Saturday, April 24, 2010

My Mother, My Father and the Cat

The cat’s name was Cherry and she was a little brown and black tiger with a white muzzle, paws and belly.  I was around twelve years old when Dad and I brought her home from one of our forays into the countryside – we had stopped at an orchard to buy a few cherries and the farmer had quite cleverly placed a box of adorable kittens on display as well.  I wheedled and pleaded and with the inclusion of much flattery I was finally able to convince “the best dad in the world” that we surely needed a cat and so “Cherry” came home with us.

Mom was not thrilled with this development and she immediately pronounced that Cherry must sleep in the basement so she “wouldn’t get into anything.”  That first night, after we had all fallen asleep, a tremendously eerie screeching was heard wafting up the basement stairs and echoing through the furnace pipes.  Dad rushed downstairs to find that the kitten had climbed up onto the wall around the old cistern and then fallen in.  Luckily there was only an inch of water in the cistern and it was filled mainly with old junk.  Dad found a long board and angled it down into the space and the kitten scrambled her way to safety.  From that moment on, Cherry worshipped my father - he was her God.

Mom eventually relented and allowed Cherry up into the house to sleep.  Mom and the cat achieved a tacit understanding early on in their relationship – mom was the boss of the household and that was that.  No arguments allowed. Cherry liked to sleep in the space between the curving pedestal legs of the dining room table.  Of course she left fur on the rug in those spots so mom trained her to sleep on flattened paper bags.  I never even once saw that cat try to leap up onto a piece of furniture or a counter.  I guess she knew what my mother’s response would have been and was a wise cat to avoid such repercussions.

This particular parsonage was a huge drafty old building – there were 7 bedrooms, 2 ½ bathrooms, a modern kitchen with turquoise and peach metal cabinets, a dining room and two, not one, two living rooms.  Mom declared that the living rooms were off limits to the cat – she could wander anywhere else in the house, upstairs or down but not one paw was allowed in either of the living rooms.

Cherry made a great display of obeying this rule – if a toy she was batting around happened to skid across the threshold she would wait, looking pitiful, until one of us noticed her plight and retrieved the toy for her.

The only time Cherry disobeyed this edict was upon the arrival of the ladies for one of the church circle meetings.  Mom was always in high dudgeon for these events, polishing her tea set, proffering her best china and trying to create appropriately dainty little snacks. The cat took full advantage of mom’s emotional state. With her tail high in the air, and a smug cat look on her face, she would stroll into the forbidden living room, making the rounds, greeting and rubbing against each guest.  Of course the church ladies would all exclaim what a lovely cat she was and mom, although fuming under the surface, could do nothing except shoot the cat dirty looks when she hoped no one was watching.

In due time mom decided that Cherry could have the full run of the house.  And run she did!  Out through the dining room, past the living rooms, a sharp left through the front hall, up the staircase, across the upstairs front hallway, past my dad’s study, through the guest room, down the middle of my bedroom, down the back hall and then she flew down the steep and narrow back stairs, launching herself into my parents’ bedroom from the fifth step – which caused her to land on the flimsy little throw rug at the bottom of the stairs and slide on her magic carpet into the dining room, whereupon her trip would end with a thunk as she slid into the bottom of the china cabinet.  She loved this wild ride of hers and did it over and over again.

Cherry worshipped my dad.  She followed him everywhere she could manage.  Since our parsonage was situated right next to the church, she snuck into the church on more than one occasion.  She discovered that she could slip into the sanctuary when the custodian was not looking and the take a nice nap on the newly re-upholstered red velvet altar chairs.  Dad was not thrilled with having to go near much less sit on red velvet altar chairs - and red velvet altar chairs with cat hairs thrilled him even less.  The cat was soon banished from the church, especially on Sundays.  We always felt that she retaliated by catching a brace of mice and laying them out for us on the sidewalk between the church and the parsonage, so we had to walk around them or step over them on the way back home.  Mom was less than ecstatic at that display of Cherry’s hunting prowess.

The funeral home was located on the other side of the parsonage.  There was a hedge between our property and theirs, and then their broad expanse of perfectly manicured lawn.  Dad was always running late so to save time he would duck through the hedge and trot across the lawn when he was called upon to perform a funeral service.  Cherry took to following him, tail in the air, across that wide green lawn and many were the times that dad discovered his little furry shadow only at the very door of the funeral home.

He would then try to pick up the cat with the tips of his fingers and with his elbows locked in front of him, carry her back to the house (she would be squirming and twisting to escape his grip), all the time hoping to suffer the least amount of cat hairs on his best black funeral suit.

Dad professed to be a cat hater but we all (mom, Cherry and I) knew he was a big softie at heart.  Dad would occasionally come home with raw liver as a treat for the cat (I was an adult before I realized that people actually ate liver and that it wasn’t just something the butcher was throwing away!).  Cherry used to go absolutely bananas over this liver, she nearly choked trying to purr and chew and swallow at the same time.

Another treat for the cat was warm milk with maybe a little egg beaten into it if he thought she was feeling “poorly.”  The best treats of all were the little sugar coated raisins from his Raisin Bran cereal.  He used to complain mightily that “the darn cat was always begging at the breakfast table.”  I tried to point out that she wasn’t born with the knowledge of little sugar-coated raisins in Raisin Bran and “someone” must have illuminated her about their existence – else how could she have known what to beg for at the breakfast table?

Cherry and I made quite a splash around town - she had a little red leather harness and I walked her on a leash.  The photographer in the studio downtown saw us one day and offered to take her portrait.  He gave me a few wallet size copies but kept a framed hand colored 8x10 in his window for a long time.  I sure wish I had that original hand colored photograph - my folks tried to buy it years later but it was unfortunately long gone.  
Bless you little cat - I still love you and your pretty smile!