Just for laughs

Cat Zen

Posted by on Dec 7, 2006 in All things natural, Just for laughs | 0 comments

I was first compelled to come to terms with my irrational hatred of cats in August of 1981 in a scorching blacktop parking lot. Before that day I had accepted the religious principal, taught by my parents, that these small furry creatures were the spawn of the devil. My mother disliked them for mostly sanitary reasons, which I can understand when I vacuum their fluffy discards from the carpet, sofa, walls and drapes, but Dad was a true believer. In fact, other than dogs, which he saw as having a utilitarian purpose, no creature, whether fish, bird, turtle, snake, raccoon, gopher, or cat was safe from his absolute domination. He often related an anecdote from his childhood about a male boarder in his mother’s house, whose hatred of cats was equal to his own. The man came home late one evening, and not wanting to wake anyone, entered his room in the dark. He saw a black shape by the door and hissed, “Scat, cat!” The cat sat immobile through his verbal warning not once, but twice. Angry, he pulled back his bare foot and kicked the poor cat with all his might. The whole house was awakened by his expletives and cries of agony. The shape turned out to be a metal flat iron, instead of the stray tabby he was expecting.

The obvious karma of the incident was lost on my Dad, and no explanation was ever offered for the family abhorrence of cats. I do not recall ever questioning my parent’s rationale on the subject until that hot August day. A tiny orange kitten was mewing pitifully on the asphalt, hopping from foot to foot in pain. I felt a pang of guilt, but might have walked away if the cat had not taken action. I was dumbfounded when he quickly jumped into my open car door and settled down comfortably with the groceries on the back seat. I realize now another motorist, too cruel or lazy to take responsibility for his life, must have recently dumped him from their car. Knowing my feelings, my family was speechless when I walked into the house cradling the purring kitten. I told them what happened and explained that I would find someone to take him, but he was definitely not staying at our house. After a few weeks, I named him Doo-wah, as in doo-wha, doo-wha, doo-wha, ditty, and often sang that little song to him for his amusement

As all cat owners know, once a cat is in your house they send out some sort of signal to every other homeless cat within 30 miles, that this is the place. Soon we had cats in every room and sitting by any door we exited. My husband and children were delighted, but I was still a bit reserved. I fed them, cleaned litter boxes, and took them all to the vet, but held back from real love until Sam came to live with us about 5 years later. He was a black and white Sylvester of a cat, possibly a Maine Coon by species, as laid back and affectionate as a big dog. Eva dressed him in doll clothes and hats; he slept in someone’s bed at night, even mine at times, and became a member of our family. We never had the heart to get him neutered, as he seemed to get such joy in going out from time to time to party. He always returned in fine spirits and I saw no harm then in procreation, imagining the wonderful sons and daughters he would have. When he didn’t return one morning we searched for him for weeks and months. We adopted another scrawny, bedraggled tomcat, because he bore a resemblance to Sam, but I still grieve for my favorite who never returned. We even took in a local barn cat on the belief, probably mistaken, that he could have been Sam’s child or grandchild. All subsequent cats have taken a quick trip to the vet to prevent a repeat of the tendency to roam.

Eva left her beautiful cats with us when she moved to England and I must admit, I love them dearly. They are doggie sorts of cats, affectionate and happy to see me in the evening when I come home. Our emaciated Sam look-alike grew fat and happy, and was dubbed Tuxedo Mask by our then Sailor Moon obsessed daughter. She also gave moon cartoon names to her cats, Luna and Artemis. Only two others are left from our original collection, Sweetie and Mootsie, and they live downstairs, because of socialization issues. My husband is never content with the true name of any animal, and prefers to call them by his own nicknames. It leads to a great deal of confusion for guests polite enough to inquire about the name of a cat, rather like tracking characters in a Russian novel. Our visitors no longer include people with allergies, and I do hate the eternal litter box, not to mention the hairball hacking issue, but overall, cats bring a peace and companionship to our lives. Thinking back over our dog years, I must admit I much prefer the cats that share our home. They are undemanding, always giving more than they take, and we never have problems with mice or crickets.

I never discussed my enjoyment of cats with my parents. Like so many issues, we have an unspoken contract, written in the blood battles of my youth, to keep quiet about matters when we disagree. When Mom was alive we stuck to stuck to safe topics, avoiding religion, politics, and cats, along with an assortment of minor subtexts. I like to think I have many of my Mother’s better qualities, but sometimes when I sit with a purring cat on my lap I am sorry for her inability to relax and enjoy life more. She could have benefited from the lessons I have learned from my cats. They taught me to be curious, to be playful, and not to miss meals. That since an immaculate home is not practical or possible, a house should be interesting and inviting. That naps during the day are quite refreshing. That you should show strangers that you like them, and if they ignore you, be persistent. Maybe they’ll get the message, and learn to relax and laugh. If not, at least you will amuse yourself.

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The House at the top of the Hill

Posted by on Oct 4, 2006 in Just for laughs | 0 comments

I certainly had a difficult time envisioning living there when we pulled into the driveway of the house on Pohite Drive. Yes, the price was great, the neighborhood was pleasant enough, reasonably affluent, suburban, and generally well kept, but at the top of the steep, weed-infested driveway a little third world country was hiding out in Middle America. My eyes and ears were immediately drawn to the rusted out hulk of a car, sitting under the back yard shade tree. With doors and wheels removed it was serving as a house for the two large snarling dogs tied to its frame. I rolled my eyes to glance at my husband and suggested we save the back yard tour for later. The realtor had tried to prepare us for what waited, but was conflicted on how much information to provide and still sell the house.

Nothing could have prepared us for the almost life sized bullfight scene on the entry foyer wall. I excused the drunken artist, because El Toro’s commanding presence served to divert attention away from the decorator’s nightmare at the top of the wrought iron stairway. The pink carpet, electric blue walls, red satin drapes, and brown velvet sectional sofa was accessorized by a large plastic tree, covered with bright yellow lemons. The dining room was equally exciting, with a large table and three china cabinets crammed into a room about 10 by 10 feet. The kitchen was almost an after thought, bright yellow with knotty pine cabinets. I have thankfully blocked out a lot of the rest of the colors in the house, except for the downstairs bathroom. It was a tiny room with no windows, and I stepped into it as I reached for the light switch. I released an audible gasp at the Chinese red ceiling, and the black, red, and gold wallpaper with a paisley design larger than my head. The realtor trailed after us, temporary bereft of all his sales skills, mouthing something that sounded like, “You don’t want to buy this, do you?”

Ben, in that happy way of 7 year olds, loved it immediately. As one of my friends once told me when her child wanted a picture of Elvis painted on black velvet, children are not born with good taste. He thought the mural cool and was thrilled by the secret passageway between the bedroom and the living room via the closet. He discovered a hidden spot under the stairs where he could store toys and outside there was a huge back yard and a wooded lot, where a city boy was free to roam. We were all delighted with the lake at the bottom of the hill and I was drawn to the promising garden spot. Determined to be wise shoppers, we went through the house testing the water pressure, and looking for level floors, tight windows, sound heating system, and good insulation, all the things we had problems with in our city house in the fan. We were delighted to find nothing wrong with any of those areas and figured we could paint over El Toro in no time. I have always heard that you don’t really know someone till you marry them, and I have learned that marriage and real estate contracts have a lot in common. I remember the terror I felt the day we both put our names on a paper that said we were obligated to pay more money than either of us could make in many years. Gradually we learned to take it one payment, and one day at a time.

We had hoped for a moving day before school started, but when problems arose in the long chain of loan agreements, we were determined that Ben would start his first day of second grade in Hanover County. That meant driving him to a babysitter in the new neighborhood each day so he could catch the bus with her children, then picking him up in the afternoon at her house. This went on for more than a month, but finally we signed, closed, rented a truck, made a big pot of chili and bought a lot of beverages, and invited all the people we knew over one Saturday morning to help tote boxes and furniture.

The realtor told us we would meet the owner at the house and he would supply the key, but no one was in sight when we arrived. We knocked on every door repeatedly, rang every bell with no luck, and even honked the horn on the big moving truck. Finally, one of our more notorious acquaintances found egress through an unlocked window. We cheerfully waited by the front door for quite some time, and finally he emerged, followed by a teenager holding a shotgun. Seems the owner’s son had decided instead of answering the door he would barricade himself in the bedroom with boxes and weapons. Fortunately, our friend had been caught in much worse situations than this in the past, and was experienced in convincing strange men that his intentions were honorable. After a call to the father’s job, we were allowed to deposit our things in the downstairs, while the son and several other children stayed upstairs in hiding. The owner came home around lunchtime, gave us the keys, and negotiated the sale of a small aluminum johnboat that was tied to a tree on the bank of the lake. We later found out he stole the boat from the local Boy Scout troop. We have some consolation in that he left a very large sombrero and an extra shotgun behind in the attic, and took his snarling dogs and their rusted out car/doghouse away with him.

When we brought Bear, our German Shepherd-St. Bernard combination dog to his new home, he acted like he had arrived in doggie heaven and lived his best years in that back yard, watching the bunny rabbits and birds eat from his food bowl. It was several months before we began to find out that our “modern” home had it’s own unique problems including aluminum wiring, an expensive heating system, and a desperate need for air conditioning. On the positive side, our location at the top of the hill meant all the leaves blew away into our neighbor’s yards, and we had wonderful drainage. Wrenn was determined that he could mow the steep slope without getting off his newly purchased riding mower. I’m quite certain he wouldn’t have told me about turning it over if I had not questioned him about the sliced up pair of shoes I found stashed in the laundry room. He hated being caught, but I don’t think he really took my advice that he should be more cautious to heart. He is always fond of saying that any landing you can walk away from is a good one, and of course, he doesn’t own an airplane.

Gradually we made the house our own. We painted and patched, wallpapered and un-wallpapered and painted again. In a few years our son Jason arrived, followed 28 months later by his sister Eva. We began to feel crunched for space, and I moved furniture every month or so in one room or another, trying to make the house bigger, but no matter how many rearrangements I made, the walls stayed in the same place. Through the hot summers I while I stood over boiling pots in the tiny kitchen, canning and freezing all the bounty from our organic garden I kept asking myself, “Why didn’t we go for the air conditioned one we saw?” Still, when it came time to move again, it was bittersweet. All of Ben’s birthday parties from second grade to high school had been held there. For Jason and Eva it was the only home they had ever known. Bear, our beloved noble canine friend, was left behind, buried under a dogwood tree in the backyard after his heart gave out suddenly one summer night. The garden plot I had carefully nourished with hundreds of truckloads of fairground straw and manure became the proud procession of another organic gardener, who probably bought the house for that spot alone. I left him my wonderful asparagus bed, the strawberries, the blueberry bushes, the apple and peach trees. I knew he would care for them tenderly, but still, they had been my joy. When the new owner’s wife complained about my choice of green carpet for the upstairs, I bite my tongue graciously as I glanced around the now tastefully coordinated and calm room. I silently wished I had just hung a curtain over El Toro so I could reveal it for her with a wicked flourish.

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The “Rivah”

Posted by on Jun 7, 2006 in All things natural, Just for laughs | 0 comments

Even though I have lived in Virginia for 40 years, you will know I am not a native when I say that I do not enjoy vacations at the “rivah”. The concept of renting a house where I am required to do all the same chores as I do at home, only in a place where I can’t find anything, never seemed like a big treat to me. My spouse however, always gets a faraway look of nostalgia about summer rentals, because he recalls delightful childhood memories of summer adventures with his Mom and siblings. Of course, you really can’t go home again, but since neither of us had even seen the river cottage, I was willing to let him try. Our baby girl was five months old and crawling about on all fours, in that daredevil way that came to define all her activities. Our toddler was not quite three and a bit on the cautious side, and our oldest son was just thirteen, and not yet completely turned off to family vacations. At the last minute we had acquired a needy kitten, and not knowing anything about cats at the time, I assumed they were sort of like dogs that purred, so I decided to take him along.

We were very relieved when we finally arrived at our destination with a carload of suitcases, cat barf, fussy babies, and grim, silent adults. The weather seemed pleasant and sunny, the river was broad and beautiful, and all the houses along the bank were expansive— except for the one where my husband parked our station wagon. As soon as the car door opened, the traumatized cat took off like a shot and ran under the house, where he cowered for the entire week. Thinking he would come out later, I decided to take the children in to check out the house.

I walked through the back screen door and took in the whole of the downstairs in one glance. The steps immediately to my right bore a strong resemblance to a ladder. The postage size bathroom on my left had no room for a tub, only a small shower, tiny toilet, and diminutive sink. Okay, I thought, I can use the kitchen sink to bath the babies. Taking the three short steps to the food prep area, I found a 15 inches square basin, which was in scale with the mini stove and fridge. In fact, the whole of downstairs was no more than 8 by 11 feet, not counting the tiny “L” projection that held a miniature table and two bench seats. The living room contained a couch, a chair, a bookcase, and a small TV and a radio, neither of which seemed to be connected to the outside world. Even for the young and fit, the trip up the “stairs” carrying a baby was perilous. Once there, it didn’t take long to discover the same miniaturization in the upper story. One room contained what looked like two ship bunk beds with the world’s smallest table wedged between, and the other had a standard bed squeezed in so tight there was no room for a porta-crib. Fortunately there was a balcony off the bedroom just wide enough to hold the crib, and that would do as long as we had no rain through the screen windows, but I get ahead of myself.

We settled in as best we could, unpacked and surveyed the river and surroundings. There was a swimming pond that looked promising, filled with brackish water and guarded by what was purported to be a jellyfish filter. I took inventory of the pots and pans available, and finding nothing much but a crab pot, skillet, and a few utensils, I added a few essentials to my grocery list. We ate sandwiches for dinner then decided to get the children settled down for the night. After the screams over my little one’s first ever shower bath, I added a plastic tub to my list of supplies needed. Bright and early the next morning, my husband was up and out to go fishing and I was left with the task of heading back down the road umpteen many miles to find the one overpriced grocery store and get food and supplies.

When the babies and I returned, we put away groceries and poked about under the house for the cat. I tweaked the TV and radio a few more times, but finding only static and fuzz again, gave up on that as a lost cause. I decided to speak to my neighbors, hoping they might advise me on some way to relieve the boredom, but they pretended that I was invisible. I guess they thought no one with any intelligence would bring three children to a dwarf cottage for vacation. When my husband came in for lunch he decided to take the boys swimming while the baby napped, the incident that Jason still refers to as “the time I almost drowned”. The purported jellyfish filter turned out to work just as well as the TV and radio, making the pond as appealing as the neighbors. While dodging the painful stingers, My husband looked away long enough for our two and a half year old son to fall face down in the water. Retrieved unhurt, but sputtering and crying, the toddler was soon deposited back in the house, and my husband took off to go crabbing.

We soon fell into a grinding, horrible, routine. My husband took our oldest with him to fish for crabs all day, while I cleaned, cooked, took care of babies, and called uselessly for the cat. In the evening I would cook the crabs, and we would sit around the little table and pick and eat them. For almost 15 years after that week I was not able to eat crab, or stay in any room when they were cooking without experiencing nausea. Since we had no TV or radio, the tropical storm that hit midweek came as a complete surprise.

Now what my husband recalls about the storm is that it “ruined the fishing”, that is, it reduced the number of crabs he was able to snag with a net and a chicken wing on a stick. As we sat jammed into the tiny downstairs, he kept reassuring me that the storm would pass soon and we would be able to get back to our previous fun. Meanwhile, I tried to drape a plastic barrier over the balcony’s screen window to protect our daughter from the rain. As you may have ascertained by now, my husband and I do not have the same remembrance of this vacation, and he is not always an expert at reading my moods. Somehow amid the torrents of rain, we eventually got the drenched cat out from under the house, perhaps with that chicken wing on the stick, packed up the kids and suitcases, and left the “rivah” behind forever.

Every summer for years he still mumbled around about another rental house for a family vacation, even mentioning Alaska from time to time, but I was wise to his schemes by then. In fact, he has never, since that week, been allowed to have anything to do with the planning of our vacations. Call me unreasonable, but if he wants to go on a fishing trip, he’s going to have to find some seasoned river woman to cook and clean for him next time. When the kids were more self-sufficient we did make a few forays to North Carolina beaches, staying in much larger houses, in areas with restaurants and grocery stores. That ceased the year we were told to leave because of an approaching hurricane, and my spouse wanted to stay to watch the storm. I told him that would be fine, but the children and I were heading inland. He remained stubborn while I loaded the car, but finally came along when they cut the water off in the house to discourage insane tourists from riding it out. It’s really too bad, because if we had lived through it, I could have headlined that as the worst vacation I ever had.

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Posted by on Jun 7, 2006 in Just for laughs, Reckless youth | 0 comments

I stood there holding the boutonnière, desperate to get Dian out of the bathroom stall. She kept repeating, “I can’t pin that flower on that boy”, between sobs. I knew the Christian thing to do was be compassionate, but I was fuming. I could finally fit into my sister’s strapless aqua blue and white ruffled formal gown, and I was not going to waste my evening in the high school bathroom. What could I say to keep this girl from ruining what was suppose to be the premier romantic evening of my life? I summoned my most authoritative, maternal voice, and threatened her with everything I could think of; from the loss of what social status she had, to her immortal soul. When I promised to do the pinning, she finally emerged, but her eyes and face now matched her bright red hair. I told her she might want to powder her nose, and raced back downstairs to the waiting escorts. I pinned the flower on Billy’s white sport coat, just as I had done earlier for my own date, and took ’s corsage out of his hand. Seeing the frozen smile on his face, I explained that his blind date thought he was really cute, but she was a just a little shy.

In truth she was more on the “painfully” end of the shy meter, but she was attractive and the best I could do so close to prom. I really don’t know how I had talked her into it anyway. She had never been on a date before, and her parents wouldn’t let her ride in cars with boys, which was a severe limitation on dating in our rural town. In fact, finding a date acceptable to parents and to whom you were not related was an ongoing problem, which is how I got into this dilemma. There were only 71 people in my high school graduating class and only 28 of those were male. My former boyfriend, Danny, who lived in a nearby town, broke up with me right before all special occasions like my birthday, Christmas, and any formal event. The last breakup had been quite definitive, because he had joined the army and left the state for boot camp. I was pretty much recovered from my heartbreak, but was faced with no prospects and senior prom rapidly approaching.

I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. If I played my cards right, I could turn all heads in the high school gym by arriving on the arm of a handsome Latin college student.The year before I had met a boy from Bolivia while at a festival sponsored by (God, I hate to admit this), my Girl Scout troop. Without thinking what a college man would find interesting in a sixteen-year-old girl scout, I gave him my address, and we became pen pals. I had fun pretending he was my boy friend, and wrote him earnest letters on dainty perfume soaked stationary. I used tiny hearts for dots on the letter I dispatched asking him if he would go to prom with me, and I received a reply by return mail. Yes, he would very much like to come, but he lived 30 miles away and had no transportation. He proposed a solution. If I could scare up a date for his pal who had a car, we could double. Most of my friends already had arrangements made, and very few wanted to go to prom with a blind date, but finally I though of a friend from my study hall. It took quite a bit of bargaining, but since the gentleman who was to be her escort was preparing for the ministry, and I would be with her the whole evening, she finally relented.

As I recall, the boys picked me up and we met Dian at the school rather than go through the awkward problem of her not being allowed in the car. That’s how I ended up in the bathroom in formal wear, threatening a girl I hardly knew. I was still desperate to hold onto this as the crowing romantic moment of my high school career, but like many other high school firsts, the anticipation turned out to be much better than the reality. I did get her out of the stall, and her date Billy, actually turned out to be a really nice guy, not that she noticed with her eyes on the ground most of the evening. The high school cafeteria was brightly lit and still smelled of mystery meat and instant potatoes, but we did have white paper tablecloths and centerpieces on the tables. The junior class had made an effort to achieve some sort of romantic ambiance by taping blue crepe paper streamers stamped with silver stars to the green and white walls. I don’t know if they came up with the theme “Moonlight Serenade” before or after they located the streamers, but other than the fact that there was music, and most likely a moon in the sky, I don’t recall any other thematic props.

Members of the class of 1963 danced in the gym that night to a band called the “Teen Beats”, according to my senior memories book, but mostly we were there to see and be seen. Strapless gowns were the “in” item of clothing, but those girls who were both modest and/or substantially endowed picked something less revealing. I was neither, and was more than happy to wear the ruffled horror my sister had wowed them in three years before. Formal attire for boys was their Sunday suit or a white sports coat, dark pants, white shirt, and narrow tie. The cool guys topped it off with a crew cut and possibly horned rimmed glasses. Some, like Billy and my date Al, clung to the more old fashion slicked back style, using Vitalis to make it stay in place. Both hairstyles gave the men a sort of pin headed look, and the maintenance products left a greasy residue on upholstered furniture. Girls by contrast made their hair as big as possible, teased into bouffantsupdosbeehives or French twists, and held in stasis by hair spray, giving them all the glamour of a gumball machine. The details of the dance are fuzzy now, but do I remember awkward conversation, uncomfortable laughter, and drinking fruit punch while wearing white gloves.

Late in the evening Al asked me to show him the rest of my school, and I naively believed he was interested in the American educational process. I took him upstairs into the darkened hallway so he could see my science lab. I was peering into the window when I felt his hot breath on my neck. I turned around and found myself pinned to the wall, with his left hand trying to find flesh somewhere under the 50 yards of organdy ruffles I was wearing. I pushed him away and insisted we return to the dance, making it clear that his expectations of sex were not going to materialize. Looking back, I now realize that the cultural differences between us were enormous, and he must have thought that a girl forward enough to ask him out was, as was said in the day, “hot to trot”. He pouted for the rest of the evening and refused to come to the after party at my friend’s house. It was just as well, because Dian wasn’t allowed to go, and her Dad was waiting outside to pick her up. Without even a goodnight kiss, my thwarted Latin lover and the future Methodist minister dumped me at my girlfriend’s party. I think the minister would have been happy to kiss me if I had asked, but my date, Al, sat on the other side of the seat with his arms folded across his chest.

It is ironic that the only picture I have of the event is of my friend Dian her date Billy. I have no idea who took it, but it was probably me. I never thought until recently that my parents didn’t take pictures of their children with their dates, even for formal occasions like proms. I don’t think they wanted to encourage immoral behavior like going to dances. It’s really a blessing, because I still have a fantasy that I looked wonderful that evening and all my boyfriends were cute and cool. While cleaning out my Mom’s garage some years ago my sister and I came across the dress we had both worn. The years had not been kind to the frothy creation. Granted it was folded and wrinkled, but no matter how we tried, neither of us could imagine it ever looking like we thought it did on those evenings when we were the bells of the ball. I never got another letter from Al, and I don’t recall talking to Dian a lot afterward either. I think Billy did his student ministry at a rural Methodist church in our area. I not only lost track of him, I have actually forgotten his last name. I’m sure his grace and diplomacy served him well in his chosen career, but hopefully he married someone a bit more outgoing than Dian.

My inspiration for this recollection was an exchange with a British blogger who put up a post about proms. She was speaking of them in the traditionally British sense, and when I asked her to explain, she  did so graciously. I realized from her remarks that her vision of the prom was a fantasized Hollywood version of the American rite of passage. If Hollywood had produce my prom they would have cast the three stooges in the leading roles, but I’m sure someone was or is having fun at these things or the tradition wouldn’t have hung around so long. Having sent my children off to many proms, I am aware that they are a lot more fun now that dinosaurs are no longer roaming the earth. I do hope my recollections will trigger memories for you all, hopefully embarrassing, and you will share them in comments.

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All Creatures Great (and not so Great)

Posted by on Jun 3, 2006 in All things natural, Just for laughs | 0 comments

I have always taken a good deal of pride in my attitude about the natural world. I have no fear of anything that scurries about the ground on multiple legs, or even those strange reptiles with no legs at all. I credit a lot of things for making me fearless, not the least of which is watching my beloved grandmother pick up a rooster by the feet, march it to the chopping block, and sever it’s head from it’s body in one practiced whack of the ax. Her son, my father, had hunted by necessity as a lad to put food on the table during the long illness and subsequent death of his father. He loved being in woods and rivers, and if I wanted to tag along, I better be able to put my own worm on the hook and not complain about anything that crawled, bit me, or scuttled through the underbrush.

My fearlessness got me in trouble at Girl Scout camp when I picked up a little grey mouse that was sitting on my bunk. The startled wild mouse chomped down on my finger and held on tight. I shook my hand quickly and his small body landed in my adjacent water basin. My terrified screaming roommate ignored me totally, threw her basin over the top of mine, clasped it tightly in front of her, and ran 2 miles on a rough trail to the main office to summon help. The poor mouse did not survive her insane flight, so she arrived at the camp director’s office with a dead mouse in a washbasin, trying to tell her story while gasping for breath. I still think they way overreacted, sending the mouse to a lab to check for rabies, and taking me to town for tetanus shots. I considered myself lucky to get off with just one shot after I heard that if they hadn’t been able to test the mouse I would have had to have a series of rabies shots. I mostly left wild mice along afterwards, but continued to find all little creatures intriguing.

Eventually I came to live in the city where all living things have learned to adapt or die. The vermin that live in the shadows of the bright lights are hard, wary, and defensive, not like their more careless country kin. I was sitting outside my house in the wee small hours one morning, negotiating my immediate future with a young man, when I saw a long tailed beast walking boldly up the sidewalk. “Look”, I said, “it’s a opossum, I didn’t know they came into the city.” He rolled his eyes and said, “That’s not an opossum. It’s a rat”. I didn’t argue with him, but neither did I believe that rats got that big. It was a few months later when I opened my swinging kitchen door, flipped on the light, and saw one about the same size glaring at me from the kitchen counter. Now this was not the cute little mousy from my scout camp bunk, this was a street tough, hard core, gangster sort of animal, and you will forgive me if I backed out of the kitchen quietly. The very next day I said to hell with them all being Gods creatures and got in line at the Safeway with a big box of DeCon rat poison. I had heard the stories from other mothers at the playground and I wasn’t messing around with my child sleeping in the same house with that beast at large. Cora, my cat loving housemate, told me not to put out the poison because her precious Fluffy would chase off the bad rat. That very night I heard a blood curdling scream from the kitchen and a shout from Cora to put out the DeCon.

I noticed a strange rotting smell on the steps several weeks later, and with no new sighting, I considered our problem solved. My housemate still crept around warily, unable to smell what I told her was decomposing rat. She insisted I produce the body, but search as I might, the smell seemed elusive and impossible to track. Several months later, with the rat and the smell a memory, we decided to clear out an area behind the paneled wall of the basement. It looked like a good place for storage, and indeed, there was a lot of stuff stashed there. I heard the second rat related scream when I was on the way out the back door with a load for to put in the garbage cans. Dropping my bag, I ran back down to find Cora hyperventilating and unable to speak. She kept pointing to her hand and the spot behind the wall. I focused on her hand, believing her injured, but she was already headed to the sink for water and soap. I saw no wounds, but when she finally calmed down she explained that she had picked up what she believed to be a dirty cloth, and discovered she was holding a mummified rat carcass. Not wanting to be seriously injured, I did not say anything about my keen sense of smell.

When my husband and I first moved to the country with my firstborn and his big dog Bear, we had all been city dwellers for some time. It was fall, and the time for all living thing to find a warm winter nest. I’m sure the family of mice that took up residence in our house thought they had found a great spot. We had no cats, they could run in and out using the empty dryer vent, and the eats were great. I got tired of gnawed open cereal boxes and reluctantly decided to go the poison route again. With no clothes dryer, I was up every Saturday morning before light to start the wash, so it would have time to dry before the day was over. I shared the utility room with the dog, and his water dish sat on the floor near the washer, giving the mice a nice place to come for drinks and tidying up. I was working that morning in my bare feet, tossing towels and sheets into the machine. I kept stepping on something soggy and thinking there was a wet washcloth I needed to add to the load, I finally turned on the light. There on the floor was the squished body of a tiny field mouse that I had been walking on for about 10 minutes. I was thinking of Cora as I tried to form words and tell my husband why I was gasping for air and washing my foot with the garden hose.

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Posted by on Apr 7, 2006 in Death and renewal, Family ties, Just for laughs | 0 comments

In my old age I shall become a minimalist. I shall sit cross-legged on a small rug contemplating the natural tones of my bare room, and the one Zen object that I have placed at its center. Foods that are cooked will only require one pot, one knife, one bowl, and one pair of chopsticks to eat…. Wait, what is that noise? Oh dear, I think it’s the old dragon that I’m married to, snoring from on top of his immense horde of booty. Sigh, I guess I’m having that dream again. The one where my life is not cluttered with crocheted afghans, antique Victorian biscuit jars, letters written by great grandparents, and furniture from a seemingly unending variety of styles and centuries. Please understand that I am most grateful to have wonderful family members who have made me the repository for all their decorating dreams. Except for one large, BUT…

The first wave that came from my husband’s grandmother more than 20 years ago seemed like manna from heaven. That is, until I realized that we would have to buy a larger house. Well, the old one was a little small for our growing family, so we took the plunge and bought a house we felt grandmother would have approved of as the proper setting for her Victorian antiques.

When my mother passed away 8 years later, I think all the children were surprised that Dad wanted to sell the house she had furnished in a the beautiful country/colonial style she treasured. Another moving truck was hired and stuffed with solid walnut, maple, and cherry, plus the requisite kitchen equipment and linens. Even divided three ways I ended up with enough pots, pans, and doodads to start my own restaurant. We shuffled and accommodated, knowing that our children would be starting out in life, and might appreciate the furnishings in a few years. Turns out that even if the stuff had suited their taste, they could not drag it across the country or the ocean to their homes of choice. In fact, before they flew away, they left the pieces they had purchased, and were unable to part with, down in, you guessed it, my basement.

To top us off, about 5 years ago the last set of parents decided to downsize and move into 2 rooms in a retirement home. I would have very little nostalgia for things belonging to my step-mother-in-law, but the treasures she had saved from my husband’s Mom were another story. I bought new shelves to put in the laundry room to stack boxes of china, pictures, silver, and crystal in a holding pattern, so it could be turned over to the new generation when they were ready.

For all the years of my childhood my mother had a picture in her house of a cozy county bedroom with a fireplace, comfy chairs, and a cat playing around a basket of yarn. She lived to create the room she dreamed of, with some revisions to incorporate reality, including the fact that she hated cats, and knitting. I know she loved the bedroom she made, but I never thought to ask her while she was alive, if it actually matched the dream she had about the life she would live in that room. There were no people in the picture, but if there had been, I doubt if, like her, they would have been sitting in the cozy chair, late into the night, doing paperwork for their business. That, along with her in the same chair, frail and sick from cancer, are my most vivid memories of the room she loved.

My picture of the perfect room exists only in my mind, and in an alternative reality. Mr. Dragon is perfectly content, as it is his nature to accumulate things. In fact, we are both cursed and blessed to be children of a generation of parents who, having lived through the depression and the horrors of war, clung to the solid and real.

It may be too late to save myself, but I would like to provide my story as a cautionary tale for those not yet addicted. Every year you hold on to an item, it becomes that much harder to relinquish. Memories become wrapped like cobwebs, binding you to the physical reality of the pieces in the same way you were bound to the people who passed them on. I am not even sure I would be happy in my dream house, especially since it would require parting with the pink flowered mustache cup, the doll house my daughter and I made and furnished, and the giant music box, circa 1898, with all the discs that play songs from that bygone era. Perhaps I’ll just do what all my forbearers had done and leave the messy job of sorting out all the stuff to my children, after I have moved on to my Zen mansion in the hereafter. Even though I won’t be there to hear them, I can’t help but snicker a bit now, imagining how many times they will say, “ Why in heaven’s name did she keep this!”

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