When I was growing up Mama would not let us have a pet.
My sister Lynda really wanted a pet. Once when she was walking by Todd's Florist she spied a little grey kitten in the window. She went into the store and asked if she could have it and they gave it to her. Mama wouldn’t let her keep it.
Another time Lynda tied her hair ribbon around a stray cat’s collar and dragged it home – she told Mama that it had followed her. Mama was firm. No pets.
So, years later, that memory of Lynda wanting a pet kicked in when my aunt found an orphaned litter of kittens and offered Karen and Robin each one. “Mama please – can’t we have them. Please. They are free. They don’t cost anything. Please Mama. Can’t we? Can’t we please.”
I don’t know what I was thinking – but I gave in and we took the kittens. One was a grey mix and one was sort of a calico. We named the grey cat – Grey and the calico was called Popcorn.
I knew nothing about cats. I had no idea that once they are old enough they mate quickly and reproduce within forty-five days. First thing we knew they were both pregnant and we were giving away kittens. The girls were ecstatic. They each kept one of the new kittens.
It became almost Biblical:
Grey begat Tricie and Popcorn begat Bing-Bing and the before we turned around – Trixie and Popcorn and Bing-bing began begatting. It was snowballing
Once we had two females deliver at one time. One cat had four babies and the other had five. Jim and I put each mother cat in a separate brown card board box and moved them into our bedroom for safe keeping.
One morning I heard some sounds from the direction of the boxes. I looked over to see the four-kitten mother stepping back into her box with one of the other cat's kittens held gently in her mouth. She dropped the kitten into her box and stepped in to nurse the five. Go figure. She wanted to have as many babes as that other mother.
I am embarrassed to admit it. At one time we had 23 cats. It was absurd. No, it was crazy.
It was not easy but we finally whittled down to one cat. His name was Sammy. He was a big cat – with long grey fur - a mixed breed with a lot of Persian.
And our one-cat life was fine – just fine for several years - until the cold and rainy night my cousin Tom found a stray kitten huddled near the gas pump in a filling station. He stopped by our house with a heart-rending story about this pathetic kitten who had been freezing to death and he had thought at once of me and my kind heart and he knew I would never forgive him if he did not bring it to me. The “no” was on my lips but he turned on his familiar charm – the same charm I had been a sucker for since we were kids. I rescued the cat. If we named it I don’t remember it.
Not long after we took in Tom’s cat my mother and my sister came for a visit. First,let me fill you in about my youngest sister. Mama and I were pregnant at the same time - Dena is six weeks older than my daughter Karen. Same parents – big surprise.
One afternoon I heard Dena saying, “Please mama, Please. I will take care of it”
A pause and then, “please let me take the cat home. Karen said Ellouise would let me have it.”
I could not help it - I remembered Lynda – and Mama’s rule about not having pets –
and then - I heard my mother saying,
"Oh, all right, you can take the cat home."
I could hardly believe my ears. What had happened to Mama's no pet rule?
I did not say anything about that to Mama – I wanted Dena to take the cat - – just like my aunt had wanted me to take two kittens off her hands.
Now that might have been the end of the story except Mama called me a week after she got home ", this is a female cat - -
You gave me a pregnant female cat."
That cat delivered five kittens. One, a smokey grey long hair gave away Sam as the father.
Several days after they were born the mother cat slipped out the back door and she did not come back. Mama drove around until she found the cat - dead in a gutter on near-by Scott Avenue. She had been hit by a car.
This left my Mama, Daddy and Dena with five little orphan-kittens - - hungry and helpless. What to do?
I have to tell you, my mother is very resourceful and she really shines in a crisis. Mama went to Eckerds Drugstore and bought some baby doll baby bottles and a soft silky new-baby hair brush. They fed the kittens from the teeny tiny plastic baby doll bottles. - Mama remembers, "we sat there feeding them, you could see their little stomachs fill up.”
Then mama mixed up buckets of warm soapy water – using “no-more tears baby shampoo” and they dipped each kitten in the warm water bath - one of us dipped and one us would hold the hair dryer while the other one brushed them with the silky new-baby brush.
Just like we had seen the mother cats lick their babies with their soft pink tongues, cleaning them and loving them. The kittens thrived.
It was amazing but true - Mama was smitten with two of the kittens – a calico and a grey long hair. She could not choose between them. She told my sister Kathy, “I guess I will keep them both”
“Mama you can’t do that. The calico is a female and the grey is a male. They will have kittens.”
“Kathy don’t be silly. They wouldn’t do that. They are brother and sister.”
Mama – they don’t know that!”
My sister Kathy took the gray cat to Georgia and they named her Smoke.
Mama found homes for the others and they kept the calico.
Not long ago Mama was talking about that kitten.
“He was so pretty --- different
That's what we liked about him. We named him Mainard.
But you know something, Ellouise.
Mainard never made a sound. He could not Meow.
I mean, I did everything. I did everything but I could not teach him to Meow. I guess he needed his cat mother for that."
“He was the best pet we ever had.”
“ Mama. That cat was the only pet you ever had.”
“ Maybe so.”
(copyright e schoettler 2002)