Our Grandmother: For Gillian

17 Oct

ithacalansing

Grandma Clark

When I was visiting my cousin Gillian and her husband Matt recently, she and I dished about our family, entering a number of long discussions about my mother, Gillian’s parents and a couple of short ones, including a short one about our Grandmother Clark.  Gillian sat in her special chair, the chair she rented to support herself now that she is thirty weeks pregnant with triplets, and moved her hands as she talked the way I do.  She said that she had acquired the idea from her father that Grandma was “prim and proper.”  I suppose that is true in some respects, although I think I would describe her as “ladylike,” rather than “prim.”  I didn’t give Gillian a good response, but I would like to do so now.

Gillian was born in 1979, while our grandmother was born in 1895 and died in 1967, so they missed…

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Dreams and Cats

15 Oct

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. (Shakespeare–Tempest)

Sam Shepard

This morning I woke up still dreaming that I was having an affair with Sam Shepard, and in that time between that chimera of dreaming and being fully awake, I thought long, rangy Sam was actually next to me.  Thus, I was faintly surprised to find black and white fur balls nestled against my sides.

I have always resisted the image of the cat lady, but there I was waking up to my two cats.  I was confronted with the detested metaphor.  When I was an English teacher, I taught two short stories that play with our way of looking at single women:  “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner and “Our Friend Judith” by Doris Lessing, a writer obsessed with cats.  I would have my students list all the pejorative names for single women: “old maid,” “spinster,” “spinny marm,” “hag,” “witch,” and the list goes on.  The figure most often used to represent the woman and her cat is a witch with her familiar.  A single man is simply referred to as a bachelor and sometimes a geezer.  A fellow waitress once explained why she didn’t want to have cats in her apartment: “I never wanted to be one of those women with cat hairs on her clothes.”  Well, I never wanted to be one of those people who was stereotyped as one of those women, but I find that there many negative views of us that still persist.

One is that we are women who aren’t realistic about men: we are women who refused to accept the men who came our way when we were young, even if they were abusive, ugly, boring, didn’t like to read,  didn’t like camping, satisfied a temporary itch, or simply weren’t interested in us.   As I explained to a young friend who told me that I better go ahead and pick someone, “You become more picky as you get older.”  Hence–Sam Shepard–we don’t stop looking for whatever it was we were looking for in the beginning but more so.  Some cats are better companions than some men.

Not so Sam Shepard.  My friend Denise and I made his acquaintance when he came to the University of Minnesota to read his flash fiction to the English Department.  The agreement was that he wasn’t going to talk about any of the other stuff, which I took to mean literary criticism and Jessica Lange.  During his readings and question and answer session he leaned back on his chair like Henry Fonda’s Wyatt Earp  with his legs sprawled across the chairs in front of him.  Denise bonded with him during the questions by talking about a trip she made that was similar to one he took with his children where they grabbed pieces of the Berlin Wall as it was coming down.  After the talk was finished, Denise stood in line to talk to him.  When she got to the part about “how much we like Jessica,” I headed to the oer d’oeuvres.  However, he took it well; Denise is able to get away with kind of thing.  He actually looked better than he did when he played Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff, if that’s possible.   I had my blue hippie skirt on, a skirt that Denise’s dog Leila jumped on and tore later on; it was probably a good thing.  I wore it too much.  I was going through a period when I forgot what I looked like to a man, and all of the sudden I felt like I was thrown into relief.

Terry, the Remarkable Cat

9 Jul

Kathy and Terry.jpg

Kathy and Terry, 2001

 

Terry was a most remarkable cat.  He had grey hair and green eyes, and when I first took him to the vet  I was told that he was probably two-years-old. Looking at the cat chart, I was convinced that he was a Russian Blue, but the vet told me he was a domestic short hair, a bit on the small side.  I came to understand that it was his personality that made him stand out.

 

I first met him one winter as part of a group of cats.  My garage door was broken, and because I could not afford to fix it, it stayed open the rest of the season.  When I came home at night, all the neighborhood cats would be huddled against the inside wall of the garage, to escape the wind and snow.  Several of them were plump and/or had collars, but a grey cat and a black cat were underweight and to help them I started feeding the whole crew.

 

Come spring, I started leaving the food on the side patio, but it became expensive.  One of my born-again Christian tenants and I started to put the dish closer and closer to the house.  The little grey cat was very loud with his meows and I focussed on him, occasionally feeding the black cat also.  When we put the dish inside and left the door open, he came in and from then on he was my cat. I’ve always felt guilty about not adopting the black cat, too, but I already had a dog and three tenants.

 

We came to call him Terry after another of my then tenants.  Terry, the cat, much beloved by those who knew him, had an inside personality and an outside personality.  Inside, he was docile and obedient–he always used the litter box and he slept at the end of my bed. Except when he didn’t get enough attention–then he would climb onto the mantle and push with his paw on a few things, causing them to clatter to the floor.  But usually he was a gentle soul who cosied up to strangers, often sitting in their laps.

 

Outside, he was still friendly with neighbors like Carole from next door and the odd stranger, but he could be a terror with  other cats.  He would hide in the hydrangeas and jump out at them. Despite his small size, he was a fearless fighter. I told my vet that I was concerned about his fighting, because his front paws were declawed, but he reassured me, saying that cats fought first and foremost with their mouths. He even threw his fur, as I have heard cats will do.  One time I was reading outside in a lawn chair and he loped by–a grey cat with a grey bird in his mouth. I had always thought of him as different from other cats, but he was demonstrating a behavior that has been practiced by cats immemorial. It even seemed as though he were showing off in front of me.

 

In the winter he was mostly an inside cat, but he would take excursions into the outside and jump from foot print into foot print and then run back up the stoop and into the house.  After the experience of sheltering in the garage, I think he really appreciated warmth. He would cuddle in my lap as we watched TV and play with his cat toy, a rug-covered wood stand that had a yarn ball hanging from it..  He was extremely dexterous.

 

When he first started falling apart, I didn’t pay attention.  He started going to the bathroom in the open boxes in my study.  Then the peeing got out of hand and I went to the vet. I was told that he had diabetes.  I thought only overweight animals came down with diabetes, but there he was thin as he’d always been.

 

I started going to Walgreen’s for insulin and Jenna, my tenant at the time, ended up giving him his shots during the week when I was in Wisconsin.  However, he went slowly downhill over the year and one day I came home to find him in distress.  I called my vet of many years at Best Friends Hospital, but their beds were full, necessitating a drive to another clinic, where the vet told me that he could hydrate Terry but that his diabetes was so bad that he would quickly revert to the present state.  I allowed him to be euthanized and headed home with Terry, now dead, in the passenger seat.  Once I arrived home Jenna helped me bury Terry in the vegetable garden.  Over the years I have often thought of him and what a good companion he was.



 

 

Puddles of Color

23 May

This post is also from Claire’s blog: itsaboutthestory.wordpress.com  I wanted my readers to get more of an idea of all the work that Claire’s husband, Ram, has put into the garden (Groton, New York).  Claire has also been involved, of course.

itsaboutthestory.wordpress.com

lilacsab 2018

This is a photograph I took the other night, outside.  The colors this year are hitting me like fireworks.  Probably because I looked out and saw grey and brown for so long.  What also strikes me is how fleeting the whole spring is…these beautiful colors only last a few days.  One night last week I walked around the place, the place that my husband has nurtured for 40 years and I wanted to take the most magnificent picture of every single flowering tree.  I wanted to hold the trees and their brilliance forever.

As I started shooting with my newish camera, I realized that even if I could capture the over 20 colorful flowering trees in a one-hour photo shoot, my learning curve with the camera is slow and it takes many photos to get a good shot.

So the next night, I decided, I can’t own this beauty, I can’t…

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The Snow Ball Tree

22 May

This post is one from the blog of my friend Claire Perez.  She and her husband have grown an amazing garden.

itsaboutthestory.wordpress.com

IMG_9522 (1)In a few days, this green plant, front and to the left in this post, will become a mound of snowballs, and that is where its name comes from, we call it the snowball bush.  In reality, it is a viburnum.  Several years ago, a bug tried to kill it off.  The bug affected and threatened viburnums across our area.  Our snowball bush disappeared.

As time passed, the viburnum would reappear a little bit more each year: at first a branch with 5 snowballs on it and now this moment when I realize it needs containment or shaping or something.  While not in its full glory, the snowball bush is almost back.

I think its a metaphor.  As long as a little strand of something remains, as long as it is still rooted in the ground somewhere, it stands a chance of rebirth, regrowth.  Kind of like love that is almost killed…

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Harley

19 May

Harley 3

I dropped my first cat off at a field near a country road in the late seventies.  Shana (of the Jungle) was what she sounded like, a tough cat not particularly fond of humans or other cats.  Sometimes she would leap at me with her mouth open and I would duck just in time. She refused to use a litter box and she pulled up the carpeting in the hallways with her claws.  I was on the verge of being thrown out of my apartment, so one night my best Minneapolis friend at the time, Don,  arrived in his car and we headed to the Golden Valley Humane Society.  Shana climbed and clawed her way all around the car as he drove.  She managed to scratch me and draw blood.  Once there we were rejected because a vet was not present for the intake.  Don said, “I’m not going through this again.  Let’s face it, once you admit that you took her in because she scratched your co-worker’s niece, she’ll be put on the list to be euthanized.  She has a better chance at life if we drop her off in the country.”  I agreed and we did just that, not without some qualms on my part.  When my father found out about it, he had a fit.  He was a dairy farmer’s son and city people often dropped pets on their property.

My next cat, Terry, was pure bliss but this is Harley’s story.  With Harley I came full circle.  In retirement, my parents bought a Greek Revival house situated on a farm and my brother Barth and some friends built a house across the street from them.  My brother once related a nighttime story that was repeated often during the years my family lived there.  Awake in the middle of the night, he heard a car door open, followed my a small meow.  Sure enough someone had dropped off a kitten.

About two years before my parents sold their house, I came for a visit.  My nieces had discovered a white mother cat and her litter in the upper loft of my parents’ old barn.  The mother, whom they named Celery, had secreted her litter in what was left of the hay mow.  She had placed them in various locations across the loft and under the hay.  They discovered that she talked to each of her children with a meow tailored to him or her.  Celery was a stray and the girls assumed that she had been impregnated by a big black tomcat with a bobbed tail.  She nursed her brood for weeks, a feat that impressed my vet back in Minneapolis.

The girls decided to take Celery to the S.P.C.A. and divide the kittens among their friends (they already had two cats).  I chose the biggest one, a black and white with a strong personality, shades of Shana.  He had a big mouth that sent out spit when he opened it and a fearsome meow.  The girls said he had to have a long name and a short name, so we chose Harlequin and Harley.  My oldest niece, Gwynne, however, dubbed him Beezulbub, because he struck her as a devilish imp.  The friends made their cats into outside cats, which was fine, but unfortunately they were all run over, and mine became the surviving cat of the litter.

On the way from Ithaca to Minneapolis we stopped overnight in South Bend, Indiana.  I brought Harley inside the motel room and quickly lost him.  I looked for him frantically, finally locating him fastened by his claws to the part of the bedspread that hung to the floor, swinging back and forth.  He was still a small kitten and he looked scared, an attitude toward life that was to change as he grew.  His genes from the black tom cat soon took over and he became quite confident.  Harley liked to have his head rubbed but if you didn’t do it exactly the right way, he would bite you, usually not through the skin.

A year later I had a student in one of my English classes at UW-Stout who worked at the Dunn County Human Society.  I’d been thinking about getting a pal for Harley and she talked enthusiastically about adoption.  The staff turned down my original choice, a long haired Persian when I said I would let it go outside, but I soon found a replacement, a black and white cat who was the loudest of the bunch.  I took him home to meet Harley.

Initially, I didn’t notice that Harley dominated the cat I’d named Caspar after my maternal grandfather.  The two males  bonded and became marauders, tearing around the house together.  Unfortunately, having them fixed did not stop them from spraying Jenna’s belongings in the basement.  She had ended up giving my previous cat Terry shots for his diabetes; now she had to deal with them when I was teaching in Wisconsin.  When I moved back to Ithaca in 2008, she was in charge, which I’ve always felt guilty about since I didn’t pick them up until 2009.  I’ve had some regrets about not making them outside cats, since that probably would have been easier for Jenna, and they would not have started putting on so much weight.

Once we were back in Ithaca, the three of us moved into an apartment and then a house in Cayuga Heights.  At night when I went to bed Harley would stand on my stomach and stare down at me.  I couldn’t figure out whether he was trying to show dominance or get attention.  I would throw him off and then he and Caspar, who was usually nestled next to me,  would fight with their mouths or box.  They would stand on their hind legs and fight with their paws like miniature kangaroos.

Their fighting contrasted with the way they licked each other,  Terry, in particular, tried to groom Harley, which was nigh impossible.  The litter seemed to cling to his body, not so with Caspar who, unfortunately, didn’t always use the litter box, but kept himself well-groomed.  Sometimes  they licked the inside of each other’s ears, which I have never seen other cats do.  They often ran to the radiator covers when they heard noises outside.  Alas, that didn’t help them lose weight.

When I returned from my trip to Minneapolis, I found Harley next to his filled water dish.  He was lethargic.  I thought maybe he was dehydrated and made sure he drank some water.  The next day he was still out of it, so I took him to what turned out to be the most expensive place in town, Colonial.  They ran a blood scan and said he had diabetes and a fatty liver.  The vet told me he would need at least 3 days to recover, costing me over $3,000, and that she couldn’t guarantee that would work.  It was difficult to make the decision to euthanize him, but he was in bad straits and his meows were really strange, as though he were in pain.  He still had the energy to jump from my arms to the floor, but once he was there he couldn’t move around very easily.

I buried Harley in my backyard and planted some phlox at the end of his grave.  Every day I come home to not two cats but one.  Harley had the stronger personality of the two and  I find I miss his feistiness.   I’d like to think that Caspar knows Harley is gone.  He has laryngitis  from meowing so much, probably because he is lonely.  I can’t decide whether to get another cat.

1409 Hanshaw Road

16 Apr

Kathy with Books

Kathy with first Bible at 1409 Hanshaw

Masks at halloween at 1409

Masks on Halloween at 1409, Barth is wearing a paper bag

sledding at 1409

Barth and I sledding at 1409, 1960

We only lived at 1409 Hanshaw Road in Ithaca for a year and a half, but it was a pivotal year in our lives: our Grandmother Mapes died, and Barth, who was two, fell down the stairs and was also accidentally dropped on the floor.  Dad laughed after he was dropped and said, “That’s happened to every Mapes baby.”  In addition, I felt very adult when I learned how to plant corn and potatoes in the large vegetable garden.  A family named Ainslie owned the house, but they were on sabbatical in Kansas.  We were renting from them, while waiting for our house to be built.  Like most children, I thought of the house as ours, even though my mother neglected to redecorate–the Ainslies’ furniture became our furniture.

It was a small white house of 1920s vintage and close to the road, which drove my mother crazy, for fear my  brother would get run over.  I remember once he ran out in the road and was paddled to make sure he never did it again.  All the houses in the neighborhood had spacious backyards like ours, but they were ranch style, making it clear how much older ours was.  The land in the area wasn’t carved out the way suburban lots usually are and the soil was fairly rich and good for gardening., hinting that we were living on what was left over of a farm and our house was probably the farmhouse.  One of the Cornell farms was up the road about half a mile near Freeze Road.  On the opposite side of the road, Lucente, a local contractor,  was building cheap ranch and two-story houses on what came to be known as the cigarette streets: Tareyton, Winston, and Muriel.

One item we hadn’t had in our previous apartment was the television.  Our parents had decided that we wouldn’t grow up with T.V. so that we would become readers.  But that year I was fully indoctrinated.  The most popular shows at the time were the Flintstones, Ed Sullivan, American Bandstand, and Bonanza.  One of my favorite cartoon shows was Bugs Bunny.  I had a crush on Leslie Nielsen, who played the Swamp Fox on the Walt Disney show, and later became known as the zany guy in the Airplane movies.  The punishment that stands out for me was not being able to watch the Flintstones because I threw crayons at my mother.  I can’t remember why I threw the crayons.  On Friday nights my parents and I set up a card table and played Gin Rummy, and then we watched the Walt Disney show together.  Once we moved to  our new house we didn’t have T.V. for a period of years, but I don’t remember feeling particularly deprived.  I was not, however, very good at television tag.

Barth’s diapers played a role in several events in my memory.  Besides being used on Barth, my mother used them as strainers for the grape jelly she made.  We had a Concord grape arbor behind the house.  Back in the day all mothers used long cloth diapers that were soaked for several hours and then thrown in the wash.  Afterward, they were hung on the line outside.  But jelly-making wasn’t their only unusual use.  One night a car crash took place outside our house and the victims were brought into our kitchen and given diapers to staunch their blood.  I had never seen the aftermath of a car accident and had never seen bloody people.  I watched them fascinated from a corner while calls were made to the ambulance and sheriff.

The worst thing that happened in that house was when my brother fell down the steep stairs.  I had been playing with our toy cars on the stairs and was oblivious to him climbing down to me.  He slipped on the cars and took a header, falling  all the way down to the floor.  My mother picked him up and rushed with him in her arms to the backyard.  She sat down, still holding him.  “You could have killed him,” she said.  I already felt bad and she made me feel worse, but I sat down on the grass next to her and apologized.  I checked him out and found that he was none the worse for wear, although I have to admit I never forgot the incident.

For a fort, my father cleaned out the chicken coop in the backyard and laid down part of a straw rug on the ground inside.  It was here I ran away to when I was upset with my mother one day.  It was definitely not a place adults would want to come to because you had to get down on the ground and crawl in. I took my small round suitcase that all girls had at the time and my Sleeping Beauty book.  The book was short and with nothing else to do I went back to the house.  My mother said, “You’re back already?”  However, I was over whatever had upset me that day.

I had two girlfriends in the neighborhood, one named Verna who was my age and another named Donna who was a year older.  Verna was a very nice person but her mother left a little to be desired.  One day she chased Verna all over her backyard with a switch.  She finally grabbed her and hit her backside.   I thanked my lucky stars that my mother spanked me inside the house and that the one time I had been made to suck on soap the punishment took place inside the bathroom.  Verna was not allowed to touch several of her dolls.  They stood on shelves, a restriction Mom and I both thought was ridiculous.  On the other hand, Donna was the neighborhood sophisticate–she always decided what we were going to do that day and she had a certain hauteur about her.  I have no memory of her mother.  Donna  was in charge, except of her brother Tony who called me “Baby Face” and was consistently nasty.  I often wondered whether or not he would become a juvenile delinquent.  I think he actually may have become a cop.

I remember that year and a half better than many others because I was so happy there.  I was a shy, giggly girl, but once at Girl Scout camp, which came later, one of the counselors said “that nobody liked me” and I retreated into my shell.