I never hear the terms “dad-rattit” or “dad-gummit” anymore.
Which brings me to a fascinating book I’m reading.
It’s called “Over the Edge of the World” and it tells of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe in search of the Spice Islands.
“Rat” and “gums” are among the topics discussed at length as the remaining three vessels of the five that started on the Magellan expedition began their crossing on Dec. 20, 1520, of the Pacific after fumbling around for months looking for a passage through and around the southern end of South America.
No mention is made in the book of “dad-rattit” and “dad-gummit” so I’m pretty sure these weren’t Italian sailor slang.
But as I read of the long sixteenth century journey I got to thinking about those terms substituted for mild curses by my granddad to protect our little wax and dirt-filled ears
Rats were common on ships in the early days. As food became more infested with worms, or rotted away completely, Magellan’s sailors placed more and more of a premium on a meal of well-boiled, or even raw rat, tail and all.
And despite what sailors felt were the rat meat’s magical work in preventing what became know as scurvy, the disease, later found to be a lack of vitamin C that caused gums to swell, bleed and loose teeth was rampant. Several dozen on the exploration died of scurvy.
So I’ve been thinking of rats, their assumed magical powers, and their proliferation at what was once the town dump.
All town dumps back then where all sorts of the flotsam and jetsam eventually ended up, providing shelter and plentiful sustenance for thousands of rats.
It was not unusual to see rats exploring the rest of the city. Controlling the population was a common topic.
Professional ratologists were imported to try to bring the propagation of the rodent population under control, leaving delicious-looking hinds of horse salted with some kind of rat poison in the hopes of killing them all off.
Warnings were published the local paper warning residents to keep dogs and kids at home while the poison did its job on rats.
Nothing worked, and the rats continued to be the dominant population of the dump. Just as Magellan’s sailors were unable to eat rats to distinction aboard the Trinidad, Victoria and the Concepcion, the domination of rats never happened out at the city dump grounds.
So today, dad-rattit, the little communities out here on the flatlands still offer some pretty good rat hunting safaris for the town’s BB-gun sharpshooters.
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