Jest for Grins: Household odor spurs great mouse hunt

When we moved to the country, I was warned to watch out for field mice looking for a warm place in the house to winter. I guess it’s the mouse equivalent to retired people — we call ’em snowbirds — who head to Florida or Arizona in their Winnebagos to avoid cold Kansas winters.

So far, in the 14 years we’ve lived in the house we built on our rural hill, I haven’t seen an indoor mouse, and that’s a good thing because I have a very strong EEK! factor. The only time we had a resident mouse was long ago when son Butch brought one home from elementary school. Seems a classmate’s pet white mouse had babies, and the kid carried them to school as gifts for his friends. Walking home, Butch named his newly acquired pet Missing — it already had demonstrated a penchant for escaping its cage — and everyone knows when you name a critter, even if it’s a mouse, you have to keep it.

Frankly, I think the kid’s mother engineered the mouse giveaway. Further, when I phoned her, she guaranteed that all the mouse babies were male and if one just happened to be female (hard to tell), it would be far too young to procreate. Someone forgot to tell Butch’s mouse because within a couple of weeks, Missing gave birth to a bunch of hairless babies that looked like shiny pink grubs.

I no longer remember what happened to Missing and her babies. I’m guessing they died of old age because I’d remember any death more traumatic (like a cat eating them).

My friend Mary once spied a mouse in her house and, because she thought traps were cruel, bought some kind of food product designed to provide a kinder, gentler passing. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

“The mouse came to the middle of the rug in the room where the whole family was watching television,” she said, “and went into its death throes right in front of the kids. It was horrible and the little guy (or gal) took forever to die.”

My mother was so creeped out by mice that she allowed Dad to put a black snake in the basement. I was helping to clean out her basement one day and came face-to-face with said snake. Still, I didn’t scream nearly as loud and long as sister Lesta did when she went to the basement and the snake’s shed skin fell from a rafter onto her head. The snakeskin measured 4 feet and, because the snake wasn’t nearly that big when Dad placed it in the basement, I assume it had been doing its job of keeping the house (or at least the basement) mouse-free.

Last year, husband Ray and I were certain we had a mouse in the house. Worse (or maybe better), we believed it was dead. The downstairs family room STUNK! I couldn’t go down there without gagging. Ray and I looked everywhere trying to locate the decomposing mouse. We even turned over all the furniture thinking a mouse might have made a nest in the couch or loveseat.

We finally realized the smell was strongest in the solarium adjoining the family room and started looking in the plants. The smell got stronger as I approached Ray’s prize Starfish Cactus that boasted three beautiful 8-inch blooms. “Ugh!” I exclaimed, “It’s these FLOWERS!”

Ray hurriedly moved the plant outside and I headed upstairs to my computer to check out the plant. One site referred to it as “corpse flower” and another as “carrion plant.” I’m assuming no one would buy a flower with either of those names, which is why the plant Ray purchased was marked “starfish cactus.” According to Grandma J’s Place on the Web, the blooms of the starfish cactus “give off a deep rotting smell imitating dead animal matter.”

I’ll say! If I were naming the plant, I’d call it “dead mouse under the couch cactus!”

— Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence whose latest book is “Human Nature Calls.”