Tribulations of a Black Cat

Nemo, last Halloween

My current cat, Nemo, is the second black tomcat I have had in my life.  He leads a fairly pampered existence and is unconscionably self-satisfied, as well as fat.  I fostered him for Forgotten Felines after he was abandoned in an apartment.  Needless to say I ended up keeping him (or he condescended to stay with me).  He’s lucky, because I have heard that black male cats are the last ones to be adopted from shelters.

He’s also luckier in many ways than the black tomcat I had on the farm as a teenager.  Someone had dropped him at the small grocery store and gas station miles from our house.  I had been sent to get some milk, and came home with the cat, much to Mother’s disapproval.  I named him Firecat, after the Cat Stevens album, but that lasted about two hours.  Mother said, “You can’t name him something I’m embarrassed to call out the back door,” and changed his name to Tom.

Tom, like most farm cats, got minimal care other than feeding and watering.  He lived outside summer and winter, spending cold nights in the barn.  I petted him, but he was not a cuddler.

Tom’s life was pretty good for a farm cat until I brought home another stray when I was in college, a tiny German shepherd mix puppy I named Chico.  Tom smacked the puppy with impunity and generally lorded over him.  But puppies grow, and before long Chico was even bigger than the average German shepherd.

Chico came up with a new game.  He closed his jaws around Tom’s head and carried him around the yard, the cat’s body hanging out of his mouth.  You could hear the cat’s muffled “meows.”  He never left a mark on Tom, but the poor cat must have been terrified.  I yelled at the dog until he dropped the cat, but I’m sure he did this a lot when I wasn’t there to intervene.  Tom started disappearing between mealtimes and staying well out of the dog’s reach.  Then he became very nervous–Mother thought he got hold of a mouse poisoned by strychnine, for he was high-strung and panicked at any sudden noise.

Tom finally moved to the woods and the barn, and would not come back even to eat.  I called him and called him.  At first he would answer me from the woods, but he wouldn’t come.  Then he didn’t answer.  He showed up at Aunt Lou’s house a few times, half a mile away.  Then he was gone for good.  He didn’t even come home to die, for Chico was still there.

You Can’t Go Home Again


On the farm in better days, with Chico

“All things on earth point home in old October; sailors to sea, travelers to walls and fences, hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken”–Thomas Wolfe

Some years ago I went back with my sister Sherrie to see our old farm.  I expected change.  Mother had sold the farm after Daddy died to her brother and his adopted son, then sold the house and acre-and-a-half yard around it to “a nice family”  when she felt she couldn’t keep it up any more.  Mother had moved to an apartment in town, then eventually to Ohio, where my sister Glenda took care of her until she died.

So I knew the place would be different.  I remembered rolling pastures, good for grazing cows but not for planting; wooded hills; a neat red brick farmhouse with a big oak tree in the front yard; a smokehouse and a shed in the back yard.  I also remembered the doghouse Daddy built for my dog Chico, painted white like the other outbuildings.

Sherrie drove us there in her pickup truck.  The long country road was lined with houses, some old ones, a lot of new ones.  There were very few farms left.  The old country store was still there at Stringtown, with new gas pumps.  As we got closer to our farm every house held memories of aunts and uncles now gone, cousins moved to town or other cities.

Sherrie pulled into the driveway to the farm.  “Look at that!” I said.  There was an elaborate sign that looked as if it were carved, saying something like “Full Gospel Holiness Church” and the name of the preacher.  “I heard he built a church in the yard,” Sherrie said.

The pasture in front of the house was grown up with brambles, weeds, and small trees.  The yard was cluttered with ragged bushes and children’s toys.  In the back yard, the smokehouse and shed were gone.  In their place was a tiny church with a minuscule steeple.  It had white vinyl siding and looked like it was built from a prefab kit.  The church couldn’t have held more than 10 people.

“Cousin Sandy says he got the call to preach and built this church,” Sherrie said.  “He gets his wife and a few other people on Sundays.”

You can’t go home again, as Thomas Wolfe wrote.  “Let’s go,” I said, and we drove away.

Recipe: Aunt Geneva’s Coconut Pie

Aunt Geneva was my mother’s youngest sister.  She was feisty and funny.  In her young days, she pushed the boundaries of behavior in their country community before World War II.  Aunt Geneva smoked, and drank when she got the chance.  She and their brother, Uncle Jesse (known as Fatty because he was so thin), played harmonica and guitar and sang at parties, which was expressly forbidden by their hard-core Baptist church.   Mother told me it was permissible to sing, but not to play instruments at a “play-party.”  They also were not allowed to play cards except for Rook and Old Maid.

Aunt Geneva was the only one of the sisters to learn to drive a car, work outside the home, and marry someone outside of the community.  She continued to work at a plant that manufactured shoe soles while raising two boys.  I was always happy when she came down to visit Aunt Lou because Uncle Fatty would come over with his guitar, and they would play and sing the old songs, as well as “Little Brown Jug,” “Froggy Went A-Courtin'” and “In the Pines.”

Here is the recipe for Aunt Geneva’s coconut pie.  It is not a coconut cream pie, but a dense, sweet, custard pie, and very easy to make.

Geneva’s Coconut Pie

1 cup sugar

1 cup milk

5 tablespoons flour

dash salt

2 or 3 eggs (2 large, or 3 smaller)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 can coconut (or 1 cup flaked coconut)

1/2 stick butter

Mix all ingredients.  Bake in unbaked pie shell at 350 degrees about 45 minutes.

September 11: Remember to Love

On Friday I went to Trinity Church, on Broadway close to Wall Street, to hear a choral performance.  Trinity had choirs singing all day on September 9, either at Trinity Church or at St. Paul’s Chapel, which was a place of refuge and rest for first responders.  The church called the event “Remember to Love:  A Choral Blessing,” and invited choirs from Boston, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania to perform, as well as their own choirs and others from New York City.  (There are special services today, Sept. 11, as well).

The Copley Singers from Boston performed at 3 p.m.  The program included  Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei, spirituals, and a part of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem, among other pieces.  Hearing their harmonies and the clarity of sound in the church filled with tourists, people who worked on Wall Street, and those who came just for the concert united us all in remembrance.

It ended with one I had never heard before, “Song of Athene,” by John Taverner.  I was moved by it.  I’m sharing the lyrics as they were printed in the program.  It sums up what I think we all hope for those who perished.

Song of Athene, by John Taverner

May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Remember me, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom.

Give rest, O Lord, to your handmaid, who has fallen asleep.

The Choir of Saints have found the well-spring of life and door of Paradise.

Life:  A shadow and a dream.  Weeping at the grave creates the song:

Alleluia.  Come, enjoy rewards and crowns I have prepared for you.

Recessionista: Links and Recommendations

One of my dreams as a child was to be able to spend without worrying.  My parents grew up during the Great Depression, never went to college, and worked hard all their lives to support us kids and give us a better chance.  A big part of this was scrimping, saving and stretching as a way of life.  Another factor was debt, mortgaging the farm to pay for the current year’s crop.

I paid my own way through college and graduate school, and worked my way up to a comfortable life.  I’ve never been extravagant (although there are those who would argue with that statement), but I’ve enjoyed being able to eat out at will, buy what I wanted within reason, and pay off the bills every month.

Well, the Great Recession has put an end to all that.  I don’t mean to say this is as bad as Great Depression–there is no comparison.  But current days are a sad change from the good times we have all enjoyed in the past.  I have found a number of ways to keep some of the pleasures of affluence without spending much (or, in some cases, any) money.  Please share your recommendations!

  1. The public library.  My county has a wonderful library system, with books, DVDs, and music CDs, all for free.  My local library also has free lectures, musical performances of surprising quality, and other events.
  2. Through my library, access to Freegal, which lets you download music for free  Your library pays for a certain amount of downloads up front for their cardholders, and they are available on a first-come-first-serve basis until the library quota is used up.
  3. This is a great way to get rid of books you don’t want any more and get books you do want to read.  All it costs you is the postage to send a book to the requestor.  Somehow I ended up with more books than I had originally (hmmm), but as a reading junkie, it helps feed my need.  And you can set up a wish list with automatic ordering!
  4. Eat. Drink. Save money (their tagline).  Users can buy coupons good for $25 or $50 at a subscribing restaurant for as little as $2.  Restrictions do apply.
  5. Tracking down free concerts and performances of other kinds through my local and organizations like the public library, Jazz Forum Arts (metro New York area), and the local newspapers.

I long to go back to my old, somewhat profligate ways.  Maybe that will happen soon.  But I intend to keep some of my newer, more frugal habits!

September 11: Ten Years After

2004 Memorial in Lights
I was driving to work in New Jersey when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.  I didn’t even have the radio on.  When I walked in the office building where I worked, the floor was nearly deserted.  “What’s going on?” I asked someone passing by.  “Come to the cafeteria, the TV’s on,” she said.  “A plane just hit the twin towers.”  I thought she meant a small private plane.

The cafeteria was full of people.  I squeezed to a view of the TV screen just as the second passenger jet smashed into the second tower.    Everyone screamed.  The rest of the day dissolved into chaos, bridges and tunnels closed, phone lines tied up.  Email was the only way to get word to anyone else.

My experience was inconsequential compared to those who lost family, friends and co-workers in that cataclysm.  I went to a couple of wakes for family members of friends, and heard the stories–one family held a wake with an empty casket, and then weeks later a body part was identified, a friend in D.C. just happened to go to work on a later bus and got to the Pentagon safely after the plane had crashed there.

What amazes me ten years later is how the fear has diminished, and how New York has moved on.  I remember being on a Circle Line cruise in New York harbor that October and being boarded by a Coast Guard patrol.  I remember the smoke and the smell of the WTC site, and how long it went on.  I remember wincing every time I heard or saw a jet overhead.  Candlelight vigils, memorial services, the miniature twin towers built at the riverside park in Irvington, and the pervasive fear.  But people soldiered on somehow.  They went back to work downtown.  They rebuilt their lives.  Things would never be the same.  But somehow a “new normal” evolved and went forward.

I never went to the World Trade Center site unless an out-of-town visitor forced me to go.  That gaping hole gave me bad dreams.  Even when I worked on Wall Street for four years, I avoided the place.  Now the memorial is getting ready to open.  Ten years later, the city is roaring with life, hectic, impatient, always pushing forward.    The memorial will help us to never forget, even if we act like we have.

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