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Fractured Christmas Carols

Chew up the antique dress! Never, I was just remodelling the fashion.
Call me Scrooge. Some years ago -- never mind how long precisely -- having no large animals in the house other than a husband and nothing in particular to prevent me, I thought I would let a neighborhood mouse winter in our home. It served as a way of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation -- and it seemed a lot safer than Ishmael's plan to ship out to sea.

Naturally, the mouse proved to be pregnant, but other than that, we couldn't complain. She and her brood ate the same peanuts and sunflower seeds stockpiled for the squirrels, and every spring the mice obligingly allowed themselves to be trapped and transported to a nearby field for summer vacation. In between, the mice provided a wealth of funny animal tales suitable for all ages.

One holiday season, the mice ate their way up the legs of a foil-wrapped chocolate Santa someone gave us, but it seemed a better way to dispose of drug store chocolate than throwing it out. Plus, I really enjoyed the way guys reacted when they saw the pattern of the little tooth marks. My husband Greg -- brave killer of centipedes, trapper of cave crickets, griller of raw meat, and funeral director for furred and feathered victims of windstorms and careless drivers -- blanched at the sight.

The mice seldom intruded into our privacy, and their late night appearances generally made us laugh, especially when my mom visited. "Don't think of them as rodents, Ma. Think of them as 'free range pets.'" The mice even inspired a short story when six of them managed to turn our old humane trap into an arena of doom. But the sight of all those pathetic dead bodies made me reluctant to set the new traps we bought as replacements.

OK, so the mice chewed up a couple old sweaters to fleece their nest. Using Greg's old comforter as a kind of Mousey Burial Ground pushed the envelope too, and I admit I cringed when I saw the way they chewed the bias collar of my treasured Pauline Trigere cape suit. But the Great Godiva® Easter Bunny Fiasco taught us that mice hate the smell of plastic bags, so we could cope.

But then the mice nibbled the covers of a couple of our first editions. So much for Mr. and Mrs. Nice Guy. Even if we are less than a month before the holidays. Even if this promises to be the coldest winter in years. You touch the books, you…well, maybe you don't die, but you don't get to share the house.

Greg and I carefully baited the traps with slices of Russell Stover® peanut butter Easter eggs. It took us a few tries to figure out how to balance the weight so that a mouse could trip the doors, but just last week the doors clanged shut, announcing our first capture.

Did you ever get up close and personal with a mouse? Talk about cute: soft, cream-colored underbelly; big, melting, brown-black eyes. Greg suggested we could buy the mouse a cage and a little wheel, but mice need a constant source of food and water, or they die. What if we forgot about it for a day? I wouldn't want a pet's death on my conscience. I had a hard enough time carrying the trap a nearby field.

To strengthen my resolve, I lectured the mouse: "You know this would've never happened if you and your relatives hadn't chewed on the books. We could deal with the clothes but not the books. Books are the cornerstone of our society, the wellspring of the prosperity that allows us to share our food supply with life forms we formerly considered vermin…"

The mouse pressed him- or herself into the far corner of the cage in a small, pathetic simulation of guilt. It tugged my heartstrings, even though I knew the wee beastie flinched from my voice and my size, not any sense of responsibility for the destruction civilization as we know it. One of the local squirrels seemed fascinated by the proceedings, but he didn't know what "book" meant either. He just wanted to see if he could snag the peanut butter when I popped the cage.

Much to my chagrin, another of our mice managed to spring the trap this morning. I cussed as I put on my coat and hat. Didn't the critter have enough sense not to trap itself in the middle of a rainstorm? I hated the thought of this small -- well, plump ball of fluff set adrift in a wet, alien landscape without shelter or food.

"So, did you give it the lecture?" Crescent Blues Assistant Editor Teri Smith asked me over the phone after I did the dastardly deed.


"You know, the one about books being the wellspring of civilization and the only reason you can pay outrageous bribes of sunflower seeds to the squirrel Mafia."

"No, I felt too bad for that. But I did bring a handful of peanuts with me, so that the mouse wouldn't starve. It never saw rain before, and I think it would've run back into the trap if it could."

Teri snickered. "Jean Marie Scrooge, I'm ashamed of you. Like the book says, this is the time, of all others, when Want is most keenly felt and Abundance rejoices. The least you could've done was spring for Godiva®."

Jean Marie Ward
With a tip of the holiday hat to Herman Melville and Charles Dickens

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