No wonder there’s a mouse in the house
A cleaner came today from the agency, the first time since early March. I thought I better do some necessary tidying up before she arrived.
While scurrying around mum’s room, I came across a book I had ordered during lockdown but had somehow misplaced. Mum had hidden it inside a larger book shoved to the back of her bookshelf. It felt bulky and on opening it I discovered a mouldy piece of pita bread wedged inside.
The mould had already penetrated some of the pages. I wrinkled my nose, and then laughed and showed my son Gil. We glanced knowingly at each other; she’s gone back eighty years to the Holocaust. Her habits are reminiscent of the many stories she’s told us of those dark years in the ghetto, where, despite suffering unbearable hunger, she had hidden her food ration under her mattress to save it for her mother when she returned from work.
Mum’s been hiding food all over the house for over a year now, under cushions, behind her bed, under her mattress, in drawers. Before I connected mum’s past to her present actions, I used to be horrified at finding mouldy bread, decaying meat or fish all wrapped up in tight little bundles and squeezed into all those hiding places.
Even though I’m familiar with it now, her ingrained habit of sneaking food from the table still intrigues me. I try to imagine what it was like for her in 1939, a young pampered girl, not yet 15, suddenly thrown into a world of chaos, degradation and hunger. She was forced to grow up overnight and develop survival skills so that she could keep her beloved mother alive.
I often wonder whether mum, at the fragile age of ninety-seven, is still storing away the morsels for her mother. I don’t believe she hides the little bundles for herself as she never opens them. I also don’t think she consciously steals the food. I’m guessing those years must have been so devastating that, even 80 years later, she instinctively reverts back to survival mode.
As I write this, sitting on the couch, I spy something under the table - something wrapped up in a white tea towel. I take it out, unwrap it and reveal a raisin toast that mum has concealed there, who knows how many days ago. At least I can’t see signs of mould yet.
But I can see mouse droppings.