Stafford: Of mice, of men and (mostly) of women

Tom Stafford

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Tom Stafford

MARQUETTE, Mich. — So, we have mice in our Springfield home.

And when we have mice, a certain tone creeps into my wife’s voice..

It’s a muted version of the suffering bellow you might expect in a video game called Mountain Climb.

The bellow would be released just after the character chosen from the stable of possible competitors makes the final, excruciating push to get the huge rock to a resting spot on Mount Everest only to then watch it teeter for a moment, then plummet back down as the words “start over” flash on the screen.

The best a poor gamer can hope for in the continuing battle against tenacious mountain rams, pumas, rock slides and avalanches that await is to advance to the next level, where rock tumbles from a greater height.

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After reaching the summit, the player gets to enjoy the rock’s final hurtle down the slopes, as the rams, goats, pumas and wide-eyed Sherpas dive out of the boulder’s way until, near rock bottom, it takes out an animal called Dolly Llama and the screen goes dark never to light up again.

Last week, I discovered the battle of man (and woman) against mouse to be unfolding not only in my home but in the Lake Superior home my sister-in-law, Ingrid, inherited with her brothers and sister.

On Monday, I flew to ORD, O’Hare Airport, to be picked up by Ingrid and my brother, Bill, for the drive through Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula on the annual trip to winterize the place.

Another goal, of course, was to catch up with them after they fetched me from the red-eye flight from Dayton, a process aided by two microwaved Jimmy Dean egg-and-cheese muffins washed down by gas station coffee laced with half a dozen thimble-sized flavored creamers.

The rodent issue was discussed on the way, though upon arrival we discovered there had been no need for Ingrid’s brother, Carl, to leave a sticky note about it.

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The small corpse of mouse stuck to a sticky pad trap made the point more emphatically, since both stood out against the perky red countertop.

On a call home, I imagined my wife’s brow furrowing as I told her about the sticky traps.

Perhaps as a result of having too many children’s stories read to us, we both have a more tender heart for vermin than we should. So, I reminded myself that talk of a bear now roaming the trails of Middle Island Point, where I stayed on Like Superior, does not self-identify it as a Berenstain Bear.

Reality notwithstanding, Ann and I have long established protocols for our home-sweet-home vermin relocation program.

After spotting what look like teensy Tootsie Rolls on the kitchen pantry floor, she places a single peanut, closes the folding door for the night and asks me as one of her eyes opens the next morning whether the nut has disappeared.

Most of the time I can suppress my urge to say, “No, I’m still here.” If the other nut has disappeared, we move on to the next step.

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Because it’s above my pay grade, she baits the trap with a glob of peanut butter, then goes into a shallow sleep for the big night.

In the past, I recall hearing the metallic sound of the trap at night. These days that can’t be heard above the whir of C-Pap machines, so I merely open the folding door in the morning to see whether my “to do list” for the day includes counselling the mouse, then releasing it to some rural tree line to scamper off.

As I drive toward the release spot, I always feel pretty certain it will be scampering off to certain death, though that, too, may be a result of having seen too many “country mouse, city mouse” cartoons in my deformative years.

In my view, reasonable minds can disagree about whether release of a captive mouse to almost certain consumption is a more humane practice than boring it to death by catching it on a sticky pad and forcing it to watch its life flash before its eyes a thousand times before reaching its blessed end.

On the shores of Lake Superior, there were two morning visitors the day after we arrived. One was a carpenter called on to take a tour and give advice about whether any action is required on the place’s septic system, roof, basement or anything else.

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The carpenter, it turns out, is of the succeeding generation of the company that added the bunkhouse and expanded one of the bedrooms at camp under the instruction of Ingrid’s late mother, Grace Sponberg.

This little bit of information — which also introduces their Swedish heritage — confirmed in my mind a suggestion I made to Ingrid: That she enter in her daily camp journal my suggestion that Swedish lore remember her as “Ingrid the Responsible,” the daughter of “Grace the Responsible” who ruled over the cabin before her.

I think the same name should be applied to my wife, Ann, who is of German (I think Prussian) extraction.

The far better student of the two of us at Wittenberg, she also has been the one more responsible for keeping our household going for decades now and who now ensures that our ties with children and grandchildren remain closed.

My sense is that many women carry the same responsibilities — particularly in families where men are less involved and not present at all, and especially when men cannot take cover behind the rocks of being a steady provider of income, a responsibility women have increasingly shared, or borne alone, over the years I’ve lived.

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We’ve long since reached the point at which we should have recognized that the cartoon challenge “Are you a man or a mouse?” might be supplemented — or maybe replaced — with the phrase “Are you a woman or a mouse?”

Because they’re as often, more often, the ones taking care of business.


P.S. In my most recent column, I wrongly reported that the Wreaths of America event scheduled for Dec. 18 in St. Bernard’s Cemetery will introduce the national program honoring veterans to Springfield. Springfield’s Lagonda Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, did that last December at the historic Columbia Street Cemetery.

P.P.S. Those interested in viewing a video of the dedication of Ferncliff Cemetery’s monument honoring U.S. Colored Troops of the Civil War can google ferncliffcemetery.org/video-gallery.