This is a favorite of the snopesters. I've told this one many a time. Granted, I've tried to shorten it on message boards, to keep the length down because I'm a member on those boards and don't want to make more work for the moderators (being a mod and admin on other boards myself). I've also realized some people don't like reading long posts. At any rate, even shortened, this story is a long one. But since this is my blog, I will tell it in as much entirety as I can.
First, I announced today, that I want the kids to help me remember some of the conversations we've had with the DG because they'll have a different memory than I will of certain details. Then I said, "Oh, I have to tell the Rats with the little Nike shoes story."
DG turned to me (he's taking apart the Christmas tree) and said, with much regal air, "Yes! That one must be told! It should be shared, like a bedtime story."
I said, "Really? A bedtime story?"
He replied, "Of course! The little children can say, 'I dreamed about them, the rats in their little Nike shoes' and then they can tell the story to others."
The DG is disabled from his time in the Army, specifically his time in the first Gulf War. So he's a patient at the Veteran's Administration hospital in Madison, WI (because we live in Wisconsin). The VA hospital is not known for speedy waiting room times. We were up there for a disability reassessment because the VA gave him a treatment that didn't work (I knew it wouldn't, and I protested greatly). Not only did it not work, it made his arm worse. (It was supposed to loosen the muscles- some jerk told him "it will get your arm back" and he believed him and no matter how much proof I showed that it wouldn't work, I was ignored). At any rate, we were in the waiting room and I was reading Bill Bryson's book about Shakespeare. We were sitting side-by-side and not once did he look over at me. I only glanced at him every once in a while during this conversation. I even held my book as if I were trying to read it, but obviously, I wasn't. I didn't read much more that day, in fact.
There were several people all around. I read a part of the book out loud to Jerry because I found it interesting. It was basically saying that during Shakespeare's time, the Black Plague would resurface every ten years or so and during that time, the royal family would go to their "country estate" to get away from the danger. (This was during the time when London was still mostly surrounded by a wall). The "country estate" they escaped to was about ten miles from the city. Nowadays, that's just ridiculous. Ten miles? Really!
I said, "I guess ten miles is too far for a plague-infested rat to travel."
DG replied, "Of course it is, they're rats. They can't walk that far."
Me: "And they're sick, you know, with the Plague and the fleas that carry it."
DG: "And the road was hot, and they'd get little bruises and blisters."
Me: "Bruises and blisters?"
DG: "Yeah, they'd get little stone bruises on their feet. Blisters too. And then they'd fall over on the side of the road and die... their little stone bruised feet all swolled up. It was sad."
Me: "Really? These rats would get stone bruises on their feet and die?"
DG: "Blisters too." There he paused. I noticed that other people were listening. Some were smiling and even chuckling. Others were holding it in, but they all seemed to be enjoying it. "And they would fall down. Their friends couldn't help them, they're rats too."
Me: "Of course not, rats don't have first aid kits or first aid training."
DG: "Or course they don't! They're rats! Don't be ridiculous."
I'm not supposed to be ridiculous? I was also trying not to laugh and I was egging him on by asking him questions about the rats.
Me: "So, you're saying these rats would just drop dead on this dirt road between London and the royals' country estate?"
DG: "Yes, it was called the Road of Death and those poor little rats had no one to help them. You know what they needed?"
DG: "Well, of course they needed help, but they really needed little Nike shoes."
Me: "Really? Nike shoes?"
DG: "Little Nike shoes. And they're rats, so they needed two pairs of little Nike shoes."
Me: "How can a rat afford a single pair of Nike shoes much less two pairs?"
DG: "Little Nike shoes. They didn't afford them, that's why they died."
Me: "They died from stone bruises and blisters on their feet?"
DG: "No, don't be ridiculous, they fell down from the stone bruises and blisters. They died from dehydration and starvation."
Me: "Because they couldn't walk after they fell down?"
DG: "No, of course not, that's why it was the Road of Death. And their little rat friends couldn't bring them water or food, they're rats. They don't carry canteens."
Me: "So if they had little Nike shoes, these rats would have spread the Plague further?"
DG: "Yeah, but its a tragic tale. Sad, really, all those rats dying on that road. And when they'd lay there dying, they'd sneeze because of the dust. Humans didn't care, they'd walk by and not even pay attention to a bruised and blistered rat on the side of the road. Sometimes they'd even kick dirt at them."
Me: "And they'd sneeze?"
DG: "You know it." He sighed around this time and stopped talking. I started reading my book again and then he said: "They teach it, you know."
Me: "Teach what?"
DG: "The story of the rats. They teach it."
Me: "Where do they teach it?"
DG: "In history class. Rat history class."
Me: "So they teach it in rat history class so no other rat children grow up to get stone bruises?"
DG: "No, they're all wearing little Nike shoes now."
Me: "Doesn't it make it hard for them to write?"
DG: *confused look* "Write what?"
Me: "In class. Don't they have to take notes in class?"
DG: "Don't be ridiculous, they're rats, they can't write. They memorize it."
Me: "Rats, wearing little Nike shoes to protect against stone bruises and blisters on their feet, memorize the tragic tale of the Road of Death during Shakespeare's time?"
Shortly thereafter, we were called into the appointment. I can only hope that the people who heard the story in the waiting room of the William S. Middleton Memorial Veteran's Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin are sharing this story with their grandchildren.
Because- Knowledge is power and someone has to think of the poor stone-bruised and blistered rats.
**Edited to add**
I read this out loud to DG. He chuckled, laughed, denied saying some of the things- but of course, we know he did. Then he said, "Hey! I wonder if Jason's rats are related to them." (our almost-18 year old son has two pet rats) "We should go ask them if they know the story."