When you remodel an old farmhouse, you never know what you are going to find hidden behind the walls. This is what my friend recently learned, and the story fascinates me.
First, some background. For a long time she and her husband have enjoyed a glass of wine and Dove chocolates in the evening between supper and bedtime. When this became a nightly ritual, they often left their opened bag of candy out on the coffee table.
Fast-forward to the recent remodeling. When they removed the sheetrock in their entryway, which adjoins their living room, what do you think she found? A stack of Dove chocolate squares piled neatly behind the wall. Only one had been unwrapped and bore the marks of very small teeth. Close scrutiny revealed the smallest of spaces where, on the living room side, the original baseboard had pulled away from the wall.
What happened here sinks in slowly, and then she realizes--as do we who hear or read her story--what had to have been going on for who knows how long. In the dark of night, while our friends slept upstairs, furry little chocolate-loving critters were busily stocking their larder.
It is almost too much for the imagination to picture--a mouse, his jaws stretched open enough to accommodate a Dove chocolate, hopping down from the coffee table, scurrying across the floor, and virtually disappearing into the woodwork.
Oddly, the comparison that struck me as my friend pointed to the wall and told me this story involves my dad. Not that he was mouse-like at all, oh no. He was a towering hulk of a guy, and even now, fourteen months after his death, I cannot quite fathom that such a huge presence as his can actually be gone. But the mouse's steady, quiet work routine and his attention to providing for the future are what make me think of Dad.
The past year has made me aware of Dad's diligent daily effort over sixty-six years to provide for my mother in the event of his death. As I have cashed in life insurance policies, renewed CDs, and consolidated checking accounts, I can clearly see the tracks left by his forward thinking.
I can see that he had to do some squeezing to make things work as a garage mechanic, small business owner, and farmer. But now, as we work to remodel our lives without him, we have found the stockpile of Doves behind the wall for Mom and, ultimately, for my brother and me. Dad put them there by the work of his hands and the sweat of his brow, and I grow to admire his work ethic and philosophy more every day.
I originally had in mind to write this as a tribute to Dad on Nov. 11, which would have been his 88th birthday. But life intervened, a senior moment occurred, and I couldn't remember what I was going to write when his birthday rolled around. Although I racked my brain for several weeks, I didn't remember the mouse story until this morning.
So here I am, Dad, two weeks late with your birthday tribute. Sorry about that. I would do well to do a little stockpiling myself when it comes to those fleeting ideas that flash through my brain and sometimes hide behind a wall where my thought processes can't immediately retrieve them.
I think of you every day in a wistful and nostalgic sort of way. But now I will also smile every time I unwrap a Dove chocolate, and I will imagine a stack of them, left by you, piled neatly behind the closest wall.