Today is a celebration of fancy rats and mice everywhere! The American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association, which is what the American Kennel Club is to dogs, was founded in 1983 as a non-profit international club. They invite anyone who has an interest in rats or mice to be a member.
Though I don’t think I have a club-worthy interest, I have always thought mice and smaller rats were cute. Large rats that were always racing around the sewers in cartoons still freak me out, but the hamster-sized and smaller ones I find to be really adorable.
I chose to mark the occasion with a doodlewash of a dumbo rat, so named, I would assume, for having rather large ears for a rat. I just thought he was really cute, but do wonder if he’s aware of what people are calling him. Though it’s not a horrible nickname, as I was equally in love with the Disney elephant.
Weirdly, I do have a rat story, but have hesitated to ever tell it at the risk of making people think I was insane. Since these stories have been out for awhile, I figured it was okay by now. Most who read this know I’m a bit crazy, so nothing should come as too much of a shock at this point. The story is about that time in grade school when I literally mummified a rat.
By this, I mean I had an independent study and had selected Egyptian mummification. I was either fascinated with something I had read about pharaohs seeking eternal life or had just heard Steve Martin’s King Tut song and couldn’t get it out of my head, but either way, I wanted to learn more. As with all of these studies, it wasn’t a bookish endeavor but had to be something you actually did.
Looking back, it was strange that my teacher had even allowed it. Since there were no available classrooms, the classes for the so-called “gifted” students took place in one of the mobile home trailers parked in the back of the school. The other trailer housed the mentally challenged kids, so neither group could disrupt the “normal” kids during the day.
I had to go through a few different books to get the specific steps in this ancient process. Today, you can just Google “steps in mummification” and the entire process immediately comes up in the exact same fashion as if you had just typed “how to cut a chicken.” This is somehow even more disconcerting than my story.
The real challenge of this particular study, however, was the question of what would be mummified. Obviously, I wasn’t going to do this with a human, that’s just weird. A fellow classmate said her dad had a good friend who worked at a pet store, and suggested that we use a rat. “He was complaining that they have a lot rats who die before anyone will buy them,” she said. This was infinitely sad to me, and so the decision was made. One of these little guys was going to life forever.
For those unfamiliar, ancient Egyptians believed that when someone died, their soul left their body. The soul would then return and be reunited with the body after it was buried. The key difference to an ancient Egyptian afterlife is that you get to keep the same body and also get to keep all of your favorite stuff. The trick was, the body had to be well preserved since you intended to use it again.
A few weeks later, the girl’s dad got the call. One of their rats at the pet shop hadn’t made it through the night. He arrived that day and we all just felt sad. We were only kids, after all, and he should have been adopted, because he was so cute. But we were also scientists with a project due end of term and so we soon shrugged it off, and very carefully went through the entire process.
Though he hadn’t been our pet, or had the chance to be anyone’s for that matter, we were determined to give him a proper burial. I won’t go into graphic detail, but let’s just say it all started with a crochet hook and ended with a perfectly mummified rat in a mini sarcophagus, that suspiciously resembled a shoebox.
Within a week, the local paper covered the event with a bizarre headline that read, “LOCAL STUDENTS MUMMIFY RAT” accompanied by a photo of three little kids. They were sitting around “King Rat” who was wrapped in painted gold tape covered in little hieroglyphic symbols in front of a styrofoam pyramid. The fat one wearing glasses in the middle was named Charlie.
Years later when I was about to graduate high school, one of the girls from my class came up to me, handed me a shoebox, and said, “I thought you should have this.” I knew what it was immediately, and realized that her father must have told her to get her crap out of his house before leaving for college.
It was still rather touching, but mostly, I was just mortified. I had spent the last 6 years distancing myself from that weird little kid and was just achieving some level of popularity. But I couldn’t resist peeking inside to see the gold tape which I only then realized was actually just canary yellow. And though I did take him, and kept him through college, I can’t remember exactly what happened to him after that.
Perhaps he ended up with a friend or maybe he finally came back to properly collect himself as he was meant to do. I’d like to think the latter happened and he’s living a better afterlife somewhere now. But just like the ancient Egyptians, I guess we’ll never really know for sure.
Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!