wendy skipped into our apartment looking like one of Santa's miniature elves in her red coat and pointed pom pom hat with white fur trim framing her pixie face. She was returning from her favorite activity, which was helping her dad take care of the mice in the biology lab where he worked. "Mommy, Mommy, please, can I have a mouse of my very own," she begged, pumping my arm as she jumped up and down with excitement. "Daddy said I could, if it's OK with you," she pleaded, not even seeming to notice when we took off her coat and hat. "I know how to feed it and water it all by myself," she chattered, the words tumbling over themselves in her eagerness. "And you won't have to . . . " I looked at my husband, Carl, who had conveniently turned away to hang up the coats.
It was common knowledge to Wendy that the scientific name of a field mouse was Peromyscus maniculatus and that lab mice were albino mus musculus. She had affectionately named many of the mice in the lab. There was Hickory, Dickory and Doc, Three Blind, Gus, Mighty and Minnie, just to name a few celebrities, and even though they all looked alike to me, she could tell them apart.Carl convinced me that a Christmas mouse would be an easy, appreciated, inexpensive gift for our 4-year-old zoologist that lean year when he was still a university student. So a few days before Christmas Carl brought home a white mouse in a discarded cage he had found and dubbed "the baling wire jail house." We christened the mouse "Mickey" after Wendy's favorite lab mouse.
In the flurry of preparations to get ready to go to Grandma's house for Christmas in our rural southern Utah home, the mouse was all but forgotten. Early the morning of our planned departure, I answered the loud pounding on our front door to be greeted by a writhing, white mouse held dangling by its tail in front of my nose. Mickey the mouse was being held by our burly, hairy neighbor from across the stairwell who was clad only in his undershorts. "Is this yours?" he bellowed. "Yes," I squeaked, trying to keep my eyes on the mouse instead of his lack of attire. "If I find it in my apartment again, I'll flush it down the toilet," he growled, stomping back to his apartment and slamming the door.
Carl mended the cage with additional bailing wire, but when we were ready to load Mickey into the car there was only an empty cage. A quick search of the apartment revealed no mouse. Rather than incur more wrath from our neighbor, we resigned Mickey to his fate and stopped at a pet store on our way out of town to buy Mickey II.
"You mean to tell me you bought a mouse," Grandma Wadworth chortled with amusement. "I'd let you have as many mice as you can catch in my cellar," she said, as we all laughed. "But we need the mouse to be white and alive," Carl teased back.
Mickey II, still in the cardboard box from the pet store, was hidden amid the clutter on a table under the window in Grandma's back room. The usually mild southern Utah temperatures hit a record low that night. In the morning when we checked on Mickey II, the mouse was dead - apparently frozen to death in Grandma's unheated back room.
We now had no Christmas presents for Wendy. There wasn't a pet store close enough to buy another mouse, and it was Christmas Eve. Only one hope remained. My brother Doyle and his family were coming from Las Vegas to spend Christmas with my parents, so in desperation, I called, hoping they hadn't left yet. "You want me to buy a what?" Doyle asked. When he finished laughing, he agreed to stop at a pet store and buy another mouse for us.
"You'll never believe this," Doyle greeted us as he handed me the box. "We bought a mouse, but while we were trying to make a place for it in the trunk, Raymond opened the box and the mouse jumped out. All of us gave chase but it disappeared into the tailpipe of the car. We felt stupid going back only an hour later to buy another one, but the clerk just laughed and said it was good for business."
I decorated a metal shortening can with bright Christmas paper. After poking holes in the plastic lid and then finishing off the creation with a bow, Mickey IV was put inside the festive container and set under the tree.
Christmas morning Wendy eagerly opened the lid of the decorated can. "What is it?' she asked in bewilderment. It was an empty shortening can decorated with Christmas paper and topped with a plastic lid that had a small hole gnawed in the side. Festivities were put on hold while everyone searched the house, but no Mickey the mouse was found.
Someone suggested burying the can as a memorial, hoping something tangible might help relieve some of Wendy's disappointment. "No," she replied indignantly, "we can't have a funeral without a body." Carl gave his mother a warning look, hoping she wouldn't volunteer a mouse body from one of her traps in the cellar. We promised Wendy another mouse as soon as we returned home, and everyone went out of their way to entertain her, but much of the excitement was gone from Christmas. When well-meaning relatives asked her what Santa brought, she would blink back the tears and explain: "My present ran away."
Wendy is a young mother now. Watching her plan gifts on a limited budget for her young daughters revived this memory. She probably doesn't even remember this long-ago Christmas, but it is one of many fun, happy memories she has given me.
About the author
Vanda Wadsworth discovered a love of writing a few years ago when she started recording some memories of her childhood and interesting events from the lives of her children.
She was born and raised in LaVerkin "and never ventured out into the big scary world until I graduated from high school and enrolled at BYU."
After marrying her high school sweetheart, Carl, she lived in Hawaii for three years while he taught at the Church College of Hawaii.
The Wadsworths now live in Bountiful and are the parents of six children. They have five grandchildren. Vanda works as an administrative assistant in the Research and Development Department of Iomed Inc.