Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Mouse was in the House

When we were little girls, my sister Patty and I loved to visit Kings, a humongous department store on University Boulevard.  While momma was downstairs buying a bath mat or tissues or school supplies, Patty and I always headed upstairs to visit the pet department.  This was the early 1960's and parents and kids weren't afraid of strangers, because everyone was nice back then and we were safe.  That, and the upstairs was more of a balcony and we could look down and search out our mother anytime we wanted.  Being very well behaved, as most children of that time were, the adults didn't mind the two little girls, probably holding hands, and wishing for every pet in the store.

We would oooh and ahhh over the turtles, goldfish and hamsters, but on this visit, there were tiny and adorable baby mice.   She was thrifty and, other than a penny in the gumball machine, momma didn't buy things on a whim. We probably had a couple of cats, a dog, and maybe an adopted raccoon or opossum in the yard or garage, plus Patty and I had access to a bevy of warty frogs that we diapered with toilet paper squares and tiny gold safety pins.  Well aware that momma would say we didn't need to add to our animal menagerie, Patty and I stayed upstairs, faces glued to the glass aquarium crawling with the most adorable mice we had ever seen.

Except a parakeet, pets may have visited inside, but they were never allowed to live there.  We had inside visitors, like when we brought a cat in.  We would put a kitty in the living room coffee table.  The doors were like a jail cell that closed with a strong magnet and a plate of brass.  The captive cat would reach his paws through the wooden spindles to slap at the feather or string we teased him with.  The cats would play and when they tired of our torture, we put them back outside where they'd stretch in the sunshine and take a well-deserved nap.

Momma came upstairs to collect us, and Patty and I were in mouse mode.  "Oh please, please, please!" we begged.  "They're so small and cute and there are little cages and besides, Julie and Susan have a hamster!"  They must have been adorable, because momma surprised us and bent to our pleas.  The smallest ones were the absolute cutest, and because we thought that we would get to enjoy our pets a little longer if we got the youngest ones, Patty and I each chose a mouse that was barely past the 'pinky' stage.  We were so excited!

I can't remember if momma bought a cage or we brought our mice home in a tiny cardboard box and reassigned a bird cage.  I do remember having a wonderful afternoon, playing with our tiny new pets, and setting up their mouse house.  We didn't want to go to bed that night, but knew there was more mouse play in the morning, so with the cage in our bedroom, we went to sleep.  What a disappointment the next morning to find an empty cage!  Our mice were so tiny, they slipped between the bars and were on the lamb!  Momma helped us search our bedroom, and we set out food and hoped to find them enjoying a meal and then catch our little escapees.

After a few days, we probably forgot their names.   After a week, Patty and I gave up on ever seeing our mice again and reassigned the cage for frog play.  And although it was probably less than a dollar each mouse and $3 for a cage, momma surely mentioned that this was all a huge waste of money as we hunted for change for the popsicle man.

Momma was active in the Junior Women's Club and a church circle.  Never would we have believed that the mice would hide out undetected and only surface when company came over.  It turns out, ladies' groups were a big draw for mice, and they would peek over the edge of the cornice boards to see what was going on, then run down the drapery for a visit.  Momma was mortified and felt that her friends would think that we had mice-mice, and so she pretended they didn't exist.  If the ladies ever noticed a darling little brown mouse with white spots and another mostly white one with a big gray saddle-spot on his back, they politely didn't say.

I don't know what happened to the mice.  Patty and I hoped they squeezed under the front door to live happily ever after in nearby woods.  Momma probably baited mouse traps after her little girls went to bed at night until she was doubly successful.  This is exactly what I would do in this situation today.

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