The Amazing Shrew

Recently Fox’s “The Five” during their “One more thing” segment asked their audience to identify a very strange little creature. Very small with a funny pig-like nose almost as big as it was, it was really cute. When we were told it was a shrew I had to laugh. It didn’t look anything like the one shrew I once knew, the tiny shrew who taught me a big lesson.

I was a student at Young Harris College in the north Georgia mountains in 1963. My dormitory, East Appleby, accommodated two to a room with a bath down the hall. There were some strict rules, such as lights out at 11:00, no moving in the halls except at break time, and absolutely no food in the rooms. We had good meals in the dining hall (at least I thought so) but it was such a long time from supper to lights out. And we were always hungry. Whoever could bring nice cookies or brownies back after a weekend at home hoarded them in her dresser. We convinced ourselves it was a wise and smart thing to store up any food we could and share it with very close friends. How could that be wrong?

I returned one Sunday afternoon with a foil wrapped package of delicious oatmeal cookies. I hid them jubilantly and carefully in my top drawer right behind my socks. My mother had put walnuts in those cookies and they were so good! My roommate and I each ate one that night taking great joy in the nutty treats.

The first sign I saw that something was going wrong was a few days later when I discovered a strange hole in one of my socks. Day by day I found new holes in my socks, a nice sweater, and finally my evening dress I was to wear to my very first big dance. Scrounging in my drawer for the destructive culprit I found many crumbs. That did it! We ate the last cookies that night, I cleaned out my drawer, and hoped whatever it was would stop eating my clothes.

About 9:30 my roommate and I were diligently studying when she suddenly began to scream, jumped up on her bed pointing frantically at one corner. I saw only a fast flash of gray somewhere near my dresser. I tried to find the little fellow, not being sure what I would do with it. Opening both our closets and every drawer revealed nothing alive. I finally persuaded my roommate to go to bed and thought I would stay awake to catch the culprit. I went to sleep and woke to something rustling but by the time I started toward the sound it stopped.

The next night I started out the door to go to the shower and felt a whoosh as something ran between my legs. I saw this tiny bit of fur flashing down the hall between girls who burst into hysteria. There was no catching the rodent who ran into another room and totally disappeared. Shrieks and total drama broke out as the hall filled with pajama clad girls, some curious, some terrified. We tried until lights out (and even after!) to find the intruder but finally went to bed, careful to inspect our beds and check our shoes.

There were no more signs of the tiny creature for two or three days. Then one morning everyone was wakened by the most terrifying cry of anguish and horror. We spilled into the hall and found girls crowding into a certain room, the one in which the rodent had last been seen. We pushed and nudged each other trying to see what the uproar was about. There stood Meg, occupant of the room, in front of her dresser, crying and shaking. Eventually we all were able to see the tiny rodent’s dead body floating in a glass of water.

Of course our housemother came to see what was going on. I suddenly felt very conspicuous as everyone pointed fingers at me declaring my cookies had attracted the varmint. For some reason the housemother didn’t give me any demerits. But I was humiliated. I didn’t tell on the other treat hoarders because that would have meant no more cookies. But we were all much more careful after that. We made sure we put cookies in a tight tin.

That little shrew looked nothing like those I saw on television. He was skinny as a finger and didn’t have that very big nose. Maybe he wasn’t even a shrew. But whatever he was he sure taught me a lesson I never forgot: Never think your sins won’t find you out. By the way, it was pretty hard mending that evening dress!

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