“I can’t imagine you doing that.”
He’s known me all his life, the total of his 25 years. Mostly, I suppose, through the eyes and words of my sister, his mother. Consecutive years passed without visits, but not many.
I was telling him a story about my childhood in rural Pennsylvania. We had several cats. Outdoor cats my mother called them. We fed them, and that’s as far as my mother felt her responsibility extended. Spaying and neutering were not actions she felt compelled to finance. She enjoyed the cats, but she and my father had six daughters to feed, clothe and educate.
My mother paid enough attention to the cats to know when a female was pregnant. When she thought the time was near she lined a cardboard box with a hand-me-down pink baby blanket, and placed the mother-to-be carefully inside. And each time the cat leapt out of the box, and stalked off into the trees.
Half feral, the mother cats inevitably wandered into the woods to deliver their litter of kittens.
“Thomasina or Grace or Penelope had her kittens,” my mother would eventually inform us when the cat showed up at the back door begging for food, skinny, her nipples filled with milk and hanging low. “Go get a burlap bag and follow her. Bring the kittens back.”
We were little girls ranging in age from 2-12. The mother cats were far savvier than we were. We were loud, excitable, and clumsy. The mother cat always knew what we were up to. She’d circle back to the house, curl up in the empty box, and fall asleep. We promptly forgot about her, and returned to weeding the garden, or creosoting fence posts, whatever our disciplinarian father demanded of us on a given day.
Weeks passed until we were at the right place at the right time in the right mood. Finally, we followed at a far enough remove to sneak up on the mother cat through the trees and the brush, and find the kittens. By this time, never having spied a human, the kittens were well on their way to becoming feral. They hissed and spit when we came near. We slipped our hands into canvas gloves, slid the kittens into the burlap bag, and carried them home, the mother cat trailing behind.
We locked kittens and mother in the upstairs bathroom. With the exception of my father who had the exclusive use of the downstairs bathroom, and who cared little for our captives, we visited many times throughout the day. We ooohed and aahed and cooed and stroked, and within a week they were tamed.
When I got to the part about placing them into the burlap bag, my nephew remarked that he couldn’t imagine me doing it. I didn’t ask him why. I continued with the story.
I was trying to distract him. He was fresh out of rehab, and his girlfriend, also recently released from a separate rehab, refused to speak to him.
After a long descent into madness, his girlfriend’s parents had appeared at their door, and plucked them from their hidey-hole. They took charge of their daughter, and, by virtue of geography, I was charged with my nephew. He was ready to accept help. I urged him into rehab, and 30 days later he was tamed.
Maybe one day when he looks back on his history he’ll remember the story of hissing and spitting kittens in a burlap bag, and he’ll imagine it, his aunt with gloves on, wrangling feral cats.