Listening to: Bon Iver
Growing up out in the Minnesota country was a pretty magical time. Most of my memories, actually, have this warm, yellow glow surrounding it. One of my warmest memories has to do with cats. We had tons of barn cats. Now that I’m not a five year old, I can’t help but wonder where these cats came from and why was I allowed to play with these half wild cats. But play with them, I did.
One of my responsibilities as a child was to feed the cats. We fed them once a day and all it entailed was dumping two or so scoops of food on the floor of one of our barns. I would yell out loud and proud, “Here kitty, kitttttttttty! Here kitty, kittttttttty!” until they all started running at me. (I’m not sure the yelling was in the job description or if it was just a liberty I took upon myself). Anyways, I’m not talking about one or two cats. At one point, we had three mama cats that were all pregnant. Two of them had six babies each and the other had three. Now that is a lot of cats! I clearly remember going to school the next day and asking anyone and everyone if they wanted a new kitten. Everyone agreed to take one. Sorry to all you parents...
My siblings and I would stalk our cats like crazy. We knew which ones were pregnant and how far along they were (mostly a judgment call on how fat they looked). I don’t have any exact memories of being told or telling my sister or brother that one of the moms had given birth. All I remember is suddenly the three of us racing towards the barns, giggling with excitement!
We had this old white barn that had small cubby slots going all around the sides. It was the perfect amount of space for a litter of kittens. The only dangerous part was that above the cubbies were a slew of spider webs. There were some massive spiders. I wasn’t ever too afraid of them but it was a pretty horrible feeling if you got your hair in the spider web while you were reaching down into the cubby to grab a kitten.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I would say most of the cats gave birth in these cubbies. Others gave birth in the hay bales we had stacked up in the barns. Others moved into our gray barn and found a safe little space to create for their babies. It was a bit more dangerous in there, though, because the space was more open and we had a lot of horses running around in that space. Another cat we had, Wild Thing, decided to give birth out in the open space as she ran around in circles. (That was terrifying and most definitely does not have a warm, yellow glow around that memory). But the good, experienced mama’s mostly gave birth in the cubbies.
We would tiptoe around the barns, flashlights in hand, and listen ever so carefully for those little mews. If we heard anything, we’d pounce! I will forever have this mental imagine of peering down into the cubbies, flashlight probing the darkness, and seeing the mama’s cat eyes glowing back. It always felt like, “YES! I hit the jackpot!” We’d alert each other to the win and then proceed to fight to get a better look.
We would then wait patiently for the mom to leave her precious babies alone. Sometimes this took only a couple minutes but other times it took much longer. My brother would always be fidgeting on the hay bales and my sister would scold him to be quiet because we knew the mom wouldn’t leave if there was danger outside. But, as soon as she crawled up the walls and left the barn, we’d run over and peer down at them. It was always a bit awe-inspiring at first. There they lay, their tiny bodies huddled around each other for warmth. Their little eyes were sealed shut still which was our sign that we couldn’t touch them. They would let these little cries out that were just heartbreaking to a little girl’s heart. I wanted to pick them up, squeeze them, wrap them up in warm blanket, but I knew that I couldn’t yet.
What we could do was count them, pick out our favorites, and name them. We had somehow predetermined that I always got the orange ones, my sister got the gray ones, and my brother would end up with the black ones or whatever was left. One of our main tom cats was orange, so I think I ended up winning most of those divvying up sessions. One time a little white kitten showed up at our house and then it was a free for all.
We would come back and check on our kittens as often as we could. Their little bodies would grow bigger and bigger until we were positive that the space was just TOO small for them to be in any longer. It was our duty to rescue them!! But we would always restrain…until their eyes finally opened! Then we would take turns reaching way down into the bottom and grabbing up our so loved babies! It was always quite the reach for me as the youngest and shortest. My warms were just too short!
We would then snuggle with them for a bit but then we would put them on the ground and let them try out walking on their little, shaking legs. We’d witness their first steps--what could be greater than that?! My dad would always pretend that he didn’t like cats but when these little babies were born, we took such delight in bringing them to him. He’d pick each one up, hold it gently, and rub it up and down his face with this big, goofy smile on his face. We knew during those times that no matter what he said, he really loved those little kitties. And so did we.
We moved from my beloved house when I was in the 5th grade. I was so devastated. I thought of many ways to sabotage the move but always chickened out when it came for action. We sold the house pretty quickly (or so it seemed) and had to move into a rental house for a bit. I stayed home from school the day of the move because we all knew I’d be worthless at school on such a tormented day! But on that day as people struggled to move out our large piano and our floral print couch, I went to the barns. And low and behold, I noticed that one of our cats looked a bit thinner than she had been. So I grabbed my flashlight and began my search. As I peered down into the cubbies, I knew this would be my last time searching for my kitties. As I saw the mama’s eyes peering up at me, tears streamed down my face onto her back. My heart burst but I remember being so thankful for this one last opportunity to search for my kittens. And those little meows were never so precious before!
|Playing dress up and using my best accessory, Peaches|