THE COUNTRY MOUSE AND THE CITY MOUSE
Once a country mouse found itself the envy of a city mouse. At first, the country mouse felt rather flattered by the attention. Having long been the butt of jokes about its naiveté, cultural backwardness and so forth, it was pleasantly surprised when its urban cousin showed up one day and began showering it with praise. “Oh, to live the simple life!” the city mouse enthused. “You don’t know how lucky you are. I was watching a TV special entitled ‘Heartland Forever’ the other night, and I just had to come out and experience it for myself.” “For me,” answered the country mouse, “I always sort of wanted to see the bright lights of the city and how you live.” “I live very well, thank you. Nothing I could possibly desire can’t be bought within blocks. But it’s the intangibles that sometimes give me pause. What money can’t buy, in a word. The kind of untold natural riches you’re in constant contact with out here.” “I am?” the country mouse replied with a slight note of skepticism in its voice. “Absolutely. All the mice I know couldn’t picture themselves living anywhere else but where they are, yet they never tire of complaining about it, almost like it was a safety valve for urban stress. Just as the sleepy pace I’m sure you have here must be your safety valve. Read any city paper or watch the local news and you’ll understand what I mean: too much crime, too much greed, too many exhibitionists, too much pollution, too many drugs, too many STDs, too much self-involvement, too much crass opportunism, too much corruption, too much rush hour traffic, too much garbage in the streets, too much bureaucratic red tape, too much crime, too . . .” “You said that already.” “I did? Well, just consider yourself lucky you don’t have to face all of those aggravations day in and day out.” The country mouse looked long at the city mouse, raised an eyebrow, and observed, “Life ain’t no picnic here either, ya know.” “Come come now. I never cease to be amazed how much the steady moral compass that guided all previous generations through the challenges of life is still to be found here in the heartland. Values of self-sacrifice, clear guideposts to right and wrong, straight talking and homespun truths, rock-steady character and religious faith, rugged individualism, respect for order and authority, humble joys, unassuming decency, wholesome living, the bright-eyed innocence of the boy and girl next door, that fresh morning feeling everywhere you turn and the smell of bacon in the air—all in all, just the kind of enduring spirit we city mice count on as still being out here to guide us through those moments when our own lives get a bit much to sort out. A reminder of the positive reinforcement a little quiet lip-stiffening can bring just when it’s most needed. I tell you, that’s exactly what struck me so clearly lying there on the couch in front of the TV. Without you country mice, I thought to myself, where would we city mice . . .” “You didn’t grow up here,” the country mouse interrupted again, increasingly irritated and suspecting it was about to be credited once more with providing a happy ending to stories of uplifting struggle, personal redemption, and the triumph of the good for those who didn’t have the time themselves apparently for anything more than nostalgic yearnings. “What difference would that make?” the city mouse asked, a little miffed at having the praise it had rehearsed on the long journey here brushed aside. “A lotta difference,” retorted the country mouse. “You never felt yourself pinned to the earth by all the things you’ve just reeled off. You never felt trapped under the weight of the hottest, driest day of the year with no nightfall to come. You never lay awake when night finally did arrive imaginin’ that somewhere out there beyond the hills there must be another life waitin’. Only to find it wasn’t to be yours. No, a country mouse was doomed to a life that no mouse in that other world wanted, even though you needed to be continually reassured it was still out here somewhere, kept safe and ready for servin’ up to you by country mice like me whenever you decide ‘a little quiet lip-stiffenin’ might be just the thing.” “You’re not blaming me for an honest and heart-felt endorsement of the shining example you offer, are you?” “Why not? What’s honest about you and all the rest who show up here in your vacation search for ‘wide open spaces’? Places you’ve convinced yourselves you can escape to whenever gnawin’ self-doubt makes you long to get back in touch with ‘the simple life’? Well, that life’s been dust for years, except in your own bed-and-breakfast dreams. You sound like the latest hack politician pitchin’ it to the rubes. I’m tired of bein’ your fall-back fantasy of honest-to-goodness grandfolks in rockin’ chairs and the naïve-but-heart-of-gold farmer’s daughter and the unsung lad from a place you can’t even pronounce who falls on a grenade in some hellhole for you. Mile after mile of moral fiber as tall as genetically engineered corn—that’s the sort of stuff you’ve grown fat and short-winded on over the years. What you can’t get enough of whenever it’s time once again for a bit of that ‘quiet lip-stiffenin’ you’ve come to crave. Get real about yourself and about me for a change!” “You can’t mean what you’re saying!” the city mouse exclaimed, taken aback by the unexpected vehemence of its snarling cousin. “Country mice remain the backbone of the land and always will: a down-to-earth inspiration to the rest of us in our darkest, fearful or most challenging hours, when we so need to reconnect with our roots and renew ourselves again! You can’t fail to realize how important that is!” “Try me.” In the end, the city mouse gave up seeking to convince its cousin, shook its head in bewilderment, and headed back where it had come from. At a complete loss to understand why the country mouse didn’t recognize all it had to offer.
Copyright © 2011 by Geoffrey Grosshans