It’s been a few years since my dear wife Karen and I had a cat around the Little Bitty. RIP, dear Puffy and Toby. Take it away, Sunday guest columnist Paul, to handle the subject of the furry feline pets. Don’t get any ideas, Karen.
Welcome to the weekly coffee and tea garden. My name is Paul, I’ll be your barista today and I’m happy to be here at Mark Bialczak’s Little Bitty in Syracuse, New York. Please come in and go through to the living room. Mark, his wife Karen and their pooch Ellie B, have prepared a nice, warm, comfy place for us so I can tend to your needs for a cuppa, and sweets. The weather this morning is cloudy with a high just over 65 F. As usual, I’d be pleased to bring a pot of whatever beverage you prefer – we have a wide range of teas and coffees to satisfy our worldwide readership and adult beverages for those who wish something stronger. We can relax with a cuppa in the air conditioning while we discuss the affairs of the week both personal and/or worldwide. Ellie likes to be patted, so please indulge her when she greets you. How has your week been? Have a piece of cake (or any of the sweets on the next table) – electronic sweets are all calorie-free!
Some years ago, my wife and I had a couple of feline companions. This is a snapshot of living with cats. In the beginning there was Valerie, and it was good. Valerie was a pure white female cat of considerable intelligence – she would have traveled well with Plato or Socrates. She was that kind of cat – often observed staring off into space in deep thought. Our young daughter had run home filled with excitement one hot summer day to report that the neighbor’s cat had just had kittens – “And we REALLY, REALLY, need a kitten can we have one please, please, please, please, with a cherry on top?” And so nine weeks later Valerie arrived at the house, guaranteed more love and affection than she could comfortably absorb – which led to her seeking out hiding places.
She exhibited her ability to think early in her life, and we had to modify some of our behavior – such as always keeping the linen and towels in the closet with the door tightly closed or risk finding her asleep on a pile of clean towels. When Valerie grew to be a young cat, the inevitable debate occurred of whether she should be allowed to have kittens.
The vet really did not want her to reproduce, but my wife and I thought it would be a great learning experience for the kids if she had one litter before being spade, and so it came to be. She had a litter of six, and they took over our lives. Neither my wife nor I believed in closing animals into a fixed space, so Valerie and her offspring wandered the house. She would carry the kittens by the scuff and play a complex game of hide and seek – one never knew where one would find a kitten. One night I woke to a scrambling in the bottom drawer of my chest of drawers. I whipped open the drawer worried about mice (Ha! As if) and found myself staring at six kittens comfortably ensconced on my scarves and pants. Valerie had discovered that there was a space behind the chest where she could access the drawer from the rear, and being a thinking cat came to the conclusion that her little family would be safe there. And so they grew.
At nine weeks, I found a pet store that would take the kittens and set off with a carrier full. My cell phone rang en route, and my wife told me to turn around, that our little girl was crying her eyes out and wanted one kitten to stay, given they could not all stay. She chose a pure black kitten – genetics is amazing – which promptly attached itself to our son and followed him around everywhere. Given it was always behind him and was jet black he named the kitten Shadow.
Shadow was not smart. In fact I often thought that Valerie deliberately teased him because he wasn’t too bright – lying in wait on a chair until Shadow passed under and then reaching down and beating him about the head with her paws. But Shadow had a redeeming talent – he was a hunter extraordinaire. Both cats wandered outside when they wished. He always amazed me with his talents, and after a few months he could out-hunt even his mother. This would be his undoing.
Would you like another cuppa? Perhaps a sweet? Meanwhile Valerie continued to outthink me and cause trouble. We had a retired Venezuelan woman – Carmen – who came to get the kids off to school and then kept them after school until my wife or I got home. Carmen was a wonderful woman but not shy to express herself. So one morning before I had my coffee, I was standing in the upstairs hallway with just my pants on staring into the linen closet preparing to choose a towel so I could go shower. Valerie had heard the door open and she had arrived shortly thereafter to sit beside me and stare into the closet, dreaming of which pile of sheets or towels would make the softest bed if she ever got a chance. Valerie cut a big fart and it stank to the high heavens. At exactly that moment Carmen walked by behind us. She turned to me in disgust and said: “Paul, that is rude!” Flabbergasted at the misunderstanding and eager to straighten it out, I immediately replied: “Oh, no Carmen, that wasn’t me it was Valerie.” If it was possible, Carmen was even more disgusted: “Don’t you blame that poor little cat, Paul. She is God’s gift to us.” At which point she snorted in disgust and stomped away. I looked down at Valerie, who had caused this unpleasant conversation before my morning coffee and she looked up at me and I swear God’s gift smiled. Sigh, out maneuvered in my own house by my own cat. And so it was with Valerie.
Now Shadow was not nearly smart enough to have executed such a maneuver. That said, he was always on the hunt. Whenever he went out he would reappear at the door with a present for us – a dead mouse or a snake or a bird. Valerie had made peace with the yard animals, and I had often seen them hop, walk, fly, bounce past her nose while she slept under the hedge completely oblivious. Sometimes she would open one eye, then close it again and go back to sleep. Not so Shadow – no creature was safe when he was out on the hunt.
Then it happened. One fine summer Sunday morning I was sitting at the kitchen table with my morning coffee and the paper when a shrill scream resounded through the open window and the screen door. It stopped as soon as it started and I peeked out but could not see anything unusual and could hear no further noise, so I went back to my paper when there was a loud banging at our front door. I opened it and our female neighbor was standing there hysterical. She was babbling on about the devil’s work and the cat from hell. I got her calmed down and she insisted that I come over to her backyard – the scene of the crime. She had built a large wooden deck on the back of the house and it was about 36 inches off the ground. It had a wooden railing all around and she had attached a bird feeder to the railing. Apparently she would sit out in the sun on her deck and have her morning tea and watch the birds come and feed. Well just recently a pair of white doves had started coming regularly. It being Sunday morning – the day of the Lord – she was particularly chuffed when the doves showed up at her feeder while she was drinking her tea. As she was watching with rapt attention and glowing at the thought of these birds of peace visiting her on the Lord’s Day, there arose from the deepest bowels of hell, surely smelling of flames and brimstone, a black Devil’s cat which, in the blink of an eye, leapt from the ground up six feet in the air to the bird feeder on the rail, grabbed one of the pure white doves of peace and disappeared back into its hellish lair surely to sup with Satan. Or so she told the story.
This of course was my fault for allowing that agent of the Devil free rein to murder the white doves of peace. Shadow. No doubt, making my life interesting again. Sigh. I apologized profusely for Shadow’s behavior and promised that I would get some anti-cat spray for her porch as soon as the vet opened. After placating the neighbor, I visited the vet’s that afternoon and my wallet took a huge hit for the spray that he said would do the trick and keep the hell cat out of the neighbor’s yard. I presented her with the spray and apologized again. As for Shadow – what could I do but lecture him sternly while he stared at me uncomprehendingly? Now if he were as smart as his mother I know he would have understood.
That’s about all we have room for this week folks, so it’s time to settle in with another cuppa and pat Ellie B. Sweets anyone? Please join me in thanking Mark, Karen and Ellie B for their invitation to tea. We are all honored that you dropped by today to visit. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and the conversation and please look around at Mark’s other posts while you’re here. Have a great week.