1964, Christmas Cat
My Christmas present was hiding under Kelly’s single bed. I lay flat on my tummy and peered into the dark place. Coloring books, socks, shorts, some Legos, and two rectangular boxes took up most of that space, but all the way back against the wall, I saw a pair of yellow eyes.
“Minny, minny, meeyew,” I called to my first all-for-me pet. Footsie (like all dogs we had) was a family pet, but the hiding kitty was all for me, a present from Aunt Dolores, who was married to a vet. As soon as my aunt had stepped inside the house to visit Momma, she announced that she had a special gift for me. Aunt Dolores placed a large striped box on the coffee table, and as soon as I lifted the top, a black blur of fur jumped out, jetted down the Terrazzo hall straight into the middle bedroom and under my sister’s bed.
When my cat calls did not convince the gift to emerge, Kelly handed me half a vanilla wafer. “Try this.” I ignored the offering and ran to the kitchen for a small bowl of milk. Momma, fixing fresh Community coffee for her sister, warned me, “Do not spill a DROP on the carpet.” Aunt Dolores smiled and added, “Bon chance, Ginger.”
I maintained a steady pace and looked straight ahead and not at the sloshing bowl just like Lee Ester had taught me to carry a tray of coffee cups, cream. and sugar to grown-ups. I did feel a drop or two on my bare toes so I moved slower.
Gayle and Kelly had stayed in the bedroom, and almost all of Kelly except her two feet was underneath the bed now.
“Move outta there,” I said.
“I’m petting him,” said Kelly from beneath the bed.
“Just pull him out by his paws,” said Gayle.
“Coullion!” I said at first but on second thought told my middle sister, “You could pull Kelly out by her feet.” Gayle obeyed immediately so I stood out of their way as they shoved and fussed playfully.
“I know what my kitty wants,” I said and placed the milk on the floor. “Minnie, minnie, meeyew.” A weak “Meow” answered me, yet the cat did not move.
Kelly jumped on the bed thinking to scare the cat out, so Gayle joined her. The two held hands as they jumped up and down.
“Get off and get out!” I said. “Y’all are just scaring him to death.” My sisters stopped jumping but stayed on the bed.
“It’s our room,” said Gayle.
“Yeah! And it’s my bed,” said Kelly.
“Look, we gotta give him time to wanna come out,” I said. The two bed jumpers stared back at me.
“Y’all want Aunt Dolores’s peanut butter cookies?” Momma called from the kitchen and both younger girls jumped off the bed and ran to the kitchen.
I let out a sigh and sat on the floor with a couple of stuffed bears. I had patience galore, and I leaned against a bookshelf. I caught the super soft zydeco…zydeco…zydeco of the central heater kicking on.
You had to be patient. One does not make real change over night. I took a large leather bound book from the floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall book case in the study and pushed my dark round glasses up a bit. A wild haired child sat on the floor rocking a rag doll. I sat next to the girl who jumped at my approach. “It’s ok, Helen. I have an idea,” I said and sat on a foot stool beside the child. The girl was deaf and blind, and I put my right hand over her left one and used sign language letters to communicate. Helen touched my face and then mimicked my hand motions. I guided one of her hands to my face and nodded to let her know she’d spelled the word correctly. She moved her fingers to create the letters again. I smiled and squeezed her hand before moving it towards my face again so she could feel my smile. Helen rewarded me with her own smile. I leaned over to kiss the top of her unkempt head. Helen made a purring sound and leaned into me.
The shiny black cat had left his hiding place to lap up my milk offering. His fur felt like silk and his tail curled into a regal question mark. After his snack, he thanked me with a few sandpaper licks. “Lookit you,” I said as I scratched my pet behind the ears.
“I’ll call you ‘Christmas’ because you’re the best Christmas gift I ever got.”
I pampered my pet like royalty, and several months later I shortened her name to Chrissy when she gave birth to five mewing kittens.