Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mice Memories

I did something last night I don't usually do on a school night: I cleaned out our pantry while my kids were taking their piano lesson.

My younger son was scheduled to go to the Crayola Factory today with his class, which meant he needed a packed lunch. I went into the pantry to find one of the old insulated lunch bags he used to bring to day camp and there, scattered on the floor, were silver foil wrappers from Hershey chocolate kisses. This could only mean one thing: The mice had come back, assuming they had ever left at all.

Here is our history with mice: Back in September, shortly after my older son's bar mitzvah, my housekeeper said she heard rustling in the basement. She also thought she might have heard it in the pantry. I immediately called the exterminator: He came. He smiled and went about his business. I went upstairs to grade papers. After a while, he called to me from the kitchen. I went downstairs. He was carrying a pail.

"Can I leave through the back?" he said. "These things smell."
He had caught three mice, in the crawl space and the back room of the basement. The back room had once been a workspace for the previous owners of the house, and was now the place where we stored hammers, nails, light bulbs. an old telescope, and the kids' plastic drawers for camp. There had never been any food in there but there was an old, working refrigerator nearby.
"I found one in there," he said, "and two babies."
"DId you find the mother?" I asked.
"Yeah, he said. "I think she might be pregnant."
We are all God's creatures. I fleetingly thought about the poor, unborn, baby mice. Then, I thought, "Oh, shit."

The exterminator said he had laid down traps, in the pantry and the basement. He told us to get rid of the Hershey's kisses we stockpiled in the pantry. We moved some of them to the snack drawer in the kitchen, and poured some of them into my grandmother's old silver bowl in the living room (The mice knew they would get yelled at if they ate in the living room).

When my kids got home, I warned them to never, ever eat cheese sticks or Hershey's kisses in the basement again. They sort of complied: Now I find contraband cans of diet Coke and the occasional banana peal down there. The exterminator came back a few weeks later and checked traps. No more mice. But then Halloween came. And Valentine's Day. And the uneaten candy piled up. Mice, apparently, like chocolate. So do I. We had a lot of it. I forgot about the mice, but they didn't forget about us.

While my children played "Ode to Joy" and the theme from Harry Potter for their piano teacher, I cleaned, swept and vacuumed out the whole pantry. I don't want you to get the impression this is a big, walk-in closet, with lots of room to fool around in. It is a high, narrow space that resembles a linen closet, without the fragrant piles of clean pillowcases and satin pouches of dried flowers. In the pantry, I found things I hadn't seen in years: A large, wide-rimmed, poorly-engineered crystal pitcher that someone had given us for our wedding---it spilled whenever it poured water. A ceramic pitcher we had also received as a wedding present---it cracked before we ever got to use it. There was an old, crystal vase that my mother used to fill with yellow forsythia, and a black stenciled vase that my grandmother had inherited from her mother. The discovery process began to get exciting: There was a blue tin cup from the one time I went camping! Candlestick holders from my husband's cousins in Israel! Yellow vases from my surprise 35th birthday party! The chocolate lollypop my husband's old boss sent my older son when his friend slammed into him on the Moon Walk and broke his nose in third grade!

I don't know how we had missed that lollypop when we cleaned out the pantry during the first go-round, but the mice apparently enjoyed it--half of it was gone. The truly alarming thing about this search-and-sweep-up-the-mouse-droppings mission was that an exterminator had been in our house that morning. But he had been busy trying to solve our ants-in-the-kitchen-sink problem: That charming ivy creeping up the front of our house?"A bug highway," the exterminator said. "Cut it down." The bowl of oranges, apples and plumbs sitting like an ersatz Cezanne painting on the kitchen counter? "Put it away." We were so focused on bugs; we were blind to the mice.

I kept cleaning and found some old styrofoam cups from my father's shiva and his yahrzeit candle---unexpected but timely since his yahrzeit is tomorrow.

I reorganized the water bottles, diet Coke cans and the juice boxes, and dumped the candy into the garbage. I moved the wine corkage stuff and drink mixer paraphernalia to another shelf so that we would see the ice cream maker and actually use it. I filled up two garbage bags with stuff. As I was finishing, I heard something snap. I looked down. It was the mouse trap. It was empty. I felt a bit like Flaubert when he was asked, "Who is Madame Bovary?" He replied, "Madame Bovary, c'st moi." The mouse, c'est moi.


  1. My kids have been asking for one but the thought of changing the litter box has been a deal breaker. Might be a good idea to rethink this, though!