Part memoir, part essay collection, Rats, Mice, and Other Things You Can’t Take to the Bank is written with both wit and charm. It will take you on a ride from finding a mouse in the house to the mortgage crisis, from a smile to a chuckle and from a few tears to the feeling of being wrapped in a blanket sipping a warm cup of cocoa on a cold winter’s day. Handler offers a rich, touching, heartfelt and reflective read that will leave the reader with an indelible uplifting spirit.
Excerpt from Rats, Mice and Other Things You Can’t Take to the Bank
Games, games, games
The boys I dated were mostly affluent. In high school I had a double date with one of Ross Perot’s daughters, Nancy. Actually, it was a triple date. The three girls were to meet at my house to make a picnic dinner. The guys were to pick us up to take us to Shakespeare in the park. Nancy showed up two hours late. We had already made the fried chicken and the dessert, all that was left was the potato salad when Nancy arrived. The boys were to be there in forty-five minutes, so my other girlfriend and I left my mom in the kitchen with Nancy while we went upstairs to spruce up. Mom showed Nancy the bowl of potatoes and other ingredients and gave her a pot and other necessary utensils and told her she’d be back in a few minutes. By the time my mom returned, Nancy had cut up a bowl full of raw potatoes filled with mayo and spices. So much for rich girls knowing how to cook. But then again, I’m not sure why I expected anything less since the first time I met her she asked to borrow a quarter for the cafeteria soda machine. She never did pay that quarter back.
As for the boys, they picked us up on time, we had a lovely picnic, sans potato salad, and I don’t recall really ever interacting much with Nancy for the rest of high school. She was a lovely girl. I guess you could just say, we ran in different crowds.
I had lots of exciting dates in those years. At the time, I wanted to pursue going into the hotel business, so I got myself a job at the finest hotel in town and spent a summer getting to know everyone from the housekeeping staff to the head maître ‘d of the finest restaurant there, to the general manager. One of my dates, decided he would impress me by taking me to dinner there. Apparently, he dined there often and thought he’d impress me when the waiters all knew him by name, but by the time he was taken to our table, he found himself alone. When he turned to see where I was, he found me hugging and kissing all the wait staff and calling them all by first names. After I watched my date pick his jaw up off the floor, we managed to have a lovely evening with no need to further attempt to impress one another. I dated this boy on and off for several years before I met my husband. He was fun, and treated me well, but I never did feel much substance there. He used to pick me up in a different car every time we went out. There was the Trans Am, the Mercedes, and the Porsche to name a few. My mom said that when he picked me up in the Rolls Royce, that would just have to be the last date because as she put it, “where do you go from there?” You know? She was right. That was our last date.
But I had other great dates with lots of other guys throughout high school and college. My favorite dates though, were dates with my dad. He always wanted to have special time with me. I’d get all dressed up and we’d go out on the town. Sometimes he’d take me to a show, sometimes to lunch, sometimes even to dinner. But going out with dad always meant special time and to this day brings cherished memories.
Mom was the softy. Dad was the disciplinarian. Both gave me and my older brother nothing but love and support for our entire lives.
In this first chapter, I tell you all about these stories and even more stories about my growing up. Like so many children, one of the things I begged for was a family pet. At one point, my folks went out and bought a boxer puppy….this from two people who knew nothing about raising a small animal let alone a boxer. They blinked and “Happy” the dog, became an untrained, crazed, lunatic beast who hung himself by his own chain over the back yard fence. The good news is that Happy lived to tell the tale, and kept his tail as well. The next day, I was told he ran away. Years later dad tried a Mynah bird. Between the screeching and the feces throwing, that one didn’t work out too well either. Eventually, I received an untrained Bichon Frise of unknown age who became one of the loves of my life and the bane of my mother’s existence. His name was Pierre, but mom called him the carpenter dog because he did odd jobs around the house: a little pee here, a little food dumping there. But for me, from then on, I was a dog lover.
You’ll hear more stories about my animal adventures throughout my life. You’ll also hear about one of my family’s earliest challenges regarding my loving brother and my first lessons in hate, love, and the power they each have.
Finally, I leave you with this early memory. It’s one of my favorites and it explains why rats have been in my life.
I could smell the chlorine filling my nostrils as I quenched my thirst from the water flowing from the garden hose. I could see those waves of heat floating in the Texas air on a hundred degree summer’s day. We’d hook the sprinkler up to the hose and run bare foot through the water and the soft iridescent grass that could never be too green in the southwestern sultriness. When we were finally cool enough, we’d wrap ourselves in the thickness of terrycloth towels, dry off, and head inside for a read-a-thon in the air conditioned coolness of our home.
In the winter months, there was nothing more enticing than a pile of pillows and blankets placed before a roaring wood-burning fire. But even the smell of the smoke escaping up the chimney with the remnants of roasted marshmallows trailing its sugary aroma right behind wasn’t as good as what was to come. The best part, was the sweet smell of the drying hair of my two little girls fresh from the tub-all squeaky clean with the scent of youth. I can remember the little hairs inside my nose would vibrate and tickle when we would crack open that first book of the day. I would suck up those freshly printed pages with a deep inhale offering up that first book to the noses of my girls. They too could sniff the words right off their pages and into their hearts. The flicker of the fire light would illuminate the beautiful faces of my girls as we began the first adventure of the day into the world of books. At their youngest, there was Chick-a-Chick-a-Boom-Boom, Are You My Mother?, and any Berenstain Bears books. As they got older it became Goosebumps, Ella Enchanted, and eventually Harry Potter.
A Handler read-a-thon, whether in the heat of the summer, or the frigid days of winter, was our time, our special time, time to cherish each other away from the stresses of daily life. It was our escape, our escape together. In those days, aside from relieving ourselves of full bladders or empty tummies, there was only one thing that would get us to break away from our reading, and that, was a good board game.
One such board game was a game called “Oh Rats.” Each player received his own puzzle. He had to take the puzzle apart and then take a turn spinning a board that showed one puzzle piece. If he didn’t yet have that puzzle piece, he could use it to add towards the completion of his puzzle. If he already had it, he would shout out “oh rats,” and it would be the next players turn. The winner, was the first person to complete his puzzle. I loved this game. I loved it because it taught the girls their shapes and colors, but I mostly loved it because it taught them about the frustrations in life of not always getting what you want, and being able to just chalk it up to an exclamation of “oh rats.” To this day, when something doesn’t quite go my way, I can just shout out “oh rats” and know that it’s ok. There will always be another game, and there will always be more rats in the world. Finding the right balance and getting your puzzle all put together, well that makes all the difference.
With that, I hope you enjoy the following essays about my special family, how we think about dogs in our house, and if I left something out, “oh rats,” I’ll have to wait until my next book to explain it.
Paul De Lancey