The aromas of turkey, pumpkin and rich fall spices filled the kitchen. Soft music played in the background. My 3 year-old daughter held her five-month-old sleeping sister and whispered, “Mom, this is going to be the best Thanksgiving ever.” I had to agree. This would be our first holiday in our Enumclaw home. I looked at the fields surrounding our place. Golden grasses swayed in the autumn winds. As much as we loved our suburban starter, this brand new place in farm country at the base of the Cascade foothills screamed family home. My mother-in-law had flown in to be with us and we would have my large extended family joining our celebration in no time. I was so caught up in the spirit of the holidays, I even purchased all my baking supplies early so I would be ready.
The garage shelves my husband had newly erected were primed for the season. Over 20 bags of chocolate chips and assorted nuts were neatly stacked. Brown sugar. White sugar. Flour. Syrups. All stood beautifully at attention, awaiting the upcoming holiday bake-fest. My eldest chatted merrily with Grandma, Dad tinkered in the garage unpacking the last of our move-in boxes from a couple of months earlier, and I prepared the finishing touches on the wonderful meal.
My reverie of perfection was broken with a shout from my husband in the garage. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it was clear something was needed. Hands fitfully making roux for the gravy, I sent my daughter out to check. She returned promptly, “Mom, Dad needs help. Now!”
Images of blood, broken bones and my husband’s damaged body filled my head. He rarely asked for help and never did it with a panicked bellow. This had to be bad. I turned off the partially-made gravy and ran for the garage. Throwing open the door, I could see part of his body and all of his panicked face looking at me from behind a pile of boxes. “What is the matter, honey?” I asked, trying to keep the angst out of my voice. “Are you OK?”
Wide-eyed, my husband gestured to the box he was sitting on.“There is something in there.”
I fought the urge to giggle, as relief filled my heart. It had to be a big spider. The only animal I had ever seen get to my husband were big spiders. He shook his head, a frown still on his face, “I don’t know, but when I opened the box, our stuff started moving.”
This was definitely not a spider. Even a big, huge one. We brainstormed a plan. I would get the work gloves and plastic bags. He would open the box and get whatever lurked within. I watched as he tentatively removed the cardboard he had secured so tightly and lifted the lid. The box exploded. Over 20 field mice came pouring out the top. They leaped into the air. They scurried across every available surface. They ran in circles in confusion.
My husband was directly in their path, a look of distinct terror on his face, as he attempted to avoid the seemingly inexhaustible onslaught of rodents. He grabbed our Shop Vac and turned it on, chasing the mice and sucking them in. Through the garage he wielded the mighty vacuum, picking up anything unfortunate enough to get in the way. I opened the garage door and the remainder of the fugitives escaped. Looking around, we could see the moving box wasn’t the only pit stop for the mice. All 20 bags of chocolate chips had been chewed open. When we lifted the sugar sacks, they poured out mice-sized holes in the bottom. Oats scattered. Syrup ruined. Rice demolished. The mice had left nothing untouched.
We finished the mammoth clean up and throwaway task, right as the doorbell rang. Our Thanksgiving company had arrived. Needless to say, dinner was served late…without the gravy. When I finally sat down, my husband turned to me and smiled, evidently recovered from his battle wounds. “Welcome to the country, honey. I’m thankful for my vacuum this year.”
We have learned many lessons about living in Enumclaw since that first Thanksgiving in our home. We do not store food in the garage. We have a very loyal and effective cat. We make sure our generator is charged when the weather service announces foothill winds. We’ve learned to appreciate Fourth of July and Christmas parades, high school stands filled with loyal fans, and neighbors who put others first. We’ve seen the power of community gathering to fundraise or pray for those struggling. We’ve watched teachers go above and beyond to transform lives. Our hearts have been touched by generosity, volunteers and those who put others before their own needs.
One important lesson was learned the summer following our first Thanksgiving. My husband came in the house looking for a screwdriver, lamenting his Shop Vac wouldn’t work. He soon identified the cause. Opening the machine, he found two mice particularly liked the accommodations he had provided. After being sucked into the machine along with the rice, oats and other food, they had set up their own home and had spent the winter alive and happy in our vacuum.
The mice had successfully adapted to a new environment. Perhaps, in this pandemic, our holidays will not look as they have before. Maybe our traditions will need tweaking, and we will have to look a little harder to find things for which we are thankful. In making my memories this year, I’m reminded that a little warmth, good company and a supply of food can create a wonderful home anywhere. Even in a Shop Vac.