By Ken Carman
It was a cold, dingy day when Mr. Minor came to Animaltown, the kind of day where mice would scuttle close to the earth, their bellies seeking warmth from the ground. There was little warmth in Animaltown for here the mice had no home.
In this Animaltown, as in many other Animaltowns, owls lived in trees, birds in nests, lions in dens, but no mouse had a home. In this Animaltown all the other animals made fun of mice, told them they weren’t good enough to have homes. “Mice are for eating,” the owls would say. “Mice are for stepping on,” the elephant would say.
Then Mr. Minor came to Animaltown.
No one knew where Mr. Minor came from. All the mice in this forest were a dirty grey like the sky, but Mr. Minor was whiter than the swans. The sun made him shine and shimmer like fresh fallen snow, or the stars which rarely pierced the dense forest.
Mr. Minor walked right out into the open the day he came to Animaltown, and no mouse dared do that, for these woods were dangerous: a hungry jackal was always looking for another mouse meal.
A small, pudgy, yet brave; some said foolish, mouse named Ernie rushed out to warn Mr. Minor. “Quick, quick, the owl will eat you! The elephant will step on you! Quick, find a leaf, hide, oh, please hide.”
But Mr. Minor didn’t run. Instead he said, “Where is your mousehouse? I’m looking for a place to live.”
Ernie scampered back and forth while he nervously said, “Mousehouse? Why we have no such thing, don’t you know the owls, lions, tigers, bears all say we’re not good enough to have a house?”
By now all the other mice slowly, one by one, timid, shy, yet fearing Ernie would get stepped on by the elephant or eaten by the Jackal, had crept forward. All except Grump who never came out unless he had something to say, which often was something unkind.
”No mousehouse? Well, we’ll have to build one.” Mr. Minor said.
The mice all talked at once, “That’s crazy,” “How dare you even suggest . . . and “Grump won’t like this!”
Mr. Minor knew that waiting can be wonderful, for it turns “talk” into “listen.” So he waited until the mice were once again ready to listen and calmly said, “Of course we can build a mousehouse. In my Animaltown they used to call me Mr. Minor because they thought I’d never do anything major, but together we built a marvelous mousehouse, and I know you can too, and you, and you . . .”
The mice had never heard another mouse speak so bravely before. As they all started to talk at the same time suddenly Grump boldly walked into the circle.
”Here comes Grump,” someone said loudly. “It will never work,” Grump said with a gruff sound in his voice.
Grump was the biggest, loudest mouse in their Animaltown. He was so grey he looked like cinders from an old wet campfire, or the sky from a day when it seems the rain will never end.
Mr. Minor looked at Grump seriously. He didn’t smile. He didn’t frown. Instead he said, with respect, “Grump how would you like to be our foreman?”
Grump’s eyes shifted. He was suspicious. “What’s a foreman?”
”You tell us when something we are building doesn’t look good enough and then we’ll make it better.”
”Oh you mean I’ll be the boss!” Grump said, with as close to a smile as Grump had never smiled.
”No, you just help us make it better. We’re all stars here, Grump,” Mr. Minor said.
So they bore into the ground. Grump said the walls would never stand. So they made them stronger. He said the ceilings wouldn’t hold. The mice put in sticks to prop them up. When Grump kept saying the floors, the walls and the ceilings were still weak they lick, lick, licked them with their many tiny mouse tongues until they were as strong as cement.
Mr. Minor helped. He was here. He was there. He was a whirlwind spinning everywhere. Every mouse heard a, “Well done.” Or, “That’s wonderful,” at least once. Soon the mice wondered how they ever got along without Mr. Minor.
As they stood outside their earthen house even Grump was somewhat satisfied.
Then a dark shadow cast over them.
The Jackal. . .
The Jackal was the most feared creature in Animaltown. He would eat you for fun. He would step on you; play with you before eating you piece by piece in little bites or a big gulp.
The mice scattered and the Jackal laughed a horrible laugh.
”Run Mr. Minor!” Grump cried. But the last thing the mice saw as they ran into their new strong mousehouse was Mr. Minor; quietly stepping into the path of the Jackal and looking up as if to dare the Jackal to move one inch more.
When the mice came up from their mousehouse both Mr. Minor and the Jackal were gone.
”We can’t go on without Mr. Minor!” the mice cried.
But Ernie stepped into the circle of mice and said in a new, bold, Mr. Minor-like voice, “What are we mice or men?”
”Mice!” they all said at the same time.
”Yes,” Ernie said slyly, “But we’re very good mice!”
”We’re all stars,” they said together and they went back into the mousehouse.
The other animals in Animaltown tried to eat or stomp the mice out of the mousehouse, but soon learned they were, indeed, very good mice. The owl heard the mousehouse was warmer than the trees. The bear thought it would be quieter than his noisy old cave. But the mice only shared their secrets with those who were nice to them. In time all the animals in Animaltown remarked how the small gray mice seemed to shine brighter and whiter than they ever had before.
What about Mr. Minor and the Jackal?
No one ever saw them again.
Some mice say the Jackal ate Mr. Minor, but it was so nasty a deed that he died of indigestion. They even claim to have heard a loud gasping burp from the forest. Some say Mr. Minor tamed and rode that Jackal to another Animaltown where he’s helping them make another marvelous mousehouse. . .
But wherever Mr. Minor is, Ernie, Grump and all the mice, remember Mr. Minor, keep him in their mice hearts and tell all their children, “Mr. Minor did a very major thing, he taught us all to believe.”
Dedicated to our Mr. Minor: Jim Weber; 1967-68 Junior High School Chorus director, wherever you may be.
©2019 Ken Carman
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