NIGHT OF THE WASPS

I wish I knew why things that are supposed to be simple often turn into major productions. Like getting rid of the wasp nest under the eave of our house.

Living in the Northwest, there were very few summer evenings when it was warm and dry enough to eat in the backyard. When we did, we were tormented by wasps dive bombing us, landing on our food and terrifying our young son, who’d been stung twice previously in other settings. One night we watched a pesky wasp carry off quite a large chunk of baked potato, which was rather entertaining, but we finally decided the wasps had to go.

The exterminator arrived one evening right before dinner, and thoroughly sprayed the wasp nest with some lethal chemical. “That should take care of it,” he announced, packed up, and drove away. After dinner my husband left for a meeting, and the kids and I were left with a wasp free house.

Or so we thought.

The first sign of trouble was when a wasp appeared in the kitchen, seemingly from nowhere. We watched in disbelief as it buzzed slowly around the kitchen. It was followed by a few more wasps, and then more, all drunkenly performing lazy loops before landing on various surfaces.

I looked for an entry site. All the window screens were intact, so where on earth were they coming from? And why? They were supposed to be exterminated, which as far as I know, means dead.

Then I looked up, and saw them squirming through cracks in the ceiling light fixture. It dawned on me that the exterminator’s poison, instead of killing them immediately, had sent them out the back door of the nest, which happened to lead to my kitchen.

All this ruminating took place in a few seconds, while the kids frantically jumped up and down, yelping, and I desperately wondered what to do. Running out the front door and leaving my house to inebriated wasps wasn’t an option. It was after hours for the exterminator. Calling my husband wasn’t an option either, since cell phones weren’t part of life yet. I didn’t have a fly swatter.

So I did what seemed the most sensible thing at the time. I grabbed empty jam and pickle jars I’d been accumulating (I like jars, and hate throwing them out), and used them as wasp traps. The method was to wait until a wasp landed on the patio door or the counter, sneak up on it (remember, they were moving slowly), clap the jar over it, shake the wasp to the bottom, and then slide the lid quickly over the mouth of the jar. This seems silly now, but keep in mind the shock of wasps invading the kitchen, coupled with hysterical kids. The wasps didn’t seem to be in a stinging mood, but who knew what would happen if they sobered up?

My son was hiding somewhere in the depths of the house by this time, but my daughter carried the sealed jars outside one by one and set them on the picnic table. We did this for half an hour or so, for a total of about one-hundred wasps, until the last escapees made it into the kitchen and were promptly caught and sent to the picnic table. That was the end of that.

Or so we thought.

A couple weeks later I noticed a putrid smell in the kitchen. It was particularly strong near one of the electrical outlets. I leaned in to take a whiff. “It smells like something died in there,” I said. And then it hit me. Something certainly had died in there. Many little somethings, in fact. I was smelling the remains of thousands of wasp bodies (the average nest holds 3000-6000), the ones that gave up the ghost before reaching my kitchen. Actually, I had to admire the wasps that had made it out, even if it didn’t end well for them.

The stinky kitchen wasn’t a good development. We’d just put our house on the market. Decaying bodies in the kitchen weren’t a selling point. I covered the outlet with plugs left over from our baby-proofing days and hoped for the best. Eighteen years later, I haven’t heard any complaints from the buyer, so I guess it worked.

But now, when someone says, “That should take care of it,” or “Piece of cake,” or “No problem,” I am properly suspicious. I remember the wasp extermination, and have learned to not be surprised when something turns into a big production. But once in a while, when the project does indeed turn out to be a piece of cake, it feels like a bonus.

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