Not a Creature Was Stirring

Yesterday I walked around the backyard, taking in the remainder of the damage from Hurricane Sandy. Our biggest loss was a 70-foot pine tree that crashed down within feet of the house, taking with it two other majestically mature trees. Although we cleaned up that mess a week after the storm, The One is still dragging downed branches and smashed bushes to our Christmas-tree graveyard beyond the back stone wall.

As I sat on the wall, thinking about how exposed we suddenly were to the neighbors—whom we’re thrilled rarely to see, either accidentally or socially–I spied our old grill. I was surprised that it was still standing. After all, it’s a cheap roller version, no bigger than those rickety carts that flight attendants wheel past row after row of passive-aggressive passengers.

Then I remembered a certain family that lived nearby and wondered how they’d weathered the storm. The Peromyscus leucopus family. Field mice, to be exact. Unlike the neighbors who live on either side of us and creep through the thicket of trees (which are now gone, thanks to Sandy) and scare the hell out of us while we have dinner on the patio, this family had never, ever accosted us.

I’m sure they wish they could say the same for us. Two years ago, when we decided to replace that old grill with a brand-new Weber behemoth, I was in the basement when I heard the equivalent of a school yard full of screaming six-year-old girls—followed by a terrifically loud THUNK! I’d long since grown accustomed to such shrieking outbursts from The One, usually when he encountered a snake, a spider, or a driver making an illegal lane change. Yet the Momma Leite instinct in me kicked in and I was off running. I had visions of fingers scattered all over the lawn like pink sprinkles on pistachio gelato due to a run-in with the hedge trimmers, or a bone jutting out of his calf from a fall from the ladder that’s almost as old as me. But when I arrived on the patio, clutching my man boobs and heaving, he was intact, but plaster white. I looked around for any sort of flora or fauna that could’ve triggered his involuntary castrato trill. Nothing.

“Gas them!” he yelled, pointing at the grill. “Incinerate them!”

I lifted the cover, which had been the source of the thunk when The One dropped it, and found a nest of leaves, feathers, down, and grass…occupied by two small mice that were looking up at me with perhaps the most pleading expression I’ve seen since my Mickey Mouse days. As I leaned in closer, I saw a litter of purply-pink pups that looked like a pile of nubbins straight of out Hagrid’s cottage in Harry Potter.

I looked back at The One, as if to say, “This is what scared the girls out of you?”

“Gas them!” he shouted again. I would do no such thing, and he knew it. So, like one of those flight attendants exasperated by an irate passenger, I wheeled the grill to its present spot, careful not to lose even a single nubbin along the way. I removed the gas tank, lest The One’s exterminating tendencies get the better of him, and the grill has sat there untouched and unsightly lo these past two years. Since then, I’ve regularly left canning-jar caps filled with nuts and seeds in the grill for the family, but every time I lifted the lid, all I found was the abandoned nest, crumpled from disuse. Not unlike a rodent Bronx, circa 1975.

Yesterday, though, when I lifted the cover, the nest was unusually tidy. My first thought? Two gay mice have moved in. (Think about it. What’s the first thing we do when we move into a new home? Redecorate.) As I leaned in closer, I saw it. A tiny pink nose twitching. I immediately ran to the shed and poured some bird seed into a small container and placed it in the grill. I checked back this morning, and most of it was gone. I’m still not convinced we’re not landlords to gay mice, as the shells from the sunflower seeds were arranged in a tiny croquembouche cone. Either that or they’re celebrating Christmas early this year.

The word "David" written in script.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

Hungry For More?

‘Tis the Season to Feel Guilty

Every holiday season, do you think THIS year will be the best ever only to be wracked with guilt because you’ve fallen short? David’s got your back.

They’re Alive!

David finds he may have a green thumb after all as he looks upon the chlorophyl duking it out in his garden in Darwinian style.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. LOVED this story (I could picture it in living color thanks to your priceless description)…we have our own mouse family living under our grill. Cold in the winter, sweltering in the summer (especially when there are burgers on the menu) but hey, it’s home. Thanks for brightening up my day with another de-Leite-ful story. 🙂

    1. Why thank you. That is a de-Leite-ful comment. Does your mouse family stay in the grill in the summer?!

  2. OMG David, this is brilliant, funny, touching and funny and I had to share it all over the place. And knowing the two of you made it even better since I can so clearly picture the shrieking, the running, the whole scene. I am sitting here in my kitchen not only chuckling but laughing out loud. What a heart-warming story, too. And gosh, you, two similars stories dug their way out of my memory and just popped into my head. Keep writing stories like this, David.

    1. Why, thank you, Jamie. I would love to hear the two similar stories. (We all have creature stories!)

  3. Oh, this brings back memories. On an early summer night we decided to bring the grill out of hibernation. We had a large salmon filet all set, my husband hooked the grill up to the gas line and was quite pleased with himself when it lit on the first go. There was a moderate sized hole on the side that was used to hold wood chips for smoking. Out of this hole, shot a blazing rat. He left a charred trail across the lawn as he fled to safety under the neighbors house. It took a while for us to stop screaming and laughing enough to convey to our neighbor that a flaming rat was in his crawlspace.

    1. I don’t know whether to wimper for the poor rat or laugh at its pyrotechnics. Ever since we found the first family of mice in the grill, we always, always look before lighting. To paraphrase Smokey the Bear, “Only you can prevent rodent fires.”