I pretty much knew, or thought I knew, what the stimulus for the muffled wail coming from the kitchen was. I was so distracted with what I'd been doing it hadn't really registered what a horrible idea it was when my mother said she was going to defrost my freezer.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
There was an occasion, not too long ago, when, perhaps in the rosy blush of a new relationship, my Wonderful Wife said words to the effect, "How did you become so civilized?" She might have actually used the word thoughtful or considerate but what she meant was civilized. And what she really meant by that was I hadn't — thus far — exhibited Disgusting Male Behaviour (DMB) in her presence.
Taken aback, I told her she owed a debt of gratitude to all the women in my life who came before her, starting with my mother. Truth be told, if it hadn't been for the occasionally painful life lessons provided by that procession of women — many of whom suffered grievously from my lapses into DMB — I'd probably be swathed in animal skins, eating dinner out of the dirty pot I cooked it in, standing over a sink full of dishes I'd be waiting to clean themselves, burping and farting... me, not the dirty dishes.
Sadly, there was more than one woman in my life who made a hasty and often less than graceful exit, owing to an accumulation of my DMB. While I found absolutely nothing wrong with using the kitchen table — not to mention any other flat surface — to rebuild Volkswagen and motorcycle engines on, for reasons then unknown to me girlfriends found that behaviour very off-putting.
In the case of one, who admittedly preferred eating at the kitchen table rather than over the sinkful of dirty dishes, my DMB resulted in an expensive, cracked Triumph Bonneville piston. It cracked when she threw it at me in a final fit of pique. It probably didn't help when I ungraciously inquired if her meltdown, over something as innocuous as a kitty litter box full of degreaser and greasy parts sitting in the bathtub she wanted nothing more than to soak in, might not have something to do with it being that time of month. In vivid hindsight, my boorish question was very likely the proximate cause of both that unexpected expense and her backing into my truck on the way out of my life... twice.
And then there was the woman I was convinced was the love of my life. She didn't seem to mind my tinkering, greasy fingerprints on her clothes, the used car lot look of our driveway or the fact everything I did seemed to take several times longer than I said it would. I was so in love with her I went out of my way to do kind things for her. I even swapped an acquaintance some... uh, we'll just skip exactly what it was I swapped, something for a dual carb, 'Cooper' setup for her Austin Mini. I was almost finished — which is to say within a day — making the changeover. The carbs had been cleaned and rejetted and were bolted onto the manifold, all of which was on the kitchen table when she stormed into the house.
"My car won't start... again."
"Yeah, I'm makin' it better. Almost done."
"I have to go to work! Now!" Said with an increasing note of peevishness.
"Take my car," I said.
"That would be the one on jackstands?"
"Oh yeah, I forgot. Take my motorcycle."
"I can't drive a motorcycle. That was your last girlfriend."
"I'll drive you."
"I'm wearing a f&$king dress!"
When she moved out a few days later — with a Mini that roared, I might add — she was so pissed she left me the stray dog she'd brought home a few months earlier. I hated that dog. It snored, it farted and it woke me up very early every morning. It was like living with a guy. Its name and disposition was Turkey. She took the dog's food. I think there was a message in that.
So I was living alone when my mother came to stay with me. I wasn't expecting her to stay with me. I thought she'd stay with one of my sisters. But you know how mother-daughter things can get prickly sometimes. So she stayed with me.
There was no way to hide the fact I was in the middle of rebuilding a VW engine — on the kitchen table, of course — when she arrived.
"We'll eat out," I offered, cheerily.
I figured she needed cheering up. She'd flown to New Mexico from Australia where she and my father were living at the time. She'd flown over because a lawsuit she had against a driver who'd ploughed into her some years before was finally coming to trial. Unfortunately, the miscreant's lawyer had gotten an extension while she was in mid-air and I had to break the bad news to her when she landed. It didn't help her mood.
It didn't help it any more when she found a smelly, disassembled engine on my kitchen table. And it really didn't help it when she discovered baggies of frozen mice when she decided defrosting my freezer would cheer her up, make her feel useful. Hence the muffled wail that began this story.
"Please tell me these aren't... mice?!"
"Too small to be rats," I lamely joked.
"Why are there mice in your freezer?"
I looked around at the cats, as though they might fess up about the mice. Snivelling little ingrates scattered in all directions.
Not being able to think up a lie weirder than the truth, I explained. There had been an unusually severe invasion of mice the autumn before. While I generally had a live-and-let-live relationship with them, there were simply too many. And it was embarrassing, considering there were at least four adult cats in the house and, at the time, a dozen kittens.
So I set out mouse traps and caught the mice. A lot of mice. More than once I caught two in a trap, both going for the bait at the same time. I fed the mice to the cats, hoping they'd develop a fondness for mousemeat. But I was catching them faster than I felt comfortable feeding them to the cats, some of whom seemed to be putting on weight. Freezing mice four to a baggie seemed like a good idea at the time. Forgetting some of the bags were entombed under a couple of inches of frost was a less good idea.
My mother had a long talk with me, enlightening me on some of the more negative aspects of DMB. I found it helpful.
And then she went to stay with my sister.