I’m returning to Pt. Reyes National Seashore and the surrounding area today. As you may recall, Peggy and I drove down to this beautiful park north of San Francisco in early March to celebrate my birthday. At the time, I did a post on the big nosed elephant seals that have adopted the park as a great place to breed and have babies as their population increases.
Like whales, they had been hunted close to extinction for the oil their body produces. Fortunately, enough people had become concerned in the early 20th Century to stop the slaughter and save the species. My elephant seal post would have been perfect for yesterday: Earth Day. The message about these unique animals is that If we care enough, we can make a difference. Working together, we can help save the earth and its bio-diversity. Nature has wonderfully recuperative powers— given a chance. The planet will work with us, if we stop working against it. But enough on the that for now. Today’s post is about cows and a short walk in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
There is no danger of cows going extinct. They have the advantage/disadvantage of being useful to us. As of 2021 there are over a billion on earth. The Pt. Reyes area has its share. It was recognized as ideal for raising dairy cattle in the 1850s as the burgeoning population of San Francisco provided a ready market for dairy products. When the National Seashore was created in the 1970s and 80s, the ranches were grandfathered into the land that was set aside and are an integral part of today’s Pt. Reyes’ experience.
I didn’t set out to do a post on cows when Peggy and I decided to incorporate a short walk along the Bolinas Ridge Trail. It’s actually a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area but is administered by Pt. Reyes NS. As you can see by the maps below, it is just east of the small town of Olema which includes the campground I have been staying at forever, or at least back to the 1970s. The trail is part of a system being developed that will eventually allow hikers to do a 500 mile hike around the complete Bay Area. We did four. Two out and two back.
Let it be known, there was much more to the walk than cattle. The beautiful green of the Coastal Range was offset by dark forests. Spring flowers were beginning to pop up. Individual rocks with definite personalities stood proudly along the way and demanded to be photographed.
Monday’s Blog-A-Book Post from It’s 4 AM and a Bear is Standing on Top of Me: Have you ever raced to the top of a 70-foot tree? In the middle of a graveyard? It was an important part of our entertainment when we were growing up. Join me on Monday as I race to the top and my brother tries to build a treehouse 60 feet up…
In my last post from my Peace Corps book, The Bush Devil Ate Sam that I am revising and blogging, I wrote about the growing unrest on the UC Berkeley Campus in 1963. Today I finish up my semester and move on into 1964.
Without student government concerns, Berkeley became more doable and even fun. I disappeared into the library for long hours whipping out term papers, devouring books and becoming a serious student. The end of my first semester approached. Christmas vacation was coming. There would be a break in the endless studies, a time for long walks in the woods and more time for Jo Ann.
One crisp fall day in November, I came blinking out of the library to a brilliant sun and a hushed silence. Students and faculty were emptying out of classes. A young woman with long dark hair was standing on the library steps with tears streaming down her face.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” I asked.
“They’ve shot the President in Dallas,” she replied as her voice broke.
John F. Kennedy was dead. It was November 23, 1963. The young president who was standing up against racism in the South, the man who had created the Peace Corps, the leader who had called for international justice and inflamed people’s hopes worldwide, had been shot down in the streets of Dallas. And with his death, some of the hope he had created died; it died on the Berkeley Campus that day, and it died in me. Each of us lost something of the dream that things could be better, that we as individuals could be better. School stopped and we headed for the nearest TVs, newspapers and radio stations. Time and again I watched the car speeding away with the wounded President, watched Walter Cronkite announce that the President was dead, and watched as Lyndon Johnson was sworn in. It was a day etched into the collective memory of our generation.
Thanksgiving arrived and Christmas followed. Somehow, I worked up the nerve to ask Jo Ann to marry me. It would be a long engagement with marriage taking place after graduation, a year and a half away. The engagement ring would have to wait for me to dig up the money. She cried and said yes. It was a bright moment in an otherwise bleak year.
The battle between the Administration and the student activists continued during the spring semester while I focused on studies. On March 3, 1964, I turned 21 and became, according to law, an adult. Soon I would have to decide what I was going to do with my life. But on that particular day, I went to La Val’s Pizza and consumed far too much beer. Summer brought the resumption of my laundry route between Placerville and Lake Tahoe.
A new living arrangement greeted me when I returned to Berkeley that fall. Before summer break, two of my dorm-mates, Cliff Marks and Jerry Silverfield, had agreed to share an apartment with me our senior year. Landlords had a captive student population to exploit so prices were high. We ended up with a small kitchen, bathroom, living room, and bedroom. Things were so tight in the bedroom that Cliff and I had a bunk bed. He got the top. I would later wonder why this was superior to dorm life. We had more responsibility and less privacy.
We christened the apartment by consuming a small barrel of tequila Cliff had brought back from his summer of sharpening his Spanish skills in Mexico. Later that night, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and watched myself drool in a hallucinogenic haze, totally fascinated by the process. Cliff’s reaction was to talk nonstop. I’m not sure it was important whether anybody was listening. I drifted off and when I woke back up he was still talking. It led me to kick his mattress from my lower vantage point. This broke the bed and brought Cliff and mattress tumbling down on me. We roared with laughter and Cliff ended up sleeping on the floor. We all suffered appropriately the next day.
While Cliff, Jerry and I were recovering from our well-deserved headaches, the Administration moved decisively to eliminate on-campus political activities. There would be no more organizing of community-oriented demonstrations from campus, no more collecting of money from students to support causes, and no more controversial speakers on campus without administrative oversight and control. The Bancroft-Telegraph entrance free speech area was out of business, closed down. That incredible babble of voices advocating a multitude of causes would be heard no more.
The campus exploded.
Next Monday: The birth of the Free Speech Movement as student activists, advocacy groups, and the Administration clash in an ever-increasing spiral of conflict that involved more and more of the students and faculty.
Friday’s Travel Blog: Peggy and I return to Pt. Reyes where we go for a cow walk in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
My sister was seven years older than I and lived on a different planet, the mysterious world of teenage girls. Her concern about ghosts makes this story a powerful testimony to teenage hormones. If Marshall and I had a healthy respect for the Graveyard at night, Nancy’s fear was monumental.
This story begins with Nancy falling in ‘love’ with the ‘boy’ next door, Johnny. His parents were good folks from a kids’ perspective. Marshall and I raided their apple trees with impunity, and Mama, a big Italian lady, made great spaghetti that included wild manzanita mushrooms. I was fascinated with the way she yelled “Bullll Sheeeet” in a community-wide voice when she was whipping Papa into line. He was a skinny, Old Country type of guy who thought he should be in charge. Papa was the one who suggested the gunny sack method of castration for MC.
I use the terms love and boy somewhat loosely since Nancy at 16 was a little young for love and Johnny, a 22-year-old Korean War Veteran, was a little old for the boy designation, not to mention Nancy. Our parents were not happy, a fact that only seemed to encourage my sister.
Her teenage hormones aided by a healthy dose of rebellion overcame her good sense and she pursued the budding relationship. Johnny didn’t make it easy. His idea of a special date was to drive down the alley and honk. Otherwise, he avoided our place. If Nancy wanted to see him, she had to visit his home. It should have been easy; his house was right behind ours.
But there was a major obstacle, the dreaded Graveyard. To avoid it, Nancy had to climb over the fence that separated our houses. Her other option was walk up the alley that almost touched the tombstones. Given her feelings about dead people, the solution seemed easy— climb the fence. Marsh and I had been over it many times in search of apples. Something about teenage girl dignity I didn’t understand eliminated fence climbing, however. Nancy was left up the alley without an escort.
While she wasn’t above sneaking out her window, Nancy asked permission to see Johnny the night of the Graveyard Ghost attack. She approached Mother around seven. It was one of those warm summer evenings where the sun is reluctant to go down and boys are granted special permission to stay up. Marshall and I listened intently.
“Mother, I think I’ll go visit Johnny,” Nancy stated and asked in the same sentence. Careful maneuvering was required. An outright statement would have triggered a parental prerogative no and an outright question may have solicited a parental concern no.
Silence. This communicated disapproval, a possible no, and a tad of punishment for raising the issue.
“Mother?” We were on the edge of an impending teenage tantrum. Nancy could throw a good one.
“Okay” with weary resignation followed by, “but you have to be home by ten.”
What we heard was TEN. Translate after dark. Nancy would be coming down the alley past the Graveyard in the dark and she would be scared. Knowing Johnny’s desire to avoid my parents, we figured she would also be alone. A fiendish plot was hatched.
At 9:45, Marsh and I slipped outside and made our way up the alley to a point half way between our house and Johnny’s. Next, we took a few steps into Graveyard where weed-like Heavenly Trees and deep Myrtle provided perfect cover. Hiding there at night was scary, but Marshall and I were operating under inspiration.
Marsh stripped the limbs off of one of the young trees, bent it over like a catapult, and draped his white T-shirt on the trunk. We then scrunched down and waited.
At exactly 10:00, Nancy opened the back door and stepped outside with Johnny. Our hearts skipped a beat. Would he walk her home? No. After a perfunctory goodnight, Johnny dutifully went back inside and one very alone sister began her hesitant but fateful walk down the alley.
She approached slowly, desperately looking the other direction to avoid seeing tombstones and keeping as far from the Graveyard as the alley and fence allowed. At exactly the right moment, we struck. Marshall let go of the T-shirt and the supple Heavenly Tree whipped it into the air. It arched up over the alley and floated down in front of our already frightened sister. We started woooooing wildly like the eight and ten-year-old ghosts we were supposed to be.
Did Nancy streak down the alley to the safety of the House? No. Did she figure out her two little brothers were playing a trick and commit murder? No. Absolute hysteria ensued. She stood still and screamed. She was feet stuck to the ground petrified except for her lungs and mouth. They worked fine.
As her voice hit opera pitch, we realized that our prank was not going as planned. Nancy was not having fun. We leapt out to remedy the problem.
Two bodies hurtling at you out of a graveyard in the dark of night is not a recommended solution for frayed nerves and an intense fear of dead people. The three of us, Nancy bawling and Marshall and I worrying about consequences, proceeded to the house. After a thorough scolding, we were sent to bed. I suspect our parents laughed afterwards. Many years later, even Nancy could see humor in our prank.
Wednesday’s Blog-A-Book fromThe Bush Devil Ate Sam: I am still at Berkeley rapidly approaching my decision to join the Peace Corps. President Kennedy is assassinated, I become engaged, turn 21, and help consume a small barrel of tequila. The Berkeley Administration begins its suppression of student political activity, thus kicking off Free Speech Movement.
Friday’s Travel Blog: I return to my Pt. Reyes series and Peggy and I go on a cow walk in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
It seems appropriate to end my series on Harris Beach State Park with photos of the setting sun like the one above and those below. But first, I would like to cover a striking geological feature: Key Hole Rock.
And now for the promised sunset photos:
Monday’s Blog-A-Book Post from It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me: On a lonely night walk home from visiting her boyfriend, my sister Nancy encounters a ghost from the Graveyard that floats down in front of her. She screams, and screams, and screams…
In my last blog-a-book post about my time at Berkeley in the 60s, I concluded with a meeting of student leaders in the fall of 1963 to discuss the growing unrest on campus over Administration efforts to shut down off-campus protests by UC students in support of Civil Rights. As the president of one of the dorms, I was invited to attend along with some 40 others. The groups organizing the protests were not invited. I expected a thoughtful discussion on the issues facing the University.
The Dean welcomed us, thanked us for agreeing to participate and then laid out the foundation for our discussion. A small group of radical students was disrupting the campus and organizing off-campus activities such as picketing and sit-ins for Civil Rights. While the issue being addressed was important, there were other, more appropriate means available for addressing it that did not involve Berkeley. The Administration had been extremely tolerant so far but was approaching a point where it would have to crack down for the overall good of the University.
The Administration wanted our feedback as student leaders. What did we think was happening, how would our constituencies react to a crackdown, and how could we help defuse the situation? We were to go around the room with each student leader expressing his or her view. I expected a major reaction— a warning to move cautiously and involve all parties in seeking some type of amenable agreement.
The first student leader stood up. “The radical students are making me extremely angry,” he reported. “I resent that a small group of people can ruin everything for the rest of us. The vast majority of the students do not support off-campus political action. I believe the student body would support a crackdown by the Administration. You have my support in whatever you do.”
I wondered if the guy was a plant, preprogrammed by the Administration to represent the party line and set the tone for everyone else? If so, he was successful. The next person and the next person parroted what he had said. I began to doubt myself. Normally, I am quite good at reading political trends and sensing when a group leans toward supporting or opposing an issue. My read on what was happening was that the majority of the students were empathic with and supportive of the causes the so-called radical students were advocating.
The Martin Luther Kings of the world were heroes, not bad guys, and their tactics of nonviolent civil disobedience were empowering the powerless. Sure, the majority of the students were primarily concerned with getting through college. To many, an all-night kegger and getting laid might seem infinitely more appealing than a sit-in. But this did not imply a lack of shared concern. Or so I believed. Apparently, very few of the other participants shared in my belief. Concerns were raised but no one stopped and said, “Damn it, we have a problem!”
As my turn approached, I felt myself chickening out. I was the new kid on the block, wet behind the ears. What did I know? Acceptance in this crowd was to stand up and say, “Yes, everything you are talking about is true. Let’s clamp down on the rabble and get on with the important life of being students.” And I wanted to be accepted, to be a part of the student government. I stood up with shaking legs.
“Hi, my name is Curt Mekemson and I am the president of Priestly Hall,” I announced in a voice which was matching my legs, shake for shake. This was not the impression I wanted to make. As others had spoken, I had scribbled some notes on what I wanted to say and said:
“I believe we have a very serious problem here, that the issues are legitimate, and that most students are sympathetic. I don’t think we should be cracking down but should be working together to find solutions. Now is not the time to further alienate the activists and create more of a crisis on campus than we presently have. I believe it is a serious mistake to not have representatives from the groups involved in organizing off campus activities here today.”
I was met with deadly silence. A few heads nodded in agreement, but mainly there were glares. “Next,” the Dean said. No yea, no nay, no discussion. I was a bringer of bad tidings, a storm crow. But it wasn’t ‘kill the messenger.’ It was more like ‘ignore the messenger,’ like I had farted in public and people were embarrassed.
After that, my enthusiasm for student government waned. I should have fought back, fought for what I believed in, fought for what I knew deep down to be right. But I didn’t. I was still trying to figure out what to do with 15 books in Poly Sci 1. I had a relationship to maintain on campus, and a mother fighting cancer at home. The dark, heavy veil of depression rolled over my mind like the fog rolling in from the Bay. Finally, I decided that something had to go and that the only thing expendable was my role as president of the dorm. So, I turned over the reins of power to my VP and headed back to Bancroft Library. Politics could wait.
Next Wednesday in my blog-a-book post from my Peace Corps memoir, I will discuss the impact of John Kennedy’s assassination on the Berkeley campus and the beginning of the massive student uprising known as the Free Speech Movement.
Friday’s Travel Blog: I will wrap up my series on Oregon’s Harris Beach State Park (appropriately) with photos of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean.
My friend and blogging buddy, Crystal Trulove at Conscious Engagement posted this blog today that feature a quilt made by her daughter and friend and a dragon quilt made by Peggy specifically for Crystal. Quilting helped lots of folks get through the pandemic. Scroll down to see a pair of beautiful quilts made in two, very different ways.
This post also speaks to the close friendships that are developed through blogging. Crystal came down from her home north of Portland, Oregon and stayed with us while we all enjoyed the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. She also carried Bone back with her to meet her Cherokee Tribe in Oklahoma. And she has been working with our son Tony in defining what medical benefits he is eligible for from injuries received while serving as a Marine and Coast Guard pilot, a specialty of hers.. –Curt
Today’s post is about two quilts. Maybe three if you count the amazing quilting on BOTH sides of one of them. Ok, we’ll make that 2 1/2 quilts.
The end of March, my kiddo Tara, and their partner, Brynnen, came to visit for a real visit. This time no masks and we were indoors together and even hugged. It was blissful. Tara wanted to see me, but also wanted to work on a quilt. This is a new kind of project for T. Their very first quilt ever is not quite done, but will be finished soon because Tara was picking up some fabric for that quilt that I had at my house. In the meantime, they had started this new quilt. So the one you see here…
Today’s blog-a-book tale is about our ‘other’ cat, MC. No story about the Graveyard is complete without him. He was the exact opposite of Demon. She was as dark as the Graveyard on a moonless night; he was as white as the ghosts that lived there. She was loving and tame while he was as wild as a domestic cat can be— a throwback to his ancient ancestors. His one passion in life was spreading his seeds as far and wide as he could travel and still make it home for dinner. He was a tomcat’s Tomcat, a legend in his own mind.
His one challenge was his small size, which meant that he often came out on the losing end in his battles with larger toms. He would arrive home beat up and battered. One time a chunk of his ear was missing. Another time it was the tip of his tail. I encouraged my Cocker Spaniel, Tickle, to break up the fights to minimize the damage. He loved his job. He would dash to the door at the first yowling and fly off our porch in full bark when I turned his loose. Other than giving Tickle a purpose in life, his efforts had little impact, however.
Pop decided that drastic measures were called for. MC would have to have to lose his offending appendages. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of money in our household for veterinary bills. But there was a solution. We were a do-it-yourself kind of family. For example, cocker puppies are supposed to have their tails cut off fairly soon after birth. My dad would take the litter, tie thread tightly around their tails, and then break out the tool he used for cutting tin. Snip, YIP! And it was over.
Obviously, neutering a full-grown tom cat was a bit more difficult. Our Italian neighbor, Papa Passerini, offered an Old Country solution.
“All you need is a pair of tin snips, a burlap bag, gloves, a pocket knife and a rope,” he suggested. Alarm bells should have gone off— massive alarm bells heard all the way to Italy. But they didn’t. We moved ahead with the medical procedure.
While MC had never been a paragon of feline domesticity, he’d at least let me pat him on the head if food was involved— as long as I was quick and limited myself to one pat. He even managed a brief purr when I picked him up the morning of his ‘operation’ and carried him up to Passerini’s. Any previous pretensions of tolerating people ceased instantly, though, when his legs were tied up and he was dumped into the dark gunny sack.
When Pop cut a slit in the burlap with his pocket knife and reached a gloved hand through, he was met by claws of fury. MC had shed his ropes faster than Houdini. No one, but no one, was going to grab him by the testicles and cut them off with a pair of tin snips. He clawed his way out of the bag and became a white blur as he disappeared into the Graveyard. And there he would stay. After that, I would only see him at dinner time and then only after I had put his food down and walked several feet away.
The good news, from MC’s perspective, was that he was able to continue his tomcatting ways with all parts of his anatomy intact right up until he reached old age and quietly wandered off to tomcat heaven, where, rumor has it, he was twice as big, had eternal youth, and a long line of lovely female cats stretched off to infinity eagerly awaiting him. It’s probably fake news.
Next Monday’s blog-a-book post from It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Me features my sister Nancy Jo and the attack of the graveyard ghost. Did you hear her scream? It’s very scary and you won’t want to miss it.
Wednesday’s Blog-a-Book Post…from The Bush Devil Ate Sam: I challenge the Berkeley establishment to no avail. John Kennedy’s death has a deep impact on my fellow students and me.
Friday’s Travel BogI It’s a wrap on my Harris Beach series with gorgeous sunsets and the ever-interesting Key Hole Rock.
The pounding surf and towering sea stacks at Harris Beach State Park near Brookings, Oregon tend to pull your view up and outward. It’s easy to skip looking down. So far in this series, I’ve introduced tide pools and sea stacks. Today I am going to feature the beauty and personality of smaller rocks and driftwood.
Monday’s Blog-a-Book… from “It’s 4 AM and a Bear is Standing on Top of Me” : You’ve met Demon the Black Cat, now it’s time to meet MC the White Cat who lived in the Graveyard except for dinner. There was a reason…
In my last two posts about experiences that led me to join the Peace Corps, I introduced my life as a student at UC Berkeley from 1963 to 1965. Under any circumstances, it would have been interesting and challenging. Berkeley is one of the leading academic institutions in the world. But it was politics of change that brought the campus to the forefront of people’s attention in the 60s. Today, I begin my exploration of the student revolution from my perspective of having a front row seat on the action as I struggled to understand what was happening and where I fit in.
What truly fascinated me about Berkeley was the palpable sense of being involved in the events of the day. I was drawn toward these issues, and the call to action tweaked my interest. Limiting the future of a potential Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein or Mahatma Gandhi because of who his parents were went beyond being counterproductive. It was stupid. We all lost. But I wasn’t ready to take up a picket sign. This was my first year at Berkeley and my hands were more than full in struggling with classes and eking out time to be with Jo Ann. There were also numerous responsibilities to fulfill in my role as dorm president.
I did strike one tap hammer blow against the machine, however. We were expected to participate in the annual Ugly Man Contest. Its purpose was to raise money for charity by having someone or thing really ugly as the dorm’s representative in competition with other dorms, fraternities and sororities. People would vote by donating money (normally pennies) to their favorite ugly man. In addition to being pure fun, it was on the top of the Dean’s list as an acceptable student activity.
I proposed that our ugly man be an unfortunate Joe College student whose computer card had been lost by the Administration. Consequently, he no longer existed. Early computers used punched cards to contain data and had become ubiquitous in our lives. They came with the warning “do not fold, spindle or mutilate.”
We made up a casket and wandered about campus in search of poor Joe. It was a small thing, but it reflected a growing unease I had about the alienation created by assembly line education where numbers were more important than individuals. It seems that the student body wasn’t ready for the message. A popular bartender, selected by a fraternity as its ugly man candidate, walked away with the prize.
While my concerns over student alienation were evolving, the administration was monitoring off-campus student activism with growing concern. The University perceived its primary objectives as carrying out research and preparing young people to become productive members of American society. There was little room in this view for students seeking social and political change— in Mississippi, in Oakland, or on campus.
But the world was changing. A young President in Washington, Jack Kennedy, was calling on the youth of America to become involved and had created the Peace Corps to encourage involvement. Racial equality seemed attainable in the United States, and people the world over were yearning for and demanding freedom. It was easy for idealistic young Americans to believe we were at the dawning of a new age, and natural to want to be involved in the transformation.
Had the students restricted their political efforts in the early and mid-sixties to the far off South, the eruption of conflict on the Berkeley Campus may not have taken place. But they chose local targets as well. When the students marched off campus to picket the Oakland Tribune, Sheraton Hotel, United Airways and Safeway over discriminatory hiring practices, they were challenging locally established businesses with considerable power. Not surprisingly, these businesses felt threatened and fought back. Rather than deal with the existing discrimination, they demanded that the University, local authorities, the state government and even the Federal government do whatever was necessary to reign in the protesters.
Their arguments for the crackdown were typical of the times: A few radical off-campus agitators with Communist connections were working in conjunction with left leaning professors to stir up trouble. The participating students lacked mature judgment and were naively being led astray. The vast majority of students were good law abiding kids who just wanted to get an education, party, and get a paycheck.
The University was caught between the proverbial rock and a very hard place. The off-campus political activism was creating unwanted attention. Public dollars could be lost and reputations tarnished. There was a justifiable fear of reprisal from the right. The ugliness of McCarthyism was still alive and well in America. Its half-truths, outright lies and accusations had created a deep paranoia and distrust within American Society.
Only a few years before, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had held hearings in San Francisco in its ceaseless search for Communists. UC had been a target. Clark Kerr and others had worked hard to protect and restore the academic freedom on campus that loyalty oaths and other McCarthy-like activities had threatened. Student activism would refocus right wing attention on the Berkeley Campus.
My greatest insight into the mindset of the Administration was when the Dean of Students called student leaders together to discuss the growing unrest on campus. Our gathering included members of the student government and presidents of the resident halls, fraternities and sororities. Noticeable in their absence were student representatives from off campus organizations such as CORE, SNCC, SDS, Young Democrats, Young Republicans and other activist groups. We sat in a large room with tables organized in a square; there must have been at least 40 of us. I was eager to participate and imagined an open discussion of the issues. I couldn’t have been more wrong, which is the subject of my blog-a-book post from The Bush Devil Ate Sam next Wednesday.
Friday’s Travel Blog: Last Friday I featured the magnificent sea stacks found at Harris Beach State Park on the Oregon Coast. But what about ordinary rocks? This Friday, Peggy and I lower our cameras to look at a collection of ‘not so normal’ rocks and driftwood at the park.
Pat the Greyhound set the stage for the banning of the Ghost Guard from my bed.
The night of the skunk was an exception to Pat’s normal stay-at-home routine. As usual, I had crawled into bed with an assortment of animals. That evening, it was minus Pat. Good, she took up a lot of room. Somewhere around midnight, I half way awoke as she hopped up on the bed, completed three dog turns, and snuggled down. Consciousness made a quantum leap as my nose was assailed by an unmistakable perfume.
“Seems we have a skunk visiting,” I told Pat and reached down to scratch her head. The fur was moist. As I pulled my hand back, the skunk suddenly got much closer. Now, I was totally awake. Ms. Greyhound had been bullying the wrong pussycat. It was a night to sleep inside. In fact, Marshall had a roommate for several days. I don’t know how many times I washed that hand but I do know that the bedding was tossed and Pat learned what a tomato juice bath was. When I finally made it back outside, the animals were put on notice: One more problem and off they went.
Then Demon the Black Cat made her contribution.
She was well into middle age by this time and there had been no pause in kitten production. This was a time before spaying became common. Every few months, Demon shelled out another litter. She had long since finished overpopulating Diamond and was working on surrounding communities. We were teetering on becoming known as the Cat Family of Diamond Springs. My father reverted to drastic measures. Demon was not pleased. She started hiding her kittens and became a master at subterfuge. If someone tried to follow her, she would stop and nonchalantly give herself a bath, her whole body, one lick at a time. Then she would wander off in the opposite direction.
Mother paid me in cookies to track Demon down. When the Graveyard was her destination, I had a flat tombstone I would stand on as a lookout. There was an added advantage; Demon didn’t check for people perched on tombstones. Who would? Eventually, the missing litter would be discovered. I felt like Daniel Boone.
Demon’s special home delivery took place the same summer Pat had her close encounter with the skunk. As noted earlier, my attitude about bed companions had become testy. I wasn’t above rolling over quickly to see how many I could dislodge. A really good roll would net three or four. Sleeping with me was like living on the San Andreas Fault.
I did feel guilt over routing Demon. Once again, she was pregnant. I watched her balloon out. By this time, I was a veteran of the birthing process and found it interesting rather than troublesome. One night I had awakened to Pat howling, found that she was delivering puppies, and sat up with her through the process. Another time I had gone out with Tom Murphy, our grocer, and assisted in the delivery of a calf that wanted to come out the wrong way. It was messy, up to the elbow work. Remember the coke I stole from his store on my 5 AM walk home from Rudy and Robert’s? Tom was repaid many tines over.
I really didn’t expect to be around for the arrival of Demon’s kittens. That would take place in some hidden nook. One should never make assumptions.
It started as a normal night. Roll over, kick the animals off, and go to sleep. Wake up and repeat the process. It was not a normal morning. I woke up with wet feet.
“What the heck!” I exclaimed as I sat up quickly, dislodging Pat in the process. Demon looked innocently back at me from the foot of the bed. Okay, nothing suggested why my feet were wet. Then I noticed movement. Demon was not alone. Several little black clones were lined up for breakfast. Demon had delivered her litter on the bed and my feet were awash in afterbirth.
That did it. My bed was not a home for wayward dogs who encountered the business end of skunks and it certainly wasn’t designed as a maternity ward for unwed cats. I bought a water pistol and initiated a campaign of terror. Any four-legged critter on the bed became fair game. The cats learned quickly; getting shot with a water pistol was not their idea of a proper bath. The dogs were more resistant. Usually it took several squirts and then I would get the look: big brown eyes accusing me of dark deeds. But I was tough and my canine companions eventually vacated the premises as well.
As soon as I fell asleep, however, the whole menagerie, fleas and all, would quietly slip back up on the bed.
Blog a Book Wednesday… From “The Bush Devil Ate Sam” : A student revolution with world-wide implications was about to begin at Berkeley. As a student on campus it would have a dramatic impact on my world view and be an important factor in my joining the Peace Corps. I discuss how I gradually became involved and provide background information.