Scene One – EYES WIDE OPEN – Mauston, Wisconsin, September 2020
“She scurried across the lawn, running sideways like a crab with her six additional legs. Except each additional leg was actually a baby mouse holding on to one of the mother mouse’s nipples propelling her away from me. Take the next country road on the right, Dan. There’s a rest stop two miles down the way on the left. I’ve got something on my mind. These surgical masks bug me. I can talk more easily without a mask in the open air.”
Dan wheels the 2020 Volvo XC 40 into the parking lot and waves his hand toward a maple tree in splendid autumn gold. “Want to sit at that picnic table, Bobby?”
The dampness of the table seat seeps through my jeans, a welcome change after the warm Volvo.
“What’s up, Bobby?”
I lean forward on my elbows and look at Dan. “Mice. This time in a bag of topsoil I keep in the shed. Two weeks ago, while filling a gopher hole, a mother mouse and her babies tumbled out of the bag along with her nest that included shreds of my tarp woven with grass. For an instant we stared at each other and then momma mouse crab-walked across the lawn. Each baby mouse was no larger than the end of my pinky finger, fully formed with fur, tail, ears, and eyes still closed. Baby mice have eyelids that don’t open until two weeks after birth. Somehow mother mouse was able to communicate to her young to hang on and run, with each baby acting as additional legs for mother.”
Dan leans back, grins and pushes his Milwaukee Brewers baseball cap up from his forehead. “I’ve never seen a mouse do that.”
“Wait, there’s more. I feel like my story is from Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Last week I grabbed a tarp full of mouse holes from the shed and hooked it behind the lawn mower to haul brush. At the end of the driveway, I smoothed folds from the tarp and a baby mouse rolled out. He was gray and white with fir as soft as down, and without fear. So, I scooped him into my gloved hand and made a video of his tiny body climbing between my fingers. I combined the video with piano music I composed and posted a movie I called Young Life on my YouTube site.”
Dan scratches his head. “Sounds like you like mice. What’s really bothering you, Bobby?”
“I do like mice. I had pet mice as a kid. Yesterday I went in the shed–”
“That’s the problem, bro. Stay out of the shed!”
“Love your sense of humor, but we have to eat. We store our BBQ in the shed. I rolled the Webber Grill out onto the lawn, lifted the lid to check if there were coals from last time, and Deja Vu. Yup, you guessed it, mother mouse doing her crab-walk with several babies holding on just like before. This time, however, the young’s eyes were wide open. I put the lid back on the grill and we had sandwiches for dinner. I checked later and the mice were gone.”
Dan leans back. “I think I’m getting the picture.”
“Yes, although baby mice are cute, they are a pain in the BBQ. I can’t leave work gloves in the shed and mice have destroyed my tarps. Rather than a random location for mice to live, the shed is a birthing place, a source of infestation.
“Two nights ago, I set three traps. Caught two young mice, possibly from the litter in the BBQ and a pregnant mouse almost full term, her belly bulging with babies, all stone cold. I felt bad about that.
“Last night I caught another pregnant mouse, and a young male mouse. Either the juvenile chewed on the dead mother or another mouse attacked the corpse and ate the embryos. A very low level of depravity in my book.”
“Vole,” Dan says. “Voles eat mice.”
Scene Two – NICE THINGS – Madison, Wisconsin, October 2020
“Dan, the only honest person in my life was Sally.”
“How so, Bobby? She cheated on you, divorced you, and took you to the cleaners. Would you like more coffee?”
I push my mug across Dan’s oak kitchen table. “Yes, she did. But when Sally was with me, she was fully present. She wasn’t perfect, but I always knew my place, like standing on solid ground.”
Dan sips his Earl Grey tea. “That’s weird, Bobby. Say more.”
Hot java burns my tongue. “Yesterday I learned that my uncle Fred died in 2016. My aunt and two cousins never called. Uncle Fred was a WWII vet. He stormed Omaha Beach on D-day and lived to be 93. I wasn’t close with Fred but I was fond of him. We would laugh about corny Boris Karloff monster movies. Uncle Fred knew all the lines. ‘I am Count Dracula,’ uncle Fred would say in a fake Transylvanian accent.”
“I’m sure I’ll eventually understand the connections between Sally and uncle Fred,” Dan says. “Maybe blood? I’m lost at this point.”
“Okay, let me elaborate with another story. I keep in close contact with aunt Lucy, Fred’s sister-in-law. Each time we talked I asked if she had any news about Fred. Aunt Lucy would always say, ‘No one calls me. I’m the last to know.’
“This week I found a photograph showing uncle Lennie and family – Mother had ten siblings by the way. Aunt Lucy told me he was attending dinner with her and family after his heart surgery in 1968. Years ago, Mother told me Lennie died on the operating table. Either I don’t remember correctly or Mother made up the story of his death to fill in the blanks for what she didn’t know, couldn’t remember, or didn’t want to say.”
“Was your mother withholding information to protect you?”
“Probably. I recall Mother saying, ‘We only talk about nice things.’ It could also be a generational thing, like Uncle Fred never speaking about the war, or Mother wanting to convey what she preferred by masking the truth.
“I also learned about my uncle Abe’s death years after he passed in the mid-80s. ‘I didn’t know that you cared,’ Mother said. ‘Why wouldn’t I care?’ I replied. ‘I lived with him during high school summer break. I worked in his bakery in Redondo Beach.’
“Uncle Abe was a stereotypical, jolly baker, always dressed in white, and a little over weight. Like all my uncles, Abe was special, too. Do you have something stronger to add to my coffee?”
Scene Three – ONLY SON – Madison, Wisconsin, November 2020
“Grandpa Bobby, sing the song about my great grandmother again,” Tyler says.
I lift my grandson to my knee. “Since you are a budding musician, I could do that along with a little music theory. The song is sad, more about me than my mother. Written in the key of A minor, the music has tension, typical of minor chords. But I composed a twist by using a melodic melody that raises the sixth and seventh note of the musical scale by one-half tone on the ascending part of the melody with a natural sixth and seventh on the descending part. A melodic melody, pleasing to the ear, suggests a possible resolution to the singer’s problem, hinted in the lyrics.”
“Sing the song, grandpa.”
“Okay. Scoot over to the chair and I’ll sit at my keyboard.
“Taken to the country for a ride.
Never heard her stories from inside.
Soft’s the swamp I walk on.
I’m her only son.
Information river flows quite slow.
Usually I’m the last to know.
Soft’s the swamp I walk on.
I’m her only son.
Making legends I want to hear.
Truth is casualty, don’t bring me near.
Soft’s the swamp I walk on.
I’m her only son.”
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Creativity Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
Richard Wilberg is a creativity coach, musician, writer, photographer, and former business leader who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.