Falling Fruit

25

“Hurry up, now, we don’t want to be late for the Blue and Gold Banquet!”  I was really talking to myself since getting everyone spruced up and out the door usually fell to me. Being a first class Den Mother of my son’s Cub pack, I insisted we all be present and ready on time. The family Scout was fixing his scarf, excited to be going to this very important event. Little brother, too young at 5 to have such a neat uniform, had to settle with wearing what Mother thought was important: his best Sunday clothes.  Grey slacks and red blazer topped a freshly pressed white shirt and looked especially fine with his polished black oxfords.

It was time to leave. Husband made sure to get home early from his commute to the city and was now standing, jiggling the car keys in readiness. “Everybody all set?” “Mark, have you been to the bath room? You need to go. Hurry now!”

We waited. Impatiently. Then we heard him coming. Step, squish. Step, squish. Stomp, squish. Young Mark appeared with one leg of his slacks wet to the knee and water oozing from his one shoe. “WHAT HAPPENED? For heavens sake, what did you do? You can’t go like that!” “He’ll have to change,” said Father. “He only has one good outfit and his other shoes are a disaster,” my voice was rising out of the well modulated range.

Mark shrank under the accusing gaze of three big people towering over him. “Explain yourself, young man!” “Umm, well, I stepped into the toilet.”

WHAT?  All of us were trying to picture how tending to his business could have risk attached to it. “You stepped into the toilet??!” “How on earth did you do that?”

With chin beginning to quaver, he answered “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

That’s when I had to leave the room.

Fast forward now, calendar pages falling like leaves. The scene shifts to a kitchen four states away. Father of the household is engrossed in the morning newspaper while his wife is tending to the stove. Domestic quiet prevails.  “Matthew! It’s time for breakfast. Come!” the mother calls out as she put things on the table. Suddenly Step, Squish, step, squish, step, squish is heard coming down the hall. The boy in question appears, pant leg wet to the knee, with water oozing from one shoe.

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? You are all wet. What in the world happened?” His mother’s voice rises with that tone of aggravation familiar to most mothers. She drew in a breath ready for the next explosion. “Umm, I stepped in the toilet.” he replied.

“You did WHAT?”

“I wasn’t looking where I was going,” he stood hanging his head, waiting for the next angry outburst of parental wrath.

Just then, Mark dropped the paper and jumped to his feet. “That will do,” he admonished the boy’s mother, “that will do. There is nothing wrong with the boy, absolutely nothing wrong.”

Cats

Cats

 

I’ve always wanted a kitty.  A nice kitty, a purring machine to nuzzle under my hand and snuggle in my lap.

But, no, there will be no cat in this house, declared my husband with his authoritative voice.  The only pet around here will be, and is, my hunting dog. Cats are extraneous, useless.  I mean, you can’t train them to point out in the field, or retrieve, either. Nope, I’m not having a cat. Period.

We did have one once over thirty years earlier.  He adopted us the way cats do, hanging around for days looking woebegone until someone in the house softens and puts out a dish of milk.  Then he was ours.  I started putting a few cat things in with the groceries as I shopped, feeling guilty at spending money, in short supply with the demands of our young and growing family.  “But you can’t just let him starve!” I argued.  He had obviously been well cared for before choosing us and did not appear to be scruffy or flea ridden. He quickly adapted to life in our household, soon learning it was safer to hide during the hours our three year old was awake, and come out to be that purring machine in the evening. One day I had looked out the window to see Mark, the 3 year old, holding  a wet, soggy, cindery cat by the neck, dousing him in the gutter after a rainstorm.  Another time  he baptized him in the bathroom sink. This perhaps explains why kitty was never to be found during the day.

Naturally, we had to name him. His black and white markings did it for us: Boots.  It wasn’t long before a few cat toys made their appearance in the grocery cart.  He was fully ours. Except, now and again he would disappear for several days.  Calling him, searching the neighborhood, was futile. He just vanished, leaving a hole in our daily routine. After awhile I would sadly put away the cat food dish thinking he had been killed, and just about then he would show up as if he had never been away, looking for his usual handout.

Has scolding an errant cat ever done any good? Do they ever explain their whereabouts? He had the insouciance of a man about town that said in cat speak “None of your business!”

Eventually I noticed he seemed to have another problem – something was the matter with his plumbing because he was always needing to go out.  (Buying and maintaining a litter box was not in our budget so the whole yard served as his “facility.”) Knowing little about kitty care, I assumed he had diarrhea.  Ah hah! We had just the answer to that problem: Pepto Bismol, our tried and true family remedy for such ills. I got the bottle, a spoon, and held the cat in my arms.

Have you ever tried to get Pepto Bismol into a cat? Have you ever tried to get anything into a cat forcibly? Pushing a peanut across the street with my nose would be easier.

The next few seconds – I wish I could freeze-frame this – was a whirr of spoon, pink stuff, yowling, pink stuff flying, angry cat escaping, spoon flying, me dabbing at blood seeping from cat scratches.

I guessed that was not a good idea.568679_36977298

His problem continued and seemed to worsen. Eventually I prevailed upon my husband that something had to be done; we could not just let him suffer. So with a fair bit of muttering about the expense, he drove the cat to the vets.  There it was learned that our wandering Lothario had a serious urinary problem, peculiar to cats, and he would not survive. It was not long before he was gone, out of our lives for good.

œœ            œœ            œœ            œœ            œœ

Now, moving forward a number of years, I wanted a kitty. A purring machine to sit on my lap. We had had several hunting dogs in the intervening years, dogs that chewed on my chair rungs, or would escape the garage to rifle the neighbor’s garbage. Rusty, Rimbo, Luke… nice dogs, and good hunters, but not a pet that would sit adoringly at your feet, let alone warm your lap.

It happened again.

A scruffy, scrawny, back alley tomcat showed up at the door.  “Don’t feed him!” my husband warned.  “He will never go away.”  The thing is, he didn’t go away anyhow.  Day after day he sat outside the door looking pitiful, mewing and gazing up at each of us as we came and went.  By now our family had grown from two sons to five, and we had moved to another state. Life was full, busy. The current hunting dog was in a run outside our new home.  My husband was deeply engrossed, developing his new job. Did anyone have time for a cat?

Finally someone weakened, melting under the continual pitiful cries.  A dish was put out with a little milk.  And he was ours.

This sad excuse for a cat was obviously not from a good home, but had been a survivor on the streets of our town.  He was worm and flea ridden, with a bad case of gingivitis as well.  If he were to continue with us something had to be done.  Better able now to afford a vet bill, we took him to see what should be done.  Or rather, what had to be done to make him socially acceptable.  It was a lot.  Our “free” kitty ended up being quite an investment.

But there was something about him, some character trait developed by being a fighter and over-comer, which endeared him to us from the start. For reasons beyond understanding we named him Christopher.

Christopher always spent the nights out somewhere.  Sometimes on his return we would notice wounds from cat fights. Sometimes he would simply curl up on his bed to lie very still, and we would know he was in recovery.  He was a feisty old thing; once after another night out, we felt something in the fur under his chin. It was the tooth of another cat, apparently dislodged in the fracas. Another time, he did not come home for three days and nights. This was a cause of alarm to the house. Calling his name morning and evening was fruitless.  When he suddenly showed up at the door, it was with a serious limp. He dragged himself to his bed and stayed there for days, only leaving – with help – when he had to go outside.  It was obvious he was in great pain caused by an accident. I feared he had been hit by a car.

Time passed; he improved and got back to his normal self.  He did such a thorough job of endearing himself to us that even Husband would sit holding him in his lap, stroking his head. I had the purring machine I had always wanted.

 

It is remarkable how a cat can communicate without speaking the language.  After one of his fights he had to have another trip to the vet for repair.  A collar was placed to keep him from tearing into the repair while it was healing, and we were sent home with the admonition to keep him indoors for several days.  Right. Try telling him that. He sat like a stone statue with his back to us, staring at the door by the hour.  He was not to be placated.  For some reason that immoveable stance was more impressive, more annoying than if he had yowled and howled.

One day something happened to him as he jumped down from my lap, putting him in great pain, hardly able to move. Even with help he could not get to the food dish or outdoors. His old injury had caught up with him – his pelvis fractured.  We made yet another trip to the vet, cradling him gently.  “Please, sir, if you can do anything for him, let me know.”  Walking to the car, I burst into tears. Sadly, I knew the call would never come. That old scruffy back alley tomcat had worked his way deeply into my heart.

 

œœ        1262699_76533583    œœ            œœ            œœ            œœ            œœ

When a pet is gone, you have to deal with their “things,” the reminders of a life now past.  Bowls, collar, special food, toys, favorite cushion – all have to be put away, given away. It is a part of saying good bye, a closure if you will.  It is a necessary step in the grieving process.  Once we were connected to another life; now that connection is broken and we are aware of the loss at a deep level. It is one of life’s mysteries, seldom recognized, that we are spiritual beings and as such can experience  a connection with another life that goes far deeper than a casual knowing. This may explain the elaborate graves some people have for their pets. There was once a life, of whatever type, a life with which one had a relationship, and the broken cord has left them dangling. It is as if the break, without being sealed, continues to leak one’s very life away.

We do connect; it is written into our very structure, part of the original design. Moving into healing following a break in a relationship can be a long, slow process. We begin, by closure.          œœ            œœ            œœ            œœ            œœ

Time passed. The boys were all grown and gone. We had geese in the freezer and a dog in the yard, but no kitty for my lap.

One day I came into the kitchen and found proud Husband standing by a laundry basket with two kittens mewing and crawling over each other.  “What’s this?” A natural response, given his years of professed cat disdain.  “Well,” he replied rather sheepishly, “my hunting friend, Doc, has more than they can handle on the farm and asked if we would like one.”  Ah so, in the interest of maintaining their relationship, he volunteered to let me have my choice of the litter.  “One is a female. I thought you would like to have another girl in the house. If you pick the boy, Doc can neuter him at 6 months, but the girl would have to be done at the vet.” Since Doc was a urologist, neutering the boys was all in a day’s work.

Nothing is quite as endearing as a kitten, unless it’s two of them.  It was a hard choice. Orange as a sunset, they scrambled around on the kitchen floor.  The boy kitty seemed to be the sweetest, and would cost less, but yes, it would be nice to have another female around here.

Decision was made.  Girl kitty was mine. Since she did seem quite frisky, we named her Ginger.

801087_38009385

It soon became apparent the name should have been Fireworks; biting and clawing were her favorite activities. I was constantly under attack.  She would sneak out from under a chair when I was tying my shoes and bite me. Any time I went down stairs, holding the hand rail for support, she would jump up to bite my hand.  If I tried to take a swat at her to let her know what I thought about that, her eyes would get round, ears lie flat and the demon within would glare out at me.  War was constant. My dream of having a lap-sitting, purring machine was growing dimmer by the day.

The time came for a routine trip to the vet. I managed to get that little fireball in the carrier, with only minor wounds. Vet looked her over and raised his head. “Nice little boy kitty you have here.”

“What?! We were told it was a girl!”

“Sorry, Ma’am.  But sometimes it’s hard to tell, you know.”

Well, that explains a lot.  At least it won’t cost anything to neuter ‘him’ because Doc had volunteered to do it.  But we have to wait until he was 6 months old first.  I didn’t know if I could last that long.  Instead of a nice little girl kitty, Ginger, I had the “Cat from Hell.”

Warfare continued. Neither the cat nor I liked each other very much by now.  I kept my eye on the calendar waiting for “The Day” when Doc would come and hopefully readjust the cat’s attitude somewhat. At long last…

The kitchen island was deemed a suitable operating table.  Doc opened his kit bag.  Husband stood at the ready to help. Ginger immediately “smelled a rat” and took off for far parts of the house.  I finally corralled him, turned him over to the men and left the room to wring my hands.  Doc pulled out a big syringe, and pulled up the neck fur to sedate the very suspicious animal being held in a firm grip by Husband.  Suddenly there was a yowl, a curse, a clatter as enraged cat bit Husband’s thumb, jumped down with syringe still stuck in the fur and exploded out of the kitchen for points unknown.

 

I found him clinging to the back side of a sofa in the farthest room upstairs. As I reached over and grabbed him to pull him up, he actually elongated like a rubber band to twice his length, all the while still clinging to the sofa with a Herculean strength.  Desperation in his eyes, it seemed he was saying “You are going to do what? To me? No way, Jose.”  I overcame him by brute force, wrapping him tightly in a drop cloth from our current remodeling project.  Back down stairs we went, with his eyes wide, ears laid back, terror in the tension of his body. Swaddled as he was, he could not fight the syringe, the drug which was sure to put him to sleep.

Only, it didn’t work.  His eyes still darted and glared; his body was still a coiled spring in my arms.  Doc gave him another dose. He glared. We waited.  And waited. He never did close his eyes.  There was enough adrenalin in him to overcome any drug in Doc’s kit bag. At last, I felt the tension ease just a bit. Doc said, “he’s ready.”

The deed was soon done.  He was placed in the dog carrier to recover.

Three hours later we opened the carrier door to our “adjusted” cat.  He came swaying out, with the ease of a sailor on leave, or the town drunk trying to find his way home. Our beast of terror was now hopefully a transformed tiger, a mellow pussycat indeed.

716953_65624124

Altered he may have been; mellow he was not.  We continued in a Mexican stand-off relationship, he apparently having a good memory of the indignity forced upon him. No comforter, his sneak attacks continued.

Comfort would have been appreciated, as just a few months later I was suddenly widowed. Sons arrived, flowers arrived. The head-spinning, stress-causing requirements of a family loss kept me occupied and less focused on Ginger, the Attila cat. Then I noticed that when our youngest son roughhoused with him, he was a delight! No more unexpected attacks. What?

I had been missing it all along. This boy cat, with or without his identifying equipment, wanted a rough and tumble, playful relationship. None of the sissy sit-and-purr-on-the-lap nonsense for him. Since roughhousing was not my style, we were a mismatched couple all along. So when youngest son returned to his school there was a large dog crate in the back of his truck, with all the accoutrements a cat could want fitted inside. Ginger happily sat on the cushion inside as the truck pulled away down the driveway out of sight. You know, there are some relationships that were just never meant to be.

 

 

 

Wild Life 3

New Hampshire Cabin 1971

Wild Life Part 3

If an archaeologist ever digs along the bank of the Ossipee River he may find a puzzling artifact.  Let me explain.
The A-Frame cabin backed by woods sits just above and facing the Ossipee. From the deck no other cabins are in view, just woods and barely moving river and the glorious deep blue of New Hampshire sky. Our personal retreat center. A get-away haven. Only problem, it was a 600-miles-away haven, just too far for frequent use.

My husband dispatched me to make the trek northward ahead of his vacation schedule in order to open it up for the season. Translation: clean everything, fill the fridge and get the beds made before the real vacation starts. Only two of our five boys were free to go with me at the time – camp and summer jobs kept the others from coming along.Spring Cleaning

Fifteen year old Kevin stepped into his role as “man of the house” in his father’s absence. Seriously responsible, he helped look after his little brother, then eight, who looked forward eagerly to delights of wood and water.

Low hanging branches brushed against the car as I drove up the curved lane. Pine needles covered the cabin roof and the driveway which was littered with a winter’s forest dropping as well. The boys bounded out of the car, running in all directions at once to work off miles and miles of stored energy while I climbed the steps to unlock the door.

Snapping on the light I surveyed the place. Yep, everything is just as we left it. Of course there was the stale air, the dust and a scattering of cob webs, but it wouldn’t take long to deal with that. I slid open the door overlooking the river and moved my favorite chair to the deck. Ah, the air up here is so restorative… but there is no time to linger on the deck.  I corralled the troops to help unload the car.

It was then I saw the hole in the couch cushion.  What?  Who did that? What happened here? Oh no! Mice had gotten into the cabin and set up housekeeping in that safe, protected environment.  There was no other sign of them, just a hole with stuffing removed. I concluded that they had just enjoyed winter within and now were long gone. The cushion was seriously ruined however; I would have to figure a way to restore the couch somehow.

While putting things in the cupboards I found a mousetrap!  Maybe it would be a good idea to set it just in case the creature was still around. With no experience and with trembling fingers I loaded the trap with a choice piece of salami and set it on the kitchen floor.

We settled in with the boys in the bunk room upstairs and my bed made in the small room next to the kitchen down. It had been a long trip. I sank into bed with a happy sigh of contentment. Good day, job well done. I would be asleep in short order.

SNAP!! Oh heavens, oh dear. Kevin! Come here! I flipped the light switch and there was   our mouse, in the trap, fully alive with just his hind quarters caught by the trap. He scrambled, or tried to, pulling the trap behind him like a draft horse working a farm field. Oh, Lord! Kevin had thundered down the stairs and joined me now watching this poor creature struggling across the kitchen floor.

Any normal family would have said, so what’s the problem. Step on it to kill it and end its misery. But there stood one very squeamish female and one kind-hearted boy  with a heart of mercy. Neither of us could bear the thought of squashing this fellow who was working so hard to get free.

We have to DO something! This can’t go on. Oh, Lord. Squishing was rejected as an option. Gore on the floor? AAcck. At last the bright idea came. I swept the mouse, trap and all, into a dust pan to carry it out doors. We headed outside where the porch light shed its feeble light into the darkness. The soil in the Granite State is sand, easy to dig sand. Kevin dug a hole down through the needles into the earth below that was just big enough for our project. In went the trap still gripping a very alive mouse. Hurriedly we covered it over, tapping the covering dirt in place.

The dastardly deed was done. The philosophical ramifications of this solution to a problem can be discussed at your leisure. Really tired by now, we turned off the lights and went to bed.

Wild Life 2

Burnt Toast
  The family had gone on an outing in the big city. There was, of course, the    long         drive home after the long meeting which followed the long wait in line for the doors to open. It was late.
“What’s to eat, Mom?” With five sons in the house this was a phrase I heard regularly. Other voices chimed in; everyone wanted a snack before bed. “You can have an English.” I popped the muffin in the open toaster oven on the ledge above the stove, slammed it closed and hit the start button.
This will require getting the butter out, I thought, opening the fridge to look for other goodies as well. I turned back to see what progress the toaster was making. Oh. OH NO! What am I seeing? It can’t be. Horrors! What is that?
Through the glass window of the toaster I saw a mouse frantically running in place, trying to escape its hot prison. Demonstrating multi-tasking I screamed, hit the off button which opened the door, and ran from the room all in ten seconds or less. The smell of burnt hair permeated the kitchen. Oh, no. A toasted mouse. Aarrrgh.
The men in the family – I didn’t care who, just as long it was not involving me – removed the appliance to the porch to cool down. “I’ll never use THAT oven again!” I declared. “Baked mouse! Yuck.”
Some time later the now cleaned toaster oven was donated to a worthy cause, replaced by something that had seen neither hide nor hair, burnt or otherwise.
Life was good once more.

Wild Life

Wild Life Part 1

It was a standard, run-of-the-mill high energy morning, although not as frantic as it had been when Dean and Mark were still home. My husband was already at the office; the youngest son, Alan, had gone out to catch his bus – wait! Did he remember his lunch? I didn’t want to make a trek to the school with it.  Again.  “Keith! Kevin! Get down here for breakfast or you will be late. You don’t want having to go see Mr. Jones.” He was the ‘cop on the beat’ otherwise known as the high school vice-principal. Short and stocky, he had the manner of a former Marine. They had already received warnings for being late a time or two before and were rather well known in the school office.

I went into the pantry to put away the cereal boxes, flipping the light as I went. EEK! AACCCK!  What was that?  What WAS that? Something had darted by my feet. Something alive was running around in there! The pantry in that somewhat old house was large enough to have its own window, a tall broom cupboard for cleaning equipment and lots of space for kitchen storage. There were cabinets below and shelves above. It was a wonderfully useful catchall. And now it had a living creature in it.

Like any normal woman, I screamed. A mouse! There’s a mouse in there and now he has disappeared.  Get him out!  Do something. I slammed the door to the pantry and gave stern orders to the twins who had come running. You have to get him out. Never mind about school; it will wait. Of course, when crises come, husband is at work or out of town. This time was no different. I had to rely on two 15 year olds.

He had vanished. The boys pulled out every item, looked behind, above, under. What in the world could have happened to him? Where could he be hiding? There would be no joy in Mudville if he were not located. Then, desperate to get this over with so they could get to school, one of them thought to check the vacuum sweeper. Aha. That little furry felon had scooted up into the dust bag for safety and promptly succumbed in the accumulated sweepings. With manly victory in the battle of woman vs. beast, the boys were now very late for school. My pulse and respiration coming back to normal, I wrote an excuse note and sent them off.

Mr. Jones, with his dark rimmed glasses and military hair cut, greeted them. “Late again, Millers.” His voice was stern. “Do you have a note?”  He unfolded it and began to read.
With his head still down, he looked up over the rim of his glasses, first at one and then the other, then back at the note. “This one, for once, I actually believe. Get out of here and get to your class!”

Exciting and Grand Day

Yesterday was a day of blessings for me.  Church  is always interesting, but this time was even more so.  Our house guest was the speaker of the day; he had just finished a two day seminar of Celestial Beings and other Other-worldly, yet biblical, entities and was planning to finish with further teaching on the book of Jude.  I had promised, and delivered to him, my special B&B breakfast  – a delightful presentation of a French toast sandwich made with cinnamon swirl bread held together with a cream cheese-pecan filling and served with a warm apricot-orange sauce.  The table conversation with such a learned man was challenging and substantive.

The excitement came from expecting Matthew, Becky and little Katherine to join us at church.  To see and hold my first great grandbaby – wow!  Who can believe this?  It all seemed like unreality, while at the same time there was a deep joy in knowing that there is a continuation of my heritage.

Their arrival was somewhat delayed by Katherine’s plumbing mishap and resultant bath and clothes change, but in the middle of worship time, there they stood!  Pastor later announced her arrival and I had an opportunity to stand to show her off to the entire assembly.

The meeting didn’t end until 2:00 p.m., not unusual.  Alan and Amy’s family joined us all at home where I had a fresh batch of soup in the crock pot.  Conversation, plus the usual group photo confusion, followed.  Another amazing feature of the day was that we sat outside on the patio, in our shirt sleeves, for the picture taking.  This is January in Maryland, for heaven’s sake!

After everyone left, the dust settled and quiet returned, I simply praised the Lord for His multiplied blessings.  My quiver is indeed full.

The Squirrel

The Squirrel

 

Above the splatter of the
fountain, a continual ‘soosh’ of wind is moving the leaves.  I wonder, is there any wind song if there are
no leaves to dance?

 

Restless, restless, the oak
branches, the pine across the way – at times the wind sound crescendos and as
quickly softens to a whisper.  Low
pillows of gray white clouds pass by steadily, ships at sky-sea.

 

A squirrel hops up to a
comfortable perch on a fence post – the last post before the space where fence
section was removed this winter.  Munching
on his dinner, he shows no alarm.  How
can he know, as I do, that the hawks are back and will soon be feeding their
young with tasty squirrel meat?

 

A furry finial, he waits
motionless now.  Does he wonder why the
gap in the fence?  Why his “highway” has
an eighteen foot interruption?

 

It had to be removed, you
see, for the machinery, tree removal machinery, to have access to the yard next
door.  Men came and hammered down the
fence.  Men with ropes and tackle and
chain saws.  It is their business, taking
down fences in order to take down trees.

 

The largest oak of all is
gone now.  Home to squirrel and communion
of birds, it is gone.  The four foot wide
stump which remains would be a far wider place to eat his dinner, wide enough
to sprawl in comfort.  But he never goes
there.  It is the fence post he prefers.

 

Did he cry as I did when his
home came down?

 

Men with saws, hawks with
claws, they all are part of squirrel’s life.
Hazards are everywhere.  So he
eats, and rests, and listens to the leaves dancing with the wind.

 

6/25/2006

I wrote this last June while still in mourning over the deliberate removal of a large oak tree in what had been my back yard before I built my new home next door.