Topino – The Tooth Mouse
The tooth fairy is a celebrated legend in much of the world. So, too, is the tooth mouse.
My dad was born to a Sicilian immigrant. Growing up, my dad and his siblings were told of “the little white tooth mouse.” Instead of a tooth fairy, it was a tooth mouse who would appear at night to exchange the baby tooth for a coin.
Although Dad shared his childhood tale of the tooth mouse with my sister and me, we went with the American standard – the tooth fairy.
When I had kids of my own, I decided to reintroduce the tooth mouse tradition of my dad’s childhood, but with a twist. First, I discovered the tooth mouse went by different names throughout the world. In Italian, the name was Topino.
I told my kids that when their grandpa was a kid, there was a mouse in his house named Topino. Topino emmigrated from Sicily with the Satullo family. His job was to check the childrens’ teeth every night and when he found a wiggler, he’d put the tooth fairy on high alert. She was very busy so it was helpful to have a tooth mouse in the house. He would give her a head’s up so she could better plan her route each night. A tooth would be exchanged with a coin by the tooth mouse and a dollar bill by the tooth fairy. When kids grew up, so did their tooth mouse. The tooth mouse would have baby mice, all named Topino. When the kids started their own families, a Topino would move in with each of them.
My son, Dominic, not only believed in Topino, he was so fascinated by this peculiar mouse, he took things to a new level. One night, my wife came into our room after replacing the tooth with a coin and bill and handed me a note. Our son was asking the tooth mouse questions like what does he look like, where does he live, what else did he like to do, and can he read this?
So began a strange pen pal relationship between my son and me. Our minds worked together to open a whole new world. It didn’t matter if a tooth was loose or not, I had to check his desk to see if a letter was left for Topino. The fun wrapped around this communication between father and son was something for the ages. There were great adventures, head-scratching questions, revelations and more.
One of Dominic’s favorite storylines revolved around the mischief Topino got into at night when he’d play with Dominic’s toys. One time we awoke to a toy car stuck in the chandelier. Don’t ask, it’s a long story! Topino also seemed to get into the same life situations as my son, at the same time, so it became the topic of conversation between them. Until one day it stopped.
We had carried on the letter writing for a couple of years. Sure, there were some long pauses at times between letters so when they stopped altogether, I was slow to notice. Finally, I asked Dominic if he still left letters for Topino. He showed me the last letter he wrote that had gone unanswered.
“Why did you put it here?” I asked, aware that it was not the usual spot.
“I don’t know,” he answered.
Since it was not in the assumed usual spot, I explained that Topino may have missed the note. Dominic then moved the note to the old spot. But there was more to Topino not finding the letter than it just being in the wrong spot. Topino, too, had been in the wrong spot.
Dominic ran downstairs the next morning with a wad of papers in hand.
“Look – look, Topino, he’s back!”
“Whattaya mean, back?” I asked coyly.
“He hid in my bag the last time we went to Avon Lake to visit. It took him forever to get back and he waited a long time after that for me to write him. He didn’t know that I did because I used a different spot for the letter so you were right about that, Dad. I can’t wait to hear about his adventure!”
So there were stories that lasted another year.
Then one day Dominic looked on in horror as I put out mouse poison in the garage, cautioning him to stay clear of it. I had to convince him that I bought a special blend that targeted unwanted mice versus a beloved tooth mouse like Topino. He preferred all mice live. I had other ideas considering the bag of seed they feasted on all winter.
Eventually, it all ended as most childhood fairytales end; by just growing too old to believe anymore.
By Rocco Satullo, author of a memoir and novel