Lockdown for Mice

The Elders

When Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern United States in 2012, the seaside town where my husband’s parents lived lost power.

They survived weeks without heat in November and December, thanks to a gas range that warmed the kitchen and let them cook soup and oatmeal.

His parents were in their advanced 80s.

We flew from the West Coast as soon as it was safe to travel, in the midst of the outage.

Parents lived on the New Jersey shore, a train-ride from New York, where the town transformed to a beachy hullabaloo in summers.

But in the off-season, the town assumed all the characteristics of Mayberry, where locals attend church on Sunday and where a neighbor might shovel your walk in winter.

More than once during the Sandy storm, local police officers and mail-carriers knocked on Parents’ door to check on them.

The locals clung to some traditions: a family-owned pharmacy that still attracted customers on Main Street and a five-and-dime that sold beach-wear, sunglasses, Sea-&-Ski lotion and postcards.

A downtown deli still makes sandwiches loaded with sliced meats, and we often bought lunch in town and picnicked on the lawn near the Library.

My in-laws’ 1960s-era split-level house was typical for the town until investors began buying up homes in the 1980s, demolishing them, and building castles big enough for a T-Rex.

Parents’ home was dwarfed by mansions erected in the sand whenever a denizen departed.

I thought about them this week as we emerged from the shadows of a pandemic, remembering them in their winter lockdown, bundled in three layers of clothing, huddled in the kitchen, and cooking oatmeal and soup.

The kitchen proved to be safe harbor for muggles escaping Sandy, and it also offered a haven for the mice.

My honey and I discovered the mice when we rose before the elders to make tea and coffee.

We were greeted by the scurry of tiny feet.

Opening one cupboard, we discovered plastic bags gnawed at the bottom, buried in rice and grain and flour and oats.

No cracker, cookie, crisp or candy-bar was left untouched.

Their Costco outings proved bountiful for the critters.

My husband found his mother’s washing-up gloves, made a mask from my bandana, and unfurled a rubbish bag.

He ordered me out of the kitchen for caution’s sake, and dove into the cupboards and tossed out packets of food without waiting for permission.

He knew his depression-era mother would balk at chucking out food “that’s still good.”

The elders survived the storm—and the mice—and we, in turn, survived the pandemic for more than 18 months of gloves and masks.

And mice.


In memory of mom and dad, Violet and Walter

Photo by the Author















About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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