The orange sun was slowly setting behind the woods across the road from our farm. I stood beside a strawberry patch as my mother picked berries. I looked forward to a bowl of them with sweetened cream. With a sound of disgust, Mom held up a big red berry with a large hole made by a bird’s beak.
Preparing for the night, all the spring birds in our yard sang their last melodies for the day as they foraged for bedtime snacks. I looked up as a large, orange-bellied bird landed on a cherry tree next to the strawberry patch. The bird opened its beak and threw back its head, letting out a clear, warbling song.
The sound reminded me of swiftly flowing water. Hearing it made me feel a full measure of joy and sadness at the same time. At the end of the song, the bird made several demanding clucks.
Mom watched the bird from where she knelt in the berry patch. As it ended its heart-moving performance, she scoffed, “There’s our berry-pecking culprit!” The bird made more clucking sounds. Mom added indignantly, “Listen to that robin. He’s laughing at us!”
Staring up at the colorful, sassy bird, I memorized the bird’s name, appearance and sounds. In my mind I could completely believe Mom when she said that the greedy, berry-wrecking robin was laughing at us. I could tell he had a full belly and felt happy.
On warm spring evenings whenever I hear robin’s sing, I am instantly transported back to my mother’s cherry and berry garden. With an indulgent smile I repeat my mother’s words, “That robin is laughing at us.”
I don’t know if Mom was an exceptionally gifted story teller, or if my mind was an exceptionally fertile place for stories to take root. I could always imagine what she described as if I was there. The stories Mom told were never made-up stories, they were the stuff and matter of everyday life from her past and present.
Mom liked to repeat several stories. I never wearied of them. When she was still young, I often asked questions to clarify certain points. After Mom reached a certain age, she no longer recalled new details.
Favorite stories my mother told the most often were about the time her brother was kicked in the head by a work horse, her struggle to learn English and how she once had a cat that could talk.
Some people dislike hearing family members retell the same stories over and over. They roll their eyes. As my mother aged, I found her retold stories precious and sweet.
My mother spent only two weeks in a nursing home near the end of her life. One afternoon a week before she died, she wasn’t in her room when I dropped in for a visit. I found her in the physical therapy gym, telling the young therapist about her talking cat. I was touched by her sweet innocence.
With the purity of a small child I heard Mom declare, “I once had a cat that could talk. One time it wanted to go outside, but no one was paying attention, so it cried in a loud voice, ‘Let me out!’”
I mentally title that story as, “Squeaker, Mom’s Talking Cat” and remember it fondly.
Mom and her young brothers and sisters sat around their kitchen table. They excitedly chattered in English over coffee cake fresh from the oven. No one paid attention to their old calico cat named Squeaker as she weaved around and between their legs.
The nuns at school had forbidden students to speak German. During the school day they were to speak only English. But when at home, in the evenings and on weekends, their Ma demanded they speak only German. Mom suspected that her Ma didn’t want them saying things she didn’t understand. They were caught in the middle of a language tug of war.
Ma was out of the house for a few hours that morning visiting a neighbor. Taking advantage of their free time, the siblings enjoyed practicing their English, the verboten language! No one noticed the cat as she went to stand by the back door, politely meowing in her squeaky voice.
The cat’s need to go outdoors became urgent. Finally, in a loud, horrible voice she cried, “LETMEEEEOWT!” The brothers and sisters heard the cat speak three words that were undeniably English, “Let Me Out!” My Mom jumped to her feet and opened the door. They were amazed! Not only did their family cat talk, but it spoke English!
Curious, I wondered what the phrase, ‘let me out’, sounded like in German. The computer translates it as, “lassen sie mich aussteigen.” That would have been an awfully big mouthful for a cat! No wonder it spoke English!