The Mighty Mouse

Elizabeth Lloyd

© Copyright 2019 by Elizabeth Lloyd

Photo of a handful of mice.

The Mighty Mouse is a story about youthful entrepreneurial adventures and how one small creature can have a large impact on a many people.  

An empty ice-cream bucket was a wonderful thing. An empty one-gallon ice cream bucket would hold water, rocks, sand, grass and leaves. It was easy to poke airholes in the lid. It was light and easy to carry. Early summer mornings would call me outside, exploring, searching, discovering. It was funny how freedom and bright warm days, would find me up with the sun. During the school year my mother would make two, three, four attempts to get me up on time.

The sounds of the birds through my bedroom window and beams of bright sunshine would cause me to bounce from my bed. Many mornings some loose plan for the day would be calculated over a bowl of cereal. Explorative plans would emerge with each giant spoonful. Often explorations would send me hunting for the next creature. An ice-cream bucket could be transformed into a makeshift habitat for snakes, frogs or crawfish. It was easier to carry creatures in the bucket then my jacket pocket. Positive there were days when my mother saw me heading for the house, lidded ice-cream bucket in hand, that she would have concerns and anxiety about what strange creature she would have to release.

Giant gulps of cereal, on this bright summer morning, were conjuring up thoughts of the park. Days before, when at the park, several grass snakes had made an appearance at my feet. They could have so easily been picked up. Not prepared for the find, there was no way to carry them home. Now giant spoons of cereal helped formulate an expedition. Where had I left the ice-cream bucket?

Slurping down the sweet milk in the bottom of the bowl, I knew right where the ice-cream bucket was. Blowing through the screen door, out into the bright sunshine, the smell of grass and birds singing energized me. The ice-cream bucket was retrieved from one of its hiding places. My previous bucket had been thrown away by my mother. Maybe intentional, maybe accidental. It was a long wait for a new bucket. Waiting for the family to make its way through a gallon of ice-cream required patients. So now my ice-cream bucket was tucked away, out of site.\
 Ice-cream bucket swinging from my hand, the two blocks to the park allowed me time to remember exactly were the snakes had been spotted. They had been close to the creek. My mother had told me to stay away from and out of the creek. It seemed, once a rule was issued, it was impossible for me not to break it. Focus on a discovery would find me looking up, only to realize, I was in a place I was not supposed to be. All the rules would come rushing back to me. A delay in the trip home would be determined by how wet I was.

Now traveling the park, too close to the creek, my concentrated scanning for snakes was interrupted by a buzzing. As a most unusual and magical creature zoomed through my expedition. Once or twice before this wonderful flying thing had been spotted. The one that just whooshed past me was very large. The glittery, shimmery flying creatures size alone impressed me. Snakes had just fallen off the ice-cream bucket list. Entranced by the giant blue and green dragonfly, it was followed through the park for hours. He was elusive and would hover just out of reach. He zigzagged over the edge of the creek banks. Always staying opposite of wherever I was standing. Hours of following the dragonfly through the park and along the creek, left me a little tired and very hungry. Defeat had to be admitted. The ice-cream bucket would return home empty on that day.

It was probably for the best. My mother had a very strict ‘catch and release’ program. Even when not on the hunt for the next creature, it never failed that I would just happen upon them. The thought of just leaving the creature where it was found, was completely impossible. The ability to stumble on the lost or injured and carry it home, was a constant battle with my mother. Always the battle of “Can I keep it?” The answer was always the same, “No.” Her ‘catch and release’ program was immediate. As soon as they were found by her, they were released.

So, I would sneak them in. Waiting until she was busy. Tuck them up under my shirt, in my coat or backpack and hightail it up the stairs to my room. Wanting to keep or rehabilitate them, just a little longer than she would allow. Always they would be set free. There was no option about setting them free. If my mother found them, out they would go. No matter what the state of rehabilitation or my affection.

In my mother’s defense, I am positive that there were a number of roommates she had been fully aware of, but choose to ignore. She knew it was a never-ending battle. She knew that whatever had my attention at the time, would occupy me for a week, sometimes more. If I was caring for one thing, I was not on the hunt for the next thing. Possibly she felt the small grass snake in an ice-cream bucket, was far less destructive and harmful than, say, a stray cat in hiding. More times than not, she would find them and set them free. A reminder of the rules.

The latest creature to fall to my mother’s ‘catch and release’ program still stung. Just days before summer vacation I had stumbled upon it. Often the six blocks home from school would contain treasures or a find. That day was no different. Just a block from home, there he sat, right in the middle of my path. Right next to a very busy street. He was scooped up. Positive the baby blackbird was not safe on the busy street.

Standing at the side entry way door, my ears strained to locate mother. Sounds coming from the kitchen ensured there would be time to make it to my room before being noticed. Swift, giant, steps carried me up the stairs. Careful not to step on the creaky ones and give my presence away. A shoe box from somewhere was retrieved. A temporary home for the blackbird was made.

For two days the baby blackbird had traveled back and forth to school with me. My teacher had been suspicious. He knew something was up, but could not figure it out. Until this day. Probably he never expected to find me caring for a baby blackbird out of my desk. For two days a muffled periodic chirp would travel through the classroom. My teacher could not tell what it was, or where it was actually coming from. Eventually a chirp and his gaze coincided, and I was caught. Caught lifting my desk lid to feed the baby bird. The blackbird had been extremely talkative on that day. My teacher informed me the baby blackbird could not return to school. Tomorrow was the last day of school. I had almost made it to summer vacation.

Finally, the bell rang. Just one more day of school and then the sweet freedom of summer vacation. My backpack was heavier than normal. We had been cleaning desks. Packing up all the stuff and junk that would not come back. My backpack was heavier and so were my thoughts. What would I do with my baby blackbird? The six blocks to home had my mind lost in an attempt to calculation a solution. To keep my baby blackbird from being discovered by my mother. My mother’s ‘catch and release’ program weighed heavy on my mind. He was going to have to be left at home tomorrow. I did not want to get in big trouble on the last day of school.

The next morning was bitter sweet. The last day of school! The baby blackbird would have to be left behind. Knowing that every minute of this day would be spent worrying about my blackbird. Tucking the very best shoebox bird house that I could create, with a very vocal baby blackbird in it, under my dresser, I left for school. The walk to school felt very long as prayers were sent out with hope my mother would not find him. The plan was to release him in a day or two anyway, but wanting to make sure he could fly first.

Sitting in the class room staring at the same white walls, decorated with maps, math, and positive phrase posters, the day had been long. Staring at the black framed, generic round clock that I was sure ran slow, was almost more than one could bare. The now lush, beautiful bright green, scenery out the window was calling to me. Green has a smell. Oh, the anticipation almost made my muscles hurt. Watching the clock on the wall, those last three minutes took an hour. The bell was going to ring.

Around me the class room was filled with chatter. Pieces of conversations floated in and then away. Conversation about summer vacation plans, or events classmates would be attending. Watching the clock, a little bit of jealousy would eek in once in a while. No plans for my family. Not a lot of conversation ever came my way in school. Only one or two friends and they were in different class rooms, or completely different schools.

When my father left, the family income had been reduced to what my mother made as a waitress. Money was a never-ending struggle. My mother did her best to keep much of it from us. Most of the time I did not notice. But during the school year, one girl in class would show up each week, flaunting a new pair of shoes or sweater. Periodically a twinge of jealously would hit me. My house was on a dead-end street, at the end of the street were the railroad tracks. Learning very quickly, it did not matter what side of the tracks my house was on, I was from the wrong side of them.

Summer vacation must have been a relief for my mother. Pants that had been worn all year, and had become too short, could then be made into shorts. Very worn faded tee shirts were perfect for summertime play. As the last three minutes slowly lulled by, my fingers impatiently strummed across the few frayed strings holding the knee of my very worn pants together. My baby blackbird weighed heavy on my mind. My thoughts drifted back to the summer before. The summer before there would have been an alternative for the baby blackbird.

The summer before our backyard held a treasure, an old van. One of those flat front sixty’s vans. In its original state it might have been almost any color. But after years of sitting in the back yard, under a large tree, it turned a rusty brown. It didn’t run and it hadn’t for a long time. My dad left it, when he left. I’m sure my mother did not have the money to get rid of it. So, there it sat.

The old van had become a makeshift clubhouse for the neighborhood kids. There were many rainy days my friends and I would sit in the old van and invent mysteries to solve, or ways to make money. Create games to keep us busy. The van was also a temporary home to numerous animals on different occasions. My mother would check the van to see if the ‘catch and release’ program had to be enforced, but it was checked less often than my room. When the van was finally towed away my brother and I were slightly devastated. We had begged our mother not to get rid of it.

At some point I realized I was not completely locked into the frustrating financial situation. There were opportunities for me to make my own money. Mowing lawns, weeding gardens, babysitting, shoveling snow and paper routes. Snow days from school were the best. Not because we had the day off, but because my best friend and I would bundle up and drag our shovels from house to house, for blocks and blocks. Banging on doors. Always we came home exhausted and rich.

When the bell finally rang, I raced out the door. Running part of the way home. Bursting into my bedroom and dropping to my knees to peer under the dresser. Devastation! The box and my blackbird were gone. They had fallen to my mother’s ‘catch and release’ program.

Mad and sad, I returned back down stairs to confront my mother on the location of my bird. So angry that she had stolen my release. Positive she put no effort into making sure he could fly. A flurry of heated questions assaulted her. When had she let him go? Early in the morning she had gone into my room to put away laundry. She heard him squawking. She said it took her a while to find him. That answer just made me even more mad. In the midst of the heated questioning she informed me, in her motherly tone, that the blackbird could have lice or some disease. It could not be kept in my room. Where had she let him go? Did he fly? What if a cat got him? Her answers were all insufficient to me. Angrily, I went to survey the area where she said she let him go. No blackbird was found. I hoped that he had been able to fly.

Still feeling defeated by the dragonfly and angry about my blackbird, plans over cereal were being evaluated. Cereal plans would often change in the time it took to step out the side screen door. The first thing out the door today was my bike. The neighborhood was quiet on this bright, sunny, summer vacation morning. None of my friends were up yet. Grabbing my bike leaning again the side of the house, it was decided, today my bike would be called Lighting. A fast and beautiful white, imagined and wished for horse. The name of my bike changed often. When my bike was a gallant and graceful black horse, my bike was called Thunder. Sometimes my bike was a sure and steady, black and white stead named Little Joe, after the western show Bonanza.

Riding Lighting up and down the street a glance over at neighbor Tim’s yard almost caused an accident. In his yard were eight, no nine, maybe, possibly ten fat puppies bouncing around. It was like finding the end of the rainbow. Lighting was brought to an immediate and fast halt. The sight of those puppies and Lighting morphed back into a bike, which was thoughtlessly dropped in Tim’s front yard.

Walking up to a section of fence that ran next to the garage, my fingers intertwined themselves into the chain link. Squatting down to get a better look, the chain link helped me balance. They were so cute. Some black, some black and white, some cream, some cream and white. Wobbly fat little lab mix puppies came bouncing up to the gate. Trying to pet their little heads through the chain link. How I wanted to keep everyone of those puppies. Even just one would have made me happy. Already my mother’s answer floated about my head. My heart never allowed me to consider the possibility. Many, many days and many, many hours were spent with those puppies. My head began to work on a plan. Patiently waiting.

Neighbor Tim had the spirit of a kid. He was mellow and easy going. Things that other adults would say no to, were always a possibility with Tim. The summer before the puppies, he had allowed my friends and I to raise pigeons in his garage. No one in the neighborhood noticed the raising of thirty baby pigeons. At least not until the following summer, when all thirty pigeons, plus some of their new friends decided to return home. With no one to greet them at the garage they decided to make do in the treetops above people’s cars and deck. Several of the neighbor became very unhappy with us.

When it was time for the puppies to go, Tim asked me if I wanted one. Oh yes, I really, really did. But I knew my mother’s answer. His question, prompted a question from me. “Could I have them all?” He looked very puzzled and curiously asked what I was going to do with ten puppies. Holding my breath, the plan that had been worked on for weeks, was revealed to Tim.

Shyly, the explanation came stumbling out of my mouth. Weeks had gone into formulating a plan to sell the puppies. Positive that the answer out of his mouth would be “No.” Then all the reasons ‘why not’ would follow. ‘No’ had become a very familiar word. Tim questioned how I was going to do that. A scattered, excited, explanation of my wagon, and a large wood play barn combination for transport, tumbled from my mouth. The barn in the wagon had been tested during the weeks of waiting. When the barn was flipped on its side, the barn door faced up. It sat perfectly in the wagon. The puppies could be put in there, and then wagon-ed to the well-known ice-cream shop.

The small, two windowed, very popular ice-cream shop was a busy place on a main road. Only four blocks away. Throwing in an offer to split the money with him, if he was just going to give them away anyway. Tim said “Yes!” Then the conditions. He did not want me to take nine puppies all at once. He would let me take three. If the three were sold, I could come back and get three more. He said to come back the next day and get three. He would pick out the first three. Tim was keeping one of the ten puppies.

I returned home to get my barn wagon ready. A ‘Puppies for Sale’ sign was created on a piece of cardboard, and taped to the toy barn. An old towel, I was sure my mother wouldn’t miss, was put in what was now the bottom of the barn. That evening was an excruciation practice in patients. Tomorrow would not come fast enough.

The next morning found me up with the sun. Tim must have been expecting that, he was waiting for me. He helped me load three puppies into the wagon. While traveling the blocks to the ice-cream shop, occasional pit spots were made to check on the puppies. Oh, how I wanted to sneak one up to my room.

Finding a good spot to sit in front of ice-cream shop, my barn wagon drew attention from the girls working the window. They came out to see the puppies. The puppies created instant friendships with the girls and they would sneak slushies and ice-cream out the window to me. Many, many people stopping for ice-cream treats, would stop and see the puppies. Many people who stopped to see the puppies would then get ice-cream. Some of the people who bought puppies looked very, very familiar. Positive I had seen them at Tim’s house before. By midafternoon the first three puppies were sold. Returning to Tim’s with an empty wagon, an attempt was made to give him half the money. He said “No.” That was a no I didn’t mind so much. Tim said to come back the next day for three more puppies. For the next two days puppies were sold out of a barn wagon.

An emptiness hit me when the last puppy was sold. The money in my pocket could not counter the feeling. The last of my something to do for the summer had just been sold. Pulling an empty wagon home, I already missed a plan for the next day. I already missed all the people that stopped to see the puppies. I already missed the girls from the ice-cream shop. The remainder of the summer drifted by in a lazy lull. Nothing compared to the excitement of the puppies for sale. The endeavor was so successful that I desperately wished for more puppies. That was not to be.

Just after the new school year started, my mother was going through some boxes of old clothes in the basement. Some of the boxes contained clothes she had worn in high school. The clothes were neat. I plagued her with question about ‘The olden days’ when she was in school. Somehow a very brief story caught and held my attention. She said something like “When she was in high school the girls wore chameleons on their sweaters.” “What!” Not bothering to get more details, my thoughts envisioned little lizard creatures, with little collars and leashed pinned to girls’ shirts. Little creatures in school no less. My young mind was sure she was talking about little live chameleons, because living creatures was the world that entranced me. For days that story floated about my head. Attempts to dismiss it were fruitless and it would come sneaking back into my thoughts.

The successful summer puppy endeavor and my mother’s chameleon story had collided and merged over days of cereal thoughts. Several days later, on a bright Saturday fall morning, a fist full of lawn mowing money was gathered.

Lighting was retrieved from his place next to the house. Not sure how long it would take me to bike the four miles to the pet store. Hoping I could make it there and back before I was missed. Finally, the pet store was reached. The door to a wonderful animal world was pushed open. Bells above the door jingled, announcing one’s entrance into the magical place. Each cage and each creature had me entranced. I could have spent a week there. Everywhere I looked a new animal to admire. Each animal environment was examined in the quest for the little green lizards. Finally, they were located way in the back of the store. “Wow!” They cost way too much money. Hopes were dashed. Wandering about the pet store, passing tanks filled with creatures, my brain was working hard to formulate a solution. After all, I had biked all that way and returning home empty handed was not an option.

Drifting past rows of cages, lost in thought, my eyes caught a glimpse of a fuzzy, cute, little animal peering at me from the other side of a glass tank. Small little nose and whiskers wiggling at me drew me to the glass. Several tanks held little mice of all colors. The chameleon story wafted through my thoughts. The chameleons morphed into little mice, and I wondered if people could wear mice on their shirts. That though danced around my head while searching for the price. Ta Da! Mice were much cheaper than the chameleons.

A store clerk noticed me gazing at the mice and came over to talk with me. Bombarding her with questions, she responded with many answers, and then she said “Look, that one is going to have babies.” Instantly I saw my money triple.

Before the clerk could realize what was actually happening, she was fishing out each pregnant mouse from its tank. They were gently deposited into small cardboard boxes. Several times the clerk told me that they could not take mice back. Insisting to the clerk it really was okay. She asked me if my parents knew what I was doing. Attempting to artfully sidestep her question with replies like “Well, I have this money.” Trying to speed up the process before the clerk asked to call my mother or something like that. Finally, the transaction was complete. Relief washed over me as the bells above the door wished me goodbye.

The bike ride home, with a box full of pregnant mice tucked into my backpack, was filled with thoughts of math, dollars and plans. Filled with questions. wondering how many babies’ mice have? It would make the math easier. The math and the numbers turned to a hiding place. My entrepreneurial plans had to be kept safe from my mother’s ‘catch and release’ program. My mother had been getting better at finding my hiding spots.

The trip home did not seem to take as long as the journey there. In what seemed like just a matter of minutes I was standing at the side screen door. Pausing before opening the door. Listening hard to try to pinpoint my mother’s location. Then the sounds of pots and pans clanging from the kitchen made their way to the side door. Quietly the door was opened. Pausing again, listening hard. My mother was busy and fast. Periodically in the past she had come wiping through the house and stumbled upon me, before I even knew she was there. Noises were still coming from the kitchen. Giant, fast step carried me through the dining room. Once on the stairs, a halfway there, exhale of relief escaped me. Then up the stairs two at a time, careful to avoid the creaky ones.

Bursting into my room, in a near panic, the mice had to be hid and immediately. Reviewing the options from the bike ride home, none of them seemed sufficient now. Frantically the room was scanned for a place they could inhabit. “Where, where?” Where could I put them that they would not escape, and my mother would not find them?

My gaze fixated on a file cabinet that occupied the corner of my room. It held homework, drawings and usually just a lot of junk. A place to stuff things when the clean your room command was enforced. My mother never checked the old file cabinet when evaluating if the room was clean enough. My mother never checked the file cabinet! The file cabinet was metal and had wheels. It had one drawer space, not really a drawer as the lid opened up. The mice wouldn’t get out, and my mother never checked it. She might not find them. The contents of the file cabinet were feverishly dump on the bedroom floor. Now I really did have to clean all the stuff that was stuffed away in there.

When my mother’s voice echoed up the stairs. It made me jump. She said she didn’t hear me come in. She was just making sure I was home. She questioned what I was doing. My response was cleaning my room. The contents of the file cabinet all over the middle of my room could vouch for it. The next hour was spent setting up living quarters for the pregnant mice. There had been enough lawn mowing money to purchase many pregnant mice, bedding and food. Then the waiting began.

It was difficult to be patient. For days and days, I waited. Finally, the day came when the lid to the file cabinet was opened. “Wow!” Very tiny, hairless, pink baby mice were everywhere. Their eyes were not open yet. Dollar signs danced through my head. A new round of patients began and the waiting would continue.

Day by day they grew hair, finally their eyes opened. Then they began to eat food. They were ready to go. The evening was spent making plans to take them to school the next day. I had to get them on the bus. Excitement enticed me from my bed extra early. Lots and lots of little mice were packed up. Off to school we went!

For most of the day, in-between classes, mice were sold out of my locker. Kids everywhere had little mice. Mice in their jacket pockets, in their backpacks and in their lockers. My pockets were budging with dollars, quarters and a couple of bartered lunch tickets.

Late in the afternoon while relishing my budging pockets and watching the clock that I was sure ran slow. The classroom phone began to ring. All heads looked up. Everyone tense as to what the telephone conversation might be. Either worried the call was for them, or curious of who it might be for. The teacher answered it and then glanced my way. Several of the classroom heads swiveled in my direction. Many of them relieved that the call was not for them. The teacher hung up the phone and then said to me “You need to go to the Principal’s office.” Heat and redness washed over me. All eyes in the classroom were now focused on me. Shyly, the classroom was exited, and the long terrifying walk to the Principal’s office began.

Pushing open the office door, two secretaries who had been chatting away became quiet. One of them escorted me into the Principal’s office. He was sitting behind a big desk. Terrified, I slid into a chair across from him. A series of questions began. Questions about mice.

The Principal escorted me on a long and silent walk to my locker. Attempting to open my locker took three tries. His presents behind me caused my locker numbers to fall out of my head. My shaking hands caused me to wiz past the stop points. A shoebox of mice was retrieved. It had to be opened for inspection. There were only four left. Questions about how many I had brought to school with me, were asked. Answers that were really vague followed. There was no way I could tell him the large number that had journeyed to school. Not with as concerned as he seemed about the remaining four. He might have a heart attack if I had revealed the actual number. Then the even longer walk back to his office.

He sat me in a chair just outside his door. The secretary’s eyes were upon me and my box of mice. I could see they were having a silent conversation between the two of them as they passed looks back and forth. He informed me that he was calling my mother.

My seat just outside his door allowed pieces of his conversation with my mother to be heard. The statements that drifted through the door included stuff like, brand new school, rodent problems, and health code violations. Then his office was silent. He opened his office door and informed me that my mother was on her way to pick me and my mice up. The realization that I was in big, big trouble sank into my bones. The waiting was excruciating. The waiting time caused me to shift and twist and wring my hands. Waiting time was spent attempting to formulate answers, statements and defenses to what would be a series of ranting questions from my mother. Questions in which she really was not wanting any kind of response.

While formulating a defense, my mother walked in. Now I felt the waiting might have been better. Anger was rolling off her. Her lips were pursed. Wow, she was really, really mad! She entered the Principal’s office. Leaving me sitting in the chairs with the secretaries silently looking at each other and then at me. Some of the conversation made it through the door. The word suspension was most definitely heard. Again, the words health code violation, brand new school. She exited his office. She looked madder when she exited than she did when she went in. The Principal was right behind her. They walked me to my locker in thick silence. Sheepishly gathering my backpack and homework that would be expected. Suspended from school for the next two days. Clinging to the last of my remaining investment.

The entire drive home she didn’t speak to me at all. The silence was worse than the ranting questions that I was expecting. The only living creatures in the car, brave enough to make any noise, were the mice. Each small sound would cause my mother’s renewed anger to fill the car. My brain was begging them to be quiet.

 Finally, after what seemed like endless hours of driving, we arrived home. Desperately wanting to exit the car. Afraid the anger floating about might make the car instantaneously combust. In an attempt to get out, half in and half out of the car, one foot on the ground, my mother finally spoke. All I could see was her angry, glaring face, floating above the roof of the car. She said so calmly that it sent a chill down my spine “You get rid of those mice. I don’t care how.” It was understood without any further words that I better not return home with them.

Completely upset, very concerned about being suspended in my very first year of junior high, all I wanted was to take refuge in my room. She allowed me back in the house long enough to discard my backpack and gather a few mice things. Being sent home in the middle of the day, none of my friends were home. The pet store clerks voice bounced around in my thoughts, “You can’t return mice.” Trying to work a solution for the mice was difficult. All I knew was my mother’s angry floating head above the car said to get rid of them now! Not to come home with them. So, a journey to the park to set the last of my investment free was made. It was the only solution I could calculate that would get me back in my house.

Dumping a pile of food and bedding under a tree next to the creek, I watch the last of my remaining investment scatter into the park. The whole time thinking that this was entirely my mothers’ fault anyway. If she hadn’t told me the stupid chameleon story none of this would have happened. She gave me the idea. When I returned home, she asked me if I got rid of the mice, and I said “Yes.” That was the end of the conversation. Nothing more was asked. No lecture or ranting ever came.

Thirteen years later, while helping my mother clean her basement, it was discovered she had mice in the house. The memories of my childhood mouse adventure came flooding back. This was the exact place where her story and my entrepreneurial adventure had begun. Finally, after two weeks, the traps remained empty. It was then, thirteen years later, she finally asked me about the mice from my childhood, and what I ever did with them. Terrified to tell her, I wondered if the sixteen she had trapped might have somehow been related to the ones that were set free in the park. Two blocks away. Thirteen years earlier. Maybe they were making some strange ancestral voyage home. Secretly, the entrepreneurial adventure made me smile and on the inside I laughed. Amazed at how things can come back around. Impressed that some of the smallest things in life can carry with them the biggest memories, make such large statements and impact so many people.

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