14 Dec Mice, Mail, and Other Seasonal Concerns

After Jill got a delivery slip from the U.S. Postal Service last week, she wondered why the package didn’t come. “Are they holding it?” she asked. I shrugged. I don’t pretend to know what the USPS does these days. When she phoned the post office, the clerk said, “We don’t do follow-up deliveries.”

“You mean if I’m not home to get the package the first time, I don’t get the package?” she asked.

“We only deliver once,” he said. “You have to pick it up after that.”

“This is new, isn’t it?” she asked. “Didn’t the post office used to do follow-up deliveries?”

“No, ma’am. Never.”

We know differently. But the clerk wasn’t lying, we decided; he just didn’t know any better. He’s probably a youngster and may have worked at the USPS for only a brief time. As far as he knows, it’s always been this way. It makes sense in a world of diminishing returns. Which reminds me that most people don’t know what they’re missing if they’ve never known how things were before. When my writing students hesitate to cut their sprawling drafts and worry that their readers will feel the loss, I remind them that their readers won’t know because all they’ll have is what you give them.

That’s why I never missed Santa in my childhood: my parents did not recognize Santa Claus — didn’t even mention him — because our Southern Baptist church thought him idolatrous. We had gifts and candy and even a tree, but no Jolly Saint Nick. I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different had I the opportunity to believe in the bearded fat man. You tell me.

Re: holiday music: if I hear “Santa Baby” one more time, I might go postal. Though not a bad song by any means, it irritates as much as “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” (sung with a lisp).

While shopping in TJ Max today–it looks fairly healthy out there, by the way–I passed an older woman standing next to her adult daughter, who seemed intent upon her cell phone. The older woman glanced to the brightly-lit ceiling as if to check for rain, then said to no one in particular: “It’s hot everywhere, isn’t it?”

Yesterday while Jill and I were decorating for the holidays, we heard crunching behind us. It was Frieda, our basset hound, eating a fallen glass ornament. We stopped her, of course. A while later, Sophie, our orange tabby, padded by proudly with a mouse in her mouth. I said, “Jill, Sophie’s got a mouse.” Jill was sweeping up pine needles. She said absently, “Sophie’s so cute.” I said, “Jill, Sophie’s got a mouse, will you help me?” Then Jill reacted appropriately: she yelped. We ran circles around Sophie and cornered her under the dining room table. She dropped the mouse. Jill said, “Oh, it’s dead.” Then the dogs lumbered in, drawn to the hubbub, which to them always signals the possibility of hand-outs. Momentarily distracted, Sophie turned her head to the dogs. Then the mouse dashed away. I said, “The mouse is seldom dead, Jill. They play dead. then wait to make their escape–which we have just witnessed.” Jill said, “It looked plenty dead to me.”

Just so you know: it takes a cat a while to kill a mouse. If you can get the mouse from the cat within the first ten minutes, you can toss it–fairly unharmed–outdoors.

We attempted to direct the cats in the direction of the mouse’s escape but, well, you’re familiar with the expression, It’s like herding cats? So we gave up and everyone went about his or her business. Then, two hours later, while cleaning up, I lifted a package that was on a dining room chair and there it was: the gray mouse. Apparently he had been hunkered there all this time. He leaped away. And I leaped back. Then I called for the cats. They came running but only because they thought it was meal time. I tried to explain to them that it was indeed meal time but not the meal they expected. But no matter how I attempted to direct and guide them, they could or would not pick up the scent. So the mouse got away.

Jill and I decided to let nature (such as it is in our household) to take its course. Every six months or so a mouse gets into our old house. They’re in the walls or on the porch. We saw one in our garden this summer. But after they get in, they don’t stay long. Usually one of the cats gets them and we find the broken body in the morning. They never eat the mouse, though I’m sure Frieda would, if given the chance. We expect to find the dead mouse any day now, but maybe the mouse will get lucky and find its way out. We’ll call that our holiday miracle.