The mouse that stole Christmas

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 5, 2003

My wife and daughter were in the dining room setting our Christmas table and I was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on the masterpieces I had started the evening before.

After the food was taken in, I returned to the kitchen to retrieve something with which to served the mashed potatoes. I pulled open the drawer and that’s when I saw it – mouse droppings.

An hour or so earlier when I had opened one of our cabinets I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of something moving fast, but had convinced myself I was merely hallucinatory from a combination of being up until midnight the night before cooking and putting things under the tree, having been awakened by the children at 5 a.m., more cooking and turkey fumes.

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After opening another drawer and confirming my findings, my gut reaction was to announce them to family, but I thought better of it. I knew things would get ugly.

My wife, God bless her, has tolerated every kind of pest that has made its way into our various homes from here to Arkansas over the years – deadly spiders, scorpions, snakes, possums – and barely flinched. But the one thing she cannot take is a mouse.

We had earlier decided not to go home to West Virginia for the holidays for almost the first time ever and our little Christmas alone had been wonderful until then. Plus, I had slaved too hard over the meal for it to be ruined. So I maintained silence through the meal. After all, I was sure I had read somewhere that pepper can be up to 30 percent rodent droppings, so what harm could come of it?

When it was over and Cathy was cleaning up – that’s our deal: I cook; she cleans – I showed her what I had found.

Sure enough things transpired just as I had suspected they would. After the initial hysteria died down, we proceeded to empty all drawers and cabinets and wipe them clean. I was ordered to catch the rodents, but on Christmas Day, there was no place to buy traps. Knowing full well that doing nothing to attempt the capture would be seen by my wife as a downright treasonous, if not divorce-actionable offense, I drove to the office and picked up a couple humane traps that our exterminator had put down here.

While the effort I believe saved my mortal soul from a fury so hellish I hate to even think about it, it was not enough to salvage our little family Christmas together.

By the time I got back to the office, Cathy was packing her bags and taking them to her car. She and the children would be going away for a few days until the mice were captured to go spend a day or two with friends in Hopewell. I was ordered to get more traps and put the cat in the house.

Oh how I hate that cat. Our children screamed and begged for it when they saw it and it was a beautiful Siamese kitten. It shared our home with us for a brief period, but it was just so obnoxious that we had to banish it to the outdoors. It shed constantly and unlike most cats that will sneak onto counters and get in plates, this one would simply attack your plate while you were eating over it and was relentless in the fact of brush-offs, screams and water bottles. In addition, whenever possible it would gorge itself with food until it threw up – I don’t know whether it was gluttonous or bulimic.

Against my protests, it managed to remain a house cat for about six months. And strangely, during this entire time, we never named it, referring to it only as &uot;Kitten.&uot; Probably because we detested it so much we did not wish it to be a member of the family.

As things turned it out, Kitten was more of menace outside than he was in. Our backyard is beautiful, almost park-like, filled with trees, azaleas, and nearly every other flowering plant indigenous to Suffolk, and is the main reason we bought our house. It was also teeming with wildlife – squirrels, chipmunks and beautiful birds would daily come on to our deck and almost talk to us through the window as they feasted on their nuts and seeds and reveled in the security.

The introduction of Kitten turned this sanctuary into a literal killing field. Sweeping the yard for carcasses became a daily chore. Not only did he kill everything in sight, but often would haul them only half dead onto the deck so we could watch him torture and ultimately disembowel little squirrels and regurgitate them on the deck.

Somewhere along the way we formally dubbed him &uot;Manson,&uot; after mass murderer Charles Manson, which seemed to be the only nomenclature befitting a creature so vile.

I was sure that bringing Manson into the house would rid it of rodents in short order, but it wasn’t to be. Once back inside, his activities were confined to sleeping on the furniture, licking plates in the sink and clawing my face as I slept.

In the meantime, after wearing out their welcome in Hopewell – checking with me thrice daily as to the status of my mission – the wife and kids drove on to West Virginia to her parents, if necessary, forever.

They returned New Years Day with her parents – experienced and skilled mouse catchers – who re-baited and re-placed traps and captured the rodents within a day.

So my family’s reunited and mouse-free for ’03. As for Manson, he’s been returned to the outdoors, of course. We figured that maybe the reason he kills so much is a lack of companionship. I’m sure he’ll have a lot of fun with our new pit bull, Dahmer.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald.