‘I Wasn’t There When My Uncle Took Off His Pants’

I wrote a column for the Press & Dakotan today. It’s about mice and taking off your pants and stuff.

Read it below if you feel compelled to do so.

———

I wasn’t there that fateful day many years ago when my uncle took off his pants.

It’s not that I necessarily wanted to be there. It would have been a horrifying sight.

But maybe not for the reasons one would suspect.

My dad, uncle and I were in the calf barn recently, pitchforks in hand, hunched over matted beds of manure and straw when the story came to light.

Between heaving pitchfork loads of waste to the nearby loader, it is important to have a distraction from the task at hand. Cleaning calf pens must be one of the filthiest jobs known to man. I’ve never encountered a fragrance emanating from the living or the dead that matches the oppressive smell of the calf pens I’ve been called upon to clean out since my youth.

This is why we entertained ourselves by talking about the past and present. Ag news. Economic news. Gossip. We covered it all while working up a sweat and trying to ignore the rich aroma.

But one thing was missing — the occasional yell as a mouse sprinted out from beneath the straw and an attempt was made to put an end to its scurrying days. It was a primal song and dance that dated back to my early days.

Mice frequently scurried around the areas where I did my chores as a youth, and those small mammals never failed to raise my adrenaline level when I spotted them. I had a fear that they would crawl up my leg or utilize their ninja training to stage an attack from a high beam, dropping upon my head in a violent attempt to gnaw or scratch away at my flesh. You see, we didn’t have smart phones in those days, so I had a lot of time to consider these scenarios while waiting for calves to finish their buckets of milk.

As we shoveled out calf pens, my brothers and cousins looked like a ragged team of bandits prepared for battle. I was always armed with a club (likely a broken pitchfork handle), because there were frequently families of mice hidden amongst the straw. As I peeled back the wretched layers of bedding with a pitchfork, the mice would make a mad dash to an adjoining pen — that is, if they could escape my Berserker-like fury. I slaughtered entire future mouse civilizations as froth and expletives were fired out of my mouth.

I’m not proud of that violent past, but I couldn’t help but give in to my survival instincts. It was obvious the mice posed a mortal threat.

Now, back to that business about my uncle taking off his pants.

I commented to my dad and uncle that afternoon several weeks ago about the lack of mice in the pens. They attributed it to the cats that were spending time in the barn.

But it triggered the story of how, as a teenager, my uncle was working in that very barn. Whether he was working with grain or straw at the time, I don’t remember.

Here is what I do remember, though: A mouse emerged and ran up his pant leg.

This was a nightmare I had harbored for many, many years and is the reason I almost always wear tall boots with my pants tucked inside while working in the vicinity of a known rodent war zone like a barn.

My uncle is a big, sturdy man. When moved by the appropriate spirits, though, he is (I’m sure he would very much not like me to tell you) quite the dancer. Friends sometimes refer to him as “Happy Feet” because of the unique dance style he shares with the animated penguin.

I have to imagine that his dancing took on a whole new level of urgency, however, with a mouse crawling up his pant leg with its sights clearly set on his crown jewels. I hesitate to even consider what malevolent plans that creature had in store for my poor uncle.

He launched the only counter-maneuver available to him given the rodent’s brazen act. My uncle began pounding at his leg, trying to land a blow on the mouse and stop its progress before it was too late.

As soon as he managed to smash Lemmiwinks (yes, I know the “South Park” character is a gerbil, but I think this mouse earned the reference), off came the pants.

“You’d be surprised how fast you can take off your pants when a mouse is crawling up your leg,” my uncle told my dad and me. “It’s the fastest I’ve taken my pants off in my life.”

So, no, I wasn’t there when my uncle took off his pants. And for multiple reasons, I am very glad for that small mercy. The experience would likely have scarred me horribly for life.

As for my uncle, he seems to have survived those tense moments of mortal combat with ease. Today, he just laughs about it. I can only hope to emulate the strength of such a noble warrior if faced with the same clawing circumstances at some point in the future.

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