A quilt and a story
I hope you enjoy my quilty tribute to both cats and mice in my Risky Business Quilt. You’ll have to decide if the mouse makes his escape or not.
When cats were gold
I remember a visit to my grandparents home in East Germany in the 1970s with my mother. Their home had been built prior to WWII and was quite different from my parents home in Ontario where we lived a much more affluent lifestyle.
Omi’s home had hydro and gas, but the bathroom was a more recent addition. The kitchen was utilitarian, tiny really. The fridge, another recent acquisition was about the size of our little television set at home. The heat in the house came from coal ovens that were found in each room including the often, freezing cold bathroom. The water heaters were also coal-fired.
The ovens in the main living areas were large rectangular tiled masonry units built in hope of holding heat. A fire was built in the bottom using coal, and if you were lucky the warmth in the tile lasted until after midnight in your bedroom. In the morning you bolted from bed into your clothes and got downstairs as fast as possible where an oven in the living room and one in the kitchen had been restocked with coal and relit by Omi.
Conversations on the street would often be about the type of coal families were using and how well it worked – rather like how we talk about the weather or traffic here.
Bedtime was also very strange to me, a young Canadian girl from the suburbs. Mom and I shared a feather bed upstairs. Feather beds have gotten good press in fairy tales but the reality of them is a bit different. The mattress (feather tick) and the duvet were both made of feathers. It was lumpy on the bottom and the duvet was so heavy it was difficult to get a breath let alone roll over. Today’s weighted blankets have nothing on those feather beds.
The first night we settled in for bed, the lights were out for just a few minutes of quiet, when the noises began – noises in the walls – scrabbling, scratching noises. ‘Mutti, what’s that, I asked. “Mice”, was the answer. Mice? Mice???
Mice, up until quite recently, were an absolute pest to homeowners. Without a cat to keep down the population, life could be absolute misery.
I like a couple of reality shows, one of which is called Alone. In the show Alone, contestants are left to their own devices in the wilderness. Generally, it’s not too long before the mice move into the rough shelter they have built. One contestant in particular, Larry, went almost bonkers with the mice. Where’s a cat when you need one, Larry?
The 1983 movie ‘Never Cry Wolf’ is an adaptation of Farley Mowat’s book of the same name. Farley spent some time in the subarctic observing wolves. The mice then decided to observe him. Here’s Farley’s solution. Warning: Don’t watch this around meal time.
My brother Conrad lent me a book recently called ‘Almaguin, A Highland History’ by Astrid Taim. It seems the settlers in northern Ontario were similarly plagued by the mousey population. Settlers valued their cat like gold. “The plaintive meow-meow was considered music for the soul for such was a guarantee against finding socks and overalls perforated before morning, the bits gone to furnish bedding for a horde of midnight brigands.” Cats were so essential that the settler had to have one – or move out of his dwelling. “Beg, borrow, buy or steal, there were settlers who would “face the penalties of the law by the larceny of a cat.”
Cat thieves abounded. One, a married man said “his actions were governed by extenuating circumstances. In fact the hundreds of mice running throughout his house had totally disrupted the couple’s life. Once his wife had been a patient woman. However, the continual raids on her Sunday garments, which were now being turned to rags, were getting the better of her.” I guess they never considered Farley Mowat’s ultimate mouse solution.
Some years later I returned to my grandparents home. Although the mice remained ensconced in the walls, they still dared not venture within the house. Now, the abundance of cats had become the pest, and if the dining room door was not kept closed for meals the rascals would rush the food, and race off with some delightful delicacy, eating it out of reach on top of the hall wardrobe. As is said, the circle of life goes round and round…
P.S. Harry sends his regards – no mouse in his house!