“Yes of course I am! For God’s sake, Lois, I’m a doctor!”
Chris’s birthday gift that year was two white albino baby mice with pink eyes. My dad was holding them up by their tails and peering seriously at their rear ends. He nodded.
"Yes. Yes they are. Girls. Both."
They came in a perforated cardboard box nestled in cedar chips looking twitchy and silken and very cute with long pink tails.
Chris really wanted a rat because he read somewhere that rats make the most loyal pets, will willingly ride on your shoulder, and are very smart too. But as children of the Great Depression, the notion of rat as pet was incomprehensible for both my parents. Apparently they’d seen some as big as dogs in the day.
So mice it was. And two seemed like a good number at the time.
“They’ll keep each other company,” decreed dad.
From then on, the powder blue room with the bunk beds my brothers shared exuded the aroma not just of stinky boy times two, but also a heady miasma of mouse pee paired with tangy droppings notes underscored by a spicy hint of cedar. Eau de Rodent.
Chris chose to keep his little buddies in his upper dresser drawer which was deep enough that they couldn’t climb out. It was an open-faced mouse run complete with toilet paper rolls, an exercise wheel, various jingle toys, and the food/water array.
The cats were banished from the room for obvious reasons.
Sometimes their instincts were so overwhelming we could see their paws desperately reaching, claws outstretched, under the closed door just in case a stupid mouse named Dinner stumbled by.
Chris was totally in charge of his mice, making sure they were fed and watered and suitably exercised. That was the “you’re growing up now so you are responsible for your pets” milestone in action.
Nobody mentioned that mice were nocturnal and the boys put up with quite a bit of squeaking, wheel-running, and cedar chip rustling all night long.
Chris said that although it sounded sometimes like they were fighting, he was pretty sure they were just having mouse fun.
“Hey, son, you may be over feeding your mice a little. The one looks obese!” said dad at the dinner table one night.
“Aw dad, it’s just hungrier than the other one.”
And, it turns out, for good reason.
Very soon thereafter, we were treated to an adorable mouse nativity scene with four pink wriggly babies attached to MamaMouse (who looked pissed by the way) with PapaMouse looking on proudly.
Mom and dad locked eyes for a minute and telepathically "had words" before composing their faces and smiling at us.
“Well, this is great. We now have an opportunity to study the reproductive habits of mice.”
And did we ever.
Dad bought two more mice, non-albino with brown spots and black eyes, to vary the mouse gene pool in our experiment.
And off they went.
Right out of the gate there were two litters of pups, then four, the eight. Dad built a large mesh cage for the burgeoning population, moved it to the laundry area of the house, and created a log book documenting the various genetic legacies each litter manifested.
He pontificated at the dinner table about recessive genes and Mendel’s peas and gestational periods and even discussed the mating ritual (sex) to a certain degree.
Astonishingly, Jon and Chris were immune from getting whooped when they were caught excitedly viewing the action in the cage.
“Look, he’s doing it!"
"Holy crap that was quick. Look, he’s doing that other one!"
"He’s Mighty Mouse!"
"Did you see the size of his equipment? I want to be just like him!”
We were getting schooled right in the face. Our grades in Science were rising up the charts with a bullet to A+. Our teachers, like (Insert Nun's Name Here), were actually jovial and not calling for parent's conferences every other day. Life was good.
But, as with everything, it’s all fun and games until somebody eats the babies.
(To be continued...)
1 fat 1 Skinny - U.S. Government Public Domain. Pile 'o mices - howtogetridofmice.com. Chris - Personal photo collection. Mighty Mouse from Bakshi-Hyde Ventures, Mighty Mouse The New Adventure
Click on titles for more family stories starring Dr. Dad:
Dad Creates a Stir
Golf Course Gorts
Dad and the Purple Schwinn
And from Dr. Dad’s sister, Aunt Polly: