Once upon a time, I had close to 20 cats.
This may seem a bit much to some, but for me, it was quite normal.
Only about 10 were in the house with me, which wasn’t as bad as one would think.
In fact, if you were only in the house for a few minutes, you may not even know they were there, until you started feeling like you were being watched and slowly saw ears rise from behind the couch or from under something to cautiously size you up.
The others were in another house we had on the property, referred to as the Cat House.
This led to a professor thinking I was the madam of Mercer after he received some salacious information from a classmate.
When I married my ex-husband and moved away, sadly, my kitties stayed with my family back home.
I was heartsick.
“You are probably the original Crazy Cat Lady,” my ex told me one day.
I think he meant it as an insult; I took it as a compliment.
The ex swore he was allergic to cats, and truth be told, I probably am a little bit too.
For a large portion of my life, I have had some kind of stuffy nose that began pretty much around the time I got my first cat, the one Mama told me not to pick up and bring into the house to which I promptly ignored and did just that.
But that didn’t stop me from scooping up the little grey striped feral kitten that I found outside my office one day and bringing him home.
“That cat is not coming inside this house,” the ex declared with an authority he did not possess. I paid him about as much attention as I did my Mama and brought the kittie inside, naming him Callahan.
Only problem was, Dirty Harry didn’t really like anyone and when I got my beagle, Pepper, a few months later, she thought he was a real-life chew toy. He eventually went to live on a neighbor’s farm.
For the last 14 years, my heart has only known dogs.
Until one day this spring, a little tiny tortoiseshell kitten showed up.
The first thing I told Cole was to not pick her up.
He listened to me as much as I did my mama and held her close to his chest.
He named her Bella, Italian for beautiful, and she is, all fluffy fall colors and a tiny face.
My previous experience with kitties had taught me another one would probably show up and a few days later, I saw it.
I felt like I was being watched when I was feeding Bella and slowly looked towards the edge of the woods. I expected to see a bear sitting there, wondering why I had never extended a bowl of kibble as courtesy.
Instead, I saw yellow eyes shrouded in a skinny, black body. I could almost see its ribs.
It would not come to me but watched cautiously.
I peeked out the window later and saw Bella letting it eat with her.
The next day, I took an extra bowl with me to feed it. “You can come eat, too,” I said. “And I’m calling you Freya.”
Still, the black kittie was cautious. Bella, on the other hand, knew she was loved and mewed her gratitude.
When I fed them the next day, I watched Freya approach the food as I walked away. She was beginning to trust me, slowly but she was.
On the following day, I kneeled and motioned for her to come to me, and surprisingly, she did. She was so thin, scarred up and its tail looked broken. And, she was a he.
“So, I guess Freya’s not a good name for you, is it?” I said, petting him. “How about Frank? Short for Saint Francis of Assissi and Frank Sinatra. You can be the Purrman of the Barn.”
It wasn’t long before Frank would let me hold him for long periods of time, purring as he cradled up against my shoulder. He’s not a big lap cuddler; that’s Bella job.
And she is a big biscuit maker, too.
The other day, I was looking at the various cat food choices and couldn’t find the one they liked. An employee asked if I needed help.
We got in a long conversation about the differences in pate versus chopped; gravy, sauces, and the merits of dry food. I took out my phone to show her the 100’s of pictures I have.
“You wouldn’t believe this fluffy, plushy kittie was scrawny when he showed up a few months ago,” I said, showing her a picture of Frank.
He is like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree; he went from being frighteningly thin to being a gorgeous cat who knows he’s loved by all. Well, with the exception of the Doodle. The pittie mix is not too sure about the cats yet.
I ended up talking to the lady for about 20 minutes.
Cole recounted this to his father later.
“She doesn’t even like talking to people she knows in the store,” he began. “She was showing this stranger pictures of Frank and Bella and talking to her like they were best friends. It’s insane how many pictures she has of them on her phone. I haven’t even seen her take that many photos. They talked forever. They literally bonded over Friskies and Meow Mix.”
“Did the other lady have cats, too?” Lamar asked.
“Yes, three,” he affirmed. “But they were blocking the aisle, talking and looking at pictures.”
“Crazy cat ladies don’t care, Cole,” Lamar said.
And he’s right. We don’t.