Good always prevails.

The suspect

Hope was missing. My daughter had found her under a bush, a baseball-size mound of downy fur peeping like a baby bird. An abandoned kitten. Michele brought her home and we all fell in love. I took her to the vet where I dropped a pretty penny for medicine, and bought kitten feeding supplies. Over the next few weeks we took turns nursing her to health. Even my husband, Frank, pitched in.

Hope thrived. Then when she was a year old she left our yard one morning as usual and never came home. We walked the neighborhood day and night calling and calling her, knocked on doors to hand out flyers, called shelters, did everything else we could think of to find her. 

A week went by. We were losing hope, and beyond sad. Then the phone rang. “I think your cat is under our house,” a woman’s voice said. She lived around the corner. She had seen her dog, Summer, pacing excitedly in front of a vent in the backyard that opened to the crawl space under the house. It had no screen. Summer’s owner, Jean, peered down and saw a little cat shape.

We rushed over, and Jean led us to the floor-opening in her closet that led to the under-house space. She lifted the lid and two bright eyes shined up at us like searchlights. It was Hope, tail wagging and vibrating crazily, her entire body wiggling. Frank lifted her out and put her in her carrier, and we took her home for a joyous reunion. She was healthy. There must have been mice, and moisture from several heavy rains, in her underground world.

Next day I brought a gift basket to Jean, including some very expensive gourmet dog treats for our hero, Summer. I did that even though I was certain Summer was also the beast who scared Hope under the house in the first place. No other animals hung out in Jean’s backyard, at least no animals that would be likely to chase a cat. I knew, in my heart, that Summer was both persecutor and savior.

Summer knew I knew. I gave her a treat and while she was gulping it down like there was no tomorrow, she sneaked a couple of sheepish looks at me. Doggish looks, I should say. She was lucky that I believe every being who sins, and then repents, is deserving of forgiveness—and a made-from-scratch gourmet Pup Tart.  

If anyone sins against you, rebuke them. And if they repent, forgive them. Luke 17:3-4

The Sensuous Art of Plum Picking

Plums from our backyard tree are incredibly sweet and juicy. I take them to church and put them in the kitchen, where we munch. If you stand outside the room you’d think they’re having an orgy in there. “Oooooh…ummmm…OMG this is sweet…ahhhhhh…just one more… ”

I wait for the Magic Moment.

It sounds like they’re making love, but they’re just in the kitchen eating plums I hand picked. Actually, “pick” is too crude a word. I don’t just pick them, I caress them. I fondle them. I squeeze each one very gently and if there is a softness, I tug it ever so slightly, tenderly, away from the branch. If it doesn’t come off with this gentle grope, I leave it on the tree. It is not ripe.

My husband is annoyed by all this. Frank is a no-nonsense, just-get-it-done kind of guy. He goes out with his bag and just indiscriminately grabs every plum he sees hanging. He pulls them forcibly, with lightning speed. “You’re coming with me!” I can almost hear him say. He’s done in a jiffy, and comes in the house with a big bag of hard, slightly green plums.

It’s easy to tell whether people are eating plums that Frank picked or that I picked. When they’re eating Frank’s, it doesn’t sound like there’s an orgy going on.  

Fifty Shades of Meow

You’d be shocked to know what seethes under this cool exterior.

Cat experts nowadays say that cats can form at least 50 different meows that express a wide range of emotions: love, fear, bliss, distress, loneliness, surprise, shock…and more. It’s been discovered, evidently, that cats produce both consonants and vowels, and this enables complex expression. 

Okay, I lied. The real number of meows according to experts is 30. My title tweak was just too tempting to resist.

I’m pretty skeptical about this. My beloved, now-departed Buttercup had only one meow. It never varied but it meant different things depending on where she was standing. If she was standing by her food bowl and meowed, it meant she was hungry, so I fed her. If she was standing by the patio door and meowed, it meant she wanted to go outside and I let her out. Those were the only two things she ever wanted that I’m aware of. Well, she wanted to sit on my lap a lot but she just jumped up on it and settled in without asking. 

Actually, she did have a second meow, a sort of abrupt, short snarl when she was irritated: for instance, when she wanted more wet food and I didn’t give it to her. She got only a half can of wet food daily, and no more, vet’s orders. After that it was kibble. She did live to twenty, so I think her sensible diet was in her best interests.

I guess, if the experts say so, there must be cats that have a wide repertoire of expression and emotion. But Buttercup wasn’t one of them.  

I miss Buttercup, and her one meow, and even her little snarl. I really miss her cuddling on my lap. She wasn’t much of a conversationalist but I know she loved me. She was just quiet about it.

Father-daughter flashback

I watched Oklahoma on TV the other night. It was a time machine that brought me back to 1966 when my father took me to see the play. What I recalled most vividly was Daddy hallucinating while John Raitt belted out a song.

My father had been mentally ill for years, since before I was born. While Raitt sang, Daddy muttered loudly to someone in his head and twitched in his seat, and people around us began to complain. Sounds of sshhhhhh!! and quiet!! surrounded me. I don’t remember what happened, whether we were asked to leave or Daddy settled down and we stayed to the end.

I was 20, in the glow of youth and blooming sexuality and glittering hopes and dreams. And I was mortified. Before Daddy’s meltdown, I had loved the way I dressed and secretly admired myself in the mirror, silk-blend suit and high heels and all. I felt I looked perfect for the Circle Star, then a classy theater venue in the Bay Area.

But I was edgy beneath all the excitement, because my father’s behavior was unpredictable. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

How differently I see that day now, and my father. Back then I was just growing into womanhood, half confident, half painfully self-conscious. I wondered why I couldn’t have a “normal” father I could be proud of, instead of Daddy with his rumpled clothes, nicotine-stained fingers and Thorazine-induced trembling hands. Subconsciously I was angry at him for being an embarrassment, a failure, a constant worry.

He committed suicide a year after we saw Oklahoma, at 50. I’ve survived well enough, had a career, friends, raised my daughter through college, but I really never recovered from the trauma. I drank alcoholically—though functionally—until my daughter was three and have ongoing anxiety disorder. I made many mistakes with my daughter that alienated her. We are now estranged, to my great sadness.

I’ve blamed and punished and judged myself for years. But since remembering Daddy and Oklahoma, I see things in a different light. I’m no longer a 20-year-old with expectations of Daddy, wanting to go to a glamorous play with a suave and handsome father. Now I understand that for some unknown reason Daddy couldn’t help it. He had a profound problem he was unable to overcome. But he did the best he could. He tried so hard to give his little-girl-turning-woman a special gala evening. Having made my own mistakes and unintentionally hurt people I love, I don’t blame Daddy now. And I’m working on not blaming myself. Daddy’s little girl is growing up.

Believe

One day my minister saw his beloved Maine Coon cat, Marcus, staring out the window intently. Wildlife sometimes wanders close to their apartment building, at the foot of a range of hills.  Marcus was meowing and agitated. Dr. Jay went over to look out the window and saw a feral cat in the process of patiently moving four kittens, one at a time, that were hidden under shrubbery. She returned after moving the second one and then left the yard with the third one in her mouth. She never came back.

Straightaway, Dr. Jay went downstairs to the bushes from his second-story apartment, and carefully picked up the tiny kitten. Mewing, eyes still closed and ears still folded, it fit in the palm of his hand. Holding it gently, he started up the stairs.

He had no idea what he was going to do with it. He had never taken care of a newborn kitten. He mentally took inventory. He had some milk in the apartment, and possibly a dropper around, somewhere, to feed it with. He wondered how he could get the kitten fed often enough. He remembered vaguely, from some conversation somewhere, a schedule of every two hours. It would be a challenge with his busy life. But those were details. He knew he would figure it all out.

Then he saw a young couple who lived a few doors from his apartment coming down the stairs. “What have you got?” the young woman asked. Dr. Jay told her the story and held the kitten up closer to her. 

“Oh,” she exclaimed, delighted. “Can we have it? We know what to do, we’ve taken care of feral kittens for shelters. We have all the supplies.”

“Sure,” Dr. Jay said. They tenderly exchanged the precious cargo and the young couple turned around to go back home and begin caring for their little lump of new life. Dr. Jay returned, alone, to Marcus.

My friends and I think this story is incredible. What an amazing and miraculous coincidence, we all agree. But Dr. Jay doesn’t see anything unusual about it at all. He has the most confident, unshakable faith I’ve ever witnessed.

He simply knows that if you expect good to happen, it will.

Main Coon

Story of a foundling cat

There was no hope. Hope was lost—our cat Hope. Our loving and lovable foundling cat leaped over the back fence one morning like she always did when I let her out. But she didn’t come home.

We were heartbroken. My daughter had found Hope outside of a friend’s house. Leaving a party, Michele heard faint, tiny peeps and followed them to a bush. Underneath was a little pile of fur no larger around than a hamburger bun, peeping like a baby bird. Michele took it in the house, they fixed up a shoebox for it, and she brought it home.

We named her Hope because she was near death when Michele found her. White gunk oozed from her eyes so I took her to the vet, who said it was from a bad respiratory infection. We went home with antibiotics and kitten formula. Michele and I fed her with a bottle for a few weeks, until she bit the nipple off one morning.

She got cuter and cuter.

We all fell deeply in love with her, her tenderness and sweetness and her love for us. She loved to snuggle under my husband’s chin and suck on his beard. It must have reminded her of her mother. We cheered and clapped when she appropriately used the tiny containers of kitty litter we put out for her.

When she was old and big enough, I let her out in the backyard every morning. She usually stayed close by and always came back by early evening. Until the evening that she didn’t. I called and called that night. I went out and called some more early next morning, when all of a sudden it began to pour, a very, very cold rain. I began to sob uncontrollably, thinking of sweet, tender Hope out there in the bitter cold.

She didn’t come home the next day or the next. We walked the neighborhood, called her, put up posters, passed them out door to door.   

Hope was nowhere.

Then, after a week, a woman around the corner called. She had our poster. “I think your cat is under our house,” she said. Frank and I rushed over. She led us to a room where the removable floor board to her crawl space was laid aside, and saw two vivid yellow eyes staring up at us from the darkness. Hope! The woman had noticed her dog acting strangely outside, in front of an unscreened vent, and she peered in and saw Hope and called us. Something must have startled Hope, maybe the same dog, to make her leap through the open vent to under the house. But she couldn’t get back out.

It was a joyous homecoming. Hope walked around everywhere, with her tail as tight and straight as a flagpole and vibrating so fast you could almost hear it. She ravenously gobbled her wet food, she rubbed up against us.  

I know now that not everything that seems negative is negative. That cold rain that made me burst out crying very possibly helped Hope survive. She was under that house for a solid week, yet when we found her she was plump and healthy. I believe the rain that flowed through the vent to Hope’s dark cave kept her hydrated. It might have saved her health, if not her life.

Remember, even when things look relentlessly bleak…there’s always Hope.

Memories of Premarital Tennis

I have fond memories of playing tennis with my husband before we were married. I have not-so-fond memories of playing tennis after we got married. Marriage changes everything, even tennis.

I’ve talked with girlfriends who play tennis, or used to play tennis, and they’ve had similar experiences after getting married. Who knows why things change like this? Let’s not even go there.  They just do.

Frank and I met in a tennis club for singles. Frank was very chivalrous when we were dating, and that extended to tennis. He was much better than me, rated Men’s-A tournament level in our club. I was a Women’s-C. We only played together informally, with friends. Back then Frank was unconcerned about whether we won or lost. We just had fun.

Then we got married, and things changed. After we lost a match he would say things like “You need to work on your serve” or “You need to practice your volley” or “You’ve got a weak slam.” We’d go out during the week and he’d feed me volleys to return as slams, or coach me on my serve, or feed me fast and corner balls to return. We drilled and drilled. He wanted to win his doubles matches.

With the pressure on, tennis became just one more stress on top of my busy life as a working mother. Eventually I quit playing. Frank practiced some weekday evenings and played every Sunday. I alternated between hiking and going to movies on Sunday. On movie days I went to a little theatre that was next to a coffee shop, and after the movie I’d treat myself to a guilty pleasure—espresso and a luscious gelato. In solitary splendor, I enjoyed myself immensely.  

Then Frank broke his metatarsal bone running down a tennis ball, when he was 65. It was quite painful and he wore a big knee-high boot for two months and did physical therapy for a long time after that. He never went back to tennis. He felt the foot was a weak link and susceptible to re-injury at his age. He gave his huge bag of beat-up practice balls to a friend who has a lovable Yorkshire terrier named Maggie.

Now Frank and I go to the movies nearly every Sunday. We both enjoy them. No one competes, no one loses, no one screws up. We laugh and we cry. We have animated, enjoyable discussions of the film afterwards over a nice dinner. We both win. So far the score is Love-Love. Actually, Love-Love-Love. Maggie adores her tennis balls.