And They’re Off – 1964
“And stay outside until supper!”
Momma was on another cleaning spree and she “had had enough” of us and “all our tracas.”
Since Chrissy’s five multi-colored kittens were now mobile and entertaining, my sisters and I began our outdoor time with her babies. As the long black momma cat sprawled underneath the picnic table, her pink teats proclaimed their power to the trees, and I suggested we play Kitten Races.
Gayle, Kelly, and I gathered the kittens to choose our racers. Chubby, the solid gray one, was the fattest; his round belly stretched out so much his fur had trouble covering it. I considered the grey tabby twins (Stripes and White Paw) – one’s solid white right paw being the only distinguishing feature between them. The fuzzy calico one (Cali) was my favorite, and I picked her up a second before Gayle reached for the same kitten. Finally, there was the runt (Lil Bit) – a smaller version of her midnight black mother. She had the same long, sleek body but looked as if someone had shrunk her. Kelly always picked Lil Bit. Gayle settled on White Paw, and the racers were ready to compete. Chubby checked out a lizard nearby, deciding if it was edible, and Stripes followed us and our contestants to the starting line: an uneven indentation drawn in the dirt with a stick about nine yards from Momma Chrissy.
“Let ‘em smell their mommy,” recommended Gayle, so we race cat owners took our squirming contestants to the closed-eyed Chrissy (dreaming of her former life of freedom) and let the racers understand where the finish line lay. Back at the starting line, kitten claws kicked up anticipatory dirt as we each held a racer’s tail. All mewed and dreamed of mother’s milk.
I whispered, “OK, Cali, you got this,” right before Gayle announced, “Ready. Set. Go!” And they were off! Cali grabbed an early lead and seemed sure of her victory. But White Paw was right behind and moving fast to the front. Lil Bit got distracted by a low-flying dragonfly and was back of the pack on the inside. We skipped on the sidelines as encouragement for our runners. And it was Cali barely in the lead at the top of the race until Lil Bit moved up on the outside. Soon the runt overtook Cali with White Paw right behind. With three yards to go it was Lil Bit and White Paw, and they were neck and neck. Then Cali put on steam and all three were bunched together and heading for home.
“Come on, baby!’ said Kelly as Gayle jumped up and down to show support.
I clapped my hands to the chant of “Go! Go! Go!”
In the home stretch it was Lil Bit ahead by a nose with White Paw making a move up and Cali losing ground. It was Lil Bit and White Paw! Lil Bit and White Paw! Kelly squealed and Gayle closed her eyes. And the racers were even until from the left sidelines of the track Stripes decided to join the race! He pushed in next to his twin and ran to beat them all. Now the twins were keeping up with Lil Bit! And you won’t believe this, folks, at the finish line the latecomer Stripes pushed ahead and won it all by a whisker!
Chrissy went, “Grrrmeow,” as all four racers reached the finish line. The crowd was in shock.
“What the hey!” said Gayle as Kelly clapped in surprise. (I felt relief that neither sister beat me). Even Chubby had found his way to his meal, and Chrissy had slitted eyes as her litter all tasted their kind of victory.
“I still won,” said Gayle.
“No, ya didn’t,” said Kelly.
“Stripes cheated,” said Gayle.
“And she won!” said Kelly.
Gayle pushed her baby sister to make her understand. “You too stupid to know race rules.”
Kelly stomped on Gayle’s foot. “You more stupid ‘cause your cat came in second.”
Gayle kicked Kelly’s knee right where her scab from yesterday’s bike fall was still moist. So Kelly got a fistful of hair and they were off!
“Awwww, quit it,” I said right before walking away. Our dog Footsie came over from the garage where he took late afternoon naps and followed me to the side of the house and the climbing tree. Our home had seven giant live oak trees surrounding three of its sides, and the tree next to the garage had the best low branches. Dad had nailed three wooden planks to the trunk to help short kids. I did not feel like climbing. I used the starting line stick to poke around the gravel road that ended near the tree. I gave Footsie a few pets, so he felt hanging with me held promise. I drew spirals in the loose gravel and sang snatches of “The Sweetheart Tree” song. A crop duster plane whined in the distance, working in the rice fields that bordered our property. As it moved closer its engine made steady zydeco…zydeco…zydeco sounds.
I looked up to see a hot air balloon floating by. A man all in white hung upside down from a cord. He struggled to get free from a straight jacket. I repositioned my pink driving goggles for a better look when the beep! beep! from a jalopy grabbed my attention as two clowns drove my way down the gravel road. I smoothed my pink frock and ran to my 1908 Model T parked under an oak tree. “That crazy female is no match for Professor Fate!” yelled the jalopy driver who sported a handlebar mustache and a cartoonish top hat. With my dog as my passenger, I tore down the gravel road through rice and soy bean fields. “Boink! Boink!” came the sound of the pursuing car’s horn. I shifted my gear to “Fast! Fast!” and was half a mile ahead now. The wind whipped at my tall hat and fantastically long pink scarf that trailed behind me. I smiled and wrinkled my pert nose as I imagined my victory over those boorish chauvinists. I was a woman of the future! I had a brilliant writing career and more gumption than my smoldering brown eyes and stunning beauty would suggest. Literally the man all in white dropped from out of the sky and landed in the seat next to my dog. He wriggled out of the straight jacket and smirked while he lit a cigarette.
“Well, well, glad to see you have not lost our lead, Miss Dubois,” he said.
“OUR lead? Did all that blood rushing to your head make you insane?”
“Let me set you straight, my dear. You are driving MY car, so technically I am about to win this race.”
“You are unbelievable!” I said and reached to slap his insolent cheek. But he grabbed a cream pie from under his seat and gave me the old pie-in-the-face treatment. I swerved to avoid hitting a tree and someone grabbed my shoulder.
“Help me! I gotta hide from Gayle before she hits me with a switch!” said a frantic Kelly. I looked at my little sister’s tangled hair and stretched out t-shirt and decided to help.
“Let’s get up on the roof,” I said. “She won’t think of there.”
So Kelly followed me to the pump house on the side of the garage and helped me set up the ladder leaning against the house. My youngest sister could reach the top of the pump house and then scramble onto our roof while I distracted Gayle who was running through the garage with a long bendable branch.