Christmas morning I found myself squatting in a snowy ditch on a mountain road wearing running shorts, slippers and a pink hat shaped like a frosted cupcake. With tears in my eyes, I was trying slowly and carefully to use the corner of a metal dustpan to free a squirming, squeaking mouse from a glue trap while Ryan stood across the road watching and explaining to curious passersby carrying snowboards, “My wife’s trying to save a mouse.”
“Right on,” one guy said, nodding. “Maybe you should try those Have-A-Heart traps, or whatever they’re called?”
“Thanks,” Ryan said, while I whimpered in the background, “Just lift your little paw so I get can you off. You can do it.”
We’d gone to our log cabin in Hunter, New York, in the Catskill Mountains, a few days before Christmas so we could see my family and, most importantly, visit my 92-year-old grandparents, who seemed to be growing more frail with each visit.
And during this brief vacation from cruising, I came to realize how many “land burdens” we still have and how much more sensible it would be to rent out our cabin than let it sit empty, devouring its weight in cash while the taxes and heating bills pile up. So, we called an agency to come give us an estimate on vacation rental rates, hoping we might even be fortunate enough to make a little money on the deal. And as soon as the decision was made to rent, we got down to the task of purging junk from every room, tidying cupboards and packing away our personal items in an effort to make the house feel like a marketable blend of “loved” and “lightly used.”
Which is, of course, how we found the tell-tale chocolate sprinkles in the corners of our closets, drawers and cabinets. And it’s how we ended up setting glue traps in every corner of the house that night, imagining there would be a few dead mice somewhere along the way (but surely not until after we got to Florida).
But it turns out those darned traps work fast! Which is why Ryan ended up as my roadside cheerleader while I pulled this little mouse’s legs free from the glue trap, one by one with my dustpan (I felt bad, but not bad enough to touch it), until the mouse finally broke free and kind of stumble-squirmed towards the woods. I watched him crawl, hoping he’d survive, while Ryan pulled me towards the house and assured me the mouse would find his family and that he definitely would not fare better in our house.
Now, I knew full-well how crazy I must have looked. And I was completely on board with getting rid of all the mice in our house so they wouldn’t destroy it. That’s why we set traps, Ryan kept telling me. But I also, inexplicably, felt suddenly protective of this rodent I’d just cursed to hell only a few hours before.
So, in the spirit of saving mice on Christmas Day, Ryan helped me remove all the remaining traps in the house so we wouldn’t have to endure another life-saving ordeal. And once that was done, we spruced ourselves up to go see my family.
Normally, Christmas Day in my family involves a lot of jovial house-hopping between my parents’, my cousins’, my aunt and uncle’s, and my grandparents’ so that by the end of the night, I’m so full of home-made cookies, egg nog, Christmas movies, Scrabble and late-night jigsaw puzzles, that I’m sweating sugar and my eyes can’t focus anymore.
But this year, instead of Grandpa breaking out the “high balls” after dinner, (what he calls cocktails), he didn’t eat or even get out of bed, he was so weak. My parents had warned me of his deteriorating health before I came, but even still, I broke down in tears for the second time that day. Being faced with the pending loss of my grandfather, who I loved so much, was despairing. There was nothing I could do to slow down time or make my grandfather well.
And it occurred to me — looking back at my looney-tunes reaction to trapping a rodent that morning — that maybe I lost my marbles because I was faced with a live mouse, rather than a dead one. I knew I’d be killing mice if we set these traps, but I wasn’t prepared to confront a living furry thing, and had no idea what to do when I did. He was completely helpless and struggling to free himself while he stared at me with one eye and squeaked. It was too much.
So, in that moment, I became that half-clothed, crazy-hat lady on the side of the road who just desperately needed to make a dying mouse live a little longer.
Photo credit (1st photo on page): Boeri extreme sports helmet ad)