(A Christmas Story)
Barbara J. Galasso
Hearing my daughter Olivia scream from the other room almost made me fall off of the small ladder that I was using to put the finishing touches on our Christmas tree. “Momma, Momma, she cried. There’s a mouse in the house.” I quickly ran to her side as she raced to my open arms. Her little body was shaking as she pressed her head against my chest. “Now, now my dear. It’s alright, I said trying to ease her fear. There’s nothing to be scared about" I told her as my eyes quickly scanned the room to see if I could find the object of her terror. “It was here momma. It was here,” my terrified seven year old whimpered. “Well, I’m sure it’s long gone by now dear”, I said trying to reassure my frightened little girl even though I wasn’t so convinced myself.
I brought her over to her bed and sat her down while still keeping an arm wrapped securely around her. I turned her little face towards me and while looking directly in her tear filled eyes, I asked her why she was so afraid of a little old mouse anyway. I knew I’d have a hard time trying to convince her not to be afraid of a mouse, when I knew that this was not a creature that I welcomed with open arms myself. Just then Daisy, our German Shepherd dog came in to see what all the commotion was about. I stroked her head as I thought about what she would have done if she saw the mouse. Daisy was a mouse catcher and pretty much anything else that moved. I didn’t need a cat with her around. Then I thought about my own mother and the stories that she used to tell me about living on a farm and about all the animals that she used to share her property with.
I told my daughter about her grandmother being one of the most humble and strong women that I knew. Grandmother didn’t have much I told her, but was happy for the little that she did have. She loved all of God’s creatures. She shopped at the second hand stores and most of the clothes I wore to school were hand me downs. I remember her rummaging through the used clothes bins as my sister and I sat on the floor reading the musty smelling old books that took us away to another time and place. We didn’t have much but we had a sense of “wonderment.” Mom would make due with the little food that she bought and many a night we would have a bowl of soup that warmed our tummies and comforted our souls. Yup, we were poor, but we were rich with love.
I remember momma telling me a story one time about a mouse in the house. She told me that one night as she sat reading by the light of her small lamp, she saw a movement from the corner of her eye. It startled her at first, but when she realized what it was, a smile escaped from her lips. Sitting on the rug not two feet away from her was a little mouse. Mom looked down on the floor where the small creature stood and said, “Well what is it that you want little one?” Then she said the most incredible thing happened. She told me that the mouse rose up upon its hind legs and stood there staring at her. She said she didn’t know what possessed her, but she wasn’t afraid of the mouse. Instead, with the gentleness she always possessed, she reached down and picked up the little animal and took it to the back door releasing it outside and told it to go find its own house. I remember saying, “Oh mother, how could you pick up that nasty thing?” With the wisdom that she learned from living without many material comforts, she smiled and say, “Child, it isn’t the animals that I worry about. They only do what they have to do to survive. Man could learn many things from the smallest of God’s creatures” she said as she turned back to her sewing.
My daughter’s eyes grew wide with excitement as she asked me, “Did grandma really pick up a mouse?” “Cross my heart and hope to die,” I said earnestly. “Yuck! Olivia almost shouted out. That’s gross.” “Well sweetheart, I told her, everything is here for a purpose and sometimes in life they loose their way home. And sometimes we have to help them find their way back again. That’s what your grandmother was doing when she put the little mouse outside and told him to go find his own house."
It was then that the “brilliant” idea came to me. I wanted to make this experience that frightened my child a positive one. I told her, “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do Olivia. Our little mouse friend is looking for a way to get back home again, and in the spirit of Christmas we’re going to help him get his wish. Now we got to make sure that Daisy doesn’t find him before we do because sometimes she can be too rough and she forgets how big she is. We’re going to buy a mouse trap for our little friend.” Just then Olivia piped in and said, “You mean we’re going to squish the mouse in the trap mommy? Oh, no dear. Not like that. We’re going to get a friendly mouse trap that only traps the mouse inside and then like grandma did, we are going to release it back outside. After all, we want the mouse to be back home with his family in time for Christmas. He’s just lost his way. That’s all.”
Now that I made finding and catching the mouse a game for Olivia, she changed from a scared little girl to one that was on a mission. Find the mouse and get it back to its home. It was three days before Christmas. The next morning after Olivia set the trap, she got up early to see if it worked. Nothing. “Maybe tomorrow,” I told her. The second morning was a repeat of the first. “Oh mommy, Olivia cried. I don’t know if we’re ever going to get Mister Mouse (that’s what she called him now) back in his own house in time for Christmas.” I saw the disappointment on my child's face. That night it was Christmas Eve. I went down the hall towards my daughter’s room and heard her talking to someone. As I tiptoed closer to her open door, I quietly looked in to find her on her knees praying next to her bed. I heard her say, “Grandma, if you can hear me, will you please ask God to send the little mouse back here in my room before Daisy finds him and let him crawl in to the box. We really want to get the mouse back to his house in time for Christmas. Thanks a lot. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I’ve been real good all year long and me and my dog Daisy would really like a new sleigh so we can ride down the hill next to our house. Good night and Amen.” I came in and tucked my daughter in to her bed, gave her a kiss and turned the light off.
Christmas morning Olivia was up at the crack of dawn gleefully opening her presents in the living room while her father and I sipped our freshly brewed coffee. “Oh yippee” she cried as she took off the ribbon wrapped around her new sled. Hey, Daisy look what Santa brought us. Daisy didn’t come when she was spoken to. Olivia turned around and asked us, Where’s Daisy gone to?” Just then we heard Daisy barking from one of the bedrooms. We called her but she still refused to come. So much for the obedient German Shepherd, I told myself. We all got up to see what the ruckus was about. We found Daisy in Olivia’s room looking up at the shelf. Olivia had placed the mouse trap up there she told us so Daisy couldn’t get at it like she could when it was on the floor. She told us that she thought Daisy was chasing the mouse away from the box so she decided to move it. Smart move on her part, because from within the box, we heard the familiar squeak of a mouse.
Olivia was so delighted and not afraid of the mouse anymore. “Momma, can we take Mister Mouse and let him go free now?” “Yes dear, I said. Let’s go do it right now so he gets home in time for Christmas with his family.” We all went to the back of the house where daddy opened the door and released Mister Mouse. We saw him running across the snow drifted hills just as fast as his little feet could carry him. With that, Olivia yelled out to the little creature who only days before had frightened her so much, “Merry Christmas Mister Mouse. Come back and see us again real soon.” I turned and looked at my daughter and biting my tongue, said to myself, “Oh child do be careful what you ask for.”
My rating: children & animals: (4), sense of wonderment: (4), keeping the holiday spirit: (4)