For months now my daughter has been harassing my mother to take her for a weekend at my mom's bungalow in the Catskill Mountains of NY. We had a couple of false starts with planned weekends that fell through for one reason or another. Somewhere along the road to the bungalow, the trip morphed from a grandmother and granddaughter trip to a grandmother, mother and daughter trip on Labor Day weekend.
My mother's bungalow has been in her family for over 80 years. It was originally a summer cottage occupying the southern corner of my my great aunt's property. When first built it had no electricity or toilet, but it was gradually modernized over the years. However, even in its most modern form, it is still a semi-rough stay for a lazy suburbanite like myself. Given a choice, I'd take room service, indoor pools and spa treatments every time, but this getaway is about family and nostalgia as opposed to pampering, so I go there with my expectations well managed and usually have a great time.
My mom first bought the bungalow from her cousin back in the late 80's. It had fallen into disrepair after my mom's aunt died and seeing it so run down made her very sad. This was the place where she had spent all of her summers as a kid and with a significant amount of her family still living up there, full time, she had a strong connection to the place. Our nostalgia for the place was rooted in our history and it was very difficult to get others to feel the same way about it. I had tried a to bring my husband up to the mountain a couple of times and while we were dating, he played along. Once we were married, he never set foot in the Catskill mountains again.
Although my mom had put in a modern kitchen and bath, enclosed the front porch to create more living space, painted, carpeted and vinyl sided the place, the bungalow still had certain "charms" that were a little hard to stomach. For one thing, the water smells like rotten eggs. It is a problem shared by all homes on the mountain. We have heard all kinds of theories about why it smells. The most popular theory is that sulfur from the dynamite they used to blast through the mountain to build the NY Thruway infiltrated the water table. But the truth is, that no one really knows. And because the bungalow sits on a shady mountain road, it gets a little damp and musty smelling. But more than anything, the "charm" that keeps the non-blood relatives away is the critters. And by critters, I the mean the various mice, squirrels and chipmunks that have made their way into the cabin over the years.
We got a late start Friday night in an attempt to avoid all of the outbound labor day traffic. By the time we got to the bungalow, it was 11:00 pm. My mom opened the door and the familiar musty smell of mountain cabin hit me in the face. The place looked absolutely immaculate because we always clean and leave it perfect for the next visit, but it never smells like it looks. We unloaded the car and began the critter inspection. Sure enough, there were tell-tale signs of Micky and friends having a party while we were away. Not only were there scattered mouse doodies here and there, it looked like some larger creature had binged on beer and bratwurst and left the remnants of his party in the shower. We immediately began cleaning and sanitizing inch of the place. While my mother and I went on mouse poop patrol, my daughter, exhausted from complaining the entire four hour car ride, passed out on the couch.
By 1:30 am we were exhausted but confident that everything had been sufficiently bleached and Lysoled within an inch of its life. Ready to finally take a load off from the long drive, I sat down in the arm chair across from the TV, grabbed the remote and started flipping channels. My mom was still cleaning in the little bedroom directly across from me, vacuuming the cobwebs out of the corners. All of a sudden I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I thought it was a black foam ball, like they use to cover microphones and that it came bouncing out of the bedroom. When my mother finally turned off the vacuum I told her "I think I saw something." She pressed me for what I meant by "something". "Well, I saw what I thought was a black foam mic cover bounce along the molding, but since this is not Electric Lady Studios, the possibility of that is pretty slim." On cue, the microphone cover darted into the middle of the room and froze.
It was a little gray mouse, no bigger than a dinner roll. We eyeballed each other for a split second and he bolted for the other bedroom. I screamed to my mother "I just saw him. He looked at me all wild eyed." My mother started screaming about how she wouldn't be able to sleep, knowing that he was in the bungalow. At this point, the commotion had woken up my daughter, who quickly caught on to what was happening. So she started to cry and scream and completely freak out. Here we were, three crazed women, screeching in a cabin in the woods at 1:30 in the morning where prior to our arrival there had been nothing but the sound of a babbling brook breaking church-like silence.
It took twenty minutes to convince my daughter that the mouse did not want to eat her and that she could safely go back to sleep. It's easy to be the calm and rational parent when trying to soothe your child, but the truth is, somewhere in the back of my mind I had a vision of rodents nibbling at my silver chrome painted toenails and I was a little wigged out. We all slept with one eye open that night, culminating in maybe 2 1/2 hours of actual snoozing. When we recounted the story to our Catskill cousins, they laughed at us and told us that we were spoiled city brats.
By the time that Saturday night came, we were so exhausted from not sleeping that we passed out at 10:00. As we were packing up to leave on Sunday morning, it occurred to me that we never saw another mouse or evidence of mice after we cleaned up on Friday night. I guess our presence had put the kibosh on Mr. Mouse's Labor Day party plans.
When I pulled into the driveway at home, my cat Spike the Hotness Monster was laying in the grass looking positively beatific. I walked over to him and he purred and rolled to show me his belly. As he turned over I could see that something had been trapped under his paw. It was a little gray mouse, stunned but still alive. I nudged Spike out of the way to let the mouse free. The mouse paused a second, uncertain of his freedom then scampered off toward the garden.
I gave Spike an appreciative scratch behind the ears and walked toward the house. I knew that he was the main reason that no vermin ever infiltrated my house. I made myself a pot of coffee and thought about the way that my cousins tormented us for our reaction to the mouse. It wasn't that I was so citified that I never saw or dealt with a mouse, I was just smart enough to have The Hotness Monster on patrol. They can laugh all they want. At least I won't be showering in egg water tonight.