An Immensely Gifted Cat Family
Self published Dec 2010
For My Parents, James and Marilyn Lynch
There once was a family of immensely gifted cats who lived in the countryside in Old Man Abram’s barn. The family consisted of Father Cat, Mother Cat and eleven kittens who scurried and played and pounced and rolled together all day long. Though Old Man Abram, who lived alone now, complained constantly about the size of the Cat family and frequently grumbled that he had already spent much of his life “feeding many mouths thank you very much”, nevertheless he could not bring himself to break up the large Cat family of thirteen. It would have been unthinkable.
Instead, every evening without fail, Old Man Abram scooped up the youngest litter, dumped them into the sloop of his shirt and carried them into his house for a short visit and a delicious treat of warmed milk laced with sugar. Father Cat and Mother Cat and the older kittens trailed quietly behind and Old Man Abram held the screen door open until the last tail had cleared the threshold.
Once inside, Father Cat always sat closest to the rocking chair by the fire so that when the old man relaxed his arm to its full length, his hand would come into contact with Father Cat’s fur. Then Old Man Abram would scratch Father Cat behind the ears and Father Cat would purr heavily and stretch his neck just so—while the old man
commiserated with him as though they were two old comrades sharing war stories. The old man told Father Cat tales of his own children who were now all grown up and off in the world leading their own lives. Father Cat looked up with understanding and watery eyes when the old man’s voice filled with loneliness and he began to realize that a day would come when the kittens too might be gone.
During the daytime, life was busy and there was no time to be lollygagging in front of fires. It was the duty of each member of the Cat Family to keep the barn clear of mice and birds and it was stressful, sometimes even anxiety-ridden work. All day long Father Cat worked tirelessly checking the outer perimeter of the building’s foundation for telltale signs of newly gnawed wood or expanding crevices or holes. Mother Cat paced indoors in front of the barn’s wide doorways and archways like a sentry; back and forth she wove a path with her head slightly dipped below her shoulders and ever-moving like a goal tender daring any critter to cross over.
The kittens, who had begun their educations, were each assigned an upper level window in the barn’s hayloft to watch over and because each window offered a different view of life beyond, their dreams began to form separate from one another. But dreaming was tiresome and as they sat in those sunny windows they struggled to stay awake; they bit their tongues in order to
remain alert so that they might bat away any birds before they could enter the barn. Birds were considered vile because they left their droppings willy-nilly on the bales of straw and hay and alfalfa—food for the larger animals. As important as they knew their education and training at the windows were, they often forgot themselves in that sun-drenched utopian warmth, dozed off, catnapped and then suddenly jerked awake. And when they came awake with that jerk, their minds were still sleepy and foggy and all they could think to do was romp and leap and play and before they knew it, all eleven kittens were falling on top of one another and wrestling and giggling in a kitteny sort of way. When Mother Cat caught sight of the goings-on in the loft above, she meowed at the top of her vocal chords for them to stop their tomfoolery and attend to their responsibilities. The kittens then hung their heads and walked grievously back to their respective watches.
As each night fell—following their visit to the house for that warm snack by the fire—Father Cat led the kittens back to the barn with Mother Cat bringing up the rear like a gentle guard, taking care that the pokier kittens did not get carried away with their fiddling around. Then, before curling up together in the hay, Mother Cat cleaned her fur and the fur of each child. Each kitten purred in anticipation and then grew sleepy with delight when Mother turned their way. It was not that any of them were particularly fond of baths. No, they certainly were not. Rather, they were fond of Mother’s attention and loving touch. It was during these bedtime preparations that the kittens came to believe themselves to be immensely gifted. They were not sure where that belief had come from or what immensely gifted even meant. They were human terms that Mother and Father had picked up from Old Man Abram and now purred the message as they nudged the kittens to sleep.
Father Cat was especially gifted and knew by a secret measure he carried within his body, something the humans called instinct, that the weather was soon to turn bitter and cold. He knew how to gauge the passage of time by how the stars and moon travelled in the night sky; he recognized the ever decreasing length of days and so he prepared carefully by laying aside a ration from his daily hunts for the long winter ahead. He took the oldest kittens with him and began teaching them to lurk, to lay low on their haunches and to pounce with brilliant speed and silence.
One evening, a night that Father Cat knew by using his gifts would be the longest span of darkness during the year, he paced the barn and waited for the old man to come as usual and scoop the kittens into the garments he wore over his body. But the old man did not come and did not come and soon Father Cat knew that the time was long past for sitting by the fire, for warm snacks and a good scratch behind the ears. He grew impatient and owly and Mother Cat meowed and told him that he was getting spoiled by that old man. But when the moon grew very high in the night sky and was directly overhead, even that ornery old Mother Cat became worried and so all together she and Father Cat and all the kittens ventured out of the barn and across the moonlit lawn and atop the ice encrusted snow to the house. Father leapt upon a window sill and saw the old man in his rocking chair and saw that the fire was indeed glowing warmly and that the teacup was still on the side table. Pawing on the window glass and getting no response from the old man, Father jumped down and began to work at the screen door with his claws until the door opened. The heavy door on the inside was not closed as tightly as it should have been and the entire Cat family was able to squeeze through the narrow opening.
When they entered the old man’s living room, the kittens stopped and stared at a strange sight. An enormous evergreen tree stood in the bay window and it twinkled with lights of all colors. Mother smiled and meowed as she explained that for some reason the old man dragged an evergreen indoors as soon as snow covered the earth and the days grew short and the nights seemed endless. Perhaps, she wondered aloud, the sparkling lights chased the darkness away? Not interested in explanations, the kittens jumped into the tree and climbed up the trunk. Leaping from branch to branch they pawed one another and hissed, which is how they displayed laughter.
When suddenly a shiny ball that had been hanging from a branch went sailing to the floor and cracked, Mother Cat meowed loudly—signaling they should stop the nonsense and behave themselves. They were guests, she reminded them, and so the kittens obediently gathered themselves into a large group of fur at the base of the tree. There, as they caught their breaths and settled under the tree, they spotted a tiny stable, much like a miniature of the barn where they lived. Diminutive little human beings, some who appeared to be shepherds, stood in the tiny stable and the tiny humans—who did not so much as flinch when touched by a paw—were surrounded by even smaller lambs and donkeys.
Then, when the kittens heard their father’s mournful purr and turned their faces to him, they saw that Father had leapt up and onto the old man’s lap; saw that he was burrowing his furry head into the old man’s belly and that he had begun nudging the old man’s hands. Still the old man did not wake. When Father buried his nose further into the old man’s open hand, his purr grew soft and quiet and they recognized it as a small cry. When the old man’s limp fingers finally fell open, a tiny human baby figure wrapped in white tumbled from his grip and fell to the floor.
The kittens, their eyes wide with fascination and wonder, watched as Mother gently gathered the tiny figure into her mouth—just as she carried them—walked to the base of the tree, and placed the baby in a miniature manger.
Then inching close to the manger, they saw that the specks of hay and straw and alfalfa that lined the crib there were gleaming and spotlessly clean and they lifted their heads proudly, knowing they had done their work well. Together the thirteen gathered around the manger and formed a wreath of fur that encircled the child and kept him warm. Through the dark of night they kept watch and held one another in that immensely gifted and endless circle of love.
By Kathryn Begnaud, For Mom and Dad