6. Defeated But Not Destroyed
Between our expenses at Home Depot, A-1 Irrigation, Harbor Freight, and Amazon, we could have put a child through college. The shopping list seemed endless, but we had a vision and refused to let the future get blurry, despite the amount of dust in our present.
Fortunately Harbor Freight had a sale on market lights, meaning we bought enough strands to brighten the barn. Before we could drape them from the rafters however, we had to clean the place, starting with the pile of boxes stashed behind the register area. This leaning Tower of Pisa had been a priority on our to do list, but repairs and setbacks derailed our progress.
With both of us away at work, we put Belinda on the task to toss anything that was beyond repair or soiled by rats. A few items in question were set aside for us to make the final call each evening.
We donated old computers and other electronics, tossed loads of “what the heck is this?” items, and cleared off the entire counter including the glass slab that had been covering old postcards and letters. In its place came a fresh coat of white paint.
Belinda warned us that the glass-top had a purpose, and without it, the white wood would immediately be stained by rat urine. To us, the answer seemed simple. Get rid of the rats. But as realists, we also knew that couldn’t happen overnight. It would take time, maybe even months.
At least a dozen people encouraged us to quit the rat battle and let cats do our dirty work. While barn cats did cross our minds, we thought of how feral cats might impact our business. A broken vase here, a fur ball there,cat hair — we played out all possible scenarios before turning our backs on feline fighters.
Instead, we set more traps. Before long, it was as if the rats had engineered the traps themselves. Cheese, peanut butter — you name it, we tried it. They ate every morsel without triggering a snap. We were averaging two rats a week, when we should have been banking two a day.
One night over dinner, I told Benjamin about my agony of defeat, and how the barn was far from what I had ever envisioned. I wasn’t proud of the way it looked, nor was I at a point I wanted to call it my own. To me, the barn felt a little sad and tired, and I couldn’t seem to love it fast enough to give it the compassion it deserved.
Benjamin gently reminded me we had been on the property less than a month, but I didn’t care. I felt we had gone “all in” to rescue something bigger than us. I stared down at my slice of Trader Joe’s pizza, wondering how two foodies like us had turned our “emergency” meal into an evening staple.
Sighing deeply, I crunched into the corner crust, absolutely exhausted after another 12-hour day. And that’s when I saw it, a mouse calmly sitting on the brick floor right behind Benjamin’s stool.
“Chucho! Lola! Get it, get it, get it!!!!”
From zonked out to beyond agro, the tuckered pups sprang from under the table and ran in no particular direction.
“No, no! Here. It’s over here!” I screamed.
Benjamin and I both ran to the corner where the mouse was hiding behind an old milk jug, ironically one we had bought in the shop years before. There we were, our family of four hunched over the jug ready for the moment we could capture the rodent.
Inside the milk jug was a collection of antique yardsticks that we previously displayed at our 1950’s farmhouse. As if grabbing a sword in battle, Benjamin quickly drew a yardstick from the jug and held it above his head.
“Okay, you guys ready? I’m going to move the milk jug and you three trap the mouse.”
The dogs were drooling in anticipation.
“Wait, wait a second,” I said. “So, are you going to stab the mouse with the yardstick? Is that what’s happening here?”
He nodded in confidence. “Yes. Yes, I am. There’s no time to grab another weapon. Any hesitation and we will lose him.”
Our captain had spoken. We had our orders. I gave Benjamin the nod.
“On three,” he instructed. “One . . .two . . . three!”
In one swift move, he yanked the milk jug, while the mouse scampered up the wall. Chucho and Lola charged like bulls, butting heads in the corner, and ironically serving as a springboard for the mouse to catapult into a two-inch crack within our adobe wall.
Shoving the yardstick into the wall, Benjamin pushed the mouse into the crack. The dogs buried their snouts into the darkness, their teeth just inches from the rodent.
“He’s coming down,” Benjamin informed us. “I think we’ve got him.”
Suddenly, like a soaring eagle, the mouse sprung from the wall and darted past us into the parlor and directly into an open hole near our fireplace.
“We’ve lost him,” Benjamin said, dropping his yardstick to the floor. “It’s over.”
Refusing to give up, the dogs kept sniffing and whining, noses to the ground between the wall crack and the fireplace. As painful as it was, we had to admit this had become our new normal, a constant battle against mice-ninjas. I turned to Benjamin, pleading for words of wisdom, next steps, and weapons to conquer.
“Well, first,” he said, “We have to get rid of their hiding spots. That means we toss all the junk, and we seal every hole, crack, and opening in this house and barn. There’s no other way.”
Back to the barn we went, a family of fighters, defeated but not destroyed. Walking behind the register, we made a decision to purge like we’d never purged before, starting with the staff “closet”.
For years, a thick curtain had draped the entire back section, hiding boxes, bins, and décor that beckoned to be sorted and labeled. Despite its age and French history, the curtain was the first item to be tossed, so soiled and stained that the thought of carrying it past the garbage felt wrong.
We wanted to start fresh in every way possible. It was a new era for the Betty Crocker Estate, and Brick and Barn would be her heroic angel. But right now, our wings were clipped, heavy, and smelling like rat pee.
That next afternoon, I took a break from my contract work to clean the barn. In between hours on the computer, I would sweep, dust, and vacuum with the new shop vac we purchased for the team.
That’s when I noticed I was having trouble breathing. My allergies were horrific, I sneezed constantly, my eyes burned, and my throat had an acidic taste that grew increasingly worse by the day.
With our first official show before us, there was a lot of prepping to do to make it all come together. Since the previous owner was still on the property the day we closed escrow, we made the March show a joint effort between us. This show, a week away, would be our first solo sale as Brick n Barn owners.
In retrospect, it’s hard to believe how much has changed in the barn. Now rodent free, the only critter-sightings are those of an occasional disoriented bunny rabbit. But, in those early weeks, the battle lines were daunting.
Belinda showed us the ropes, including maintenance routine between shows: cover surface items with old sheets to avoid rat stains; check all drawers and cupboards for rat nests; wrap linens in plastic bags to avoid stains . . .the rodent checklist went on.
As I prepped the barn for our April show, my coughing and sneezing were out of control. That’s when one of our vendors explained, “Yep, that’s the rat feces and pee that’s getting to you — which is why you have to decorate in stages. Too many hours, and it will catch up with you.”
I refused to live this way, and so help me if I would ever run a business under those conditions. That evening, Benjamin pulled into the driveway and I showed him my barn-decorating progress. In keeping with the show themes, I had decided to call the sale “April Showers.” Throughout the barn were rain boots filled with wildflowers, crystal strands dangling from water buckets, and 20 white umbrellas suspended from the rafters.
“What did this all cost?” Benjamin asked.
His question stung me, especially after all the time and effort I had invested to keep the show going, in spite of everything else we had on our plates.
“Well, I spent $60 on props, and $30 in plants.”
He shook his head in frustration. “We’re trying to purge and get rid of this crap, not add to it. Now we’re going to have to store umbrellas the rest of the year . . . I really think we should consider stopping the themes altogether.”
I crossed my arms, ready to aim with every bullet in my verbal artillery. “You know what!? I have a full-time job too, and this. . . . this ‘antique shop’ isn’t it! This was your dream, remember? Not mine, and ironically, I’m the one in here late at night hanging flippin’ umbrellas!”
“I didn’t ask you to hang umbrellas,” he snapped. “They aren’t even for sale!”
I turned and walked away, stopping at the heap of items Belinda had left for us to review. It stunk, literally. In it were pink and purple Christmas trees, mannequin limbs, a mechanical Santa, wooden planks, broken mirrors, torn tarps, sheets of glass, metal bars, broken furniture, plastic flowers, molded cushions, and undefinable objects.
Behind me was the sound of Benjamin’s footsteps on gravel. Taking my hand, he mumbled, “I hate this so much. It’s not ‘us’, but someday it will be. Until then, we have to get through the weeds — together.”
In an unspoken apology, I playfully changed the subject. “You wanna keep any of this stuff? I was thinking maybe the purple Christmas trees infested with rat urine. But that’s just me.”
“Yes,” he said with a smile. “And I have the perfect place for them.”
Pulling a tree from the pile, he dragged it toward the growing trash heap awaiting our next dump trip. Swinging it like a hammer-throwing Olympian, he screamed as it shattered a piece of glass. Following his lead, I grabbed another Christmas tree, this one covered in strands of broken lights. As I tossed it on top of the heap, I laughed like I hadn’t laughed in weeks.
“Those trees look so good together,” I giggled.
“Wait, it’s my turn,” Benjamin said, this time dragging out two pink trees. By now, we were laughing hysterically.
“No, please, let me help you with that,” I said, grabbing the base. With one big swing, we listened as glass shattered and boards broke. Item by item, we kept going until everything had moved from the “review” pile to the trash heap. We screamed out with pent-up emotion — anger and freedom and joy in the moment.
Feeling liberated, we both climbed atop the heap. It was our mountain, small but mighty, and one that we claimed victory.
“Hey,” he said. “We’re going to make it. And this place is going to be amazing . . . someday.”
“I know it will.” I started to cry. “I know.”
Next story on "Channeling Betty" coming soon.