Readers, stay with me on this one . . . Have you ever had relatives live with you? I suspect many of you have, at least for a short period of time, perhaps because of an emergency, family problems, etc. Well, my mother-in-law lived with us for about six years . . . and I will say this . . . she was a very sweet lady. I honestly could not have asked for a nicer mother-in-law. Betty treated me like her son. She passed away last year at the age of 96, and we all miss her.
But sometimes problems arise when relatives live together . . . for a variety of reasons. Betty's hearing was not good. We purchased hearing aids for her, but her dog chewed one up, and she accidentally flushed the other one down the toilet . . . goodbye to $6,000.
To hear her favorite George Jones music DVD, she turned the TV sound up to the MAXIMUM. Walls shook, lights flickered, the dogs hid under the bed. As Betty's macular degeneration worsened, sometimes she punched in the wrong time for microwave meals. Food looked like charcoal, smoke permeated the house, the dogs hid under the bed. And on three occasions, she turned on the water in the kitchen sink to do dishes, was distracted by something else . . . and left the water running . . . all afternoon. The kitchen and adjacent bathroom became an indoor pond. And yes, the dogs hid under the bed.
Well, that's life I guess. We didn't complain. My wife and I aren't perfect either. We surmised that perhaps some day, we might have the same problems. Betty helped us out a lot in many ways, and she always had a very good attitude and pleasant demeanor. One of Betty's hobbies was having a few animals on our farm. She had miniature goats, a little donkey and several ducks, and I would help her with these on occasion. One morning when I went out to feed the ducks, I spotted five large raccoons scurrying away. The raccoons had killed ALL of the ducks . . . blood and feathers everywhere. I never liked raccoons, as one climbed into the cab of my antique truck one night and shredded the entire interior. Our veterinarian also told me that raccoons carry many diseases, especially rabies. Well, I set a live trap that night, and caught four of the raccoons, but evidently the other sneaky critter had skipped town.
However, one morning about two weeks later, when I was filling up the birdfeeders by the back porch, I heard a strange sound. I looked up . . . and there was that killer raccoon on the roof of our house. It appeared wobbly and sick, and just stood there and stared at me. I ran inside and grabbed my old .22 rifle. As I took aim, I wondered if the bullet would possibly pass through the raccoon's body and into our aluminum siding . . . maybe, maybe not. But when it bared its teeth and hissed, that did it. I fired twice, and the diseased raccoon came rolling off the roof . . . dead . . . GOOD! I then looked up and noticed TWO HOLES in the aluminum siding . . . NOT GOOD!
Now I will mention that we had fixed up an upstairs bedroom for Betty, with a bathroom close by. She would often spend a great deal of time in this upstairs bathroom in the mornings . . . waiting for nature to take its course. So why do I mention this, you might ask? When I looked up and saw those two holes in the siding, I realized that I had struck the house right where her bathroom was located....Oh Lord! I prayed that the bullets had not penetrated the wall while my dear mother-in-law was sitting atop her porcelain throne looking at photos in People magazine.
I ran inside and dashed upstairs. Betty was not in the bathroom. She was not in her room. Maybe downstairs trying to call 911? No . . . I found her in the living room working on a latch-hook and munching on a Little Debbie snack cake. She hadn't even heard the gunshots. I headed back to the upstairs bathroom . . . no holes in the wall. Our house was built around 1900. The walls are thick . . . not like homes built today. Thank God.
I located some white tape, climbed a ladder to the roof, and covered over the two holes. Hopefully my wife wouldn't notice. I then had a cup of coffee and sat in the kitchen to calm my nerves and reflect on my raccoon shooting episode . . . And then it occurred to me . . . if I had plugged Betty while she was roosting on her perch, the headlines in the newspaper would have read:
"Former Sheriff CLAIMS He Shot His Mother-in-law by Accident: Prosecutor Files Charges Against Local Idiot"
When I told my wife . . . (yes, a few years later), she stated that I would never have been convicted. I could claim that I had been overcome by the thick black fog of burned microwave meals, that I was physically and mentally exhausted from replacing the kitchen and bathroom floor three times and my brain was traumatized from listening to George Jones singing "White Lightning" ten thousand times at 50,000 decibels. If worst came to worst, and I could not convince the jury it was an accident, I could have pleaded "not guilty by reason of temporary insanity."
Yeah, that's the ticket . . . sounds good to me . . . but next time, if a vicious raccoon with rabies appears on our roof, I will only use tear gas or pepper spray . . . or call a professional social worker or psychologist . . . to talk to me!

John "Butch" Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history. He writes a general column that appears in The Paper on Fridays and a local sports column on Tuesdays.