Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch; marry, ’tis enough.

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Cats on a couch. / Photo by KidZond.

 

On March 5th, 1925 in  Ainsworth Iowa, a child was born. A baby girl, to Charles and Edith McDonald.

She was born premature, which in 1925 was almost a death sentence. To keep her warm she was put in a shoebox by a franklin pot belly stove.

Or so the story goes of my Mother’s birth.

Today would have been my Mother’s 94th birthday. She lived to be 80 years old. March 5th is always one of those days that make me grumpy. I really can’t help it.

My mother had a rough upbringing, her mother was taken away when she was only 4 years old. My grandmother had tuberculosis, at which time there was no known cure. My mother’s last memory of her mother was chasing the ambulance my grandmother was taken away in. She would hate the sound of sirens for the rest of her life, and they would always fill her with dread.

After my grandmother’s death, my grandfather placed my mother and my uncle in an orphanage. She would stay their most of her childhood, till she was returned to my grandfather when they couldn’t place her in an adoptive home. My mother always contended it had to do with her red hair and freckles.

She would be shuffled from family member to family member over the years. Finally arriving in Peoria Illinois, where she would meet my father.

As you would expect, my mother did not think much of my grandfather, and would have little to do with her family for the rest of her life except a sister and brother.

Mom was part of the greatest generation. Those who grew up during the depression and would later go on to fight in World War II. As my father headed off to war, my mother headed off to the factories.

Later in life, she would give birth to four baby boomers, be a stay at home mom, and raise us. She worked her butt off raising four children. Three of them boys.

Yet, she would have her quirks.

One, she had a passion for animals. Mostly those abandoned by others. My mother loved strays, and would take them in. Later in her life she would become the proverbial cat lady, growing her collection to the point of financial stress.

I have always wondered about her need to take care of cats. At first I thought it was because her kids were grown (since the cat lady phase happened after we were all grown and out of the house.) Yet as I have gotten older, I think it had more to do with her childhood. She was essentially a stray, abandon by her father to an orphanage. I think she couldn’t stand to see others abandoned. Even if those others were cats.

Oh, and my mother? She judged you on how you treated cats. Even dumping an old boyfriend because he didn’t like cats.

Another quirk of my mother was when she was injured. It didn’t matter to her, it was, just a scratch. This ’tis but a scratch mentality nearly cost my mother her life when she was in her 40’s. She had a tumor on her parathyroids and was deathly ill till she had it removed.

I remember my mother cutting her fingers on knives she would invariably leave in the soap foamed covered sink, and just band-aid her finger and keep washing. Even though the finger continued to bleed.

When I was a teenager, my mother was in a car accident. She sustain a pretty serious concussion. Yet she refused medical treatment. To her, it was just a scratch.

Then, in last year of her life, my mother fell and broke her hip. That can be fatal to many when they are in their later years of life. Not to mention she had other medical issues that complicated the matters. But mom rebounded, was able to walk again with the aid of a walker, and was on her way to a full recovery.

At the time, my mother lived with my sister and niece. All three of them living in a house together, enjoying life, and my sister was able to take care of mom. Something I am indebted to her, since she was the only one of us siblings who could at that point of mother’s children’s lives. Yet, as fate would have it, while my sister and niece suffered from the flu, my mother started to bleed internally. She never said a word to my sister. Kept it to herself. Because, after all, ’tis but a scratch. But it was more than that this time. And on January 20th 2006, my mother passed away.

Part of me will always have an anger toward my mother. I wished she would have paid more attention to herself, had less of a cavalier attitude about injuries. She missed out on my two youngest, did not see my oldest grow into the wonderful women they are. Yet she believed one shouldn’t dwell upon these minor hiccups of life. ‘Tis but a scratch after all.

It is hard sometimes to look at your parents objectively. To see them as human beings with baggage they carry with them. We tend to put our parents on a pedestal, or in sadder cases, put them in a hole and forget about them. My mother wasn’t perfect, she wasn’t a horror like other mothers I have heard about. She was a good ear, and gave sound, if not curt advice.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my parents, and yes, especially today, my Mother. Of course the pain doesn’t go away. How could it? You share a bond with your mother for 9 months, and for a lifetime afterwards. Whatever makes you think it would go away when they do? It doesn’t. They invade your dreams, and even your children’s facial expressions and voices. You see them in the legacy they have created. And you know, that life does go on, a little sadder, but still it goes on.

 

 

 

The Family Secret of The Cat Lady.

Or how I learned to live with my Mother’s obsession with Cats.

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One fifth of my Mother’s Clowder (group of cats) / Photo by KidZond

 

Everyone has one in their family. Oh, you may not know it, or you may just ignore it, but they are there. Cat lovers. No…obsessed cat lovers. Meaning, if the house is on fire? They will let you know after they get the cats out first. Well, unless of course, they need your help first to round them up. Which they probably will, so, you’re safe.

It’s not like cat lovers are bad people, they are actually very loving and caring people. This is typical of any animal lover. Those who care for the welfare of animals, creatures who are by nature or design, mostly defenseless, will likely be kind to other ‘non-animals’. You know, people.

This was my Mother. She had always said you can tell about a person by they way they treated animals. Especially cats. She had, in her youth, left a boyfriend because he did not like cats. My Father loved cats. Well no, he was actually a Dog person, but he got along with cats. Not like he had a choice in the matter.

My earliest memories have to do with animals. I had always been around cats. I know more about cats than any other animal on earth. Mom wanted me to become a veterinarian.

(I had to say no to that, I wanted to make a living, not be her personal veterinarian and live in my parent’s basement till I was in my 40’s)

You realize that you know cats so well, that when I was in high school, during lunch, I could mimic a cat vomiting so well that my friends turned green. I won the “Who Could Gross Out The Table” contest by the way.

My mothers obsession with cats really took off after I graduated high school. I lived at home till I was 23 years of age. Worked odd shifts at starter jobs, came home at odd hours. I can’t tell you how many times I came home, tired from a long day, only to see my mother in her nightgown and robe peering out into the darkness with a flashlight calling for a cat.

Our cat’s had a curfew. I had to help find the cat.

When I graduated high school back in 1982, we had four cats. When I moved out on my own, my mother had six cats. The Clowder or Glaring as a group of cats are called, only grew. By the time my first child came along in 1991, my mother had some 22 cats.

Now my mother wasn’t “nuts” or “crazy”. She didn’t talk to herself…oh wait, she did. But she didn’t exhibit any symptoms that would require a psychologist. She didn’t like psychologist anyways, thought they were just nuts.

She did however, maintain a home, paid her bills, cooked and cleaned, even took on a part-time job after retirement. For the most part, she was a normal as anyone. But cats were a different matter. She had to save them, and by them? I mean every cat that crossed her path.

I remember this cute little short-haired black cat that she fed. See, mom was worried about cats outside, so she left bowls of food outside for the cats. This black cat was nice, very pretty, and well, in need.

“Mom, are you sure that cat is a stray? She looks pretty well fed to me.” I said to her one day when I was over.

“Well did you see how she eats? She’s starved!” My mother would say in a sympathetic voice.

The next time I saw the cat she had a collar on. She belonged to a neighbor. Mom couldn’t figure out why she came over to her house if the cat had its own home. I mentioned that maybe it was because of food she left outside. Mom didn’t think that was it. I suggested bringing in the food at night, she thought that was a bad idea.

Then the gray cat appeared, it was ugly, hairless tail, big bug eyes, really hungry because it just camped out on the back porch and ate all the food. On the second night of this pathetic gray cat’s camp out, my father told her it was an opossum. Mom brought the food in after that.

Stray cats were my mothers passion. Those poor cats that people abandon and left them to fend for themselves. She worried and fussed over them, taking them in, getting them to the vet, making sure they fit in with the clowder. My father and I worried too. I asked my father if I should put out a sign outside his house. “Please stop dropping off your cats at our house”. My father said it would just give out the exact location of the crazy cat lady’s house. He had a point.

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Loki relaxing in the grass. / Photo by KidZond

 

One thing about growing up with cats, it made it hard to bring friends over. Not quite to the point of social outcast, but close. The fear? My friends would say something bad about cats. Then I would have to hear about it. If a person didn’t like cats, or animals in general, those were not the sort of people I should be associating with now, should I? Of course there was the whole thing of not wanting people to know either. When you are asked if you mother has cats, yes, 22 at last count, is going to require answers.

“Is your mother crazy?” 

“Maybe, define ‘crazy'”

“Well that’s a lot of cats! How much do they cost to feed?” 

“About a Micronations yearly budget.”

“How does it smell in her house?”

“I can’t smell, my mother had my nostrils plugged when I was 10.”

Yes it did smell, yes it did cost money to feed the Horde or Clowder (Glaring? That word is just creepy). Yes it was annoying and sometimes embarrassing. Yes, I did think my mom was nuts…back then in my youth.

But you know what? It didn’t matter. Not just because she was my mother. Not just because I knew her life, orphaned at 4 years of age, and then bounced around from family member to family member till she married my father. No, it didn’t matter because of what my mother’s cat fixation taught me.

Everyone needs love.

Everyone needs a home and a place to sit and relax without fear.

Everyone needs a good meal.

Everyone needs to be petted. 

I learned that showing kindness is its own reward. To have compassion for those in need, even a stray cat, will empower you to help your two-legged friends down the line.

It may have been a simple lesson to learn, yet it was a powerful lesson.

Ironically, I’m more of a dog person. We do have two cats at my house, also a dog, and two smaller two-legged animals that talk back. Yet I have never forgotten the lessons my crazy cat mother had taught me. Compassion.

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Our cat Dott, relaxed, because nothing is more relaxed than a cat. / Photo by KidZond

It may have been an embarrassment in my youth. It may have been a consternation to my father and the whole family, yet my mothers love for animals, specifically cats, did show her character. She was a caring, loving mother. A good woman. Salt of the earth. As long as you treated cats nicely. If not, well, may God have mercy on your poor soul. Because she wouldn’t.

And not one of us in my family would save you either.