A Christmas Tail... er, Tale
Christmas Day, 2004
Having been raised by a father who has a love for history, and particularly for World War II history, I know my share of military jargon and tactic.
My first drive-in movie was “Patton” in 1970. I was six years old and seated squarely between my mother and father in the front seat of our station wagon wrangling popcorn and a soft drink and watching with keen interest the monologue of a General wielding a riding crop and standing in front of a large American flag. My little brother was asleep in the back seat having worn himself out with me earlier at the playground as we waited for dusk to arrive and the movie to begin. After all the fireflies had been captured and set free and our obligatory trip to the drive-in bathroom and concession stand, it was time to settle in for the evening’s adventure on the big screen. I am as sure that the devastation I witnessed on that screen went clearly over my head as I am that I had about a thousand questions for my father about the movie itself. I am also sure that by the time General Patton had his first discussion with Field Marshal Montgomery, my father was tired of having a discussion with me and willed me to the backseat to join my little brother in blissful slumber. I have watched this movie many times since I was six years old and have marveled at its cinematography every time and have never walked away disappointed.
As I joined the student ranks and began taking Social Studies and later History classes, my father’s influences were clearly etched in my psyche. I can still, to this day, hear bombs bursting in air and find my father either watching a History Channel documentary or an old war movie. While my friends basked in what I deemed to be a waste of entertainment time with a half-naked Brooke Shields romping through “The Blue Lagoon”, I was enthralled with “Midway” or “Tora, Tora, Tora”. My father usually at my side giving tidbits of information that made the movies appear to have a “Pop-up video” feel to them. He was never without information and was always willing to share it.
It stands to reason then, that I would understand the term “Kamikaze”. There are other reasons that I would understand this term as it relates to a vodka-lime juice concoction, but that bears little meaning for this venture. The Kamikaze that I refer to now is the terror that plagued our American soldiers in the Pacific as they fought against Japan in the 1940s. The Kamikaze pilots were a group of Japanese men that had been instructed in how to take off and fly a plane, but had no training in landing an aircraft as they were suicide missionaries out to relieve the south Pacific seas from the evil Americans. “Kamikaze” translates into “divine wind” by the Japanese, who believed they were leaving this world with honor and a courage unsurpassed by any other fighting man on the face of the planet. They were sadly misguided.
The Japanese are well known for a pride that surpasses any other culture. Their samurai and other soldiers were taught from the beginning what honor meant to their families, their culture and their country. The feudal system of Japanese government in the 1600s developed Harakiri (translated: open the belly)… an act by which a soldier could elude dishonor by taking his own life by… oddly enough… opening his own belly with a dagger. This notion has generally left Americans scratching their head and asking for another Kamikaze to make sense of it all.
Suicidal tendencies among bipeds are often considered irrational at best and maniacal for the most part. Suicidal tendencies among quadrupeds are truly without reason. Why is it, one wonders, that a coyote will gnaw off its own appendage to escape the metal teeth of a man-made trap? The fight or flights endorphins in this species have run amuck, as it were.
Mice, on the other hand, are a different story. You never hear of mice that have willingly gone to their death trap for the sake of springing it on themselves so their little mice friends can stand over their lifeless bodies and retrieve the cheese that was tempting them greatly. You never see a brave mouse with his determined beady eyes set on a five course meal and willing to plunge itself head-on into the gravy boat, which will certainly be its demise.
I imagine the most honorable mouse is named “Mickey” and has set out to rid the world of any preconceived notions that mice are icky and evil creatures destined to spread disease and rid our society of the best gorgonzola on the planet. He has a fan base in the millions and is a snazzy dresser to boot! He has his own club, the likes of which Annette Funicello has given way to Brittney Spears, and a money-making empire that makes him the most beloved creature in Western Pop Culture. He even has a girlfriend… and they have been together without getting married, longer than Brent Gambrell and I.
It probably wasn’t long after I saw “Patton” with my father that I had my first real life encounter with a mouse in a house. It was scampering through our home in Burkburnett, Texas when my mother first saw it and screamed loudly for my father… who, I can assume, was either watching the news or reading the paper. My courageous father began tracking the mouse, while my mother planted herself on the kitchen cabinet and began to frantically wave her hands in gestures to my father, who was looking for a weapon. That mouse would have been better off to do himself in than to meet the fate that was my father raining hellfire down on it in the form of a two by four. I can still see the little bits of flying… well… guts… coming over the shoulder of my father, and then the sight of my mother running to the nearest bathroom with her hand over her mouth. In a world before color television, with the highlight of Sunday afternoon being the Lawrence Welk Show and the aforementioned Mouse…this was entertainment.
My next personal encounter with a mouse came in my own bedroom as an older, wiser, preteen girl. This was after my mother wallpapered my bed room in pink roses, but before all the Bay City Rollers posters covered her handiwork. This was in a time where Barbies still ruled my life, but music was on a fast track to over take it! I remember that Barbies were still present because the mouse came out from under my bed and scared the mess out of me. Having received training from my mother, I promptly jumped onto my bed and began screaming at the top of my lungs, all the while keeping a sharp eye on the intruder of my bedroom. The door swung open and my older brother (I am sure that my father was a work) came rushing in with my mother right behind him. As I explained our predicament and the location of the mouse (now in my bedroom closet) my brother began looking for something to rid the world of this mouse, and my mind went immediately back to the flying gut scenario. I was unwilling to live through that horror again, until I realized that my brother had grabbed my Barbie doll house and in one quick motion, had swept the trespasser into it and was heading out the door. I’m sure that Barbie and Ken had to honeymoon for the next few days in a new location as I waited for my little brother’s GI Joe ranger team to infiltrate Barbie’s home and rid it of any reminder of the mouse and all the horrors that came with it.
I have been in contact with mice from time to time in my adult life, and they have always met their untimely end at the hands of a trap, or a bored dog that caught a glimpse of them eyeing the refrigerator. I have never really cared for real life mice and have felt no remorse for their lack of ingenuity for getting caught in the never-ending pursuit of cheese or other food morsels. Even when my father was still in the military and he took me to the lab with him, and I saw the mice that were being tested on… I never thought “Oh… that poor mouse…” I usually thought “Hmm… good thing Mom’s not here.”
What was it in me this afternoon when I found myself face-to-face with what appeared to be a tiny baby mouse next to my car? Where did this sympathy and maternal instinct to protect this creature arise from? Why would this happen on Christmas? As I went to warm up my car on this very cold Christmas Day, what to my wandering eyes would appear but a tiny life form… so small and delicate… unmoving except for its shiver from the sub-zero temperature. Had I become the transformed Grinch? Had my heart that was two sizes too small burst through the confines of a metal frame? Why was I suddenly intrigued and amazed at this helpless rodent? Why were those beady eyes now very large, brown… doe-like? Why didn’t this mouse move away from me when I approached him? I was… essentially… about a million times larger than it was. Was he frozen? Was he searching for his mother? How had it suddenly taken on a gender and found meaning in my life. Had I determined that this same mouse could have been a descendent of a mouse that, in Biblical times, witnessed the very birth of the Christ child? And why was I suddenly talking to it?
I found myself explaining to this now precious pet, that I was about to turn on the car, and for it not to be frightened from the loud sound it was about to hear. I began to plan my own escape route should the engine frighten the mouse enough that it would scamper towards me, up my pant leg and jump into the car with me, where I would never be able to drive until I could find this creature, now lurking about waiting to nest in my hair. I turned the key… the engine started… and the mouse didn’t move.
“Oh my… he really must be cold.” There was an abundant amount of sympathy for this woodland creature and the need to help relocate him with his family, who were certainly desperately worried about his location and… more terrifyingly… had sent out a search party with thousands of his kinfolk. But I dared not touch him… it was fear of the mouse cooties all over again.
I returned inside where I told my parents, now firmly in their 70s, of the little lost mouse by my car. “Run over it”, was my mother’s Nazi reply. She had no inclination towards sympathy. “Just back up over it… its not big enough to even feel it under your tire.” How could I have come from this woman’s womb? Where was her maternal instinct? Obviously it was tucked safely in the drawer with my father’s. “Just kick it with your foot. It’s probably half-frozen anyway. Or… we can send the dog out to deal with it.” Um… right. My father’s prancey, not-so-masculine poodle is going to rid the grounds of the mouse. More likely he would sniff at it… pee on it… and bark his way into the annals of family history as being the dog that did nothing with the mouse. If it came down to a fistfight… I was putting money on the half-frozen mouse.
My horror was only increased as I stepped back outside to load a few packages into my car for a Christmas exchange with my friend Connie. The mouse had indeed moved… to a position right behind my back tire! Oh No! I was certainly in a quandary now! What was I going to do? This poor, pitiful creature had determined that life was no longer worth living and saw me as the Dr. Kevorkian of the mouse kingdom. I has horrified that this resolute little being was throwing all his chips in on the big poker game of life and was waiting for me to deal his death blow. I couldn’t move. I tried to reason with the little fellow… I tried to explain that there was indeed more cheese in the world and that he could not possibly give up now.
When that failed, I took a new approach. I began to call upon the spirits of Walt Disney and the One True Mouse! I explained to him the Circle of Life and sang “Hakuna Matata” in the key of G. He would have no part of it. I would not be the Mufasa to his Simba. He was determined to meet his end… He was determined that I would play the part of Cruella D. Ville in his dastardly plan. He was… the Kamikaze Mouse! Upon closer inspection, I even saw a “K” emblazoned on his fur, and a little Japanese headband appeared while he was sipping his ritual sake.
But… I would have the upper hand yet. I leaped over his shivering little body with the grace of Bambi’s mother and procured the nearest broom. Then, just as Mary Poppins would have done, I swept him into the flower garden that was about 8 inches from where he had taken his last stand. He cowered and remained motionless for about 20 seconds. I wondered if I had killed him after all. Then… he moved. He stirred about. I explained the benefits of the leafy nature of his new-found home. I told him he would find warmth there, and possibly food. I exhorted him to remain on the outside of the house, where pleasures and the natural food chain of life afforded him a greater adventure than the seemingly warm house where he would certainly find his demise under the strong boot of the Fuehrer and his Fraulein.