Posted in Childhood

Cats, cars, and hope.

I love cats. I’ve always loved them, from newborn kittens with their eyes closed to the goofy teen-cat to the disdainful adult. I think cats are probably the least understood domestic animal there is. But if you’ve ever had a cat, you understand what I’m saying.

We grew up in the country with dogs and horses, but I always wished for a cat. My parents knew I loved them, and even though my dad hated them, they actually got me one for Christmas one year. I can still see it in my mind’s eye. All of the many presents had been opened when my dad came in from the kitchen announcing, “Maureen!” He had a darling brown tabby kitten hanging from his hand, and I received what was probably the best Christmas present of my young life. I named her Daisy.

She lived both inside and out. I loved her to death and worried when she wasn’t with me. She was goofy, like all young cats are, and everyone seemed to enjoy her. By the time she was maybe 10 months old, she was a part of my family even if she wasn’t a part of theirs. And then one day she disappeared. I was distraught, and I cried and searched for days, calling her name inside the house and out. My mom finally said that cats are wild animals, and perhaps she simply ran away to be with other wild cats. And so I went back to yearning for another cat of my own.

Enter Pansy, my new outdoor cat. I remember finding a litter of brand new kittens huddled together in the hay in the barn, eyes still tightly shut. My mom was worried they would be too cold, so she let Pansy bring her babies inside, up the stairs and into the linen closet to keep them safe from kids and dogs. I was ecstatic! Eventually, after the kittens got older, we had to box them up and stand in front of the Kresge store with them. I was able to keep one, Buttercup, and I felt the luckiest girl alive. Oddly enough, weeks later, Pansy left us to find the other wild cats, and then it was just me and Buttercup.

We all know of some of the issues with indoor/outdoor cats. They will proudly bring you their kill. They will experiment with their claws on your curtains to see how high they can climb. They will slowly and surely shred the legs of your upholstery with complete disregard. But they will also calm you as they slowly press their soft paws into your chest purring loudly, eyes half closed, content. They will rub up against you, claiming you as their own. They will lie on your puzzle to be where you are or, if you’re reading a book, their paw will rest on your arm as it sleeps in your lap.

The last experience of my childhood cats ended with the following story:

As my dad tells it, he’d had it with Buttercup. So with the planned cover story of yet another cat running away to the wild, he put Buttercup in his car to take to the pound 30 minutes away. He lowered the top on his convertible and drove off. When he arrived at the pound, he discovered there was no cat to be found. Thinking, I’m sure, that she must have jumped out, he was no doubt relieved that he didn’t have to enter that complex with yet another unwanted feline. He went about his work day and arrived home that night only to put the top up on the convertible and discover that Buttercup had hidden herself in the well. She jumped out and made a beeline for the house. Within a month she had run away to the wild.

I was never the wiser until much later when, as an adult, I heard him recount this story, laughing hysterically at the outcome of the day. To say I was shocked and appalled would understate the realization of what I’d learned. As an adult, I suppose deep down I understood that they hadn’t meant to hurt me. I had accepted what they’d said and, as a little girl, it probably did make the loss a little easier thinking perhaps those cats had found their place in the wild. But I can’t dwell on it too much. I now understand why it took me so long to bond with another animal. I was in my mid 30’s when my own kids found a kitten and I was finally able to connect with an animal. We had Cali for over 15 wonderful years.

I’d love another cat. David, well, not so much. But maybe . . . someday. I won’t abandon that hope just yet.

Posted in Childhood, Family

Close to heaven.

When my sister and I were in our early teens, we were lucky enough to have horses. Well, a horse. We boarded several, but we owned Clancy, a sable-brown thoroughbred with the temperament of a big lab. He was tall and gentle and surprisingly patient with a couple young girls learning to ride bareback through the fields around our home. Our neighbor friends boarded a couple of their horses, as well, and one of them was really smart. Clipper could open the door to his stall at will. Thankfully there was a paddock around the small barn that housed him and the others. But every once in awhile, it didn’t matter.

More than once the phone would ring in the middle of the night, and the convent nuns would be calling to tell us our horses were in their field again. Mom would come wake Kathleen and me and tell us to go get them. We lived in a very small town at that time, quiet and rural. This particular summer night, Kathy threw on some shorts under her PJ top, and she and I, in my kelly-green baby doll pajamas and tennis shoes, walked the half mile, bridles in hand, to the church yard where we found our two errant horses nibbling away on the green grass.

I have the sweetest most vivid memory of she and I atop those two horses climbing the hill towards home, hooves slowly sounding their ‘clip-clop’ down the dirt road. It had to be near midnight, but we didn’t need flashlights. Back then, with few lights for distraction, the dark sky had set off the brilliant stars and the Milky Way, creating an atmosphere so peaceful, I never wanted it to end. Letting the horses find their way, our heads tilted back looking at the deep, vast, star-filled sky, it was probably as close to heaven as I’ve ever been.

Posted in Childhood, Family, Lucky Eleven

Christmas Eve Magic

Growing up, there was a Christmas Eve tradition in our home that, according to my mom, began when she was just a little girl. Her parents started it, then my parents followed in their footsteps with the reading of T’was the Night Before Christmas.

“The Reading” about 25 years ago

Each year on that night, we would all get into our pajamas and make our way downstairs for “The Reading.” Dad would lie on his belly at the foot of the tree surrounded by all his children with mom standing somewhere behind. He would masterfully and with great relish read from the pages of that well-known book. After concluding with a very dramatic, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” we would suddenly hear, “Crack! Crack! Crack!” and from the ceiling huge walnuts would fall to the floor! At the same time, dad would leap up and run to the window yelling, “I see him! I see Santa! There he goes!” As we searched the dark skies for any sign of the sleigh, mom and dad would tell us to hurry upstairs so Santa could come back. We would then race up to bed and wait until morning to descend the stairs and behold the many presents under the Christmas tree.

As we got older, of course, we were quick to figure it all out. But with such a large family, and always with little ones, it was great fun to see what our parents saw, and it made us want to duplicate it in our own families years later.

The tradition continues.

This is a photo collage I put together on Christmas Eve a few years ago. These pictures started showing up on Facebook as the evening progressed, and I just had to collect as many as I could and put them together as a small tribute to a cherished tradition started over 90 years ago. I was lucky enough to experience this great mystery as a child, and it has been passed along to my children and now my grandchildren. My nieces and nephews and now great-nieces and great-nephews are delighting in the same excitement. I’m sure my mom’s parents never dreamed their idea for a little Christmas Eve magic would be repeated for generations every night before Christmas. But I know when it is, they, along with all our missed loved ones, are smiling down on these scenes.

Posted in Childhood, Family, Florida Fun

Seasons Change, and So Do I

11/28/19. Thanksgiving Day. This will be my eighth holiday season in Florida, which is hard to believe. And of those eight, several of them were spent on my own in my own place doing my own thing, such as it was.

The holidays bring so many memories reaching all the way to when I was a kid. Our family would either host or attend the many get-togethers surrounding the season, and I would eventually come to understand the significance and the importance of tradition.

Weather permitting, the kids would come prepared for the outdoors and would play outside until called in for dinner. It was always potluck style with everyone bringing a little something to the table. There was loads of help, with the kitchen as the center, the adults milling around, prepping the buffet for the long line of hungry eaters. Afterwards, tables were cleared, games were set up, and the fun and laughter would go well into the evening.

It’s difficult to let that go, but life happens; loved ones pass on, kids grow up and move on, and the only constant, it seems, is change. I know in some families it stays the same generation after generation. But in a family as large as ours, there’s bound to be lots of change, welcome and unwelcome.

And so it goes. This Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season that eases our way into 2020 and another year. Family and friends surround us helping create new memories. We slowly establish new traditions while thinking back to the ones that formed us. Seasons change, times change, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Posted in Childhood, Family

A Rite of Passage

rope swing When we were kids living in an old farmhouse in Rochester, Michigan, there was a tree way out in the back yard with a rope swing in it.  It was the perfect rope swing. The rope was thick; probably not as thick as I remember, but holding it in my smaller hands, it was the perfect size to get a tight, two-fisted grasp around it that included elbows. The knot on the bottom was wide enough to accommodate both butt cheeks, but you could still lock your knees and legs around it for dear life. Picture someone trying to climb a rope, and that’s the form we seemed to take when we would first attempt the swing.

I’m third of 11 kids. I have an older brother and sister, and then a whole bunch of boys follow with another little girl thrown in for good measure. I was probably nine or 10 before I worked up the gumption to finally climb into the crotch of that tree and sidle out the thick limb that had the bark worn off from bottom after bottom sliding off into the air. I can still feel the trembling and the panic in my heart as I sat there terrified I would fall off waiting for someone to toss me the knot, praying I would catch it with my feet. Then, God help me, I had to pull my knees up and reach for the rope, all the while balancing and shaking like the leaves around me! 

To their credit, my siblings were pretty good about urging me on, telling me I could do it.  Looking back, they probably just wanted me to hurry up so they’d have a turn. I’d certainly been in that position before and not gone, so kudos to them for what I took for encouragement.

But that first time … Honestly, I can still feel my butt slowly slide off the branch while holding onto that rope like a baby chimp to it’s mother, my hair flying, hoping I wouldn’t swing back and hit the tree (never!), listening to the cheers of my brothers and sister.  Heart pounding, a wide grin on my face, I savored my first flight down and out over the septic field, back and forth, finally slowing down and relaxing enough to trust my legs to hold me when I jumped off. 

It was certainly a right of passage, an unquestionable confidence builder that perhaps led to my love of flying!