I chose to leave the house today to go to neighbor's house and do laundry. It was quiet, trees and sky in the windows, a good place to be still and read. Have begun Cormac McCarthy's novel, Suttree, which takes place in Knoxville, Tennessee, enchanted by every sentence. My first McCarthy read. Have seen three or four movies from his stories. He tells such a twisted story I hesitate to go there. Jumped in and enjoy his writing so much, it's the read I've been looking for and didn't know it. Reading mostly information books lately. It's time for a good fiction read by a writer whose prose, itself, pulls me through the story. A relaxing time, stepping outside self for a few hours in friends' house, in Cormac McCarthy's mind. Return home and want to lie down on the bed to cry and tell Caterpillar I miss her, but another part of mind questioned the sense of letting ego indulge itself overmuch in sorrow. No need to wallow in it. I'd already done that. She's in the front of my mind every minute, remembering her personality, moments from when she was a kitten, remembering the first time I saw her, newborn and held her in my hand for a moment with mama cat's permission. Three kittens, Caterpillar, Tar Baby and Tapo. I fell in love with them that moment, holding them, one at a time.
Wondering what I was going to do with three more cats. It was Mother's Day, 1997. They were born in what is now the donkey den, in a big cardboard box with a thick nest of hay in the bottom for insulation, a hole cut in the side for mama cat, Celina, to come and go. I opened the top and held the babies every day, wanting my hands to be familiar to them as mama cat from birth. Celina was a calico that had been through a blender, irregular patches of orange, black and white. She came to me feral in her first winter. We had freezing rain that broke trees everywhere and left a coat of two inches of ice on the ground for two weeks. I heard her crying to me from under the bathroom. I realized right away it was a desperate cat. I carried a bowl of cat food and one of water for her, walking on ice all the way. Every day I took her fresh water to replace the water that froze in the night. She would not let me see her for a few weeks. I knelt at the opening and talked to her, telling her she's welcome here, she need never be hungry again. It was a month before she let me touch her and weeks before I could hold her. She'd let me hold her maybe ten seconds, then she had to be on her feet. She'd never been off her feet before.
One day I picked up Celina and felt little lumps in her belly. Babies. I fixed a place for her inside the woodshed where I kept wood scraps accumulated over years, someday-I'm-gonna items. I secured the place so varmints could not get in during the night. It was weeks after she was in her new house that she let me see her. I'd open the door and she'd run to a hiding place. I let her be that way. She caught on that I was there to feed her and give her water, provide shelter, not to control her in any way. She relaxed toward me gradually, even became friends with Aster the dog. We would go out to see her in the morning and she would rub on Aster's legs. She let me pet her. I talked to her, kept her informed she has a safe place here with plenty of food. No worries. I can still see the morning I opened the door and she stepped out of her nesting box trim in the waist. She was a mama. She was happy. I chose not to bother her with fear of the giant snatching her newborns, deciding to wait til next day to hold them, let them be hers without interference in her first hours with them. I opened the top of the nest box to have a look and closed it back. I already knew I would not part with these cats. They were my babies, they would have good lives, I would see to it. I could not turn over any of my babies to anyone, fear of the unknown regarding their fates.
The morning the kittens' eyes opened, two weeks old, Celina ran under a passing car. That's it, cat shit. The differential housing popped her head. It was fast. Leaving me with mama cat to bury and kittens to raise as their mother. For this, I took them as gifts from goddess. I put them in a paper grocery store bag and drove them to the vet's office. I needed instruction and kitten formula to feed them. Vet looked them over, gave them drops for ear mites. He told me they would not live. I already knew they would, though didn't say anything, not wanting to jinx my intention. He did not know that I knew they need mother love as much as the physical nourishment. I turned on mother love in myself while burying Celina. I promised her the babies would have good lives here with me, they would be loved all their lives. Tapo and Tar Baby both left the body at twelve years old. I brought the kittens in the house, set them up a corner. I held them, fed them, watched them, talked to them, named them. They were quick to learn their names and equally quick learning each other's names. Caterpillar was the nurturer, the kitten that keeps the other kittens clean when mama cat has been taken away. This was her title all through her life, the nurturer. She liked it when I called her Caterpillar nurturer. She also liked Caterpillar lioness. A kitten, she looked like a Japanese watercolor of a fluffy kitten. I fell in love with my babies, they fell in love with me, and they lived. Now, Caterpillar turned into a butterfly and flew away on the wind.
photos by tj worthington