Bob’s Lake: Beavers, Pickerel, and Poison Ivy

16 Sep

Before Work on Beaver Dam

Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor, nature and water

Work on Beaver Dam

Beaver Dam at Dusk


View of Bullfrog Island from Bridge

To get to our cottage in Canada, we have the right of way through a farm.  The two properties are connected by a bridge that has had to be replaced several times over the years. The most recent version is metal because the previous wooden versions could not hold up under the weight of large trucks.  Therefore, the bridge is more solid than before.  However, we continue to have a problem with beavers.

Many years ago, when we sought to build a replacement wooden bridge, the Ministry of the Environment offered us $1,000 so that the space under the bridge and the surrounding area could be used for the spawning of pickerel, which is another name for what Americans call walleye.  They brought in round rocks and placed them on the lake bottom.  These were put there to facilitate the spawning.  If you look closely at the bank in the first picture, you will see them

It was understood that we were to help with said spawning.  What we have done to cooperate is to take apart every dam that beavers have constructed  It is hard work.  Beavers construct their dams with precision and strength.  Their sharp and strong teeth are able to take down trees and take off small branches.  They then carry these long trees to the site they have chosen for a damn.  A cement-like mixture of mud and twigs holds the stripped trees together.  We have yet to be successful with spawning because the dams block the entrance from the lake to the swamp and the water becomes brackish.

The first picture represents what the dam looked like when I first came this past summer.  I knew I had my work cut out for me and thought maybe I would leave the project to my brother.  However, one afternoon I was free and I walked the mile from the cottage to the bridge.

I attempted to walk down the hill to the water, but found myself slipping so I sat down and slid the rest of the way.  I have arthritis and walking on uneven surfaces can be a problem.  If you look at the second picture, you can see my initial success.  However, I had to come back a second time to get most of the wood out of there.  Again, I slid down to my destination just outside of the bridge and threw the wood over my shoulder.  Because I had no boots, much of the sludge remained but the water began to break through to the swamp.

That night I was walking along the shore in front of our cottage when I noticed a large head with a slim body moving through the water.  I have come to understand that this is what beavers look like when swimming on the surface.   First, he maneuvered back and forth in a circle near the shore.  Then he broke out in a big circle, ending up directly in front of our dock about twenty feet out.  He slapped his tail loudly and then ducked underwater.  I felt sad because I figured he knew I had taken apart his home and was letting me know his opinion.

The next day I headed out to Westport for my midday coffee drink, only to find an expensive black car parked in my way by the bridge.  I get grumpy without my caffeine fix and hollered into the swamp.  When the owner of the car returned, he apologized and explained that he was there for the Bob’s Lake Association.  I was embarrassed at my behavior.  I explained that our family and the farmer had been trying to keep the water under the bridge clear for many years because we had been told the area was to be used for spawning pickerel.  He responded that our bridge was one of the places, but further up the crick was a much larger one where the water came out of the rock.  A solution to the beaver problem was to hire a trapper but that we would have to cover the expense; the Association wouldn’t do that.

At night I paddled the canoe from our cottage into the bay and brought it up against the shore, so I could see under the bridge from the other side (see last picture).  It appeared that I had been able to pull most of the sticks out.  I was feeling rather accomplished as I paddled back home, that is until I came close to the beaver at the opening of the bay.  He swam in front of me and slapped his tail, just as he had done before.  Another warning?

Driving back through the farm to get to the cottage the next afternoon, I ran into the farmer who was standing with his family next to a large shed.  I told him about my adventures in taking the dam apart and relayed what the Bob’s Lake Association representative had said about trapping.  He smiled and said he “would look into it.” Two nights later, I heard a shot ring out.  I knew what it meant.  The farmer had taken care of the situation.  It was within his rights.  However, even though I hadn’t intended to get the beaver killed that was what had happened.   I personally am just as happy eating bass but I was trying to help with the spawning of the pickerel, not thinking about the possible result.

I did receive a payment of sorts.  When I slid down the bank those two days, I came in touch with poison ivy.  Because it was on my clothes, the oil ended up on other parts of my body.  I ended up on steroids and my bum still itches.  You could say the beavers got their vengeance on me.






Methodist Directory Snapshot

6 May

Methodist Church Directory

This is a snapshot from the 1970 St. Paul’s Methodist Church Directory.  It’s pretty typical of family pictures from around that time.  Our parents look like they just stepped out of an ad and we look slightly goofy.  I was seventeen and Barth was twelve.  There are eleven inches between us now and you can see that he was already taller than me, but there would have been a bigger difference apparent if we had been standing.  Unfortunately, the only time we actually were photogenic was at Bob’s Lakes, Ontario.  We both had terrible senior pictures, which my mother refused to buy.  A couple of years after he graduated from high school, Barth made an appointment with Olan Mills and we went together to have our picture taken.  My father cried, not because we had finally taken a good picture, but because we caught him by surprise.  I do wish I still had those brows!

_Lady Chatterley’s Lover_ and other Titles

17 Apr

This blog post came about because I took on a ten-book Facebook challenge, where you are nominated to write about ten favorite books and explain why they are important to you.  You, in turn, nominate ten people to pick out their favorite ten books. I still want to read a book recommended by Leslie MacKenzie entitled Hinckley and the Fire of 1894, by Alaina Wolter Lyseth, about a fire that occurred in Hinckley, Minnesota.  I ended up spending so much time on my responses that I decided to put my comments on my blog.  As this piece was being edited by a writers’ group I was given yet more reading suggestions, including Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Putnam.


(I tried to find the original covers for most of these books, but some are so old it is almost impossible to find them.)


The burgess animal book

I chart my life by the books I have read.  My first memory of being read to occurred at age three during the time I had the long measles and my parents read to me from The Burgess Book by Thornton Burgess.  My generation experienced both kinds of measles: the long measles and the short measles, also called German measles.  I remember my vision getting blurry as I looked at the pages. It never went back to 20/20. I was the sickest I’ve ever been, so I needed a lot of reading to keep me going.  Much of the time I felt like I was underwater. I don’t know if this is the exact book, but it looks like it. Harrison Cody was the original illustrator and these pages are familiar to me.

Grimm's Fairy Tales

Grimm’s Fairy Tales

I think I still have this book, but I don’t know the edition. This is a book that was read to me. It was very complete with many tales and I loved the way it scared me right before I went to bed. My favorite story was “Rapunzel.” I loved long hair and enjoyed the sweet torture of her hair being cut off and then hung out the window for the Prince to climb.  The trolls under the bridges and frightful witches added just the right feeling of suspense. This particular book is illustrated by Arthur Rackham, a famous artist, but I don’t remember my particular book having illustrations.

Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars

Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars, one of a book series by Ellen MacGregor

One of the richest reading periods in my life was the period between third and seventh grade.  Vacationing in Ontario, Canada at the cottage on Bob’s Lake was the time of year when everyone in the family did the most reading.  One year we went for two weeks in a row and I can remember my huge stack of books on the bedroom dresser. Several of the Miss Pickerell books were included.  Miss Pickerell is a single, eccentric older woman who has many adventures. Little did I know that would be my situation in life.


The Mary Poppins series by P.L. Travers and The Borrowers by Mary Norton were other favorites.  Carolyn Keene’s (a pseudonym for Mildred Wirt and other writers) Nancy Drew mysteries and Trixie Belden ( Julie Campbell Tatham write the first six books) led me into Agatha Christie.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, one of many books in Agatha Christie’s collection, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

I first fell in love with Agatha Christie when I was in grade school and going to the cottage we now own. I would often read a book when I went fishing with my family; sometimes I would even drop a line over the side of the family boat as I was reading.  If I were so unfortunate as to catch a Northern Pike which put up quite a struggle, it would merely be thrown back, because my father refused to fillet them–that didn’t exactly endear me to fishing.

One of the daughters of the owners worked at the library and brought books with her to Canada, including mysteries.  I find she is pleasurable to reread because the plots are so tightly constructed that I often can’t remember the murderer on the second read.  When my family finally bought the summer cottage, we inherited the books and we would pass the Christie books from one to another, just as we did with the stacks of library books we brought along.  Once I was talking to someone my age named Sherrie who had visited the cottage over the years and she talked about days full of reading Agatha Christie; Christie was as much a part of the cottage memories as the lake, the swimming, the eating of fresh fish with breakfast in the morning, etc.  Even though we each went off to our own corners to read, there was a communal feeling to our reading, as though we were connected to a web, and Christie was a part of that.

My niece Rebecca also likes crime fiction. Her favorite crime writer is probably Sophie Hannah, who has been authorized by Christie’s literary estate to continue writing Agatha Christie books, but is still writing her own novels.  This love of mysteries is something I have in common with my brother as well, who is a fan of Tony Hillerman, who wrote about the Navajo. It must be part of our genetic makeup.


Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 1

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I read this book in third grade and it was the beginning of my switch to adult fiction, which was a gradual shift. It is considered both children’s and adult literature. I was still reading books like Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers. It had belonged to my father and I found it on a bookshelf in the basement. I loved the mildewed smell.  It made the book seem adult and old. A part that stuck with me is the conflict between the Hatfields and the McCoys.


Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

This book was another one of my crossover books from children’s books to adult books (read in 6th or 7th grade). It was famous for being considered obscene by the standards of the 1920s. My mother and I had a private war over it. In the Mapes house the most important things were #1 food and #2 books, so instead of throwing it out, she put it at the bottom of the hoosecow (her word for clothes hamper). I would then retrieve it, read it for a while, and she would take it again. One time she put it in the front hall closet. Part of the sexual appeal was the difference in classes between the lady and her gardener. When I reread it years later, I found the book still held up as literature but the sexual imagery was quite tame.

I later went through a Harold Robbins’ period.  I have to admit that his prose was pretty trashy but I guess everyone has to go through a “Harold Robbins” period.  His writing does help to make the distinction between sophisticated erotic literature and junk. But sometimes there’s nothing like a midnight potboiler.  It’s not an accident that Paperback Writer is my favorite Beatles song.  Great topic and great melody combined!

As a college teacher, I found that some of the students were quite prudish.  I taught at a four-year technical college where a significant minority had read only one or two novels so part of the explanation was inexperience.  As a graduate student, I had not run into that particular problem when teaching. The University of Minnesota students had more education in liberal arts when they were in high school than those at UW Stout.  My professors almost all talked about sex–many of them were Freudians. Shakespeare is chock full of sexual imagery. My worst experience as a professional teacher in Wisconsin occurred when I taught Love Medicine, a novel by Louise Erdrich, who is mixed blood–Ojibwe and German.  One of her characters, Lulu, has eight boys, all named Henry and sired by eight different men.  There’s actually some gentle humor in the description of this Ojibwe woman. Erdrich is considered to be one of the top novelists in the country, but she gave some of the people in this particular class a chance to show off their condescension. One young woman actually told me that she had better morals than Lulu.


Mr. Sammler's Planet

Mr. Sammler’s Planet by Saul Bellow

The only other American novel that I think is equal to this is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, although The Professor’s House by Willa Cather is also quite good. I majored in English at the time (60s-70s) when multiculturalism (not a word then) meant Jewish male writers and black male writers. Cheever and Updike were considered good writers but not as socially significant. Bernard Malamud was probably second to Bellow in talent. But Richard Wright’s Native Son was widely read and and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison was required reading for me in high school and college.

Bellow was king. Every sentence is perfect and he uses all five senses in writing, something writers are always encouraged to do but sometimes fail at.   He indicates what he thinks of as his son’s immaturity by describing in detail how he can smell that his son doesn’t wipe himself adequately. I have never read another writer who focuses on the sense of smell in a way that is almost embarrassing.

Humboldt’s Gift may even have been a better novel but I was gobsmacked when I read Mr. Sammler’s Planet that there was an American writer could write that well.  I was fascinated with the black pickpocket Mr. Sammler obsessively observes ripping off the other bus riders.

Bellow thought all fiction was autobiographical in the sense that all authors are influenced by their lives when making choices about what to write. In his case he often used his brother who was a crafty and not always ethical businessman, but otherwise, I don’t know if critics have been able to identify all of his story in his writing.  Incidentally, Robert Penn Warren and Saul Bellow both taught at the University of Minnesota during their long careers, the school where I received my M.A. and PhD and then were together at Yale. I used to wonder what they talked about.

Somewhat surprisingly, my undergraduate years were not one of the periods of my greatest absorption in reading, although as I’ve just said Bellow is a favorite author from that time.  I came down with mono fall semester of my freshman year, and being a procrastinator I ended up behind. At the school’s infirmary, I was forced to call my father and in turn tell the doctor and nurse my plans for getting home to New York.  They did not suggest getting in touch with my professors. It was right before Thanksgiving, a critical period for a university student and I could have used better advice. I also felt shy telling my professors about the situation and thought I should take my lumps.  It was a fateful decision: I was never able to catch up and my resulting grades were terrible.

Later, I was able to see what difference a week could have made in my studying.  In English literature classes, one of the first things they tell you is to slow down and not act as though you’re in an Evelyn Wood speed reading course.  However, I discovered in going against that rule I could accomplish amazing feats of reading in a short time period. This wasn’t necessarily a good thing because it didn’t always help me achieve what I wanted.  My English teachers almost always dropped a grade for late papers and in English you do have to read the book first before you write. My experience in political philosophy is a case in point of how late studying can work and not work.  In the first section of the course I did the reading, which included Plato’s Republic, a fascinating book, and many articles in two days.  This resulted in an A-. The following quarter I took the second half of the course, which included Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.  It is a fairly difficult book and I found myself having to reread the text.  Needless to say, I didn’t do as well with my typical studying behavior, receiving a C for the course.

I often did my catch-up reading in the respective buildings of my two majors.  It was pretty lonely but I did cover a lot of ground. That was before the advent of our current maniacal locking up of public buildings.  When I needed a break, I would walk around and look at office doors that were usually decorated in some way and daydream. Studying there had the advantage over the library because I didn’t have to deal with the noise of other students.

However, my study habits definitely improved as a graduate student.  One thing I regret is taking the advice of one of my political science professors.  When I asked him what I should do about applying to grad school, he suggested taking ten years off and applying then when the prospective schools might think I was more mature.  Unfortunately, I wasted the beginning and middle part of my twenties waiting to apply and not making any other career choices besides doing office work and waitressing.

Tom Jones

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

Henry Fielding wrote satirical comic novels–Tom Jones is considered to be his best novel. It’s great entertainment and full of Tom Jones’ various escapades. The eighteenth century was one of my periods in grad school. I also covered the early nineteenth century.  It has a famous sex scene involving food that became notorious when it was transferred to the film Tom Jones.  

Alias Grace

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace is my favorite novel of those written by Canadian Margaret Atwood.  She is a poet-novelist, as are many of my most esteemed authors. This is an historical novel about Grace Marks and her status as a possible murderess.  The action takes place in Kingston, Ontario, not far from our family cottage, which is outside of Westport, Ontario. At the end of the novel, Grace gets off the train in Ithaca, New York.  The familiarity of the settings made the novel all the more compelling. At the end I still had not decided whether or Grace was guilty, but was much more sympathetic with her plight than at the beginning.  I have a signed copy from when Atwood gave a lecture at the University of Minnesota.

Atlas of a Difficult world

Atlas of a Difficult World by Adrienne Rich

As one of my teachers at the University of Minnesota once said, we all come into the canon of English literature at different points.  The canon refers to the most respected books in English literature and it tends to change over time. That is why I went to the University of Minnesota bookstore to figure out what to put on my syllabus ten years after I received my B.A.  I knew that feminism had come into the canon in a bigger way than when I was still an undergraduate and I wanted my first syllabus to reflect that. Atlas of a Difficult World is a book of poetry and I have mainly restricted myself to novels here, but it was a strong influence on me.  I was familiar with Rich’s poem, “Diving into the Wreck,” : however, I did not know her latest collection. I fell in love with her poetry, something you aren’t supposed to say in an English class but I can say here.

This is an introductory poem to that book:


I know you are reading this poem

late, before leaving your office

of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window

in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet

long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem

standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean

on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven

across the plains’ enormous spaces around you.

I know you are reading this poem

in a room where too much has happened for you to bear

where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed

and the open valise speaks of flight

but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem

as the underground train loses momentum and before running

up the stairs

toward a new kind of love

your life has never allowed.

I know you are reading this poem by the light

of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide

while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.

I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room

of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.

I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light

in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,

count themselves out, at too early an age. I know

you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick

lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on

because even the alphabet is precious.

I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove

warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your


because life is short and you too are thirsty.

I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language

guessing at some words while others keep you reading

and I want to know which words they are.

I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn

between bitterness and hope

turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.

I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else

left to read

there where you have landed, stripped as you are.


All the King's Men

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

I’ve always been attracted to the poet-novelists. Think Thomas Hardy. They often do better than non-poets when working in between the plot points in their novels as Warren does in this case. Based on Huey Long, the Louisiana governor, this is an epic tragic novel that captures a populist politician who’s accomplished but flawed.  Unlike Trump, a fellow populist, Huey Long was actually very accomplished in terms of what he did for his followers and Warren’s character of Willie Stark is sympathetic because of that.

I read this novel when I was a grader at the U of M getting my M.A. I then turned around and taught it myself. It was very popular with students. I did have some nurses who complained about its length when I taught a satellite course in the Twin Cities, for St.  Joseph’s University in Chicago. None of my other students complained about the length, so I think the nurses may just have been unused to reading long novels.

Coming from the North and not having traveled down South, except for Georgia, I probably have mistaken notions about the region.  The South, with its moss hanging from the trees, has always been a subject of great mystery to me, which is part of what pulled me into the book.  The South has also been an object of fear for me–I associate lynching with Mississippi and have always been scared to go there. Since I’m white that doesn’t make sense, and lynching did occur in northerly states.  Reading about Louisiana, the setting for this book, is like reading about France. It is a foreign country and enticing because of that.


Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved, Morrison’s masterpiece, came out in 1987 when I was getting my MA.  It was very exciting to see a woman get so much attention and a black one at that.  She would later go on to win the Nobel Prize. Morrison gets across what slavery was like better than most non-fiction authors writing about the topic. The main character kills her children to keep them from slavery. This incident was based on a true story and definitely gives you an idea of just how bad being a slave was. I was very proud to have a woman recognized as one of the top American writers. I went on to teach several of her novels, including Sula, which is much shorter than Beloved (important when putting together a syllabus.)


Emma by Jane Austen

I read this book when I was teaching at Stout. I was looking for something to teach that fell into my area of specialization, but had read Pride and Prejudice and thought there was a chance the students had read it also. Emma is simply one of the best novels I have ever read and it’s partly because of the characterization of Emma. Emma is like most of us, a little overconfident and definitely imperfect, but capable of growth.  Critics regard it as her best novel. I actually ended up teaching Northanger Abbey in one course, and Persuasion in another, partly because they were shorter.  It’s terrible the decisions one has to make as a teacher.

I read this book in my fifties and was knocked out.  I always meant to read all of Jane Austen, but reached Emma late.  One of my friends, Claire Perez, once said to me that it is a sad day when you realize that you will never read all the books you planned to. Death will come first. Sigh.


13 Mar

Leila's picture with flowers.

Leila (pronounced Layla as in the Eric Clapton-Duane Allman song) came into my life in the mid-2000s.  She had originally belonged to Jasmine, Denise and Richard Haughian’s middle child, who lived in Cincinnati.  They adopted her and she moved to Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, where we became acquainted.  If you look closely at her, she appears to be a cross between beagle and pit bull and maybe something else, but she acted like a beagle with her merry temperament and ear-flapping run.

Two nights a week, I would stay with the Haughians and take Leila for her nightly walk.  The winter weather was often fierce with the wind blowing and the temperature falling, but Lelia was a sturdy dog who took to the elements with great verve.  Later, after I had gone to bed, she would come to lie by my side on the carpet next to the bed.

The only bad thing Leila ever did was to tear holes in the back of my long, blue “hippy” skirt with her sharp claws, but that was unintentional and she was only playing.  Besides, I wore that skirt too often.

When they left for Hawaii, the Haughians felt they couldn’t take Leila with them.  Leila died at age thirteen at Richard’s sister, Jane’s farm.  She led a happy life.  R.I.P., Leila.  According to Richard, “She did chores every day with best friends– horse, dog, and sister.”

Denise adds that “In the photo, she’s helping me in the garden by making sure the mock orange blossoms have the right scent.”


Our Grandmother: For Gillian

17 Oct


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.