Jan Woodward, former Abilene Reporter-News columnist, said she has always had a penchant for little creatures, especially dressed up in tiny clothes.
“I’ve just always thought they were cute,” Woodward said.
On a visit to see her grandmother in West Virginia, Woodward and her mother met one of her grandmother’s neighbors who made crafty Christmas ornaments, one of which was a little church mouse made of felt.
“It was real cute – small, two or three inches, made out of felt. A little church mouse with a Bible and a gold felt cross,” Woodward said. “We just went crazy over it. She gave us the pattern, and we came back and made some ourselves.”
Woodward was involved in Abilene’s Junior League, and a few years later, at the Christmas Carousel event, she stumbled on to a florist shop from out of town. Their holiday display involved little mice dressed up with a string to hang on the tree. They reminded Woodward of her little church mouse, but these were more refined and included a base where each one could stand up.
“I thought they were so cute, and I got a boy and girl mouse since we had a boy and a girl,” she said. The next year at Christmas Carousel she bought two more –this time, a girl with a red felt winter coat, hat and a muff, and a boy mouse with skis, knitted cap.
For several years she didn’t see the shop or the little mice anymore, until a Neiman Marcus catalog arrived at her house one summer. It wasn’t Neiman’s well-known Christmas catalog, but it did have a few Christmas products, including mice, very much like Woodward’s budding collection.
“I thought ‘I have to have it,’” she recalls. “It was a Sugar Plum Fairy mouse. And then I ordered one every year that catalog would come out, and that lasted maybe 5 or 6 years.”
Then on another trip to visit her grandmother, the Christmas mice came back full circle.
“We were in a nice hotel with a florist shop, and the shop had these mice, the same ones I had originally found,” she said. “They were all dressed up, and I just couldn’t stand it; I had to buy some more. I think I got maybe six or eight. Then I came home, kept thinking about it, and I ended up calling back and getting more.”
As the collection grew, Woodward decided they needed a display house. A craft-store doll house cottage served the purpose well, with some paint and décor, although the 24 mice who reside there might consider it a bit crowded.
Woodward’s collection has been on display outside her home as well, including at the Grace Museum, back before it was known as The Grace.
Although she doesn’t have specific memories associated with every mouse, Woodward fondly remembers getting that first one with her mom and her grandmother, and the collection is tied in to memories with her mother, who passed away five years ago.
“We were very close, and, really, she is the one who got me started with this collection,” she said. “We would look forward to that Neiman’s catalog each year, so I remember the closeness and fun we had with collecting.”