American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This story is from the WSSF 2004 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

A Chanukah Story

By Hattie McRattie

Illustrations by Sarah Cameron


Ding-dong, ding-dong! The brass bell mounted on the door was thinner on one side and tarnished from time, but it still dutifully announced the arrival of another customer in the little shoe repair shop. There were many faithful customers that would rather have a worn heel replaced or a sole repaired than to buy a new pair of shoes. There wasn’t a lot of extra money, but Tobias and his Papa had enough for what they needed. Holidays always seemed to come and go so quickly and this year was no exception. It seemed it was only a few weeks ago that Tobias was blowing out the 12 candles on his favorite birthday cake.

Papa wasn’t only a master shoemaker, but he was the best birthday cake maker in the town. Even the owner of the bakery down the street came to Papa for new recipes. Papa would never be called a gourmet cook, but Papa sure knew how to do magic with noodles and chicken. Papa must have had 100 ways to make chicken and noodles taste different. Sometimes Papa used food coloring to make the noodles purple. Tobias could never figure out what flavor purple was, but purple was good. Life with Papa was good, especially during the holidays. Tobias loved Chanukah the best.

The shop was small and very neat and sat next to the large bakery that was on one corner of the street. On the other side of the shop was Doc Eisen’s office; then the shop where all the ladies of the town would gather to buy their yarn and sit for hours knitting and telling stories of their children and grand children. His mother used to sit with the other ladies and knit him beautiful scarves and sweaters before she got sick and went to heaven. At the other end of their block stood the most beautiful synagogue Tobias had ever seen. Having never left his town, it was the only synagogue he had ever seen, but it was truly beautiful. That’s where Tobias went to Hebrew school and he loved that he always felt so special when he went inside. Tobias knew God was everywhere, but he thought God sometimes spent a little more time in his synagogue.

Once in a while, Tobias would go to the yarn shop to deliver a pair of shoes one of the ladies had brought to Papa to be repaired. He didn’t mind making the delivery, but did all of those ladies have to pinch his already pink cheeks every time he went in. Papa and the other men didn’t do that; they always gave him a pat on the head or, now that he was older, a handshake. Tobias liked the handshakes, they made him feel older. After all, next year he would be 13 and then the very special celebration.

In the tiny business district of the little town, everyone lived above their store. The buildings were old. Tobias knew the town was very old because all the new buildings near the big highway were just square and plain. His building had beautiful designs cut into the stone and they had cellars and attics and everyone was very proud of the beautiful old buildings. Tobias couldn’t imagine living anyplace else. He never needed an alarm clock to wake up in the morning. The smell of egg bread, bagels, and breakfast cakes always made it to his bedroom at 6:10 A.M. every day as the fragrance of morning floated through the air ducts shared by all the businesses. Every morning that is except for Saturday, no one in this neighborhood worked on Saturday.

There was another community that lived in the comfort of the old buildings. It was a much smaller community; nonetheless busy, but much smaller. Far above the ceilings, in the attic of the businesses on Tobias’s block, tucked away in warm corners near the big pipe that took water to all the businesses, several generations of mice had nice cozy nests. The ladies of this community were equally busy keeping their nests tidy and clean. During the dark, night hours, the lady mice would gather the bits and pieces of scrap yarn to use for dusters and to decorate the nests. The baker always left a broken loaf or two of egg bread and several misshapen bagels in a plastic pan that read Not to be sold. In the morning, the plastic pan would be empty. No one would ever question where it went, but the kind baker never missed a night. Papa would never throw his scraps of leather away. Old shoe laces, an odd sized sole, a few tacks or a tap that just didn’t fit right on the heel of a shoe, were never tossed in the trash, yet were never in the odds and ends box in the morning. At Doc Eiser’s, cotton balls, extra lids for the pill bottles, and tongue depressors were left for the unseen guests. Tobias didn’t know where this stuff went, but maybe after he was 13, the men might tell him. Maybe it was kept a secret from the ladies.

Tobias never saw an alarm clock in papa’s room; he never saw one in the shop for that matter. The old grandfather clock in the shop hadn’t chimed since Papa was a boy, but Papa knew it was Friday sundown by the bell that chimed from the temple. Most of Friday night and Saturday morning was spent at the temple, then afterwards, sharing meals with the close friends of the neighborhood. There was always a large table set at the baker’s house and there were places set for Tobias and Papa. There was more food than could be consumed on one day, the knitting grandma’s always saw to that. Everybody shared and everybody always had enough.

Tonight was going to be one of those special nights when Papa would open the Torah and read from the book of Maccabees retelling the story of the Chanukah: Festival of the Lights. Of all the miracles, this was truly his favorite. Each night as Papa would read of the great miracle, he would light another light of the menorah. The same scene was played out in every home on the small block. Tobias never tired of this story and neither did the tiny little audience that lived above the ceiling next to the big water pipe.

After a dinner of chicken and noodles tossed in green gravy and broccoli, Tobias sat on the soft tufted footstool as Papa took his place in the spindled rocker. The story began: The great temple at Jerusalem had been desecrated by an evil man and his army. Judah Maccabee and his four brothers knew they must save the temple, make it clean again, and rededicate it. Papa kept Tobias and the tiny audience of mice mesmerized as he changed his voice to be every character in the story. When Judah and his followers had finished the task, they wanted to light the eternal light, but found only a small jug of oil. Only enough oil to keep the lamp burning for only one night. Tobias loved this part because Papa would arise from his storytelling chair to ignite the first light on his menorah. Papa prayed a special prayer as he walked to the window of their living room. When Papa touched the match to the oil lamp, the light filled the small room with a comforting glow. But, Papa noticed he had forgotten to bring more oil for his lamp. His own little oil jug was empty. Papa’s heart sank in his chest. This was Friday night, no stores were open and there would not be enough special oil to burn through the night. Papa said nothing to his son, but the mice looking down from the ceiling could see Papa’s face and saw the lamp was almost empty.

While Papa tried hard to keep a cheerful face as he was putting his son to bed, the mice were forming the biggest plan of their lives. The biggest mice jumped on the water pipe and started thumping their back feet and tails (a trick they had learned from the rats). The sound vibrated through all the other nests alerting the whole mouse community of an emergency. Messenger mice ran to all the other menorahs in the houses and found the same problem. While the families were handling the business of everyday, they had all forgotten to fill their own oil jugs to last the eight days of Chanukah. Each home had only enough oil to burn for one night. The mice had to work and they had to work fast. All the elder mice gathered to discuss the emergency. Morris, the wisest mouse of the community told the others of the special oil emergency. We must help the families that have cared so lovingly for us these so many years, said Morris.

Morris knew where the special oil was kept. It was in the temple that sat on the other end of the street. But, that jug was so big and heavy, there wasn’t any way of carrying it to each little oil jug. Even the little oil jugs were too heavy for several mice to try to carry; besides, all the oil would spill out if they even tried. Morris put his hand to his chin and began to devise a plan in his head. It would be tricky, it would take cooperation, they didn’t have much time, but it could be done. All the mice must cooperate and we must start now, said Morris Tell all the ladies and girls to gather all the wooden boards we have gathered from Doc’s house. Then gather some of the larger pieces of yarn the ladies left in the scrap boxes. Take the yarn and carefully dip one end in the glue bottle at the shoemaker’s house and glue the long ends of the wood together to form long V-shaped troughs. The ladies and the girls did exactly as they were told and the project began.

Mice dipping tails in oil

We now need to line up all the boys starting from the shortest tail to the longest. This didn’t make much sense to the boys, but they didn’t question it. They did exactly as they were told. Morris stood in the middle and said, The boys on this side of me form a group and the boys on the other side of me form another. Again, with no question the boys did as they had been instructed. My first group of boys must hurry to the Doc’s house and look for as many pill bottle lids as you can find. Mind you, only take the extras and hurry. I and the other boys will be waiting for you at the temple where the special oil is stored.

Every mouse from the first group quickly found a spare cap and ran to where Morris and the others were waiting in the temple. By this time, the ladies and girls had made quite enough V shaped tools and were patiently awaiting further instructions. The messenger mice ran to the ladies and girls and told them to each pick a house and find the oil jug and lamp. Then they were to glue the long V tools end-to-end—long enough to reach from the water pipe to the jug and lamp. The mice worked as quickly as they could, this was a special night.

All the boy mice were gathered with Morris in the temple and all the ladies and girls were stationed at their chosen oil jug and lamp. Morris would now finish telling of his plan. The boys with the longest tails will start first. You will hop on the side of this big oil jug and dip your tail as far into the oil as it will go. Roll it back up and a short tailed mouse will follow you with a cap under your tail so that you will not waste one drop. The ladies have made V shaped troughs so that you can roll your tail down the trough and the oil will flow into the jug and lamp. We have several jugs and lamps and we must hurry if we want to finish before tomorrow morning.

One by one, the boys with the longer tails dipped, coiled, and ran (with a short-tailed mouse holding a medicine cap under the tail to catch any precious drops). As the medicine caps filled with the precious drops of oil, they were also poured down the troughs to fill the jugs and lamps. Not one drop was lost. They kept the production line going until the oil reached the place where their tails were now too short to reach. Next, Morris had the men of the community, the messenger mice with longer tails, start the whole process again. This went on until the oil reached the point where their tails would no longer reach. Now, what, Morris thought just for a second and shouted for everyone’s attention. Some of the messenger mice must cross the busy street and ask our cousins, the mice that came from England, to help us. Oh no, cross the street? the rest of the community gasped. The monsters with the two eyes that shine like the sun, will surely squash us under their four round legs. The monsters are so big and we are so small, we will surely perish. Morris stood as tall as he could on his hind legs and raised his arms so everyone would hush. We must not be fearful, said Morris. But, even as Morris was speaking, the largest of the English community of mice from the building across the street had already entered the temple.

A battalion of Her Majesty’s finest mice were marching toward Morris and the jug of oil. Montgomery mouse led the way. With our superior ears, we could hear your urgent situation. We dodged the bright-eyed monsters and it looks like we got here just in time. Morris was a bit startled, but not surprised. Our English cousins with their superior ears and magnificent long tails have come just in time. Let us waste no time and finish before the sun wakes up. And so they did. The English mice with their regal tails dipped, coiled, and ran (with a short-tailed mouse holding a medicine cap under the tail to catch any precious drops). In a very short time, the task was complete. Every jug now had enough oil to keep the light burning for all eight days.

It was almost morning and all the mice went back to the nest above the bakery. The ladies and girls tended to the men and boys with the oily tails. The ladies cleaned the last drop of oil from the last mouse’s tail and quickly ran to the box in the bakery for the broken loaves and misshapen bagels only to find not only the bread, but latkes and fruit, cheeses and nuts. What a feast for the tiny heroes. All the mice feasted and sang songs before falling asleep just as the sun woke up.

Papa woke before Tobias, certain the light from the lamp would be gone, but, What is this? he cried aloud. Papa peeked into the lamp and saw the oil was full. He peeked into the jug and saw that it was full as well. How is this so? Where did this come from? Chanukah is a time of great miracles, and our God is still in the miracle business. Just then, the old grandfather clock chimed, Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! Some miracles have no explanation, that’s what makes them miracles. *

Mice celebrating

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May 5, 2015