Butch Has Bats In His Belfry

Ok, I admit it. I hate bats. No, not baseball bats, but those winged creatures with ugly faces and teeth that look like fangs…and come out at night and fly around…swooping down and scaring the bejeebers out of just about everyone. Yes, I know…they are supposedly beneficial critters that eat insects and are mostly harmless. Now I said “mostly,” and I’ll tell you why shortly.

As a youngster, there were lots of bats on our farm. I remember seeing them hanging by their tails in the rafters in the barn. Then as darkness came, they flew around the two security lights in the barnlot. I was not afraid of them, and was amazed at how fast they could fly, turn, and twist. After I became an expert shot at the age of 8 with my new Red Ryder B-B rifle (subsequently shooting out the glass lightning rod bulbs on both barns, along with the kitchen window), one evening at dusk I tried my aim at bats. Of course I had no luck, and that was a good thing…since later on I was informed that they are a protected species.

However, my indifferent attitude toward bats changed in the summer of 1958, when I was 9 years old. My folks were playing cards with another couple in Darlington one evening, and they dropped me off at the Sunshine Theater, handing me a quarter for a ticket and a dime for popcorn. It was vampire movie…one of those 1950s B-rated flicks. What fun! One of my cousins was sitting in the front row, and I sat right behind him. I wasn’t afraid…until a vampire-bat-evil-Dracula-like character opened a casket with a dead woman inside, and then drove a wooden stake through her heart. She opened her eyes and screamed. Blood oozed from her mouth. That did it. I hightailed it down the aisle and ran five blocks at lightning speed to the home where my parents were visiting. Then a few weeks later I woke up one morning to find a bat clinging to the wall of my bedroom. Oh Lord! Thankfully, Dad took care of it. And then to top it off, my parents told me that my cousin, Becky Cohee, was awakened one night with a bat fluttering near her head, and ran down the stairs…screaming in utter terror…waking her entire family, until her father managed to trap it.

Well, bats can’t really hurt you…or so I thought. In the late 1970s, my father-in-law was feeding his pigs late one evening when a bat kept swooping down near him. As he headed to his pickup, the bat nicked him on the forehead, drawing blood. On the next swoop, he knocked the bat to the ground and killed it. His wife suggested he take the dead bat to a veterinarian to be examined. Two days later, while in Clarks Hill, a state trooper located him…and told him to get in the patrol car…now. The bat had been infected with rabies. My father-in-law then had to go to the hospital several times for almost two weeks to receive shots in the abdomen…to prevent him from contracting the deadly disease. He said the shots were very painful, but there was no alternative back then.

Fast forward to 1991. I was a deputy sheriff at night, and the Darlington librarian by day. One evening, while on-duty, the library alarm went off. When I arrived and turned on the lights, a bat swooped down right past my face. It had set off the motion alarms. OK…I’m outta there! The next day I found the bat…dead. However, a few years later, I went downstairs one afternoon to empty the restroom waste basket. As I was bending down, I heard a sqeaking sound, turned my head toward the window sill…and was face-to-face with a bat, not more than six inches away…wings spread out, fangs showing…staring me right in the eyes. I just know that bat wanted to suck blood from my jugular vein! Now what?

I found an old dust rag and slowly approached the bat, hoping to cover it and entrap it. My heart was pounding. Luckily it just sat there on the window sill. I jumped at it and covered it with the rag, but then it started sqeaking. Fortunately it did not escape and I hurried back upstairs where a lady was waiting to check out a book. She opened the front door, and I let the bat loose…off it flew out over Main street…likely smiling a big bat grin, knowing that it could sneak back into the library attic through the tile roof that same afternoon.

Snakes, spiders, rats, vicious dogs…none of those bother me. And as a police officer I faced off against people with knives or guns, crazy people, drunks, psychopaths, killers…no problem. Just keep the bats away, and I’m happy. And if I wake up some night with a bat fluttering near my head, like what happened to cousin Becky, please call 911 and report a possible heart attack victim. It will be me.

John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.