My Mom used to diligently tuck her pants into her socks before she got into Old Yeller.
Old Yeller was a 1954 yellow Ford pick-up with his name brushed in turquoise paint across the hood. The bench seat was lacking somewhat, but bolstered by skeins of baler twine piled high enough to cover the wire springs that were likely to catch the crotch of your pants as you exited and entered the truck. Entering and exiting were quick because there was no door on the drivers’ side.
Mom also pounded the seat a few times before she got in. Naively, I always assumed this was a gesture of propriety. I was young, so the comic irony of dusting off that seat was lost on me.
I learned to drive Old Yeller before I was quite tall enough to reach the pedals and see over the hood at the same time. Not long after, I asked Mom about the pants thing. Why the tucking?
She looked at me with seriousness – knowing she was about to unleash fear into the future of her blonde-haired blue-eyed baby. She was hesitant.
“You whack the seat to scare the mice out of the truck,” she paused. “Then you tuck in your pants so a mouse can’t run up your pant leg while you are driving.”
Now my father probably could catch a fleeing mouse in the groin of his coveralls and dispose of it without taking his eyes off the road. The man is virtually unflappable. But I assure you that NO ONE wanted a mouse to run up the pant leg of my mother, especially while she was driving. The possibility of scurrying vermin entering her clothing struck such fear in her heart that she never – ever – entered that truck without whacking the seat and tucking in her pants.
She wasn’t paranoid, by the way. Mice are small and they hide, but they were there – in the seats of old trucks, munching lingering bits of grain in augers, machinery and wooden granaries. We had fat, well-fed farm cats that we never fed. There were mice a’plenty. But that was on the farm.
So, when I made my way to the compost bin last week and began heartily turning the bin with my pitchfork, I was more than a little surprised when a scurrying, desperate mouse flipped up in the bin and began to run circles around my fork.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really inherit the unflappable nerves on my paternal side. The next few minutes involved some gasping, muted screams, the hose, the tucking of the pants, some skulking up to the bin and banging on the outside of it, and the most cowardly act of all…
“Sweetie, peek over the edge and tell me if the mouse is still in there, okay?”
She peeked, and he was out of sight. (She did ask to see him!)
At this moment, my neighbour, who was raking his leaves, perches a baited, set mousetrap atop the fence. He even provided a stick for me to carry the trap to the bin without touching it! My hero!
The next day I batted my eyes at Den Dad and asked him to empty the trap for me and return it to the neighbour. Another (reluctant) knight in shining armour!
I couldn’t bring myself to dig in with my fork for two weeks. I kept imagining a skewered, wriggling mouse. When I finally did give things a stir, all was compost-y, damp and still.
Until yesterday, when a new set of little black eyes peered out at me on about the third turn. I watched him do a few laps, then I tucked in my pants and took a deep breath.
I pulled the bin apart. I used my fork to spread out the compost and left it in a thin layer on the ground for a few nights. The black bin is a warm refuge on these now-freezing nights, and it needs to get less comfortable. I pulled out the finished compost, then re-layered the leftovers in the bottom half of one bin with some fall leaves. I left the top half off. The other bin is empty and sitting out in the middle of the garden.
And if I am brave enough to get them going again, you will see me tucking in my pants.