Under the Lilac Bush

My mom said it, and she meant it.

But before I tell you about the mice, I'll have to tell you something about our house.

It's an old house. My Mom grew up in this house. So did I. But I'm not all grown up yet.

Because our house is pretty old, some of the doors don't fit very tightly. That means that cold drafts come in during the winter and, during the rest of the year, some other things come in.

The ants and spiders, and even the odd big beetle, don't get Mom too upset. But if she finds out that a mouse has sneaked in ! ! !

None of us has actually seen a live mouse in the house. We usually find out about its visit when someone finds a little hole chewed out of a flour bag or a cereal box. Or sometimes we find out when there are little black things, that look like black rice, on a pantry shelf or in the sink.

Those little black things are mouse poop, and the kids, including me, are afraid that some of it might be in the flour bag, or in the cereal boxes, and will end up in our food. Mom tells us that the mice don't go into the bags or boxes, they just eat what runs out onto the shelf. She's probably right, but I still check my food over pretty carefully when a mouse is in the house.

Mom also told us that the mice take most of the food they find back to their nests, or to other places where they store food. They carry the food in their mouths.

When Mom is sure that there is a mouse coming into the house, she tells Dad that we will have to get some new doors, because she SHE WILL NOT HAVE MICE IN HER HOUSE. Dad always says that he will fix the doors so that mice can't get in, and I think he really tries. But when the doors are adjusted, no one knows whether or not the mouse is still in the house.

So Dad sets a trap on the bottom shelf of the pantry. Sometimes Dad catches a mouse, and sometimes he doesn't. I've never seen a mouse in the trap. But I've seen a trap go off! I know that the mouse doesn't just get trapped. IT GETS KILLED! I don't feel good about that.

Just before school started this fall, I asked Mom if she knew how I could make enough money to buy some crazy laces for my new sneakers. She said that there were too many dandelion flowers on our lawn, and that she would pay me ten cents for every dozen dandelions that I picked. I was glad that my parents didn't use any weed poisons on our lawn or garden, or I wouldn't have had my job.

While I was picking dandelions near the lilac bush I felt sort of tired. So I stopped picking and lay very still. I started watching an ant carrying a piece of leaf that was about fifty times bigger than itself. That's when I saw the big grey mouse out of the corner of my eye. It had really fat cheeks, and it ran under the lilac bush. I kept watching, and in a few moments the mouse darted out and ran straight for our back door.

I got up slowly and peered under the lilac bush. It was dark under there, but I could see that there was a big pile of little sticks right beside the main trunk of the bush. I poked at the pile and felt some soft, warm, wiggly little things. I guessed that they were baby mice. I ran into the house for a flashlight to find out for sure.

They were baby mice all right. Eight of them! They were pink, and not much bigger than the end of my little finger.

Beside the nest of chewed up paper was a little pile of rice that I was sure had come from Mom's pantry. I knew that it wouldn't be long before Mom noticed a hole in the rice bag, or found some little black bits. Then Dad would try to adjust the doors. AND THEN HE'D SET THE TRAP.

The baby mice were so small, that I was sure that they wouldn't be able to live without their mother's milk. So I hoped, really hard, that the mother mouse would be out of the house when Dad tried to close up around the doors.

I knew that I should have told my parents about the mice. I also knew that my parents wouldn't want to have a family of mice living so close to our loose doors. I didn't want to think about how Dad would get rid of "my" mice. The little ones were so cute, and their mother was working so hard to look after them.

Several times each day I had a good look at the baby mice, and each day they grew bigger, and cuter, and moved around more. They didn't seem to mind my fingers poking around in their nest. And the pile of rice beside the nest grew bigger too.

But I knew that sometime, very soon, I'd hear Mom say: "Fred, there's another mouse in the house. We need new doors."

The time came sooner than I'd hoped. Too soon for my baby mice, Mom said: "Who'd like fried rice for dinner." Everyone but me said: "I would."

Even though I like fried rice almost as much as hamburgers, I said that I'd rather have tuna salad. Mom looked surprised at that. Tuna salad was not a popular dish around our house. It wasn't like fried chicken or FRIED RICE.

Mom went over to the pantry and picked up the bag of rice. As she walked toward the counter a trail of rice ran behind her. She wasn't very pleased about that. In fact, she used her angry voice to yell: "Fred, there's a mouse in the house. It's time we got new doors."

So Dad went right to work. He didn't buy a new door, but he moved hinges, and put a new strip of wood at the bottom of each door. The doors sure looked tight when he had finished. It didn't look like we'd have even a spider in the house for a while. And there was no way a mouse, if it was in the house, could get out either door.

As soon as I could get out of the house, I looked in the nest under the lilac bush. The mother mouse wasn't there. I lay on the grass and watched, and waited, for over an hour, but the mother mouse didn't come back. By then the baby mice were restless. They were rooting around the nest and making tiny squeaky noises. They sure looked hungry. What was I going to do to help them?

I thought of all kinds of things. Like putting the baby mice in a little box and hiding the box on the pantry shelf. That way the mother mouse could find them and feed them. But, I knew that the mother mouse would chew into bags and boxes and poop on the shelves.

Maybe I could hide the box in my room. I could put lots of cereal and rice in the box so the mother mouse wouldn't have to chew up any more bags or boxes. And I knew that I would have to leave some water near the box so that the mother mouse wouldn't have to go to the sink. But someone was sure to hear the squeaky sounds.

Or maybe I could sneak down late at night and open the back door, just a crack, so that the mother mouse could come in and out.

But there was always the trap to worry about. If there was any sign of a mouse in the house, the trap would surely be set.

There was only one thing to do: tell my parents. So I told my mom about my family of mice under the lilac bush. I also told her how much I cared about them, and how worried I was because I knew that the mother mouse was in our house. She couldn't get out to feed her babies. Mom almost screamed: "IN OUR HOUSE! FRED, SET THE TRAP."

Then I started to cry, really loudly, and said: "You can't set the trap. We have to find a way to get the mother back to her babies."

That got everybody talking at once. Mom said she was sorry about the little mice, but they would grow into big mice, and try to get into HER house. Dad said that he could take care of the little mice, and that I wasn't to ask any questions, like: "How?"

My older sister, Glenda, took my side. She said: "Now that Dad has fixed the doors so well, we don't have to worry about mice getting into the house. We just have to worry about how to get the mother mouse out." I think that Dad liked hearing that he had done a good job on the doors because he said: "Glenda may be right."

Mom had calmed down by now. Deep down, I knew that she would be worried about the babies too. So I wasn't surprised when she worked out a plan. Mom told me to go out by the lilac bush and lie very quietly. As soon as I saw the mother mouse go into the nest, I was to yell: "Shut the door" to Mom.

Then Mom put her plan to work. She knew that the mother mouse would be in a hurry to find her way back to her babies, so she opened the back door, just a bit, and sat very quietly watching for the mouse. She must have looked away for a moment because she was surprised when I called: "Shut the door."

In a few days the little mice were running around the nest. They still didn't mind having my fingers in their nest, but their mother never stayed around when I was there.

But, one day, when the little mice were about half as big as their mother, I went to visit them and found the nest empty. By then the pile of rice was gone, so I guessed that they had all gone somewhere to find more food.

I wished that I had thought to bring them food. If I had, they might have stayed around longer. But I knew that, sooner or later, our doors would start to sag again, and the boards Dad put in would chip and crack. Then the mice, if they had stayed around, would have found their way into our house, and into THE TRAP.

I like to think that "my" mice are finding their own food in a field far away from sagging doors and waiting traps.

"Mom, may I get a pair of gerbils? They're easy to care for, and aren't much bigger than mice."

Copyright  Bill Rollans 1994   All rights reserved.
illustration by Evelyn Rollans (age 3)

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