or medicines that could be inadvertently laced with the poison that would be administered. I started two weeks beforehand by separating out what jars of glass or plastic still had their from-the-store packaging. These could be kept, as well as the metal cans, so I placed them up high out of reach. The half-used stuff went low or into bags to give others—such as the pitted dates to my son-in-law or the cake mix for my friend.
Two weeks early was not too soon to start preparation. I like to cook, my cupboards are many, and the cuisines I like various. Here’s a sample of what I had to deal with: from Hawaii came my pink rock salt. Half of it remained and a cellophane envelope would not keep it safe. Normal salt sits in three shakers—blue, cherry wood casing, and a thirty-year-old pink capped Tupperware container. All these needed to be removed—or thrown out—and that’s just a speck from the plurality of other things to be considered and then tossed, passed on, taken away in boxes or sealed up ever so tightly.
I didn’t know I’d stored up so much. My daughter and family took away three good-sized bags of food to use. Friends stored for us a very large box full of frequent use bottles like oil and vinegar and seldom used items like corn-syrup, Mirin, rum. They also helped us drink up some of this tiny bottles of hard liquor we used to receive free on international flights. Items from the freezer and refrigerator filled a large laundry basket and a huge bag and stayed safe in the 2nd refrigerator in a friend’s backyard party area.
We needed to consider more than what was in the cupboards, but al the refrigerator and the medicine cabinet or bathroom shelves. Any food, or medicines not still in its original pristine just-come-from-the-store condition. And not only that, but if an item was not packaged with hard plastic or glass or metal – such as rice in a plastic bag – it also had to be protected. An unopened Cheerio box is not okay. Nor are those crackers in pretty white paper or cellophane or the frozen chicken in its thick plastic packaging. All must go or the noxious gas they would pump into our house at high pressure would penetrate its packaging.
Despite all my efforts to simply remove food from our homestead, lots was left to go in the bags that the fumigation company gave us for safe storage on site. We filled all but two of the twenty-some thick plastic bags (roughly two-feet by three-feet). They came, of course, with a half-page list of instructions on how to double bag and seal them rightly (long, long twist-ties or twist the plastic and duc-tape).
If an item was forgotten and accidentally left here during the time of forcing of the gas into a blue tent surrounding our home – it could not be eaten. That’s terrible enough – I can’t stomach waste, can’t take the guilt of buying food and then not using it – but worse would be if the workers found items I’d left behind and -as their contract and the law requires them to do – double bagged them and then charged us for it. Something I didn’t want at all, but accidentally left behind in the wrong kind of packaging could incur a cost. The fumigation staff was responsible to do wrap and bill me. That was the deal. Or, ordeal.
If that wasn’t enough to put fear into the pit of my stomach, the knowing that workers—all certainly unknown to me and probably all men—would come into my house and demand that the safe be left open unnerved me. That they’d look for any hidden chocolate bars that might have been unwittingly overlooked – such as in a safe spot in the bedroom where my mother used to them, sugar addict that she was – also unhinged me. Would they find the cough drops I keep at the head of my bed or in the bottom drawer of my bathroom vanity and, if they didn’t find the little drops, and neither did I remember to gather them up, would I forget and eat one in the following days and unwittingly put poison inside my body?
The boxes used to carry food away have come back home. Then a new job commenced. Before emptying them, I had to cleanse sticky shelves of the refrigerator and the cupboards. Juice or oil had dripped and hardened and required spray cleaner, baking soda, muscle power and a scouring sponge. I arranged food stuffs and medicines neatly in their freshly-scrubbed shelves. After that, I took scissors and sliced tape holding those brown cardboard boxes together. With them flattened, I could finally take them away and feel again the pleasure of my house in order.
How wonderful this morning sit in my home this morning and have that past me. I lounge in my office and notice that the windows that my husband and I carefully wiped clean of streaks and hardened particles one Saturday morning are smeared again. Yet I feel that those smudges are alright. I’ve worked hard and long. So instead of attempting to wipe them clean, I retreat into the world of words again.