Rodent Public Relations

After stepping into the dusty, cobwebbed kitchen I stood still and looked around. I loved snooping around in this house. Doves cooed and fluttered their wings upstairs. My brother Casper had turned the front bedroom into a dovecote. The wonderful, earthy smell of freshly stored oats filled the air. Through the doorway into the living room I saw mounds of plump, golden oat seeds. The dust floating in the sunbeams from this harvest didn’t bother me.

My family had lived in this house until eleven years ago when they built a new farmhouse the year before I was born. Daddy used the old house as his granary. Last week our neighbor Mark had combined our oat field. Before storing the grain in the living room and downstairs bedroom, Daddy had nailed planks over the door between the living room and kitchen, up to my height, to prevent the seeds from spilling into the kitchen.

A soft rustling sound in a corner of the room turned my thoughts away from wondering what it had been like living in this house. Following the gentle sound, I pulled a pile of wooden planks away from the wall and found a nest filled with baby mice. Enthralled, I dropped to my knees. Mom wouldn’t want me touching them, so I put my hands together and quietly sat watching them. They looked soft, cuddly and cute.

At the supper table that evening, I mentioned finding the mice. Daddy was keenly interested in where I’d found them. With a frown, Mom stewed, “Mice are filthy, stinky creatures. I don’t want you picking them up.”  She didn’t have to worry. The mice weren’t there the next time I went to the old house kitchen to visit them.

I never realized how unpleasant mice are until 1979 when Arnie and I bought our house in the country. One part of the house’s foundation was cracked. Every fall our house flooded with mice. In my imagination, I pictured the mice in the fields surrounding our home coming together for a survival meeting. The eldest mouse, surrounded by 937 of his closest siblings, would announce in his squeaky voice, “To survive this winter, we will move into the Richardson house. It will be warm and there will surely be plenty of food in the cupboards. The people who live there are big, stupid and move slowly. They won’t miss the small amount of food we steal.”

In the quiet of the night, we heard scrabbling. Packages of food in the kitchen cupboard were nibbled open. To show how much distain they had for us, the mice left behind piles of the black rice of contempt.

The Latin root word of ‘rodent’ means “to gnaw”. Their incisor teeth grow continuously all their lives. Since mice have no storage in their bodies for urine or stool, they dribble urine and feces wherever they go.

I can’t help being bigger than the mice and I certainly move slower than they do, but I’m not stupid. A mouse trap moves very fast. Armed with peanut butter, they are deadly. The mice were wrong. I missed all the food they stole and ruined. I especially felt insulted when I had to clean away their black rice of contempt. Mom was right when I told her about the baby mice I’d found in the old house kitchen. Mice are filthy, stinky creatures!

The year Arnie reconstructed the faulty foundation on our house, the flood of mice that came into our house every fall and winter was stemmed down to a small trickle.

Public relation agents manage how the public sees and feels about the person or entity they work for. From what I see, rodents apparently have great public relation agents. After all, who doesn’t love Mickey Mouse and all the other small, gnawing mammals featured in cartoons. Even in real life, when they are small, these animals look adorably fuzzy and cute.

Although my mother said she hated mice, as a young girl she sewed small, cleverly constructed felt mice. Using her pattern, I learned to sew them, too. When my daughters were about ten or twelve, they also made them. Felt mice are nice. They neither gnaw nor leave behind black rice.


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