All things natural

Do You Smell Something?

Posted by on Mar 30, 2008 in All things natural, Death and renewal | 0 comments

Nothing in my exciting life has inspired me to write a lengthy post recently, not my new job, my first grandchild, or my many adventures in Denver over the past months, but in that perverse way of humans, the smell under the basement steps suddenly sends me running to my keyboard. My son first mentioned the slight odor of sewage at the bottom of the stairs when I got home from Colorado Friday a week ago. I was racing through the house at warp speed trying to get clothes washed and the house back in some reasonable order after two week away, so I just agreed with him and filed the information away in “Things I gotta do someday-clean garage”.

Now our garage is an integral part of the house, with a door opening into the basement and a dark hole of a closet under the steps that divides the laundry room from the garage. The house, built in the seventies, has a dearth of electrical outlets, and poorly organized storage space, but the under the steps closet is a nightmare. It contains three bed frames, several tires for cars we no longer have, an air conditioner that my husband stubbornly refused to relinquish even after we put in a new heating/cooling system two years ago, a guitar he once used as a canoe paddle, many containers, both empty and full (don’t know, ask my husband), and a lot of other even more questionable stuff, all surrounded by pink fiberglass insulation that we ineffectively tacked up in one of our periodic efforts at energy efficiency.

Monday evening when I returned from the gym at 11 pm my son greeted me on arrival. “That smell is getting worse Mom”, he tells me with exasperation. I am too tired to do anything other than agree with him, but when you’re right, you’re right. All week we had fleeting conversations about the smell, but by Thursday I knew that it was not sewage. “Son,” I announced to him while making my lunch to take to work, “It’s something dead, something pretty big, like a rat or a cat.” Since there are six cats living in our house, we take a quick head count to make sure none are missing. We discuss this over the next few days and the whole house is skeptical of my analysis, my husband because he has lost his sense of smell almost entirely, my daughter because she spends most of her time at the gym or at work, and my son, because, well, he has no experience to prepare him for the stench of putrefication. Being at home during the day however, and stuck there with the smell, he goes on a halfhearted search for the source, poking about in the front of the closet and in the laundry room. He is looking for a rat hole or a nest of orphaned mice, their mother victim to our small serious gray cat that lives in the garage. He finds nothing and I can’t really blame him. Searching for the dead thing under the stairs is not a job even the bravest do alone.

Saturday morning with the stench not subsiding, I can avoid the issue no longer. Armed with flashlights and gloves, son and I start the search in earnest. The laundry room has a tiny hole in the baseboard, but it has long ago been covered with a board solidly held in place with a giant cooler purchased for Wedstock in 2003 and used once again for Equinox in 05. It is unlikely that we will find anything there, but pulling back the board increases our nausea, so I decide to call for reinforcements. “Go get your father,” I say, and he is more than willing to comply in order to get away form the smell, if only briefly. Everyone watches as I poke at the hole with the jigsaw I pulled from the toolbox. It is half hearted at best, and only a delaying tactic to avoid the black hole of Calcutta where we all know we are headed. Finally, all other avenues exhausted, I lead the charge. Jason gets the well-named trouble light, Dad opens the garage door for ventilation, and I squeeze through the narrow opening, already knowing what I will find.

Our sweet, but litter box challenged gray cat has lived for years in the garage, a window open slightly for her egress. Unfortunately she is not the only creature that uses that porthole in the dead of night. I have been surprised by raccoons, possums, and a host of other neighborhood cats, all of them living happily on the magical endless supply of cat chow in her bowl. I can usually tell when she is not alone by her level of agitation, except for one frequently visitor, a scrawny one-eyed black cat she tolerates better than the other wildlife. The cat is unapproachable, running like spitfire when we open the door. I often see him making the neighborhood rounds, but I doubt that he has a real home except for our garage. I haven’t seen him lately, gray cat has been avoiding the garage this week, and I think I know why.

I hand the boards and cans out the door, and assembly line style, they pile up in the already cluttered garage. The air conditioner requires someone with more muscle than I have, so son wrestles it out through the narrow opening. I fold up the table it rested on, a toddler height refuge from my husband’s childhood, and shine the light to the farthest reaches of the pit. There, behind a spare tire belonging to some unknown and long discarded vehicle, surrounded by pink insulation, is a mass of black; possibly furry, possibly animal like, possibly the source of the odor. Jason and I agree on tactics at this point, the man with a nose that is blind and deaf to smells is summoned. He arrives with a single plastic bag. I go immediately to get a larger one I know he will need. He comes back out shortly asking for plastic gloves. Son and I stand in the cluttered garage waiting for him to emerge. “It’s a cat”, comes the already know verdict from the closet. He emerges after a bit holding a heavy-laden white bag at shoulder height, well away from his body. Even when the bag is far from the house, the smell is still enormous. I send him back to clean up insulation, the itchy nest of the late one-eyed cat. Son sprays everything with Lysol, but still the odor lingers.

We spend the rest of the day in speculation as to the when, how, and why of the cat’s demise. I wonder if it was the fiberglass insulation, or worms, or some incurable disease like leukemia. I hope it didn’t give my cat the virus, although it might be a bit late to think about that. My husband swears he can smell the horrible aroma, but I think he is just remembering the way dead things smell in sympathy for the family. After I return from the gym the smell is slightly better. We spend the bulk of the afternoon outside, hacking away at a dead tree that has fallen in the front yard, grinding it noisily to mulch. It seems a day for dead things, but all around the time of renewal is upon us. The pink camellia blooms with wild abandon by the garage door, the jonquils have almost faded, the iris that I cannot kill are sending up budding shoots in the woods where I tossed them out of the flower bed. Later, showered and dressed for dinner and dancing, my husband and I chat in the car.

“What do you think it died from,” he quizzes once again.

“I don’t know, could have been so many things. I guess we were his family even though we didn’t realize it. I will say one thing though, I am glad it had a warm safe place to lie down when the time came. I’m glad we could give him that, at least.” We are both quiet for a while but I read his mind, both of us thinking about the animals that have come and gone in our lives, and our own lives, as we have surely passed our middle age marker.

“Yes,” he says, “Me too.”

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Old Rag

Posted by on Sep 7, 2007 in All things natural, Spirit | 0 comments

It is already one PM when we get to the ranger station near White Oak Canyon, the morning squandered with chores, errands, packing and driving. The nice ranger behind the counter gives us the lowdown on what to expect from the mountain and the wilderness. We had already lied boldfaced to lady at the entrance to Skyline Drive when she asked us if we had rope to hang our food ten feet off the ground, but that was before we narrowly avoided hitting a young black bear that leaped across our path on the way up the road. We listened very seriously to the graybeard at the information center, trying to ask the right questions and get the answers that would keep us alive for the next few days. He kept focusing on how strenuous a journey we have picked. My girl chants optimistically, ”No problem mom, we can do it.” I turn to the cheerful man and say,

“She thinks I’m her age.” He smiles, but informs me, dead serious,

“If you make that climb, you are her age.” Even though a knot of fear and dread settled right between my shoulder blades, I knew from that minute on the mountain was mine.

We are both extremely thirsty, and know we have forgotten the camera, but when we head to the adjoining store we ignore a wall of photo equipment and glass cases of liquid in favor of spending thirty dollars on bear deterrents. Money well spent it turns out, but a bit myopic. A short drive brings us to the parking lot our friendly ranger has designated, and with weighty packs strapped somewhat comfortably on our bodies, we head off the eight or so miles to find a camp site. About a mile down the road I realized I have left our friend Jack Daniels in the back seat of the car. Knowing that medical emergencies might arise, it was an easy decision to sit my pack down for my girl to watch and jog back to the car. It was a long sweaty walk with full gear the rest of the way. My water was low, so I tried to conserve, although I felt myself becoming lightheaded and clumsy. The fire road we traveled through the still woods was beautiful and devoid of humans up until the moment my girl asked for me to get some snacks out of her backpack. Lifting my arms up to the top pocket, I found my head spinning and could not keep my footing. No one was more surprised than me when I found myself on the ground, struggling to lift the weight of my backpack and body off the gravel. Out of nowhere a man and his son came up behind and offered to help. I now know what superpower I want, teleportation, because if I could have, I would have vanished right before their eyes instead of lying there flailing my ineffectual arms and legs in the air like a turtle. When I unfastened the pack and stood up, the helpful man tried to lift it from the ground. I saw a flash of respect cross his face when he felt the weight of what I carried.

“Well, no wonder,” he said, leaving the pack where it lay. I shouldered it quickly, drank the rest of my water, and discharged him as rapidly as possible. When he passed from sight I checked the place that hurt, my left arm, and discovered I had a startling lump that projected about three inches, giving the appearance of another elbow forming right above my more familiar one. Eva asked if it was broken, and I quickly took stock. No, not enough pain for that, just a bit of trauma that will later become a flat fantastically colored bruise to compete with the others I am to acquire in the next few days, but I get ahead of my story.

We heard the sound of swift running water before we took the turn that brought us to the river. Thirsty and hot, the site looked like paradise. Under the shade of ancient trees was a bit of soft earth only requiring the removal and shifting of 5 or 6 fallen trees to make enough room for the tent. As few rocky steps took us down to the water, where we sat on a flat boulder, beside a natural pool, to filter desperately needed water. Three quarts later I am back in my right mind and ready to organize the campsite. My girl is as good a woodsman as I, with youth and strength on her side, so with a surge of pride I finally stepped aside and let her take charge. I started looking for a likely limb where our newly purchased rope could be attached. The problem with old growth forest is finding a branch low enough to the ground and strong enough to serve our purpose. With trepidation I finally lassoed one that was marginal at best, but tired and hungry, I decided it would do. Eva called me for dinner, a warming chickpea and sprout curry over rice made with the assistance of our newly purchased pocket sized propane cooker. Camp cleaned and food stowed in the trees, we were both sound asleep before dark was fully upon us. Several hours later we woke to the sound of a crash that cut through the constant throbbing of insect and amphibians, but neither of us named the terror that bears might be in our campsite. I lay there hardly breathing or moving for hours, listening for every tale tell sound of possible scratching or snorting, trying to plan out strategy for fending them off. My heart stopped briefly when I heard a faint rumbling noise until I realized it was the deep slow breathing of my girl’s contented sleep. Soon exhaustion overtook me and I slept, albeit fitfully, until first light.

When I stuck my head out of the tent the next morning a ranger was emerging from the jeep that was parked on the fire road 100 feet away. I ducked back inside and told her to give me a minute to put my pants on. “Works for me”, came the cheery reply. She checked our permit, our intentions, and finally the food bag, happily intact. “Pretty flimsy branch, that”, she quipped in a Minnesota accent. I told her our plans to leave tent and packs behind and hike the mountain. She looked me up and down. “Good luck”, came the skeptical retort. I added her unspoken warning to my considerable stockpile of anxiety. Several hours later, fortified with gallons of water, instant coffee, and Cliff bars, we headed toward the trailhead. Deer moved soundlessly through the trees on the gentle slope upward. Soon the ground turned rocky and much steeper. Other hikers, both novice and experienced, mingle with us on the upward spiral, sometimes passing us, sometimes waiting at the next switchback. Although the predominate age range is 20 to 30 and English the dominant language, there are children, people who look close to my age, languages I cannot identify, and one smiling Japanese family with sturdy wooden hiking sticks. I remember the father especially. Later on the path, his was the proffered hand I took gratefully as I scaled a slippery ten-foot wall of rock. I do not know who boosted my left foot up from below as my right one clung to a quarter inch depression in the wall. I only know it was a friend, one of many I would make before the day was over.

“This is the push me pull me section,” the ranger had said, as he marked the mile long rock scramble on our map back in the air conditioned visitors center. I finally understood what he meant as I squeezed through a two-foot crevice between two enormous boulders and found the only way out of a 20-foot hole was up another sheer precipice. This time there was a discernable foothold; only it was six feet up the wall and there was absolutely no purchase for a hand once the foot was there. This was the moment the bread I cast on the water those many years I spent as a scout leader came back to feed me. Chris, a strapping lad not a day over 19, an Eagle scout, got down on one knee and told me to put my foot on his leg. I protested, I pleaded, I cursed, but Chris just stood there, solid as the mountain, patiently repeating, “Yes you can,” and I did. Another hand from above reached down for mine, and I lunged my body up and over the top. I turned to him after and asked if that was the worse spot. “No,” came the honest reply I did not want to hear.

We ate our Builder bars and little boxes of soup in the rarified air of the first false summit, me believing that finally the worse was over. I was wrong. The little blue trail blazes kept pointing at sheer drops, wide gaps that must be leaped, areas where navigation was done horizontally with feet and hands braced against the ancient stone. By the end of the day I had forced my body to do things I did not believe were possible at any age. My girl and I came down the other side feeling that we had conquered the world. The trip had taken only 6 hours, covered a distance of 7 miles up and down the mountain, plus the three mile trek back to the camp site. We were battered, bruised, exhausted, and exhilarated. I pulled my shoes off and headed down to the river where Eva was already sitting on the flat rock with the water filter. After a day and night of death defying challenge, I wasn’t expecting the tiny stone that caught my toenail, ripping it from its foundation. I felt a wave of nausea wash over me as I looked at the damage. My girl and I took stock of our options. It was after 4, dark would come in a bit over three hours and we were about that far from the car, only tired already, hungry, and now, injured. Eva had twisted her ankle on one drop and had been nursing that foot down the mountain. I told her to wait until morning and hope the ranger came by again. She felt strongly that we should try to get out tonight and decided to walk to the parking lot and get the car, so she could move it to the nearer to our camp. We agreed it would be easier to think on full stomachs, so we put off the decision until after dinner.

It would have been easier to hike the three miles than to wait for her return. I organized the camp, packed what I could, and then lay down in the tent. I fell asleep almost immediately, and woke with a start to find her still gone and the sky pitch dark. I have no idea how long I waited, listening for bears, second guessing my foolishness in letting her leave alone, but when I heard a panicked voice yell “Mom” through the dark, my heart leap with joy. I opened the tent flap and saw her kneeling there, dripping sweat, her breath coming in big raspy gulps. “Sit down honey,” I pleaded. “No,” she gasped. We have to go. I saw a bear, not ten feet in front of me. I screamed and it ran, and I ran. Pack, now.” She starts stuffing everything randomly into the backpacks telling me she’ll carry everything, but we have to leave. There is no arguing with her determination, so I draw shoes and socks over my injured toe as she flattens and packs the tent. I am able to carry my own pack along the 2 mile path and we talk at the top of our lungs and laugh like lunatics, no doubt sending bears scurrying up trees along the way. She tells me of getting a ride with strangers from DC who drove her around for an hour and a half to find the car, and she tells me over and over of her terrifying encounter. She can’t wait for me to close the door of the car and doesn’t care to check the map to see where we’re going. She just wants me to drive in any direction as long as it’s away from here. A half hour later, about the time we see the sign for Charlottesville, we are already planning our next trip to the big woods.

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Purebred American Mongrel Music

Posted by on Mar 8, 2007 in All things natural, Spirit | 0 comments

I will put a disclaimer on this right up front. My musical taste is eclectic, which anyone who picks up my ipod soon discovers. The theme that runs through my selections is quality, be it Bach or Blues, Hip-Hop or Rock. Last night my feet were tapping to some excellent unadulterated Americana in the center of the universe, Ashland, Virginia. Page Wilson played with Reckless Abandon, which is the name of the band and their style, or so it seems. Like most things that look spontaneous and simple, be it gymnastics or a great jump shot, you know talent, years of practice, and loving dedication are required to make it seem so sweet and pure.

Page always starts his performances with a song he wrote about Virginia. Out in the parking lot between sets I told him the song always brings a tear to my eye, even though I’m from Kentucky. He seemed surprised, but later several big men standing around me admitted they had the same reaction to the words. I understand the craft of writing well enough to know he’s not just acting modest. When people tell me they have been deeply touched by stories I write, my first reaction is the same. Not seeing the genius of your own work supports the theory a lot of people have espoused concerning individuals touched by some artistic muse. In reality the more accurate interpretation is the ninety-nine percent perspiration one puts into these things eclipses the product.

I never really enjoy the meals I cook, even if one or more of my guests proposes that I should go into the culinary business after they eat at my table. I suppose it’s the perspective, because I can come back to an old piece of written work and find the good and bad in it in minutes. Page may be playing it so often he’s quit listening and is really unaware it speaks of a home we all long to come back to, no matter where we were born. Since I couldn’t find the words printed anywhere out there on the web I’m including them here for your reading pleasure. If you are within the sound of WCVE public radio you can listen and judge for yourself next Saturday night.


Many a mile a soul may wonder
To fates and places yet unseen
In the end was just a gamble
At least you chased a few dreams.
You miss the ones that always loved you
No matter whether right or wrong.
Sometimes just a memory
Is all you have to call home.

My home will always be Virginia,
Between the Blue Ridge and Chesapeake Bay
Atlantic to Appalachia, home in my heart always.

Some of us are meant to ramble
Some for staying at home
Hopefully everyone here
Will find some place they belong
So shed no tears at life’s passing
Know the best is yet to come
Find the peace everlasting
Was peace of mind all along.

My home will always be Virginia,
Between the Blue Ridge and Chesapeake Bay
And I’ll always be Virginian, born free to live out my days

My home will always be Virginia,
Between the Blue Ridge and Chesapeake Bay
Atlantic to Appalachia, home in my heart always.
You know I make my home in Virginia,
Between the Blue Ridge and Chesapeake Bay
And when this earthly ramble is over,
My soul will find peace there always.
The home in my heart is Virginia

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Posted by on Jan 7, 2007 in All things natural, Spirit | 0 comments

The moon is slightly off round tonight, and the color of a summer peach, resting lopsided on the dark horizon. A few grey clouds lie wispy across the pocked surface as I drive home in darkness. The man in the cream sedan beside me at the intersection is confused. He thinks I want to race because I left him at the last light. He had his window down, smoking, and smirking at me at the next stop. I cannot see him for the moon that follows me about the earth, ripe and ready to burst. I let him roar ahead, expending gas and pride at three times the rate necessary to beat me. This morning the sun was in a rush and pushed all the believers in it’s path, but the moon is ignorant of time, and hurries no one. Some mornings it doesn’t even bother to hide from the sun, but sits pale and breathless in the dawn until the sun lodges a protest to whatever powers run the sky. The moon only laughs at them and comes and goes as it pleases, changing shape and size in a joking way, teasing little children and lonely wolves.

The man waits for me at the next light, a cool white line of smoke trailing out the window and rising in curls before it disappears over the roofline. The light changes to green as I approach. There is no traffic ahead of me. I sail silently past him and leave him there behind a truck. The moon and I do not change our expression, but inside we are gleeful at our joke

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A Place in the Sun

Posted by on Jan 7, 2007 in All things natural, Spirit | 0 comments

About 10 years ago when I worked at the middle school there was a child I’ll call Emily who intrigued me. She was autistic, but like a lot of special needs children, she had physical and mental problems that overshadowed that issue. She was about 12 at the time, and had what would have been a beautiful face had she not had a deformity in one of her eyes and that certain look of wrongness about her demeanor. Still, Emily was a treasure to us, and certainly to her parents. She was slim and dark and loved clothes and hats. One day she came to school wearing a picture hat with a brim sloped to one side to disguise the issue with her eye. Of course, hats were not allowed in school, but no one even suggested to Emily that she should remove it. The theory on MR children currently is inclusion in regular classes, so Emily and I were on our way to art. She looked forward to the class and was always kindly received by the “normal” group of students. Emily turned her good eye toward me, twisting her head all the way around. She tugged at my arm impatiently and said, “Sing”. I knew the song she wanted, her favorite; I’ve got no strings from Disney’s Pinocchio.

I’ve got no strings

to hold me down

to make me fret, or make me frown

I had strings

But now I’m free

There are no strings on me

I’ve got no strings

So I have fun

I’m not tied up to anyone

They’ve got strings

But you can see

There are no strings on me.

Emily sang the “got no strings part”, but she could never quite memorize the rest of the words. She held her arms in the air and danced down the hall joyful and delighted to show she had no strings. Emily had certain savant talents, like knowing all the names of coins and the names of the people whose faces were embossed on them. I once brought some French money to class and she spent hours looking it over and asking the names of the denominations and the people. I had to do research to find out who they were, but by the end of the day she was saying all the words correctly, and even though I no longer remember them, I’m sure Emily could name them all right now if they were put in front of her.

We made a grand entrance into art class with Emily’s hat set roguishly on her black curls. The teacher insisted that he capture her beautiful chapeau and sat down to make a quick sketch. Emily held onto the black and white page while the rest of the students got ready for a field trip to the wetlands behind the school. They had sketchpads in hand to capture the best of still life but Emily refused and held firmly to her treasure. When the class headed out the door Emily became overwhelmed at the unexpected turn of events.

“Spit,” she said, turning to me with a puzzled look.

“No,” I said, “Emily does not spit, that’s right.” Of course, Emily used to spit when she was mad or upset, but she has the word now and is able to refrain from the activity. I told Emily where we were going and what we were going to do again, just like I had before we had left the special needs room. Emily seemed to recognize the relationship between my story and the actions and settled peacefully into the line of children.

“Trees,” said the teacher with an obvious flourish of his hand to the surroundings. “I want you to find one you like and make a rubbing of the bark and leaves, then we will fill in the picture when we get back into the class room.” He illustrated the skill on a nearby shagbark hickory, his favorite. Everyone took their lead pencils and papers and rushed off to find a tree. I turned to Emily and asked her what tree she would like. She took my hand and pulled me back the way we had come.

“No, Emily, We have to find a tree.” She tugged harder and I decided to follow. Emily marched to her own drummer and we had learned to let her head her band of one when no harm seems to come of doing so. I soon realized what she was headed for. There was an oak right off the path that had been bent into an odd shape by some unknown force early in its life. Although it stood as high as the others, the trunk actually took a right angle turn, then another, making a tiny space that could serve as a seat for someone as small as Emily if she got a boost up high.

“Tree.” Said Emily and I smiled and clapped my hands.

“Wonderful,” I said, “the perfect tree.” She turned her back to the seat and I lifted her feather light frame onto the roost. She sat there for the rest of the class time, watching the others in the distance and repeating,

“Tree!” from time to time. I made a rubbing for her on the extra paper I brought, but Emily refused to help with the drawing. She still clutched her hat picture and fluttered it through the air occasionally. When it was time to leave I wondered if I would have trouble getting Emily to follow the class. They started filing by in twos and threes, each expressing delight in Emily’s cleverness in finding such a great tree. The teacher saw Emily sitting there and acted wildly surprised, even though he had spotted her long before.

“Did you fly up there Emily,” he teased? Emily said,

“Strings” and waved her arms in the air. We all laughed at her joke. The teacher told her we were going back inside to color her picture as he swung her down from her seat.

“Strings” Emily said again, and I realized she just wanted her traveling song, although I always suspected that she understood much more than she let on.

I glanced back at the tree as we walked away singing. It did not ask to be twisted and malformed, but it had managed to accommodate its life comfortably to the circumstances of its situation. I thought of the tree farms with perfect white pines growing in straight rows, all of them identical. Emily’s sweet monotone voice sang out, “got no strings” over and over. Her hat sat firmly askew on her head and her arms waved in the air like they had been newly released from bondage. I came up beside her and put my arm around her shoulders. She stopped singing and looked up at me with one beautiful blue eye. She was holding something in her hand.

“George Washington” she said, showing me her quarter.

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Cat Zen

Posted by on Dec 7, 2006 in All things natural, Just for laughs | 0 comments

I was first compelled to come to terms with my irrational hatred of cats in August of 1981 in a scorching blacktop parking lot. Before that day I had accepted the religious principal, taught by my parents, that these small furry creatures were the spawn of the devil. My mother disliked them for mostly sanitary reasons, which I can understand when I vacuum their fluffy discards from the carpet, sofa, walls and drapes, but Dad was a true believer. In fact, other than dogs, which he saw as having a utilitarian purpose, no creature, whether fish, bird, turtle, snake, raccoon, gopher, or cat was safe from his absolute domination. He often related an anecdote from his childhood about a male boarder in his mother’s house, whose hatred of cats was equal to his own. The man came home late one evening, and not wanting to wake anyone, entered his room in the dark. He saw a black shape by the door and hissed, “Scat, cat!” The cat sat immobile through his verbal warning not once, but twice. Angry, he pulled back his bare foot and kicked the poor cat with all his might. The whole house was awakened by his expletives and cries of agony. The shape turned out to be a metal flat iron, instead of the stray tabby he was expecting.

The obvious karma of the incident was lost on my Dad, and no explanation was ever offered for the family abhorrence of cats. I do not recall ever questioning my parent’s rationale on the subject until that hot August day. A tiny orange kitten was mewing pitifully on the asphalt, hopping from foot to foot in pain. I felt a pang of guilt, but might have walked away if the cat had not taken action. I was dumbfounded when he quickly jumped into my open car door and settled down comfortably with the groceries on the back seat. I realize now another motorist, too cruel or lazy to take responsibility for his life, must have recently dumped him from their car. Knowing my feelings, my family was speechless when I walked into the house cradling the purring kitten. I told them what happened and explained that I would find someone to take him, but he was definitely not staying at our house. After a few weeks, I named him Doo-wah, as in doo-wha, doo-wha, doo-wha, ditty, and often sang that little song to him for his amusement

As all cat owners know, once a cat is in your house they send out some sort of signal to every other homeless cat within 30 miles, that this is the place. Soon we had cats in every room and sitting by any door we exited. My husband and children were delighted, but I was still a bit reserved. I fed them, cleaned litter boxes, and took them all to the vet, but held back from real love until Sam came to live with us about 5 years later. He was a black and white Sylvester of a cat, possibly a Maine Coon by species, as laid back and affectionate as a big dog. Eva dressed him in doll clothes and hats; he slept in someone’s bed at night, even mine at times, and became a member of our family. We never had the heart to get him neutered, as he seemed to get such joy in going out from time to time to party. He always returned in fine spirits and I saw no harm then in procreation, imagining the wonderful sons and daughters he would have. When he didn’t return one morning we searched for him for weeks and months. We adopted another scrawny, bedraggled tomcat, because he bore a resemblance to Sam, but I still grieve for my favorite who never returned. We even took in a local barn cat on the belief, probably mistaken, that he could have been Sam’s child or grandchild. All subsequent cats have taken a quick trip to the vet to prevent a repeat of the tendency to roam.

Eva left her beautiful cats with us when she moved to England and I must admit, I love them dearly. They are doggie sorts of cats, affectionate and happy to see me in the evening when I come home. Our emaciated Sam look-alike grew fat and happy, and was dubbed Tuxedo Mask by our then Sailor Moon obsessed daughter. She also gave moon cartoon names to her cats, Luna and Artemis. Only two others are left from our original collection, Sweetie and Mootsie, and they live downstairs, because of socialization issues. My husband is never content with the true name of any animal, and prefers to call them by his own nicknames. It leads to a great deal of confusion for guests polite enough to inquire about the name of a cat, rather like tracking characters in a Russian novel. Our visitors no longer include people with allergies, and I do hate the eternal litter box, not to mention the hairball hacking issue, but overall, cats bring a peace and companionship to our lives. Thinking back over our dog years, I must admit I much prefer the cats that share our home. They are undemanding, always giving more than they take, and we never have problems with mice or crickets.

I never discussed my enjoyment of cats with my parents. Like so many issues, we have an unspoken contract, written in the blood battles of my youth, to keep quiet about matters when we disagree. When Mom was alive we stuck to stuck to safe topics, avoiding religion, politics, and cats, along with an assortment of minor subtexts. I like to think I have many of my Mother’s better qualities, but sometimes when I sit with a purring cat on my lap I am sorry for her inability to relax and enjoy life more. She could have benefited from the lessons I have learned from my cats. They taught me to be curious, to be playful, and not to miss meals. That since an immaculate home is not practical or possible, a house should be interesting and inviting. That naps during the day are quite refreshing. That you should show strangers that you like them, and if they ignore you, be persistent. Maybe they’ll get the message, and learn to relax and laugh. If not, at least you will amuse yourself.

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