In the beginning of our marriage I’d bring her flowers every Friday after work. Brightly colored carnations, if I remember correctly, a bouquet of them; yellow, red, white, orange, mauve, or even purple. She’d smile and exclaim, “Oh, Steve, for me?”
“Of course, Janie girl,” I’d hug her tight, “For my best lady love.” Or something silly like that. Silly and slightly romantic. We’d both laugh, fueled with the unfettered joy of our love. Those were good times back then.
But the years began to intervene. Years of longer hours at work. Years of raising three daughters and two sons. Years of trying to make ends meet and not always succeeding. Years of doing all we could to keep our marriage alive and well. Years of slowly drifting apart.
When the last of our kids left home and we became empty nesters, we tried to rekindle that lost love. We discovered that, though we weren’t wealthy, we were well enough off to do things we’d always wanted to do. We had more free time. We could take trips if we wanted to (and we did, to New England once for the fall colors; England once to go to Cornwall.) We could do things together and enjoy the twilight years of our marriage. But did we? No.
A few more years went by.
Now I’m sixty-nine and retired from many years service as a design specialist for Northland Enterprises, an Electronic Controls manufacturing company. Janie’s sixty-eight and happily working part-time at a sewing shop called Stitchville, a job she’s held for over twenty years. It’s life after becoming empty nesters and it should be good, right? But it’s not. That rekindling our lost love idea never really caught fire (pardon the pun.) We’ve still drifted apart, and I’m not really sure why.
But I will say this, it’s pretty much push coming to shove time for Janie and me. Why? The answer is that now, after the many ups and downs we’ve had in the forty-five years of our married life, and finally getting to a point where we can enjoy each other’s company, it’s all coming down to this: mice. Or, should I say, my ability (or lack of ability, in Janie’s mind) to catch the damn things.
Here’s the deal, in the last few weeks a couple of the little rodents have found their way into the house, and Janie’s put it on me to figure out a way to catch them. In fact, a challenge of sorts has been issued by my wife, one which I’ve heartily accepted. (I’m in charge of most of the house maintenance after all.) The question is this, can I get rid of them or not?
The way I see it, from Janie’s standpoint, my inability to trap the persistent rodents has become simply one in an ever lengthening string of my incompetent endeavors that have, for some reason, arisen over the last year or two. Why, I don’t know. Does it have to do with the kids having left home? The last of our children left ten years ago, so that seems like a stretch. My retirement? That was five years ago, so maybe, maybe not. Menopause? Hmmm. I don’t think I want to touch that.
I guess I don’t have a clue. Whatever the case, though, it seems that in the last year or two all of my household maintenance abilities have come under increasing scrutiny and viewed minutely under Janie’s ever vigilant microscope. Everything from how I shoveled the sidewalk (poorly) or cut the lawn (just as poorly), to how I fixed that leaky kitchen faucet (“Still drips a little, Steve”) or that drip in the downstairs laundry tub (don’t ask) has been scrutinized and found wanting; endeavors that have led Janie (I call her that in my mind, but we’d cut the cute names out of our discourse years ago) to the conclusion that she had, in fact, married an incompetent idiot. Or at least one who didn’t measure up to her increasingly exacting standards.
Now I’m not going to waste a lot of time defending my aforementioned abilities regarding sidewalk shoveling, lawn care and faucet repair. Suffice it to say that I’ve done my best. In the past, I did whatever yard work or home maintenance tasks that were required of me and that was that. Done and done. But lately Janie has started to scrutinize the end result of my labors and begun to draw her own conclusions, usually to the negative. I believe the issue for her has less to do with the outcome of the work I do around the house and more with a general dissatisfaction with me in general, her husband of so many years. In fact, it’s a feeling probably common in long term marriages. (Am I trying to comfort myself with that observation? Well, I guess, that maybe, yeah, I probably am.)
But I like being married to Janie. I can take some heat from her. I just want her to be happy. So, for me, it was simply down to if I could prove myself to her or not. Could I demonstrate that I could do this one thing: Begin the task she asked of me, succeed at it, and, by so doing, prove that I still loved her? I’m not sure about her, but in my mind, the marriage hinged in outcome. I still loved Janie and wanted to stay married to her. I’m pretty sure she felt the same way about me. I hoped so, anyway.
But the mice thing was becoming an issue and the cards were dealt; if I succeeded in keeping them out of our home, all was well and good and Yea! Good for me; the marriage succeeds and everything’s coming up roses. Fail? Well, god only knew, but I did know this; I was sure our home life wouldn’t be pretty. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m not overstating the matter when I say that she might become so fed up that she’d kick me out and send me packing. Something I didn’t want at all.
So, hardly any pressure at all, right? Yeah, right.
The crisis of push coming to shove with mice in the house started a few weeks ago. I’d been downstairs putting the final touches on a woodworking project. I build those “Little Library’s” you sometimes see in people’s yard and sell them on line, just for the fun of it plus a little extra cash.
I was hand sanding the edge of the door frame when all of sudden from upstairs in the kitchen Janie yelled, “Jesus Christ! Steve, get up here!”
I dropped my sandpaper and ran up the stairs. Janie was in the corner standing on a chair. She pointed, “It’s a friggin’ mouse, Steve. For christ’s sake. It was in the linen drawer. It scared me half to death.”
“Damn. Is it still there?”
“No. It jumped out when I opened the drawer and ran behind the refrigerator.”
Double damn. We have an older bungalow style home built in the nineteen twenties. I do everything I can to keep it in good shape but let’s be honest, it’s an old house, not exactly what you’d call air tight. Every now and then we’d get a mouse inside. The last time was probably four or five years ago; so long ago I’d completely forgotten about them being any kind of issue at all. Back then I’d trapped it in the basement and disposed of it. There had been no mice since then so I thought I was done with the pesky critters. But now this. Now, another one had made its way inside; in fact, into the kitchen and that was not good. Janie was deathly afraid of them. They actually made her physically ill. Me? I didn’t like them, but I didn’t mind them. Not too much, anyway, but I did prefer they stay outside.
I found a flashlight in a drawer, got down on my hands and knees and shined the light behind the refrigerator. Two bright, tiny eyes peered back at me. Sure enough, the mouse was there.
I won’t go into all the details, but it took me a couple of hours to get it out from behind the cumbersome appliance. I didn’t get a chance to kill it, just got it to run out the back door using a broom and…well, it’s a long story.
Anyway, with the mouse out of the house Janie was not mad but still wound up. “You’ve got to do something, Steve. Figure out where it came in and seal it up or something. I don’t want any more coming in here. Ever.” She hugged herself with her arms and gave a shiver to emphasize her point. Then she added, “I’m counting on you.”
Point taken. Terms explained. Challenge issued and accepted. “I’ll get the damned thing,” I assured her.
I left my Little Library project and spent the rest of the day outside crawling around the entire front, back and sides of the house looking for any possible places a tiny mouse could get in. I found a few and plugged them with steel wool. “Good,” I thought to myself, “Now try to get in.” I stood up tall, put my hands on my hips and added, “You little bastard,” for good measure. Then I went around the entire house again just to be sure and found no more points of entry. Pep talk time, “Nice going Steve. Problem solved.”
The next day another one showed up. Again in the kitchen and this time under the sink. Well, shit. Janie freaked out again, leading me to wonder why the hell they didn’t just come in downstairs so she didn’t have to see them. Then I could just deal with the problem down there. You know, out of sight out of mind. Anything was better than her having to see the friggin’ things and go out of her mind. Anyhow, I was able to take of the problem again. This time I managed to contain it with a towel in the corner by the drain pipe and kill it with a hammer. Not pretty and certainly not something I enjoyed doing. Not at all. I’m a huge animal rights advocate, but sometimes…Well, no one’s perfect, I guess. At least not me.
Anyway, with it dead and gone, I wondered, “Was it the same mouse as from the day before?” No idea, but the big picture was this: I hadn’t solved the problem. They could still get in the house. Time to move on to plane B.
Plan B was to call Simonson’s the local rodent control specialists, which I did. A big, long haired, Hell’s Angels looking guy in overalls with the name Johnny printed on his shirt pocket came out. He spent a good two hours going around the outside of the house checking for ways a mouse could get inside. He laughed at my steel wool.
“We don’t recommend using that,” he said, pulling the stuff out jamming it in his pocket. “Mice can chew right through it. We’ve got this.” He opened up metal case which I guess was his mouse control kit and showed me a wad of thin, shinning strips. “This is shredded brass and it will last forever. They can’t chew through it like steel wool. It works great.” He stuffed it in the places I’d found plus about ten other locations. He used a mirror on a long arm so he could see where the sides of the house were set on the foundation. He said that’s where mice will usually get in. He poked around a lot and was very thorough. I longer I was with him, the more I found myself gaining confidence in him. He seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to mice. He even found holes that I couldn’t see, even when he pointed them out to me. He plugged everything and went through a lot of his copper mesh. When he was finished we went inside.
After a cursory walk through of the first floor we went downstairs. “Why downstairs?” I asked, “They always end up in the kitchen.”
“That’s where the food is,” he told me, “That’s naturally where they’ll head once they get inside.”
Well, that made sense, but was that a smirk I saw on his face? Naw. Maybe just a reflection of me feeling like I should have known better. Besides, he seemed pretty sympathetic to our mouse situation. His conclusion was that they were probably coming in at the base of the foundation by the furnace room where I had my work shop. I had a wall hanging cupboard there that was even with the foundation block. The top of it was a natural landing for them once they got inside. He plugged a couple of holes in that area outside with his magic mesh (my term for the copper strips), but still…I guess you couldn’t be one-hundred percent positive they’d stay out. He told me that there was always a chance they’d find a way to squeeze inside, then make their way up to the kitchen to where the all the food and mouse goodies were.
“It’s getting to be that time year,” he said with a grimace, “Late September, October. “They start looking to find ways to get indoors for the winter.”
“What can I do?”
“I tried to seal all points of entry from the outside with the copper mesh. That should keep them out. Or at least discourage them.” He was very serious. I was becoming more and more impressed with his knowledge of mice and his dedication to keeping them out of houses. “Let me leave you something else to help you out, just to be on the safe side.”
He reached into his mouse control kit and took out some deadly looking traps, “It’s hard with an older home like yours,” he shook his head, sadly, “I’ve done the best I can outside. You might just have to learn to live with getting the occasional mouse who finds its way inside.” He saw my dejected look and was quick to add, “If that happens, don’t worry. These traps will do the job,” he pointed to the top of the cupboard, “I really think that if they’re coming in, that might be the place. That’s where you should this bad boys.”
He showed me how to set the traps and then left with a sympathetic wave and a thumbs up, “Good luck.”
“What’d he say?” Janie asked as I watched his truck drive off while at the same time trying to fight off a sinking, depressive feeling. But this wasn’t about me. I had Janie to think of, not to mention, our marriage.
“He said we might have to learn to live with getting the occasional mouse in here.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s not the answer you want to hear but don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”
“Well, you’d better. You know how afraid I am of those damn things.” She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. Again.
I felt for her, I really did, “I’ll do my best.”
I set two traps up on top of the cupboard like Johnny suggested, baiting them each with a glob of peanut butter and a peanut. My thought was that once the mouse tried to pull the peanut off the peanut butter, Bam! The trap would snap and that would be that.
For ten days life in our home was on an upswing, especially since there was no evidence of mice. Nothing in the traps. Nothing up in the kitchen. No mice anywhere. Janie was relaxed and in a good mood. I was even starting to think that Johnny had solved the problem with the copper mesh and their entry into the house had been plugged and our home would be mouse free for now and forever more. I was wrong.
After breakfast on the eleventh day, I went down to my work room, diligently checked above the cupboard and guess what I found? Right. A dead mouse, stuck in the trap.
Two things went through my mind: One, shit. They were still getting in. And, two, well, at least it wasn’t in the kitchen. Plus, it was only one, not like the nightmare I occasionally experienced of herd of them infesting our home, running around rampant like…Like…Well, I don’t know, like a herd of mice, I guess. I removed the mouse, put it in a paper bag and took it out to the garage and deposited it in the garbage can. I symbolically wiped my hands together. Done.
On my way back to the house I had an idea.
“What’s up?” Janie asked when I came into the kitchen.
“I just got rid of a mouse.”
I could tell she was amping up to freak out, so I put up my hands to stop her, “Hold on. Just hold on a minute and calm down. I’ve got something I want to talk to you about.” I could see her visibly pause and take a deep breath. It occurred to me right then that she really was trying to work on ways to cope with the mice problem. I appreciated that in her, I really did. After all, she was honestly terrified of them. I said, “I want to talk to you about the situation with the mice.”
What I told her essentially was that I was doing all I could to “Monitor the mice,” as I called it. “It looks like they’re only occasionally coming inside, and when they do, it’s not a bunch of them, it’s only one mouse. So that’s not too bad. Plus, it’s in the basement by my work room where I’ve got the traps. They’re attracted to the peanut butter I’m using as bait. I can catch them there, dispose of them, and you’ll never even see them. Never. In fact, you won’t have to worry about them. I’ll be the one to catch them. I’ll be the one to dispose of them. It’s all on me and I’ve got it covered. I think it’ll work. I think it’s good plan.”
Janie looked at me, her expression thoughtful. I could see the mental wheels turning as she considered what I’d said. Then she went to the counter where the coffee maker was and poured herself a cup of coffee. I could tell she was thinking about my plan, and that was a good thing. At least she wasn’t freaking out. She sipped from her cup and closed her eyes, something she used to do when she was deep in thought. She was quiet for a minute, and I kept my mouth shut. Then she opened her eyes, set her cup down and went to the cupboard. She opened it, picked out an old mug of mine and filled it with coffee. Then she handed it to me, something she hadn’t done in I don’t know how long. Was she thawing out a little?
She looked at me and said, “So you’re saying that you’ll take care of things?”
“Actually, I have. I tried to fix where they were coming in with steel wool, and when that didn’t work, I got Johnny in. He’s a professional mouse guy, and he’s done what he can to help us by using a better plugging material than I’d used. He looked around and found and closed off all the other possible points of entry. But he also said that our house is old and we might get the occasional mouse inside. It’s just the way it is. I’m monitoring the situation downstairs where their probable point of entry is. This is the only mouse we’ve had in two weeks. When the weather gets cold they’ll go into hibernation, and we won’t have a problem until next spring. If then. Who knows, by then a cat or a fox or something might have gotten them all. Granted, there might be a few around, but who knows? Maybe not. At any rate, I’ll watch the traps. I’ll make sure I keep peanut butter on them and if we do get a mouse, it just stays down where I am. You never see it and I’ll get rid of it like the one I just got rid of. You wouldn’t have to worry about a thing.”
I tried to be reasonable, taking into account Janie’s fears of mice. I tried to let her know she could depend on me, and she could count on me to take care of the problem so she wouldn’t have to live in fear of coming across an unexpected mouse. That’s how much I loved her, and if that sounds weird, too bad. It’s how I felt. I just didn’t want her to have to worry.
Janie sipped her coffee, thinking some more. I sipped mine, too. I knew how frightened she was of the damn mice. I was doing my all I could to help out, and, in the end, I think she finally saw that I was.
“Ok. I get it. I know you’re doing your best and I appreciate that. Thank you.” She smiled and I could feel the tension rush out of the room like air out a balloon. She walked up and gave me a quick hug. Then she looked past me and out the window and said, “You know, Steve, it’s a nice day out. You could use a break in your woodworking. Maybe we could do something together. You want to go for a walk or something when we finish our coffee? We haven’t done that in a while. It might be nice to start doing some of the things together that we used to do.”
Whew. She was thawing. Maybe with this mouse situation under control we could start to put the past behind us and begin to move on. Not back to like we were when we were first married. After all, we weren’t young anymore. But forward to a time like where we were now, where we’d sorted out some issues (like me dealing with the mice in my own way) and accepted each other for who we both were. And, most importantly, we both could live with that person, faults and all, and keep the marriage intact. It seemed like it, anyway, a new beginning of sorts. In fact, I could see myself picking up some carnations next time I was out. I think Janie would appreciate them.
And regarding her idea to go for a walk? She didn’t have to ask twice. You bet I did.