Most of the farm cats had hard lives. They had full time jobs (catching mice) and not much food. Their diets consisted of mouse meat and cow milk. They lived in the barn and had litters of kittens in an incestuous kind of way. The gene pool of the Whirlwind Hill cats was pretty shallow. At some point, way back when, a cat with extra toes must have made an appearance, because by the time I paid attention, almost all the cats had what we referred to as “double paws.”
We were encouraged not to make pets of them. My sweet grandfather was in charge of “game management,” and must have hated to do what needed to be done to keep the numbers in check.
But my grandmother had a soft spot for cats and managed to find a way to keep a succession of kitties in the house.
She talks about two of them in letters she wrote to my mother at college.
“Beautiful, the cat, is in my lap. He is gorgeous this fall.”
“I have a funny looking, dirty looking friendly cat from Aunt Annie. I call it Smudge.”
In my generation there was Sally Cat, a motherly calico with double paws. We played with her babies until it was their turn for barn duty. But Sally Cat stayed near the house. She was a smart feline. I found a photo of some of the barn cats. If that calico cat isn’t Sally Cat, it’s at least one of her ancestors.
The last cat on the farm was a grey tabby kitten rescued by my grandmother after he was hit by a car. The accident damaged his jaw, and from then on his bottom teeth closed over his top lip, giving him a sinister look. But he was sweet and loving, and he kept my grandmother company for a long time, especially during the two years she lived alone after my grandfather died. Grandma Hall named him Pussy Willow and claimed that he would eat nothing but “Nine Lives Tuna.” She told us to have Pussy Willow put to sleep after her death. She didn’t think the cat could live with anyone but her.
But he survived her by many years. My Uncle Francis and Aunt Glenna took him in and he thrived. Whenever I saw Pussy Willow after my grandmother died I felt that a little bit of her was still there with him. They had given each other so much comfort and companionship. He had a very good life.
On Monday: Half-Remembered Rooms