Living in an old house has a way of revealing character that people in new, tight houses never experience.

Living in an old house has a way of revealing character that people in new, tight houses never experience.

They never have to deal with the bugs, for instance, the thousands of creatures to whom an old house is just a detail in the enormous tableau that is their natural habitat.

New homeowners may complain about radon and incomplete plumbing, but they never experience the annoyance of having to add bug handling to the morning routine. Owners of new homes wake up, go to the kitchen, start the coffee and then scratch themselves while gazing out the window or whatever.

I wouldn't know, because people in old homes don't enjoy that kind of leisure. Their mornings begin with a cautious inspection of the kitchen floor before entering, followed by a brisk session of bug swatting and disposal. Only then can a person proceed to the coffee maker with any kind of confidence.

Not that bugs are swarming around every single day. They have seasons just like everything else. If decades in my old house have taught me nothing else, they've taught me that. Spring and fall are the high seasons for bugs, who are born or hatched or released from cocoons even as farmers are working the land, planting the crops or harvesting them. Either way, the upheaval drives thousands of tiny creatures out of the fields and into the nearest shelter. I don't have to tell you where that is.

We haven't been idle, of course. Over the years, my husband has patiently and thoroughly patched and plugged every conceivable portal for the bugs who have been seen trekking across our kitchen linoleum, only to witness the arrival of a new species a few weeks or days or hours later. It's like calling off a family reunion, only to have a crowd of relatives show up anyway, no offense to my family or anybody else's.

I've grown accustomed to the bugs over the years. Early on, when we were new homeowners and new county residents and new parents and also new at making moral decisions regarding the crickets who were boinging around the kitchen and crouching in the then-tan living room carpet like predators in the veld, coping with bugs was a foreign activity.

We started by taking humanitarian measures: opening the back door and sweeping crickets out; scooping up one or two on a fly swatter and marching them to the yard like a chef processing through the dining room with dessert on a platter; gently toeing those creatures trying to climb over the doorsill back onto the porch before lifting them with the edges of our shoe's soles and sending them through imaginary goalposts and onto the grass. These were crickets, after all, harmless happy bugs who sing "When You Wish Upon a Star" and sit on hearths.

It wasn't long, however, before the sight of yet another blankety-blank bug crouching in our path or springing out from under something seriously eroded our sympathy, our well-intentioned mercies, our oneness with the other creatures of the world, especially the creatures who were hiding in corners and leaping out of drawers and being inadvertently squished under our feet.

That's when the carnage began, the wholesale and completely advertent disposal of as many crickets as came within our range of motion. We had had it, I tell you. When a person is all but tripping over crickets in her own house, she cannot be held responsible for relieving the world of one or two. Thousand, if possible.

After the crickets came the scourge of earwigs, who at first struck us as gentle little things, Beth Marches and Melanie Wilkeses in a world they never made, but again, their sheer numbers swiftly wiped our consciences clean of all transgressions even as we went through the house with the vacuum cleaner hose trained on as many gentle little things as we could find.

And, well, that's the way it's been ever since. Gradually, each bug species took the hint and went elsewhere for the off-season -- I refuse to think we actually put dents in the populations -- but another one always arrives to fill the void.

This year it's beetles. Black beetles, impervious to fly swatters, rolled-up newspapers or even the direct application of one's foot. You think they're smooshed, you think they're goners, and even as you wipe them up with a piece of paper towel, they miraculously reassemble themselves, crawl out of the bunched up paper, scuttle across your hand -- Aiiiieeee! -- and make a plunging dive to the floor.

With the beetles, I spent almost no time nudging them gently or encouraging them sweetly. I moved almost immediately to the "just get them out of here" stage of disposal, thus revealing my character beyond all defense.

Of course, thanks to their amazing powers of rejuvenation, I haven't managed to actually kill any of them. I like to think this might win me a few points in my favor.

Margo Bartlett is a ThisWeek Staff Writer. E-mail her at mbartlett@thisweeknews.com.

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