Each summer I slept in our back yard. I would move out as soon as school was over and stay until school started, or longer if parents and weather permitted. At first I slept on the ground in a cheap cotton sleeping bag. The ground was hard, the nights cool, and the mosquitoes persistent, but these were minor drawbacks. I was free. If I had to pee, I’d climb out of bed and find the nearest bush. If I woke up thirsty, a convenient garden hose provided water. I would go to sleep watching the stars and listening to a giant bullfrog croak away in the ditch in front of our house. I would wake to cool morning air and chirping robins.
Life was good. And then it got better. The grandparents bought me a real bed— a wood framed, steel spring army cot complete with mattress.
My paradise was marred by one thing, the Graveyard. It was always there on the edge of my sight. White tombstones glared at me. As hard as I would pretend, the cemetery and its frightful inhabitants would not go away. So, I developed an elaborate set of defenses. The simplest was to sleep facing the opposite direction or to hide under the covers, ostrich like. A more sophisticated approach was to locate the bed where I couldn’t see the Graveyard. Our seasoned cars worked in a pinch, but they weren’t large enough. Bits and pieces of the Graveyard would creep around their sides, peek over their tops and slink under their bottoms. A trellis built by my father was much better. Its luxurious growth of honeysuckle created the perfect Graveyard screen. I set up a permanent residence behind it.
But even the trellis wasn’t enough to calm my imagination. I decided to hire protection. It came in the form of various family pets. Their job was to chase the ghosts away. Payment was made by allowing them to sleep on my bed. Apparently, the scheme worked. At least no ghosts attacked me during the years I slept outside.
The downside was I didn’t have much room. Two dogs, three cats, and me on a one-person army cot constituted a menagerie, or a zoo, if you counted the fleas. It was difficult to move. At first, I was very careful not to disturb my sleeping companions. I became a circus contortionist frozen in place with body parts pointed in every direction. If this meant a restless night, so be it. It was a small price to pay for keeping the ghosts at bay.
Gradually, my attitude changed. I grew larger, the bed space shrank, and animals started sleeping on top of me. Meanwhile, the ghosts, who tend to hassle little people more than they do big people, became less a threat. Therefore, I needed less protection. Neither of these factors led to the final banning of the animal kingdom, however. It was the shameless shenanigans of Demon and Pat.
Demon, the alpha family cat, was as black as the darkest night. As such, she was appropriately named and attired for graveyard duty. In fact, she spent a good deal of her life there stalking mice, lizards, birds and anything else she could get her claws into with impunity. Captured prey would then be brought home for approval. My job was to dispose of the half-eaten carcasses. Depopulating the Graveyard was not Demon’s claim to fame, however; motherhood was. She had kittens often and everywhere. I suspect that half of the cats living in El Dorado County today can trace their lineage back to her.
Two instances of kitten production bring back vivid memories. The first took place on the living room floor. Demon was a young cat at that time and a neophyte at motherhood. Her impending delivery was quite apparent from her large belly and ceaseless exploration of clothes hampers, cupboards and other dark places.
With high hopes of avoiding a misplaced litter of kittens, Mother arranged her bedroom closet as a maternity ward. Several times each day it was my duty to show Demon her new home. I would carefully pick up the very pregnant cat, carry her to the closet, and deposit her in a box filled with well-used clothes. Demon didn’t buy the program. It seems my bedside manner was faulty. She would climb out of the box, give me a glare, and stalk out of the bedroom.
When the joyous day finally arrived, I was home alone. Demon was practicing her would-be mother waddle walk across the living room when she suddenly stopped, squawked and squatted. Neither she nor I was ready for what followed. After all, how prepared can a young kid and a first-time mother be for birth? In a massive surprise to both of us, a tiny black bundle of fur emerged from Demon’s undercarriage. Surging emotions paralyzed my seven-year old mind. One thought stood out, the closet! If Demon hadn’t memorized her delivery lessons, I had.
I jumped across the room, grabbed Demon by the nape of the neck, and raced for Mother’s bedroom. As fast as I ran, it wasn’t fast enough. In the middle of the kitchen the new arrival completed its journey and was heading for a crash landing. Somewhere, somehow between Demon and the floor, I caught a warm, wet ball of fur in my free hand. After that, the memory fades. I know the three of us made it to the closet. Demon accepted her new home and four more kittens followed the first, although in a less dramatic way. The population explosion was underway.
We have to fast-forward several years to Demon’s next memorable delivery. This one was outside and led to the bed-pet-ban. But first I need to relay how Pat the Greyhound set the stage. She joined our family as a stray. For weeks, Mother had watched this large, starving dog wander the countryside and survive by catching rabbits and squirrels. One day she stopped the car, opened the door and invited Pat home for a meal.
“Oh, it is just until she gains a little weight,” Mother explained to one very disgruntled Pop. Later it became, “Oh, but it would break Curt’s heart if we had to give her away.” Mother was a master at manipulation. Pat, who I named after the local Greyhound bus driver, had found a home. Like all of our pets, she lived outside. It was Pop’s rule; pets were limited to daytime visitation rights only. The pregnant Demon had been an exception imposed by Mother. Since there were no leash laws, Pat was free to come and go as she pleased. Mainly she chose to hang around with her food dish in sight. For a dog that had lived out in the wild, she had impeccable manners. Thus I was surprised when she joined Demon in abusing her bed rights, but that’s a tale for next Friday’s post…
MONDAY’S POST: It’s back to the central coast of Washington where global warming makes a point
WEDNESDAY’S POST: A photographic essay on Scotland
FRIDAY’S POST: The animal kingdom is banned from my bed