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The Cat Whisperer

Michael and Julius have a new friend. She’s about 75 years-old and lives on our block in a semi-rundown house. I have heard random gossip from the morning dog walkers that her recyclable garbage contains only wine bottles. Another neighbor labeled her a nasty, old lady.

Until recently, I had never met her. I knew her house, but like so many people who are close enough to touch, our paths never crossed. Then one day, while playing on our lawn, Michael and Julius spotted a black cat across the street. It became our activity for the next ten minutes to follow it. No matter how it scampered from us, we pursued. At least they did. I pursued them.  Finally, the cat stopped at her driveway, walked up toward the porch and laid out on the concrete, stretching like he owned the place, which he obviously did.

Photo of Marina by Michael

“Her name is Marina,” said a quiet voice off to the side.

I turn my head and notice a woman in a blue, flowered housedress sitting on an old kitchen chair on her porch. It’s not even a porch really, just a small, guard-railed area to stand and get your key out for the door.

“She’s a little skittish, but mostly playful. Come around to this side of her and pet her head.”

My boys listen and beam proudly when Marina rolls over for them and sticks her head under Michael’s hand for continued pleasure.

The woman goes on like she’s talking with a friend over tea. “I took her in. She was a street cat and it took a while to get her to trust me, but now she’s very comfortable. Not like that one.” She points, and we all turn to see another cat strut out of her open door, rub up against the leg of her chair and saunter down the steps. “That’s Valentine. He’s not nice.”

Valentine had Garfield’s body and Cujo’s expression. “I think he was abused.” The woman said and Michael and Julius automatically take a step back. Marina did as well. “You never know the story with rescue cats. Where they come from, what’s happened to them.”

Valentine photo by Michael

Two more cats emerged from the house, and Michael and Julius stared in awe. “Are they good?” Julius asked.

“That one’s Cocoa. She’s very friendly. And this here is Pumpkin, she’s sweet but very shy. I don’t think she’ll let you touch her.”

Michael and Julius slowly approached, with cartoon-quality, quiet faces and matching exaggerated, quiet steps. I almost expected them to turn around with a finger to their lips and go “Shhhh. I’m hunting wittle cats.”

Cocoa loved up their loving and, Pumpkin, as expected, stayed a safe distance away, jumping backwards anytime one of the boys invaded her space.

Photo of Cocoa by Michael

We stayed too long, the boys obsessed with the felines running round, and watching Valentine (“the meanie”) mess with the other cats, stalking and then pouncing on them. I said a few words to the woman, and she acknowledged me, but spoke mostly to the boys in a soft, adult-voice, schooling them on each cats temperament and history. The boys were fascinated, asking questions, listening, not just politely, but with interest. Wow.

There was no condescending baby talk. No, “Oh those are cute kids.” She spoke with my four and seven year-olds as equals. I wondered about her. Alone, in her house with her rescued cats and a reputation. I remembered she gave out inappropriate candy on Halloween the first year we lived here – sticky, wrapped hard candy, probably from a bowl sitting on her table for 5 or 50 years.  We never knocked again.

It was getting late. I was getting bored. “Guys, come on. We’ve got to go home.”

“That was so cool.” Michael exclaimed as they skipped back towards our house.

“Yeah!” Julius chimed in.

“Can we go back later?” Michael asked.

“Yeah!” Julius again concurred, nodding expectantly.

“No, not today guys. We were there long enough.”

“Can we get a cat?” Julius asked hopefully.

“Uh, we have a cat. Remember? Fuzz.”

“Yeah, but he’s boring.” Michael said glumly.

“He is not.” I defended poor Fuzzy. “Come on. Let’s go play with him”

We walked in our house and neither kid showed the slightest interest in Fuzz. “It’s okay, boy. I’ll play with you.” I cooed and stroked his fur.

We’ve been back to the cat lady at least half a dozen times now. She always steps out onto the porch in her house dress, like she’s been waiting for us. I know as little about her as I did the first day. The boys love going. They enjoy her conversation. They love her cats. They’ve won Marina and Cocoa over completely. Pumpkin is still a spectator but a less jumpy one, and “Meanie” Valentine is still not showing the love. I’m the real outsider. Watching. Waiting. Wondering. Do I really know any of my neighbors? Not really. So close. So distant. Who was she? Who is she?

Every so often I run in my neighborhood and sometimes notice her door left wide open. The gaping hole looks dark and empty and full of quiet, and I wonder, is she the one who needs to be rescued…?

About Ice Scream Mama

Mama to 3 boys, wife to Mr. Baseball and daughter of a sad man. I have a double scoop every day.

44 responses »

  1. oh i really enjoyed this. found it kind of sad and very intriguing (would love to know more about the old cat lady)

    Reply
  2. Nice, humanizing portrait of a “crazy cat lady.” Even in family neighborhoods where people try to be “neighborly” we can be so atomized and isolated. You did a great job making that resonate. And you’ve got quite the budding wildlife photographer on your hands. Nice post!

    Reply
    • Thank you. It’s so true, even the ones i really do think i know… i don’t.
      I sent Michael to do some pictures and he was happy to oblige. I wanted to get a shot of her open doorway.. but it felt too intrusive on her privacy… but i really wanted it. 😉

      Reply
  3. Loved this. We had this same woman in our neighborhood growing up. Her name was Florence Daily. I have thought many times about writing about her!

    Reply
  4. I’m continually fascinated by how little we know about the people around us. I’m sure I’d be surprised to learn how some people I think I know actually live. Great portrait you painted of the cat lady. I wanted to meet her. It says a lot that your boys enjoy her as well as her cats. I liked your last line about maybe she’s the one who needs to be rescued. Nicely done.

    Reply
  5. This was so good! It’s funny how reputations start. She’s probably just lonely. I’ll bet she’s thrilled that your boys are regular visitors!

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    • Thank you. People are really fascinating. Everyone is a story… And yeah, i think she loves that the boys come and are so interested in what she is. Plus, they can answer without a meow. 😉

      Reply
  6. Aw, that’s sweet and a bit sad. Kids are so innocent about stuff, sometimes..

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  7. Great story! Loved the tie-in between the ending and this quote: “You never know the story with rescue cats. Where they come from, what’s happened to them.”

    The fact that you are intrigued by the cat lady’s real story is what makes you a good writer.

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  8. Really intriguing post! It had an air of mystery to it that I loved, yet at the same time was relatable and charming. It kept me interested and made me curious to know more. Great job!

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  9. Oh wow. That last line nailed it. You had me so completely enthralled with this story of the mysterious cat lady. Awesome.

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  10. As a cat lover myself, this story intrigues me, and I want to hear more. You did a great job of describing her quirky character, and the details of each cat. Interesting how your boys were so comfortable with her!

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  11. Let’s get her together with my grandfather! Wait, there are problems with that. I love this mysterious character in the housedress with the cats. So good. Plumb the depths here.

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  12. Fantastic! It was like To Kill A Mockingnird. I expected Boo Radley to come out! Touching and so well written. Loved it!

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  13. Cindy - The Reedster Speaks

    Sweet! I love your photographer too! This line is great – “Uh, we have a cat. Remember? Fuzz.” My daugthers are constantly asking for dogs. We have two. Sigh.

    Reply
    • Thank you! He loved the job! Poor Fuzz – no respect! What is it with kids?! I now also have a bearded dragon that my son beeeeegggged for – i feed it, clean it, play with it… why????

      Reply
  14. Great post! Was charming and mysterious at the same time.

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  15. Great post! I’m sure having your boys visit is just as much (or more) of a treat for her than it is for them. I’m glad they found each other.

    Reply
  16. This was a great read. I’m sure she was dying for company — hence her collection of cats. She obviously is lonely and compassionate to take the time to train strays. What a good lesson for your boys to see you taking the time to humanize someone that most people just categorize.

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  17. This was so good! You took the cat’s stories and applied them to the cat lady. Really well done.

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  18. I love how you made the cats main characters too, and talked about their stories and personalities as well as your neighbors. I really do hope that you can find out more about her. She sounds like an interesting old soul.

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  19. Oh, gosh, it’s so strange how we don’t know our neighbors anymore! I’m not a cat person (even thought I’ve had 3), but I am a “pet” person. These little creatures become members of the family!

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  20. This is why I kind of miss living in a neighborhood. I loved how this all tied together — nicely done!

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  21. We deliver Meals on Wheels to a woman that I could best describe as a “witch” with rotten teeth… who now calls my sons her grandsons. Ya just never know about people, do you?? Great read!

    Reply
  22. lilahbrett@aol.com

    I like this one a lot. I want to know more. I am getting a cat. I too am crazy, won’t allow rescue though.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Reply
  23. I’m often intrigued by the solitary neighbors down the block that I’ve had pretty much everywhere I’ve ever lived. Looks like your boys are doing her some good.

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  24. I love that other people wonder about life stories…the whys, the hows and everything in between. Great post, hon!

    Reply
  25. I’m intrigued. I also agree with Michael…. Fuzz IS boring.

    Reply
  26. She probably loves having someone to talk to, other than her cats. It’s nice that your boys enjoy going over there too. Loved this. Great post.

    Reply

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