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Presents For Thanksgiving

By: Kim Tapié

Sharing on Thanksgiving is a tradition. I can remember every teacher I ever had uttering those words.

It wasn't enough to be thankful, you also had to share whatever bounty you had with others.

I take this charge seriously and make it a point to ensure that folks I know have a place to share thanks on that fourth Thursday in November. No one on this day should feel left out in the cold.

I tried to remember that when a sudden cold snap signaled an early dinner invitation to all the field mice who lived on our 13 acres. I didn't recall sending them an invitation, like the ones I had sent to my twenty-four expected guests. Nor do I remember posting a vacancy sign out in the alfalfa field.

I was shocked at their boldness, immediately noticing the trails of "presents" (as we called them) lining our 10-foot-deep, walk-in pantry shelves. My husband, also my builder, had assured me that our brand new home was airtight. "Nothing could get in," he quipped, "Well except, that you always invite everyone in for the holidays." Too late to change contractors, I subtly thought.

It wouldn't have been so bad had only a few mice decided to make this pilgrimage to a warmer climate, or if they could have been the Disney version and at least entertaining. Clearly their goal was invasion, like small aliens, who wanted to take over the world by eating it. No container was safe. They possessed a second sense of what might be tasty and what might be toxic. These little Houdinis could squeeze their way into anything.

Conventional mouse traps were useless. Even when filled with tempting crunchy peanut butter they were found stripped clean by morning, with no thank you note left behind.

Never have I been more startled, than when I went to check the pantry snares and found a live mouse staring back at me, trapped in a clear Rubbermaid cylindrical pitcher with the lid securely on.

Somehow he had gotten in, but could not get out. I wasn't sure the Rubbermaid Corporation was ready for that kind of testimonial to the multiple uses of their kitchen product. After several loud "Oh my goshes!" the mouse, in its clear display case, was transported outdoors by my teenage son.

"Oh Mom," he teased, "It looks just like the little bean bag animals on the TV Shopping Club, that they sell in plastic display boxes?" Even Home Shopping was not ready for this holiday item.

The last straw, I thought, in the ongoing battle for grazing ground, came when I went to feed our two dogs. I needed the new 20-pound bag of dog food I had bought the night before and went to the pantry to get it. Grabbing the heavy puffed-out bag with all my might to haul it into the kitchen, I nearly fell over. It was light as a feather, completely emptied of its contents. I searched for a clue and found a minuscule hole in the bottom where each pellet of food had been carefully removed for storage for the coming winter.

You can only imagine where 20 pounds of dog food gets stored in your house when outside hiding places aren't available. Little carefully stacked piles of kibbles were in the ice bucket, under the vacuum, in the rag bag, the Crockpot, the Coleman cooler, the Cuisinart, and the bike helmets. My gym bag wasn't spared either, and when I got to aerobics that noon I had to dump dog chow out of my gym shoes before I could put them on. At least their activity had been confined to the pantry.

More conventional mouse deterrents were brought in and slowly I observed fewer and fewer "presents" being left in the pantry.

With three days until company arrived I needed to concentrate on getting ready.

I would set the tables up early to get that out of the way, so food preparation could have my full attention. Outfitting two dining room tables of 12 meant using every good dish, goblet and piece of silverware I owned. These items were kept in a 7-foot-long antique oak-back bar my husband had salvaged from a demolition job. After opening its heavy wooden doors, my heart sank as a trail of "presents" greeted me, appearing to wind through the dinner plates and beyond.

"Oh no!" I shrieked, "I've figured out why we aren't seeing mice in the pantry."

My family came running, we stood in disbelief as we removed and examined the contents of the bar.

Not an item was spared. The crystal goblets had stained paths. "Presents" were found inside the brown pacific cloth that protected the silver. Nests of fiberglass from the walls were tucked in between heirloom water glasses and Limoges relish dishes.

The bounty of our home was certainly being shared!

Panic set in -- how to wash all these dishes with just two days to go and a full-time job?

And you guessed it, upon checking the other kitchen cupboards we found the small guests had built condos in them, too. Even after the dishes got washed, every inch of the cupboards would require a scrub down.

"Why do these things happen to me?" I lamented, especially during the holidays when all you want to do is put your best foot forward for the benefit of your guests. I was losing my cool or maybe my cool lost me.

My family stepped in, seeing that my hostess' persona had been undone by "presents" of another kind.

All of us pitched in using every spare moment over the next two days to clean dishes, shelves and set traps.

By Wednesday evening both tables were set with all the trimmings. I felt it was safe to set them up in advance in case a second wave of aliens attacked the now spotless cupboards. A huge sigh of relief followed the placing of the last candle in the candelabra.

With that, we all tumbled into bed. I would be the first person up early in the morning, getting the turkey dressed and ready for the company arriving at noon.

Dawn broke and the cooking frenzy began. The aroma of turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie filled the house. At about 10 a.m. my son and husband emerged to catch the pre-bowl game fever on TV. Everything was on schedule.

I asked my son to put the butter pats on the bread plates for the homemade rolls. He yelled frantically from the dining room, "Mom, Dad, Come quick!"

My heart sank as I saw the final pilgrimage of "presents" strewn gracefully across the lace tablecloth, and silver trimmed plates. I couldn't speak. My guests were coming soon.

I was exhausted from all the effort, tense from the hopeless siege and totally beleaguered by the very spirit of the holiday, "always share."

My son and husband approached the table. To my surprise they said, "This is not a big deal. We'll just have the guests sweep up the "presents" onto their plates and eat them. "After all, it's Thanksgiving and we should share the bounty of our home." With that they each took a plate, lifted it to their mouths, "presents" and all, and licked them clean.

As my look of horror turned to disgust, then to gales of laughter, I was sure the whole town could hear me. Seems the boys had sneaked downstairs and colored some rice grains black and tossed them in creative patterns on the carefully set table.

Their hope was to rescue my smile and relieve the stress I had shouldered the past few days.

Well, it worked.

My sense of presence returned and we left the other "presents" on the table for the enjoyment of our guests. We wanted them to share in the true bounty of our home -- the harvest, not on a plate piled high with endless preparation, but the one that comes from genuine caring and laughter.

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