The Mouse Who Came to Dinner: By: James Armour

The autumn was a favourite time of the year for most farmers. That was when they could harvest the crops that had been planted in the spring. By now the long hot summer was but a distant memory, the days were becoming shorter and the nights much longer. The golden landscape, the trees shedding their leaves, the pigeons coming home to roost in the beech trees before their last leaves fluttered to the ground were signs that a long harsh winter was approaching. Autumn brought the threshing of the corn and seed hay – the result of nature having done its duty over the earlier months.

At threshing time neighbouring farmers would arrive at the farm with an implement of their choice to take up their position around the haystack and threshing machine carrying out the task which they felt most suited them. It could be forking sheaves, taking off and tying bags of corn, threading the baler, feeding the thresher or maybe just wandering around not committing to any task in particular, but having a good craic with everyone. Father would often make the comment about such a person, ‘Sure he’s only here for his dinner’.

At 12.30 my mother would blow the whistle letting everyone know that dinner was on the table. The old Fordson tractor’s revs would be lowered, the drive belt pulley disengaged and, with a snatch of Freddie Caldwell’s sleeved arm, the belt driving the thresher would hit the ground at about 10mph. With the result of its rotational movement, the belt would screw its way along the ground and come to rest many yards away from its working position.

Dinner at midday on a working farm was a very formal affair, each worker entered the kitchen, after removing their cap (which they placed behind them on their seat) and took up their position around the table, the same position they had taken in previous years when helping at threshing time. One particular very close neighbour, Hugh McKeown, arrived every year with his pitchfork with the intention of forking sheaves of corn from the stack up on to the thresher. Normal protocol dictated that whoever was forking from the stack ensured the bottoms of their trouser legs were tied tightly with a piece of binder twine, this of course was to prevent any mice or small rats making their way up the wearer’s trousers. My father often told the story about Hugh, who one year unfortunately forgot to tie his trousers at the bottom with of course the inevitable happening. So, at this particular threshing event, when Hugh was sitting at the dinner table enjoying his well-earned meal, a little mouse made the journey from the leg of his trousers up through his waistcoat and shirt eventually popping out on to his shoulder where it sat wondering what to do next. Then a neighbour from across the table shouted ‘Hugh there’s a mouse on your shoulder’. Suddenly, at hearing the noise, the mouse took one giant leap into the unknown and landed straight in the middle of Hugh’s plate of stew. I think my father exaggerated a little here when he went on to say that Hugh picked up the mouse by the tail, wiped it down with his hand and then threw it out through the door, returning to carry on with his dinner. My father’s final comment was, ‘You see, Hugh doesn’t like to waste good food.’

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