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Editorial Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 20, 2009
Artwork by Forest Byrd
Sunday night, as the Altamont Fair was winding down, raucous noise burst through the still night air. Fair-goers, returning home after a good time out, streamed by my house, some of them shouting loudly from their cars or trucks.
So it took me a while to notice a small but persistent tapping at my back door. It’s an old door that doesn’t close all the way, leaving quite a wide crack towards the bottom.
I was surprised to see a pair of bright but solemn eyes peering through that crack.
“If you please,” said a small voice. “I am a weary traveler, hoping for a place to rest for the night.”
I crouched down to take a closer look. There was a well-dressed mouse standing on my back step, holding a suitcase. Well, I thought, he could have just scurried through the crack and taken his chances, but he was polite enough to knock.
Besides, it had been a lonely week. My daughter was off in Missouri, at a boot camp for computer reporting, and my husband was in Oregon, visiting family. I could use some company.
I opened the creaking door, and the mouse walked in. He sat upon his suitcase, which, in the light of the kitchen, I could now see was cleverly fashioned from a small box of matches.
He looked tired, so I set about getting him some refreshments. My publisher had given me some blueberries he’d picked, which the mouse relished. When I asked about a drink, he said he preferred bourbon. I fished a thimble out of my sewing basket and filled it to the brim with Old Forester.
This relaxed the mouse and loosened his tongue. He took off his overcoat, which was serviceable but worn and rather too large for him.
I asked where he’d like to sleep, and he said he didn’t sleep much at night. I didn’t feel like sleeping either, so I settled back in my hearth-side rocking chair, poured myself a glass of bourbon, and set it on the chair’s arm. I set the mouse on the chair’s other arm, the better to converse with him, and asked his name.
“S. Moochley Small, at your service,” he said.
“That’s an odd name,” I said. I hesitated to ask him what was most on my mind: Why, with a middle name like Moochley, would he not use his first name? What could the “S” possibly stand for?
I started with something less personal his suitcase made from a box of Rosebud matches, and asked if he’d ever seen the classic film Citizen Kane. The mouse said he hadn’t, so I told him the story of the newspaper publisher who had lost his way giving up social service in his lust for power. He died a rich and lonely man, remembering the sled from his humble childhood marked with a rosebud. That was his dying word: Rosebud.
S. Moochley seemed to like the story. He started talking about his own humble youth. He had been born in the walls of a church in the Helderbergs, one of nine in a poor family. The church had fallen into disuse and food was hard to come by. S. Moochley didn’t want to be a burden to his family and had set out to make his way in the big city.
He intended to make his fortune and his mark in the world. He had ended up on Wall Street, where he gave up eating the bits of grain he was raised on, and feasted instead on huge helpings of red meat and French cheese. He was riding a wave of prosperity, really quite fat and happy, when the tide turned.
S. Moochley said he didn’t feel responsible for the mess he found himself in, and he wasn’t about to wallow in self-pity. He made a hard choice when he decided to leave, but not because he was afraid of the things collapsing around him. He thought he could build something better somewhere else, maybe not so rich or on such a grand scale but something honest and true.
He described the scene as he decided to strike off for his home.
S. Moochley stood on Wall Street, taking one last look at all he was leaving behind. There, in front of him, was the country’s first Customs House. While in Manhattan, he had made his home atop one of its splendid Doric columns. When all the people had left at the end of each day, he had enjoyed roaming the hall under the vast domed ceiling. The echoes were stirring, he said, and so were the echoes of the past, of the Pantheon and of the Romans’ economic might.
But the Roman Empire, he realized, had crumbled and he worried about the fate of his own country now. Imports and exports in the Age of Electronics so many goods and so constant had made the Customs House an anachronism.
Such had been his late-night thoughts that had led him to pack his belongings into his Rosebud matchbox, which he reported with no small degree of pride, was made in the United States of America.
“It’s hard to find anything made here anymore,” he said in a wistful tone. “How can we build a nation if we don’t produce anything?”
I decided it was time to fill his thimble again, hoping his robust tone would return.
It did. S. Moochley raised his thimble and toasted our great country, before continuing his tale. It occurred to me then that his favorite drink was bourbon because it was American.
“So there I stood on the edge,” he said, “trying to hail a cab.”
I thought how hard that task must be for someone of such diminutive stature.
But that was not S. Moochley’s concern.
“I had the distinct feeling that George Washington was beckoning me to stay,” he said.
I worried for a moment that I had filled his thimble too many times until he explained, quite lucidly, that he was referring to the statue of Washington that stands at the site of Federal Hall, where our first president took his oath of office.
Did S. Moochley feel he was turning his back on America, deserting democracy at the place where the first Congress met?
“Maybe,” I said, “George Washington was waving you on, encouraging you to find a new and better way as Wall Street was collapsing around you.”
I could see how sad he was about the way things had turned out. But I told him he was strong and he had the rest of his life ahead of him.
He sighed a humble sigh for he was a humble being. I had grown quite fond of him as we talked into the wee hours of the morning. He was planning on leaving the next day. He wanted to get back to his home in the Helderbergs. He said he hoped he could make a difference there.
I couldn’t resist asking him I figured it would be my only chance what did the “S” in S. Moochley Small stand for?
“Small,” he said.
I toasted his name Small Moochley Small and said, “It’s better to be small than too big for your britches.”
He looked down at his second-hand trousers, which he wore with flair, kept up by suspenders his mother had crocheted, and said, “My britches are too big for me.”
We laughed together into the night.
Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor