When we first moved into our house there was a gully in the middle of the backyard that was connected to a storm drain. When it rained the gully would fill and then run off to a neighbor’s yard and eventually into a nearby creek. When it was dry, it was a highway for rodents. We had rats at one point. So the city blocked the storm drain and we filled the gully. The rats left. But now they’re back. I built a massive deck about eight years ago, which now serves as something like a hut for them as they feast on a yard full of pecans. They only come out at night, and they’re not in the foundation, but the presence of dogs hasn’t deterred them from returning to the area after being gone for several years. A cat – sure, but no cat’s coming into our yard with the dogs. So it’s left to the raptors to balance things out. And they do. Just the other night we were wakened by an owl attack. (They scream.)

One of our daughters asked for a puppy for Christmas. Of course my we gently said no, but you never want to disappoint your kids, so when my wife and I were at the pet store last night we stood over by the reptile cage for a few minutes. Then the bird cage. Then the small mammal cage. Our last guinea pig died a few weeks ago. They were Christmas presents four years back. So, now we had the space for a new family member. We agreed that as rodents go, hamsters were just freakishly small. And guinea pigs, well, let’s just say that when God handed out personality, guinea pigs were way, way at the back of the line. But then we saw him. A great white rat asleep under a plastic root. He was a handsome devil, with a body as long as my hand. “I have an idea,” said my wife. “Let’s just catch a couple of the ones in our yard!?” We left the pet store with a fifteen dollar bag of duck tenders for the dogs.

Tonight’s Christmas eve. Like all families, we have our traditions. For example, since last year on Christmas eve, we’ve gone to church. That is, last year my wife went with her mother, my mother, who was visiting from Houston, and our two daughters. This year it was me, my wife and the girls. They have a beautiful ritual at this church where the preacher (who isn’t like the Baptist preachers I knew growing up – but then again, this ‘church’ is more like cool warehouse) lights a candle that lights five other candles. The candles are taken to five locations within the congregation. People get up and go to these candle stations and pass the candle around the circle and say, “May God be the light of your life and may that light lead your way.” It’s not as corny as it sounds. Like I said, it’s quite a beautiful. Anyway, last year my mother (73) attended. She doesn’t hear very well. She claims it’s recent, but I remember differently. Anyway, she goes over to one of the candle stations in the dimly lit room and stands between my wife and a stranger. While the candle passed around the circle, my mother leaned in to hear what everyone was saying. As the candle was passed to her by the stranger, she asked him what he said. He repeated it. She then passed the candle to my wife and said, “Merry Christmas. I don’t know what he said.” Which left my wife to try and remember the phrase as she passed the candle to the next person. And that’s the story of how a beautiful ritual at our new church temporarily became Telephone last Christmas eve.

After church tonight, we came home and enjoyed a few more traditions. We had homemade escarole soup, watched The Little Drummer Boy* and made reindeer food from oatmeal and birdseed. The girls then liberally spread this snack on our porch for the reindeer to enjoy while Santa stuffs presents under our tree. Afterward, we kissed two very excited children good night and then waited for translucent sugar plums to swirl above their heads before playing Santa’s helper. And now comes the part where I go scoop up the reindeer food before the all night diner opens for the rats.

Merry Christmas to all. And to all, a good night.

(btw – it’s Donder not Donner)


*In the song, “Why Can’t the Animals Smile?” Aaron, the little drummer boy, says, “or twitter like people do.”

Jim Mitchem

A Question of IP and Ethics

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.