The familiar chugging sound of Daddy’s Surge vacuum milker engine started in the barn while I was getting a drink of water from the well. Feeling secure because I knew Daddy and my brother were nearby, I turned the well faucet for more water. The late summer afternoon was hot, so pouring water over my legs and arms felt good.
Crossing the driveway between the well and the milk house, I peeked in. The milk house’s back door and barn door were open, so I could see all the way into where the cows were. Their warm, earthy smell wafted out. I loved being in the barn, but decided to wait until the chores were almost done. The sticky heat and flies took all the fun out of being in there this time of year.
It was so warm that afternoon, even the cats didn’t want to be in the barn. Old, gray Mama cat was stretched out on the grassy lawn between the milk house and the barn hill. Gutsy, her orange kitten and Squirmy, her black kitten played nearby. While rubbing Gutzy’s belly, I looked up and noticed Mama cat chewing on a blade of grass.
At nine years of age, I knew that cows ate grass and cats ate kitchen scraps and milk squeezed from the milk can filter. It wasn’t normal for cats to eat grass. Jumping to my feet, I ran across the yard to the house and found Mom. I exclaimed, “Mom! Mama cat is eating grass. What’s wrong with her?” Continue reading
Sister Chantal paced across the front of my seventh-grade classroom listing what assignments she wanted us to complete by the end of the school day. Her pretty young face, framed by her white wimple and black veil, looked thoughtful. Her black habit accentuated her thin body. Only the toes of her small black shoes showed below the hem. “Read the next story in your English book. It’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber. To test your reading comprehension, I will hand out a paper while you are reading. Answer the questions about the story to the best of your abilities.”
I loved reading. Opening my English book, I quickly began mentally absorbing the story. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was about an odd man who couldn’t function properly because he was always daydreaming. His ineptitude made me suffer second-hand embarrassment. I wanted to escape from the uncomfortable situations that resulted from his stupid behavior.
What made me truly hate “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was that I saw myself being like him. I daydreamed more than I thought I should. Did I act weird because of my daydreams? I shuddered and fervently hoped I didn’t.
Staring at the floor next to my desk, I pictured Sister Chantal announcing, “Kathy, I already know you have good reading comprehension, so you don’t have to do this assignment. I’ll have you hand out the test papers.”
Sighing, I went back to reading the story. Walter Mitty seemed crazy. Did that make me crazy, too? Continue reading
I pulled a picture from a box containing photos from the 1950’s. It showed me and two of my neighborhood cousins sitting on swings Daddy had made under two large cottonwood trees near the barn. I looked to be four years of age, which made my cousins four and five years of age. They were wearing shorts and sun tops, but I was in a floor length nightgown that was visibly soiled.
Holding the picture up for my daughter Tammie to see, I exclaimed, “Look at the adorable expressions on our faces. This must be one of the first times we played together. I’ll bet their dad Tony came to visit my dad and brought them along.”
Recently I have spent several hours going through childhood pictures, looking for just the right ones to put in the family history book I am writing. A glowing bubble of rosy, happy childhood memories enveloped me as I examined pictures of three-year-old me chasing a small flock of Guinea hens, two-year-old me on my belly watching how a kitty-cat eats and dozens of family line-up pictures. Worries about the pandemic seemed far away and in another world. Continue reading
Impatiently tossing the crochet pattern book aside, I looked at my small cache of yarn. I knew what I wanted to make, but was unable to follow through. I could read and understand the words, but by the pattern’s fourth step, confusion equal to what happened at the Tower of Bable would cloud my mind.
Pulling navy, white and red skeins of yarn closer to myself, I pictured a lap robe with wide crocheted bands of red and navy with a dozen white stars stitched onto it. The trickiest part of my design would be making the stars, but I had an idea. Picking a white skein, I took a strand of the yarn and twisted it around the crochet hook.
A warm, humid early summer afternoon breeze blowing through the living room window made the shear curtains flutter. All day an angry, dark blue sky had been threatening storms. Weather forecasters predicted tornadoes. Worried because I lived in a mobile home, I had the radio on so I could run for cover if there was a local tornado sighting.
I had been alone at home one May evening three years earlier when a tornado came through our mobile home court. Not having listened to the radio that evening, the storm startled me when I heard what sounded like a locomotive train alongside the house. Pulling a curtain aside, all I saw was nightmare-inducing greenish-black air between me and our neighbor’s house. Seconds later, the wind roughly picked up the front end of my house and set it down with a jolt three feet over. Continue reading
The quiet of the house lulled me into peaceful meditation as I worked a needle craft. In the background was the steady hum of the basement dehumidifier. Few cars roared past the house because most people were home by this time of the evening. Without warning, a loud crash came from the entryway. Startled, I put down the yarn and slipped to the edge of the sofa.
“What made that sound?” I wondered. I had become an expert at noticing and identifying household sounds since my husband passed away 12 years ago. This sound wasn’t the well pump over working, it wasn’t a loose fan belt on the furnace, nor a malfunctioning washing machine. Was someone trying to break in?
I had never noticed household sounds when Arnie was alive. He was with me to take care of those things. Even if an intruder were to break in, I knew he was there to protect me. That all changed the first night after he was gone. I had suddenly realized with horror that I was now responsible for everything in my home.
Quietly, I crept through the dining room and peeked into the entryway. My older cat was catloafed on the rug, his paws tucked in and tail tight alongside his body. The younger cat sat upright on the desk. He turned to look at me with large, round, crazed eyes. What was wrong with the cat? Continue reading
Drenched with sweat, Arnie came into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of water. After drinking he said, “I found the place where the rats got into our back porch.”
I shuddered with revulsion. There had been always mice in our old farmhouse, but this summer I discovered badly chewed things in the back porch. My husband had informed me, “That’s the work of rats.” Not willing to accept such a horrible possibility, I set two mouse traps loaded with peanut butter. During the night they both totally disappeared.
I pictured a rat running away from the house wearing them like earrings. The rat trap I next bought was huge. Instead of a small shingle of wood, it was a substantial plank equipped with heavy-duty metal to snap down and kill a large rodent. Before going to bed, I loaded it with a slice of bologna. The next morning, I found a dead rat the size of a two-month-old kitten.
Turning to return to working on the house’s foundation at the back door, my husband apologized, “I’m sorry, but it’s going to take me a couple days to mortar shut the hole I’ve made in the foundation.”
Picturing a swarm of rats invading our home, I yelped, “Arnie, our house will be flooded with vermin! You have to close that hole by tonight!” Continue reading
My large black and white tuxedo cat didn’t look happy. Sure, he still liked to stretch out and snooze in patches of sunshine on my linoleum kitchen floor, but there was a pensiveness and hesitation in his posture when he sat on the back deck. At six-years of age, Flicker was used to spending wonderful, adventure-packed hours along the small river where we had lived up until six weeks ago. My husband Arnie and I had moved Niki and Tammie, our two children and pets to a farm, far away from a river and fallow low lands.
At first, after we’d moved, I was afraid that Flicker would roam away from our new home if we let him out of the house. When I finally relented and let him out, I discovered that he was reluctant to explore our new yard. The last place he wanted to go was to the barn, which was filled with huge, mooing, hoof-clopping cows. Mud found in the barn wasn’t at all like the clean, sweet mud on the river bank, either.
Every cow barn has a colony of cats to reduce the mouse population. Flicker wasn’t interested in making friends with the barn cats. As if just going through the motions, my big black and white cat dutifully made short trips into the oat and corn fields near the house to mouse.
My family lived on the farm for two years. Then, during the month of June, Arnie and I packed up our two children and pets and returned to our old, beloved house on the north bank of the river. A beautiful summer stretched ahead of us.
Picking up old habits as though he’d never stopped, Flicker returned to spending long, leisurely days on the river bank hunting and sunbathing on warm rocks. His eyes looked bright and happy. In the evenings he purred loudly while cuddling with Niki and Tammie. Continue reading
I looked up from the article I was reading on the computer, drawn out of deep concentration by a metallic sound, like cutting wire. Glancing at the office window, I saw two white paws. Jumping to my feet, I ran to the back door.
Louie, a.k.a. ‘The Cat with can opener claws’, lets me know he wants in by getting up on his hind legs, hooking his powerful claws into the office window screen and doing a chin-up to look in at me. The screen is shredded again, although I had replaced it once already.
Pushing the back door open, my large white and black cat silkily slipped into the entryway like liquid mercury. I heard muffled thuds coming from the basement stairwell. Before I could shut the door, a large dark tabby cat appeared in the doorway. Jonah paused for a moment, then streaked across the room and gracefully slipped out the door into the darkening backyard.
The two cat’s fur coats briefly touched as they passed, but with merely a curious passing sniff, they kept moving. Surprised, I exclaimed, “Is it already time for the 9 p.m. cat exchange?” My wrist watch showed that it was fifteen minutes before 9. I shrugged and murmured, “Close enough.” Continue reading
I didn’t turn the light on in the entryway. Soft light escaping from the kitchen and office let me to see enough. Louie, the cat with can-opener-claws wanted in. In the shadows, I could see Jonah, my grumpy tabby cat’s white bib as she crept along the wall.
Thinking I wasn’t coming, Louie impatiently fastened his claws into the office window screen and pulled, further damaging the wires. I threw open the door and yelled, “Louie, you jerk, stop it!”
Snow was falling and cold wind whistled into the house as Louie dashed in. I jeered, “You big baby! I knew you wouldn’t want to be out long on a night light this!” Glancing back at fat Jonah’s dark shadow, I asked, “Well, I know you like being outside more than Louie. Here’s your chance.”
Jonah crouched down and fearfully ran towards the door as if expecting me to kick her. She skidded to a stop at the threshold. Seeing the snow and feeling the cold wind, she backed away. Keeping as far away from me as possible, she returned to the shadows. Continue reading
Leaning back in my desk chair, I took a sip of hot tea and sighed with pleasure. Winter sunshine slanting through the window made my office glow. I faintly heard the peaceful Christmas music of Kenny G and Mannheim Steamroller coming from the dining room stereo. Smiling, I took another sip. I love listening to these instrumentals through mid-January and have joked that they are subliminally Christmas.
Winter-clad goldfinches were busily working over the seeds in the bird feeder outside the office window. Hungry chick-a-dees and nuthatches greedily gobbled from a bag of suet hung nearby. I occasionally heard their squabbling twitters through the window.
An angry meow followed by a low growl made me turn to look at the futon across the room. Shadow, my brainless black and white kitten was trying to capture and bite my older white and black cat Louie’s tail. Addressing the older cat, I sympathized, “That stupid baby just won’t leave you alone, will he?”
Louie gave me a long-suffering stare. He is a mighty adult feline, equipped with can-opener claws, yet all he does when Shadow irritates him is meow angrily and growl. He could easily turn the little jerk of a kitten into strips of rawhide and dried meat snacks, but he doesn’t. The only conclusion is that Louie finds Shadow to be stupid, but loveable. Continue reading