Friday, June 17, 2011

Civilized Mice

My baby brother had a pet white mouse when he was a little boy. It spent long stretches of time in my brother's shirt pocket, occasionally peeking out on the world. The two of them made the occasional bike ride to the dime store for candy during the long summer days. The mouse also rode on his shoulder and stayed close to my brother if he was on the floor watching television or on his bed reading. They were good friends.

Eventually, a male mouse was purchased from a pet store in Hays - probably against my mother's wishes, though she was always tolerant of all the pets we brought home over the years, including Charley the raccoon. But the fun of baby mice was soon eclipsed by sheer numbers. My brother quickly ran out of friends and family to give the babies to and resorted to selling them to a pet store in Hastings, Nebraska. That is how I came to be the owner of a cute black and white female mouse. She was supposed to be for my little girl but instead became my husband's pet.

My husband was a tall, muscular, wild haired, alpha biker-type guy who looked so much like he could and would kick your butt with one hand tied behind his back that he was never in danger of being in a fight. Men always moved aside whenever he walked in. He embraced the mouse project with endearing enthusiasm. We purchased a small aquarium and pilfered a red plastic toy house from my daughter's toy box. I kept the cage clean and well stocked with food but it was my husband who handled the mouse, even carrying her around in his shirt pocket sometimes. One day he arrived home with a fat and sleek, gray and very handsome male mouse in a tiny cage. We had absolutely no idea of the instantaneous reproduction capabilities of mice!

The female was soon pregnant, and so darned cute! She sat on her haunches, folding her tiny hands over her belly. She became so fat that I did not think she could possibly squeeze through the tiny door of the tiny house but she managed. We anxiously kept watch and in a surprisingly short time there was a nest of tiny pink jelly beans squiggling in the soft nest. I cannot remember the exact number of babies, but it was a LOT - like twelve or fourteen. It seemed improbable that the mother's body could produce almost the equivalent of its own mass in offspring. (Humans stand a snowball's chance in hell at winning the mouse wars for this very reason.)

Once the babies grew hair and their eyes were open, they were the cutest little things I had ever seen. Their heads were comically larger than their bodies. Their perfect pink ears were adult sized, giving them the appearance of furry little clowns . They were assorted gray, white, black, and spotted, constantly on the move, swarming the exercise wheel and exploring every inch of the aquarium. Together my little family enjoyed watching them in the evenings after supper.

We made a trip home during this time and my little brother's mouse population was so great that he sent a gallon jar of half-grown babies back to Topeka with us. We were to sell them to a pet store for him - twenty-five cents for each baby. Of course, they were likely resold for snake food, so that made it blood money in our family. There was no other choice. No one in the world has enough friends to provide every baby mouse a good home.

As soon we arrived home from that trip, I innocently began placing my brother's mice into the aquarium with ours. Huge mistake! The instant the mother spotted the interlopers, she launched the length of the aquarium with a mouse shriek that terrified the bewildered strangers. She was so vicious in her attacks that I was almost afraid to put my hand in to rescue the unfortunate victims. They spent the night in the big glass jar and were taken to the pet store the very next day along with our handsome gray male mouse. Eventually, all of our mice went to the pet store. It hurt our conscience to sell the babies for snake food. But realistically, a full grown man is not going to develop an attachment to a pet mouse to the degree a little boy can, and my daughter was too young to care for a pet. Eventually the cute little mother mouse went to the pet store, too.

My brother's pet lived for about two years before she died of cancer. She was buried in the flower bed with full pet honors, resting in peace with all the other departed pets. She led an adventurous, fulfilling life, and in death nourished the beautiful flowers my stepfather planted. Every civilized mouse I sold as snake food has returned wild to Spirit Creek to remind me of my heartless ways. It is why they run to the center of the living room, stand on their hind legs, staring at me. They are making a positive i.d.

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