EDITOR’S NOTE: The following column was previously published in the Daily Light.
In 1855, Emerson wrote in his essay Common Fame, “If a man has good corn, or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles, or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad, hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.”
Sixteen years later, a Mrs. Sarah Yule stated that Emerson, in a lecture either at San Francisco or Oakland, had made such a statement with the added words, “If a man can make a better mouse-trap, the world will beat a path to his door.” The quotation stuck, and the maxim has been repeated many times.
Many efforts have been made to improve on mousetraps. Few have rivaled a good cat, a real “mouser.” But so many cats anymore are too lazy to get their own mice. Apparently they expect someone to bring the rodent to them on a silver platter or something. They have been so spoiled to easy, effortless living that they will turn up their nose at ordinary pet food. They want some exotic, expensive brand of something served in a Madison Avenue type can, and a doting pet owner will pay a king’s ransom to get the very right treat. But, it’s a free country, and if that’s what a spoiled kitty wants, that’s what the adoring master gives, disgusting as it is, it’s none of my business.
Now we read recently of a case in New Mexico where a homeowner wrote a new chapter in the saga of mice and men, and apparently a cat had nothing to do with it. A certain fellow was burning leaves in his back yard when he caught a mouse in his house by the use of one of these “glue boards” on which a moue gets stuck and dies a slow cruel death. Rather than giving the little critter the coup de grace, he threw it onto the burn pile. Now “ coups de grace” is a French term meaning a death blow, a blow of grace, usually thought of as a blow designed to put one out of his misery. In a strange way, it is meant as an act of kindness—of genuine compassion.
Well, this fellow in New Mexico had no particular feeling of benevolence toward the mouse, so he threw him into the fire. He lived to wish he hadn’t. The glue on the trap melted and turned the little varmint loose, but he caught fire and hurried back into the fellow’s house. He went down in a blaze of glory as the house caught fire and burned to the ground. The frenzied mouse murderer found out that one of the most expensive ways to control a pesky mouse is to have him die in a house fire. The displaced home owner is now residing in a motel until he can arrange for permanent living quarters.
I have a good friend who keeps a couple pieces of baling wire on the seat of his old farm pickup. It seems that years ago he got into the old Ford to start a day’s work and a mouse ran up his britches leg. After a few dramatic moments during which he removed his coveralls, he removed the rodent and cautiously put the pants back on. He told me that that was as close as he ever came to having a heart attack, and now he will not get into his pickup until he has tied the pieces of baling wire around his ankles.
There is an old fable that even big elephants can be scared to death of a little old mouse. One fellow told me, “Sure, man. I’m afraid of them. Not because of their physical strength, but because of those little beady eyes, and those sharp teeth. Rabies, man! Rabies!”
Anyway, the saga of the mouse burning down the house in New Mexico is a sad one. Cruelty just does not pay. And, as Robert Burns wrote, the best laid plans of mice and men just don’t always work out the way they were intended.
Dr. Owen Cosgrove is a retired Church of Christ minister in Waxahachie. Dr. Cosgrove wishes to extend his heartfelt appreciation for all the prayers and encouragement from the community during his continuing battle with cancer.