There is a plastic, battery-operated ornament on Michelle Bradley-Bahuaud’s family Christmas tree that, when engaged, gleefully wishes anyone within hearing distance "a very Mickey Christmas and a happy mouse year."
Talk about an understatement-and-a-half.
"For years, I’ve had enough Mickey Mouse Christmas stuff to decorate an entire room but I was never ‘allowed’ to," the mother of two says with a laugh, cautioning a visiting scribe not to trip over a Mickey Mouse at the North Pole train set resting on a carpet, just behind a nearly two-metre-tall Mickey-as-Santa inflatable, the sort of oversized adornment you’d typically spot in a front yard, only this one’s positioned smack-dab in the middle of the living room.
"So it’s great you got in touch, because it gave me the perfect excuse to really go to town this Christmas."
Let’s back things up a bit; last month in this space, we profiled a musician friend of Bradley-Bahuaud’s. After that story got re-posted on social media, she left a congratulatory comment, wishing her chum well. In turn, we spotted her profile photo, which shows off a portion of her "Mickey room," a basement lair wholly devoted to collectibles associated with Walt Disney’s most famous animated character, an expansive array that includes figurines, lunch boxes, board games and even unopened bags of Mickey’s Really Swell Diner pasta and never-touched boxes of Mickey’s Magix breakfast cereal.
Intrigued, we reached out to Bradley-Bahuaud, wondering if she’d be interested in showing off her assortment — holiday items in particular —in the pages of the Free Press. She replied almost immediately, writing, "LOL! My friends and family and I wondered when this day might come. I have 50 years’ worth of MM stuff."
Consider that a "yes."
Bradley-Bahuaud grew up in Neepawa. Every Sunday night, her family would eat supper early, she recalls, in order that they would be in front of the television set at 6 p.m. sharp for the start of The Wonderful World of Disney, which aired on CBC from 1969 to 1979. Because she was a big fan of the program, and because her friends at school called her Mickey versus Michelle, she was often on the receiving end of gifts tied to the anthropomorphic rodent whenever her birthday or Christmas rolled around.
After completing high school, she moved to Brandon to study psychology at Brandon University. A few years later, by which time she had relocated to southern Ontario to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Guelph, her mother began sending her letters handwritten on the flipside of pages snipped from a Mickey Mouse colouring book. When she was done reading her mom’s missives, she would fetch her old crayons, turn the paper over and colour in Mickey, brightening up the walls of her dreary, below-ground apartment with the finished product.
"People were still giving me the odd gift, but the thing that really got me going was when I visited the Disney Store in Toronto, not long after it opened," she says, offering us some water in — what else? — an officially licensed Mickey Mouse tumbler.
"I bought a few T-shirts and stuffies and remember thinking, ‘Wow, I can’t believe there’s so much Mickey Mouse stuff out there.’"
In 1994, Bradley-Bahuaud got hired by the Midland (now Prairie Rose) School Division as a high school psychologist. She purchased a home in Carman. With space to burn, she established her initial Mickey chambers in a spare main-floor bedroom.
At first, her collection was self-contained in that one room, she says. But then she would spot a set of Mickey dinner plates and think, great, she could have him in the kitchen, too. Or she’d pick up a Mickey Mouse toothbrush or bottle of shampoo, which she’d naturally place in the bathroom. Before long, there was one Mickey thing or another in pretty much every corner of the house, she says.
After getting married, Bradley-Bahuaud moved to Winnipeg. Her husband (now her ex), who’d been warned about her collecting ways on their first date, not only supported her habit, agreeing to a Mickey room in their home, he helped stock it.
"My ex found this for me at a garage sale down the street," she says, tapping the top of a red fire engine with Mickey at the wheel that, in another life, was a display unit for Disney movies at a video rental store.
"When they brought it home it didn’t fit through the front door, so he and his dad took it apart, before putting it back together down here. Except now it’s too big to ever leave this room."
About "this room": as stuffed to the gills as it is, there’s actually a method to her Mickey madness. Kids’ toys, ones her son and daughter used to play with when they were toddlers, are on the bottom shelves within easy reach. Foreign-language items, souvenirs she picked up when she visited Disneyland Paris on her honeymoon and Tokyo Disneyland while spending time with a pal who’d moved to Japan, are on a shelf of their own, as are functional items such as Mickey ballpoint pens, tape dispensers and rulers.
Also, there’s a good reason she replaced a set of wooden closet doors with glass ones instead: not only are the items behind the glass — a mix of time pieces, picture frames, sippy cups and soup bowls — clearly visible, it cuts down on dusting, she says with a chuckle.
Presently, Bradley-Bahuaud is a high school psychologist in the Seven Oaks School Division. Her collection, portions of which she keeps on her desk, is often a good ice-breaker when she’s meeting with students for the first time, she says.
"Lots of times, I work with kids that have experienced trauma, or have learning issues or mental-health issues," she says. "One of my goals has always been to normalize psychology, to let kids know it’s nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of when they come to my office. And because Mickey Mouse is such a joyful character, it kind of puts a smile on their face when they spot him on my phone case or travel mug."
Or, if it’s summer and she’s sporting sandals, on her left ankle, where she had a tattoo of Mickey Mouse done just last summer.
Now that she has pretty much everything she needs, Mickey-wise (did we mention her Mickey Mouse bedsheets, rows of Mickey Mouse picture books or working cordless phone that, instead of ringing, announces in a sing-song voice that somebody’s trying to reach her?), Bradley-Bahuaud isn’t actively adding to her mischief of mice. These days, she relies on modern technology whenever she comes across something she couldn’t previously live without.
"If I spot something particularly unique, I might bring it home, but for the most part, I just take pictures of things that catch my eye instead," she says, holding up her cellphone.
One more thing: after closely studying her Tannenbaum plus the rest of her Christmas display, we couldn’t help but notice a decided dearth of objects bearing the image of Minnie Mouse, Mickey’s longtime love interest.
"No, I’ve never been a big Minnie fan, so if there are any (ornaments) featuring the two of them, they’re off to the side or hidden in the back of the tree," she says, breaking into a grin. "People have asked why I dislike Minnie so much and I don’t really have an answer.
"Being a psychologist, I guess I should try to figure that out one day."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.