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  • Writer's pictureTerry Pace

Mama and the Mice

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

By Terry M Pace (2020)

My mother, Berdell Nelson Pace grew up in an old country farm house in the midst of the rolling prairie around Crowell in Foard County of north west Texas. She grew up in open country with wild life all around, but mama was allergic to animal fur, and had several severe allergic reactions after being exposed, especially to cats in her lifetime. Now most of us have a few fears of various kinds of animals – snakes, rats, people. But for my mom, most any furry animal was appreciated only at a distance, not up close and if an animal violated this mom either yelled and kicked or grabbed the nearest stick to fend it away. It was always a site to see!

I think maybe this is why mom loved birds so much, she had no known allergies to them, they were beautiful and naturally kept their distance. I love bird watching now and am pretty sure that love came from my mom, who seemed to always notice and point out the birds around us. If I was ever unsure of a gift to buy my mom, I would just look for some pretty bird figurine or picture and I knew she would appreciate it. In later life, after retirement my parents and some uncles and aunts went in together and bought a small cabin in the mountains of Ruidoso New Mexico. There, my mother spent many days feeding and watching the birds; the Grey Mountain Jays, Rose Breasted Grosbeaks and the hummingbirds I recall as being some she really enjoyed.

Mom was always around animals, including horses, mules, pigs, cows, chickens and turkeys growing up on their Foard County farm. Of course there were farm dogs and cats and plenty of snakes, rats, rabbits and mice. After mom and dad married and settled on their own farm south of Levelland Texas, we didn’t have livestock of our own except for the pigs I raised for FFA. We did always have dogs and cats that were strictly outside farm animals. They were well care for and loved, but due to mom’s allergy and our farm culture, the animals remained outside, where mom enjoyed seeing them from a safe distance. Many times, I saw mama stand on her back porch, broom in hand to fend off any pets so she could watch us kids or her grandchildren playing.

However, house mice were on a different level. Mama hated mice! She was told by doctors that she was very allergic to them, but she also easily associated mice with cats and other such mammals with fur that she knew she was allergic to. I suppose every home that mom ever lived in, being either in the country or surrounded close by it, was a place where mice flourished. So no home was ever safe from getting a few mice inside, if not occasional infestations. And most older farm homes had plenty of extra holes in foundations and window cracks.

Therefore, at mom’s house, tracking down tiny holes where mice could get in and patching them and setting mouse traps around and in the house was a year around job, which was one of my dad’s many full- time jobs! And mom was adamant that we call in the army anytime we had a mouse inside. That meant my dad, my brother and I were on call at all hours! Many nights I heard a mouse trap click and was immediately up and ready for battle. I recall seeing mom near panic, crying and holding her feet as high as she could during those invasions and the three of us guys working like the dickens until we had patched, chased, caught, trapped or at least cussed every vermin in the vicinity.

Yet, life has its seasons. After almost 50 years of married life and living in the same house on the farm, my father died and left mom living alone. There were all the expected adjustments of widowhood that mom had to get through. The shock of being alone, the need to conduct business regarding my dad and such. Then there were the ordinary routine changes when one is alone. For example, my dad usually woke up first and while he listened to the weather reports on the radio, he made coffee and breakfast for them. So, mom had to adjust to the loss of this comfort but also the practical change of having to do these things for oneself and for only one person. Multiply this by a hundred and you may see what an adjustment the loss of a spouse can be. And with every change comes a reminder of the person who has gone and then grief always takes its turn. The simple experience of being alone for the first time in many years and alone of course from the real loss together is a major part of the adjustment process. I remember we stayed about a week or two with mom after dad had passed and she held up much of the days, but when she lay down in an empty bed at night, the tears would pour out of her. My wife and I would sit by her and rub her back while she cried on those first nights. We did all we could to clean and prepare the house for her to live there alone, though the work to clean out my father’s things took some time to decide when we were ready for that down the road a ways.

Like many folks in this situation, mom had to consider where and how she wanted to live. We all tried to give her time the time needed to make her her own decisions. Mom talked about moving into town and was interested in doing so for a while. Mom was a people person. She had grown up in a large family and a close knit farming community, with folks always around. Both mom and dad had large families and we always had family and friends around. But like all else most of these folks were also gone, moved or deceased. And mom had been an elementary school teacher about 10 years before marrying my dad and so just had a very social history. So, I worried if mom could adjust to being alone. My brother and sister-in-law helped her look around some and being the ones living close by had conversations with her about what she wanted. But as the months went by in that first year, mom seemed to settle into a solitary life, not feeling fearful by herself and being thankful for her own home, where she could establish her own new routines and with her memories and personal comforts close at hand. Her grief remained of course, but slowly she made accommodations to living alone.

But, back to mice! As should be expected in an old farm house amidst the fields, one autumn the mice found a tiny gap that had opened in a dryer vent outlet and with mom not very active and not up after dark, the mice sort of had a party and invited all of their friends. My brother fought them valiantly but the mice were still winning. I made a trip down and together my brother and I went through everything we could; patching possible holes and trapping mice. We thought maybe the battle was over for a while and I returned home. Soon however, during my weekly Sunday evening phone call (we still had long- distance charges in those days), mom shared how the mice had returned and she was just exasperated but sad she had sort of given up and made a truce with them. She would leave them alone if they would leave her alone. But she had a fly swatter that became a mouse swatter, as sometimes she would be sitting in her chair watching the birds out her window or Wheel of Fortune on TV and a mouse would appear on her little side table and she would swat it off.

Mom lived alone on the farm for 6 years after dad passed, until she too passed away. In that time, mom had accommodated grief, accepted help from others, given up driving, re-learned ways to manage her daily life and keep some social contact. She kept her weekly beauty shop appointments where she caught up on all the town gossip and had some good laughs as well as keeping herself beautiful (she was so beautiful to all who knew her). A neighbor widow man had started bringing her mail each day and talking about the area farms and weather. She had friends and relatives who called her on a regular basis. My brother and his family were there several times each week, and my family came down as often as we could. Mom also seemed to renewed her bird watching and her easy chair was placed where she could see her back yard flowers, the bird bath and then on out into the open fields. In her life, mom lived through rattlesnake infested fields, a devastating tornado, the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, sacrifice and fear on the home-front in WWII, surviving the shenanigans of four brothers, going away to college on her own (the first in our family to ever do so), teaching rowdy farm kids in Crowell, Paducah and Levelland Texas, coping with the death of her parents and many family and friends, and surviving the raising of my brother and I (no small feat!). She was tough and caring and smart and until dad passed, she had almost seemed invincible to me.

The day that I called mom and she shared with me about her new "truce" with the mice, it was both a happy and a sad time for me. I was as usual amazed at mom’s strengths and practicality. But I could picture her there, in her home, in her chair, by herself, looking out her window at the birds and into the fields and missing my dad; probably crying more than she would ever let on, but with accommodations to reality already made and fly swatter near-by! After this call, I went for a long walk into a cold autumn night and cried my own eyes out, once more for my dad, but just as much for mama and the mice.

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2 comentários

11 de abr. de 2020

I was finally able to settle in with some hot tea and read this first story about your Mom. I love when someone can write with enough pathos to make the person feel known. What a fine tribute to her. I look forward to meandering through the rest of your stories like a walk through an enchanted place. Glad you’re doing this!


Leah Pace
Leah Pace
23 de mar. de 2020

This story would be meaningful to anyone but it is deeply touching for her granddaughter !Thanks for your strength, nana. And your love of birds.

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