That Eek! Time of Year, by Janet Lee Berg

We have a home invasion every winter. Outsiders who seek refuge at our house. The mice affectionately refer to us as “the suckers” because of our tolerance level. At first we saw them through a cartoonish lens, but their cuteness soon faded.

We’ve put up with Rocky the squirrel on our roof and Ricky the raccoon in our garage, but the toughest challenge of them all is always the mouse — not Minnie or Mickey or that cute Italian fellow Pepino. And definitely not Mighty, because no one ever comes to save the day.

I cringe when the outsiders come inside, as it takes weeks to get them back out where they belong. Oh, you must be saying to yourself, that’s not how to handle it, and, practically speaking, I can see why. But the guillotine? No way. Without the heart to end the lives of these small creatures, I continue to stand on stools with a broomstick and shriek.

I had to come up with my own techniques of mouse removal, as most methods seemed inhumane. I recall one night when our kids were small, my husband was asleep, and I, with insomnia, stayed up playing PacMan (I was a pro at killing off those little dots). Anyway, I heard a noise coming from the kitchen, and I tiptoed in to see two beady eyes staring back at me from under a stovetop burner. I eventually went to bed, but could not sleep. “What if? What if I fall asleep with my mouth open, and the mouse is looking for another dark place to hide?”

I had no choice but to get out of bed again and put my genius plan into action: I filled the kitchen sink, a couple of feet from the burner, with water and left a trail of breadcrumbs leading to it.

I waited in bed and watched the clock, singing in my head “Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock.” No, I had to get those cute images out of my head. At 3 a.m. I tiptoed back into the kitchen. 

Aha! Gotcha. There he was, swimming in circles like a miniature seal. I scooped him up with a plastic container, quickly put a lid on it, and happily let him go outside my front door while I hummed “Born Free.” I looked up at the beautiful night sky, at large snowflakes, and then I looked down again at the wet mouse, which took three steps and froze solid in his tracks. I cried. (There’s no setting on my microwave for defrosting a mouse.)

One year, I blew a mouse clear out the French doors at the back of our house with a giant leaf blower. I’m pretty sure he survived, but he must have landed in Oz. That was one of my successful mouse-rescue-and-release episodes that I am still proud of to this day. 

The worst house invasion was a few winters ago. He or she (found out — she) must have come through a basement vent and left poopies (not cute) in the oven trays under the gas burners. I didn’t want to gas her, and I was so grossed out that I didn’t want to cook at all (which of course I milked).

One day I had a long talk with the man at the hardware store, who sold me a plastic non-kill mousetrap. My husband (not handy) and I read the instructions (we usually never read instructions until after we fail) and thought we had it down pat.

The next morning, to our relief, the trap’s door was closed, but when we picked up the trap, it felt empty. Perplexed, we opened the door and saw that the cheese was gone, but no mouse; he had outsmarted us again. This went on for weeks, and once in a while I’d see the mouse scurry by as we watched television. 

“Um, Bruce,” I said to my husband. “Looks like the mouse has put on a lot of weight.”

“Really? Is it still wearing those jazzy red Disney shorts and large yellow shoes?”

“No, it’s totally naked this time, except for the little white gloves. But the fur’s a different color now.”

It dawned on us that was not the same mouse. We had more than one. The following day we bought many traps (one of them had to work) and lined them up in the food pantry and waited once again. Finally, success. Every day we’d catch another mouse and let it run free in the woods next to our house. Unless . . . unless each time we released it, it just came right back into the house for meals.

We then made executive decisions: Each time, we’d actually drive the mouse a few miles away to a horse farm. We weren’t sure if we should take the mouse inside the car with us, because if the trap’s door opened we’d crash into a tree, or tie the mousetrap on the roof of the car. We ended up duct-taping the trap and letting the mouse go after we got out of the car. 

Ah, what a relief. Hope the horses are happy with their new tenants.

After weeks of sterilizing our kitchen with Lysol, and no sign of mouse poopies, we were content that Mickey or Minnie or whoever and their extended family were gone.

Eek! The bad news? I had to start cooking again.

Janet Lee Berg is a previous contributor to The Star and the author of a new historical novel, “Rembrandt’s Shadow.”