On a gusty day in March 1969, my dad was moving his giant stack of cement forms from one place on our property to another. Jim and I were helping, though I imagine a seven- and four-year-old were more of a hindrance than a help. Our brainless Chocolate Labrador, Tinker, was running around the fields biting at air and gleefully dashing through clumps of dead weeds. Our dad had set up a new location for the forms to be elevated off the ground six or seven inches and we were shifting the large, heavy, cement-encrusted and oil-drenched boards from the old pile to the new. The very vivid part of this memory occurs when dad pried up the corner of the very last board in the old stack and a mouse streaked away into the weeds. As he continued to lift the form, the sound of high-pitched baby animal cries came to my ears. Dad yanked the board onto its edge and revealed a large nest in the ground with about 10 tiny, nearly-naked mice in it. I was horrified and jumped away at first, but then I bent in to look at them closer. They were encased is a nest lined with all kinds of soft bits and pieces of dried grass, feathers, and old fabric fibers. The babies all had their little heads raised and must have been blinded by the sunlight streaming in on them. I had just caught my breath and started to comment about how cute they were when my dad called to Tinker and she bounded over to us, caught sight of the nest and gulped the baby mice down it two or three swallows. My revulsion was beyond bearing. I fled into the house howling at the top of my lungs. My mother rushed to my room to decipher what could cause such a commotion. Between sobs I told her the whole, ugly story. It was one of the few times I remember my mom scolding my dad about something he had done. She gave him an earful about his ruthless behavior and how it would 'scar me for life'.
The mental pictures from that day are indelibly stamped on my brain, but I feel nearly as linked to another mouse event which I didn’t witness, only heard about.
My mother-in-law, 'Mimi', had been widowed and living alone for about 6 years when she had an infestation of mice at her house. Being innovative and never wanting to ask for help, she fashioned a homemade trap by lining up peanuts on a shelf in her storage room and then putting a handful of peanuts in a deep, narrow garbage can. The next morning she had seven (YES, 7!) mice caught in her trap. She said they were a writhing mass climbing over each other attempting to claw their way up the sides of the can without success. Her dilemma became: “what do I do now?”
Mimi decided to get the can outside and dump the mice into her big, lidded garbage can. She carefully carried the can up the stairs, but as she shifted it to open her sliding glass door onto her deck, she must have tilted it enough for one mouse to claw up to the top of the can, onto her hand, up her arm, where it leapt from her shoulder onto the decking and dashed away. At that point she changed her plans for the remaining six mice. She covered the open end of the can with a heavy garbage bag, tipped the mass into the bag, tied the top, and used her gardening hoe to chop them up before dropping the bag into her bin.
Mimi was 83 years old when she became the 'exterminator'. She related the event to us as she showed us the shelf, the can, walked us out onto the deck and held up the little, short-handled hoe saying, “This is the murder weapon.” I have gone back and forth between shivers and giggles over little Mimi as the vicious mouse murderer.
I read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nihm to my children years ago when they were small. It gave me a different perspective about mice and rats, but I will still never stop recoiling at the thought a dog eating baby mice OR having one climb up my arm. I guess Mimi and I both relate to the cartoon character, Felix the cat, when he said, "I hate them meeces to pieces!"