Luxury, Location, Convenience — Ready for Move-In!

As festive as we tried to make it, our house on Linebrook Road in Ipswich was a bit subdued this holiday season.

For some 20 years or more, my wife and children have collected large, colorful, hand-crafted nutcrackers, most of them one at a time from the swag stand at the Boston Ballet after annual Christmastime performances of Nutcracker Suite. Fabulous characters with crowns and capes, jewels and sequins, buttons and buckles, mustachios and spectacles, real-hair beards and velvet cloaks and you-name-it. Christmas by Christmas, the mantel over our living room fireplace has been populated by more and more of Tchaikovsky’s fantastic gang. A joy to behold, and a testament to the power of a little girl tugging on your coat sleeve and saying “Just one more? Puh-leeze?

You might expect the nutcracker community to morph from year to year — Uncle Drosselmeyer goes on the mantel this time, the sugar plum fairy moves to the sideboard. Or maybe you just leave somebody out, give the characters on the mantel a little room to breathe. No need to squeeze 20 years’ worth of nutcrackers in, like a police lineup.

But for all their comings and goings from year to year, you always have the satisfaction of knowing that they’re all there with you, visible or un. As the husband and father of the family, the primary breadwinner, you have the assurance that the mountains of money you’ve shelled out over the decades are still paying a handsome return, resplendent Christmas décor displayed in your home, reliably inspiring a steady stream of oohs and aahs from visitors. One or two or even three of the nutcrackers may not make the cut in any given season — but you never expect them all to disappear at once.

Until this year.

During the long off-season, our nutcrackers live in their original individual cardboard boxes, stacked neatly and sealed tight and snug in a plastic bin stored on a shelving unit at the back of our garage. I assume the nutcrackers are relieved to finally close their black button eyes and rest from their labors. After all, they’re obligated to be “on” the entire holiday season. The pressure must be intense.

The bin is essentially airtight. The lid snaps shut with such a powerful jolt, you feel silly for putting anything inert in there. This seems like a box made for containing a nasty-tempered poltergeist.

But every year, we drag the bin from the garage to the house and back for the annual unloading-and-reloading routines, and apparently one corner of the box wore thin over time.

This year, opening the bin was like exhuming a body, with a puff of ghastly stink.

The nutcracker boxes had been turned into a condo complex. And the tenants were none too tidy.

Nutcracker beards were tangled and filthy and flecked with bits of garbage. Velvet capes were wrinkled and soggy. Once-elegant hemlines were now merely ragged edges, gnawed into ugly oblivion.

It took only a few seconds for the first of the mice to burst out of hiding, vaulting over the edge of the bin and skedaddling to safety. Once the first rodent made his getaway, the others took courage and followed suit. They moved too fast to count; my conservative estimate would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 million.

In the story behind The Nutcracker Suite, the Mouse King is the bad guy. We actually had a Mouse King nutcracker in our collection, and now it seems clear that he beckoned his real-life minions to invade through the tiny gap in the plastic, to avenge the defeat he suffers every year in the Tchaikovsky ballet.

But mice are not natural fighters. Once they arrived and saw the Mouse King’s cozy, cushy surroundings, they forgot all about vengeance and settled in.

Twenty years’ worth of collectible nutcrackers went into the garbage — so smelly, even the garbage collectors winced — except for the Mouse King.

I gave that one special treatment.

He became firewood.

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, with a supply of nuts and no way to crack them. Connect with Doug via

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