Saturday, June 23, 2012

The special people of Pottawatomie

It was just before 10:30 am when Rudy and LT arrived at Ginger’s house.  Rudy was a bit embarrassed about their middle of the night visit.  It seemed so urgent at the time, but in the bright light of morning it had seemed, well, intrusive.  Ginger obviously wasn’t holding it against them because she was waiting for them on her front lawn.  Titus was sitting quietly next to her, enjoying the day. 

In LT’s opinion, Titus was the most content and well-adjusted cat he’d ever met.  He’d spent a lot of time with him over the past week or so, and had never seen Titus become angry or frustrated.  He saw something good in every situation, even when it was a sibling stealing a treat meant for him.  The others weren’t like that; they were your everyday cats – happy, sad, angry, jealous, the whole gamut of cat emotions.  It didn’t seem quite right to ask a cat like that what made him that way.  It might imply that the others weren’t as good, or maybe even that Titus was lacking because he didn’t show strong emotions.  No, some things were better left unknown, thought LT. 

Ginger greeted the two cats and asked if they’d gotten any sleep.  Rudy laughed and said that both of them had dropped off to sleep immediately on arriving at the RV and had slept long after David had left for work.  LT agreed and said they were ready for their excursion, no matter how far they had to travel.  He looked sideways at Ginger as he said this, as if to ask if they would be covering a lot of ground today. 

Laughing, Ginger said that all of the folks they might see today lived less than a quarter mile from the house, so she didn’t think this day would wear the two cats out.  She asked Titus if he needed to ‘go’ before they left and Titus looked embarrassed and said, “Mom!”  Ginger sighed and said that no matter how old her kittens grew to be, they’d still be kittens to her. 

The four cats took off at a leisurely pace, heading north.  After several turns, Ginger announced they were at their first destination and that they were here to meet Mr. Jenkins.  The sign in front of the large old house said, ‘Shady Oaks Rest Home’ and Rudy was confused.  A rest home was where humans put their old people who couldn’t take care of themselves anymore.  Was this Mr. Jenkins one of the employees?  Before Rudy could ask, Ginger headed around the side of the building and approached a very old man in a wheelchair.  He was next to a very long and narrow raised planter, and appeared to be weeding from the evidence of a pile of weeds in his lap.  His face lit up when he saw the cats and he called out, “Miss Ginger, where have you been keeping yourself?  I haven’t seen you in nearly a week.  I thought maybe you’d forgotten your old friend, Mr. Jenkins.  And look, you’ve brought Titus and some more friends with you.” 

Ginger walked over and stood in front of him, and placed her front legs on his shins as though she wanted to get in his lap.  Mr. Jenkins hastily threw the weeds out into the yard and brushed the dirt off his lap.  “Come right on up, missy, and we’ll find some catnip for you and your friends.”  As she made herself comfortable, the old man slowly wheeled the chair back several feet.  When he’d found the right spot, he reached out and nipped sprigs of catnip off of several plants.  “It wouldn’t do to take a whole plant, now, would it?  Then there wouldn’t be catnip next time you dropped by.”  He crushed a few of the leaves between arthritic fingers and put them on his lap in front of Ginger’s nose and then crushed more that he tossed to the other cats.  For the next few minutes, all four cats indulged in catnip play while Mr. Jenkins watched and laughed.  “I do love to watch folks having a good time, whether they be humans or animals.  You cats love your catnip, and I love growing it for you.  I’m already drying some up for the winter months, so I won’t run out this winter.  It was a close thing this past year.” 

When the cats didn’t seem inclined to run off, Mr. Jenkins looked down at the three on the ground.  “Thank you, Miss Ginger for bringing your friends to meet an old man.  I’d like to introduce myself properly and tell you a little bit about myself if I may.”  Rudy arranged herself in a decorative manner and gave a little bow of her head and Mr. Jenkins continued.  “Cyrus Jenkins is my name.  I worked the farms around this town all my life.  Was married, had three lovely children and a nice little house out on the Pottawatomie side of town.  Before the farms all got so big, I did a little bit of everything on the Porter farm.  I ran the machines and fixed ‘em too.  I could cultivate, irrigate, harvest, and fix every one of those machines.  It was hard work, but it was good work.  But when the little farms got bought up by bigger ones, I ended up working on one of those, but there I just fixed the machines. They had really big ones, and they needed a lot of maintenance.  I had my own little truck garden at my house – my wife and I grew all our own vegetables and plenty of pretty flowers for her.  We’d try to grow enough so we could give them to folks who needed them and didn’t have enough money.  Sometimes we didn’t have much ourselves, but we always had vegetables. 

“Well, when my kids were grown and my wife passed on, the farm let me go because my hands and knees were all swollen up with old Arthur.  Arthritis, you know.  I had my Social Security and my vegetables, but after a while it was too hard for me to do it all on my own.  That’s when I came to live here.  My kids have their own lives, their own kids to take care of and they didn’t need an old man like me in their houses.  My Social Security takes care of the bills here, and my son, he built me these planters.  I grow catnip for my friends here, and herbs that I dry for the cook and also for the food pantry.  Food pantries can give you plenty of the staples you need, but life and food is more than staples.  You need a few herbs and spices to brighten up your life.  Just like Miss Ginger here brightens up mine.”  He stopped talking and gently scratched Ginger’s ears.  Rudy and LT could hear her purring from where they sat several feet away. 

After a few minutes, a voice called from the doorway.  “Mr. Jenkins, I think it’s getting a little hot for you out there.  Are you done with your gardening?” 

Mr. Jenkins laughed and gave Ginger a farewell ear scratch.  “Well, Miss Lola is looking out for me again.  She makes sure I don’t get heatstroke.  You take care now, Miss Ginger, and come see me soon, okay?”  Ginger jumped down and Mr. Jenkins slowly wheeled himself to the bottom of a long ramp.  The cats watched as Miss Lola came out and carefully maneuvered him up the ramp and inside. 

“I’ve known Mr. Jenkins since we moved here.  I found him out here one day weeding and he lit up when he saw me.  He said I looked just like his old cat, Daisy.  I come to see him every few days.  He grows that catnip for me and herbs for anyone who wants or needs them.  His room smells heavenly – there are bunches of drying herbs hanging from the ceiling all over the room.  He breaks them up when they’re dry and bags them and puts lovely little labels on them.  He could make money with those herbs, but he says that bought herbs don’t taste as good as ones given with love.”  Ginger smiled as she talked about the old man.  He was certainly one of the special people. 

She turned to Titus and asked, “Well, Titus, shall we see if Mandy is home?” 

Titus brightened and replied, “Yes, Momma.  Let’s see how Mandy is.”  He took off at a run heading back towards his house.  The other cats ran to catch up, so Ginger had no opportunity to explain who Mandy was and why she was one of the special people. 

Titus turned and ran up a driveway about a block from his house.  He charged up a few steps to the side door of the house, right off the driveway and began scratching on a metal storm door, meowing loudly.  After a few seconds, the door opened and a youngish woman came out and sat on the steps, hugging Titus to her.  “Oh, Titus, I’m so glad you’re here.”  She burst into tears, and Titus snuggled into her lap, licking the tears from her face.  She petted him, shook her head and laughed a little through the tears.  “You always make me feel better.  And you know you always made Jonathan feel better, even when, well, you know.”  The woman sat there holding Titus, rocking and talking nonsense to him.  Titus seemed perfectly content with this, as he was with most everything that happened. 

Ginger, LT and Rudy had stopped on the lawn in front of the house.  Ginger said softly to the other two, “Titus made friends with Mandy’s son, Jonathan about six months after we moved here.  He was about five years old and had always wanted a cat.  They rent this house, and the owner doesn’t allow pets, so Titus would come over and play with Jonathan every few days.  After a few months, Jonathan stopped coming out to play.  Titus kept coming anyway, and finally one day he saw Jonathan and Mandy getting out of a car.  Jonathan had no hair and was very skinny.  He was so happy when he saw Titus that he refused to go in the house and insisted that he would stay outside with Titus as long as he wanted.  It was late spring, and not too hot or cold, so his mother brought a big lawn chair out for them to sit in.  The boy had cancer, of course. 

“When Mandy saw how happy Titus made Jonathan she made sure there was time every day he wasn’t in the hospital to play outside with Titus.  And when winter came, she’d run her car and the two would sit in her car to keep warm.  Well, Lettie found this out from a neighbor, and that was the end of the two sitting in the car.  Mandy brought Jonathan over all that winter, and the next and the one after that and the two would sit or lie on the sofa and snuggle and play.  It about broke all our hearts to see that Jonathan wasn’t getting any better.  He’d go through treatment and be miserable, but get better for a bit, but I guess the cancer never went away. 

“This past fall, it was clear that Jonathan wouldn’t be able to come to Lettie’s house when it got too cold.  She went to the owner and gave him a piece of her mind about his not letting pets in the house.  That child was dying and about the only thing that took his and his mother’s mind off of it was Titus.  The owner said that as long as the cat didn’t live there, it would be okay, providing Mandy paid an extra security deposit for cleaning.  Lettie was furious, and paid the man herself, telling him never to tell Mandy.  She could barely afford the rent, with all of the medical bills for Jonathan. 

“Titus visited Jonathan and Mandy every day, right up until the end.  The hospice people were marvelous.  They made sure that there was always a spot for Titus on the bed with Jonathan.  We barely saw him this winter.  He’d leave our house in the morning, and not come back until Jonathan was asleep at night.  And always smiling, no matter what.  He said that if Jonathan could put up with being so sick and still be so nice, how could he do any less.  One morning Titus went over and found the yard full of cars.  When he scratched at the door, a man came and shooed him away.  Titus kept scratching until he heard the man call out to the others inside asking how to get rid of the cat at the door.  Mandy came to the door, let Titus in and collapsed to the floor, hugging him.  She cried and cried, telling Titus that Jonathan had died during the night.  Titus did just what he’s doing now.  He sat with her, licking off her tears and telling her that he loved her and that Jonathan was probably with the Great Cat right now playing with dozens of kittens. 

“Well, within a few weeks, Mandy was doing volunteer work with the hospice organization.  She takes cats and dogs who are being fostered by the Humane Society to visit people with cancer, mostly children.  She’s decided to go back to school and get a degree in Social Work so she can get a job with them.  She says that between those folks and Titus, Jonathan’s last years were full of love and caring.  She still misses her son a lot, but she’s doing something instead of sitting around and moaning.  Now that is a special person.” 

LT and Rudy looked over at Mandy and Titus.  There was certainly a lot of love between those two, as well as the shared pain of losing a son and a friend.  Mandy had stopped crying and now was petting Titus and telling her about the animals and children she worked with.  Her face was glowing as she talked about how the children loved seeing the cats and dogs she brought.  She said that although she preferred bringing cats, some children liked dogs better, so for those she brought the dogs.  Only dogs who were very well behaved, though.  It wouldn’t do to have a rowdy dog with a very sick child.  She sighed and said that although it could be hard, the faces of both the animals and the children made it worthwhile.  She gave Titus a little hug and said that she had an appointment with a calico and a little girl, and had to be on her way.  She thanked Titus for visiting and asked him to come by again soon. 

Titus rejoined the three cats, and sighed.  He missed Jonathan so much, but he truly believed what he’d told Mandy, even if she didn’t understand him.  Jonathan was with the Great Cat, surrounded by kittens.  He hoped that when his time came to leave the earth that they could be together again.  Ginger nuzzled Titus, telling him what an incredible cat he was.  Then she asked if he thought they should go see Harvey.  Titus brightened and said he’d love to see him, and thought he’d be home about now. 

They headed to Harvey’s house, at a much more leisurely pace.  Ginger explained that Harvey was one of the folks who worked with the Pottawatomie County Caring Hearts Humane Society as a foster parent for strays.  He had a big old house and a nice yard, and usually had at least one family of cats. 

Harvey’s yard was a bit rundown.  The bushes were overgrown and the lawn needing mowing.  The house could also use a good coat of paint, in Rudy’s estimation.  Sitting on the front porch were a mother cat and a litter of young kittens.  Ginger put on the afterburners and ran up onto the porch.  “Celia, it’s so good to see you!  The kittens are getting so big.  How are they doing?” 

The mother cat responded with praises of her wonderful, marvelous kittens.  Titus said to Rudy and LT in an aside, “New mother, first litter.  Wait until they’re a few weeks older and steal all her food.”  Rudy stifled a laugh as they climbed the stairs to the covered porch.  Ginger introduced everyone and asked if Harvey was home.  Celia responded that he was inside getting a glass of tea and would be out in a minute.  LT and Rudy sat down and waited, admiring the kittens.  Titus was mobbed by them.  It appeared that he was the kittens’ favorite plaything, at least for the moment.  They climbed on him, pounced on him and one chewed the end of his tail.  Titus sat there with a huge grin on his face.  Kittens were fun. 

The front door of the house opened, and a voice said, “Well, I never expected to see you again.  Did you get reunited with your people?”  Out of the darkness of the house emerged the man Rudy had seen at the Wamego Pound.  She crouched and hissed in surprise and fear. 

“Don’t be worried, kitty mine.  I’m not going to catch you or hurt you.  It wasn’t me that put you in that cage.  Remember, I’m the one who got you sent to the vet so they could find your folks.”  He sat down in a wicker armchair, placing his glass of cold tea on a nearby table.  Rudy sat up, remembering that he had been quite decent.  He’d told the policeman that she couldn’t stay there, and had made sure she had food and water while she waited for him to come pick her up again. 

“Have you met Celia and the kittens?  I foster cats for Caring Hearts.  Since I work at the pound, I get the pick of the litter as it were.  Whenever a pregnant cat or momma cat comes in, I try to bring them home so the kittens don’t have to grow up in cages.  No kitten should be raised in a cage.  Right now I have Celia and her litter, and I just sent Bumblebee and her kittens on to permanent homes last week.  It was a little crowded around here with two litters, but we got by, didn’t we Celia?”  He reached down and ruffled the fur on Celia’s head. 

“There’s a lot of folks who don’t mind fostering a cat or two, but not as many who want to take on whole litters.  Some folks pay too much mind to their furnishings, and kittens can be hard on fancy china doo-dads.  So, me and a couple other old bachelors try to take the little families.  It keeps us out of trouble.”  He laughed at himself and shook his head.  Titus was losing the battle with the kittens, so he walked over and pried two of them off of Titus’ back.  “You can’t all jump on him at once, kitties.  Let the others play for a bit and then we’ll give you a turn.”  Titus gave Harvey a grateful look and turned his attention back to the remaining kittens. 

Celia sighed.  “They are so energetic.  I don’t know that I ever had that much energy.  Now that they’re four weeks old they don’t sleep as much, and they keep me busy.  Rosebud over there likes to climb curtains.  Zinnia is an ankle tagger.  She hides under things and whenever someone walks by, human or cat, she reaches out a paw and tags them.  Since her legs are short, usually that means she has to charge out to do it, so it’s not that much of a surprise.  Guests sure get a shock though, at least the first time.”  Celia had an indulgent motherly smile on her face as she said this. 

“It was my lucky day when I was brought to the Pound.  I was living out behind the South Forty CafĂ©, out on Route 99 and a lady enticed me into a carrier with fresh fish.  I thought I was a goner when she closed the carrier door, but she’d decided that a pregnant cat needed a better place to raise kittens than outside a restaurant.  So, she brought me to the Pound.  I got looked over by the vet and had my shots, and then Harvey came in to work and the rest was history.  He took one look at swelled-up me and I came home with him.  We’ll stay with him until the kittens are old enough to go to permanent homes and then I’m going to live with a friend of his, a lady named Delia.”  She giggled.  “We’ll be Celia and Delia.  I do have to have an operation so I don’t have any more kittens, but I guess that’s an okay deal if I get a good home out of it.  One good litter is really all a cat needs.  It’s not like they’re going to go out and make their fortunes and support me in my old age.  Caring Hearts does good work around this area.  Animals know that if they’re sent there they’ll get homes and medical attention if they need it.”

Rudy had been watching Harvey as Celia talked.  He carefully played with the kittens, and after a few minutes had traded the two on Titus for the two he’d had in his lap.  Now the two with him were chewing on his suspenders.  He seemed like a very nice man, after all.  She walked up to him and said, “I’m sorry I hissed at you.  I was just surprised.  I think it’s a very good thing that you take care of cat families, even if you don’t get to keep them.  She rubbed up against his leg, and Zinnia’s paw zoomed down to tag Rudy’s ear.  She looked up and Zinnia pounced on her. 

Rudy wasn’t used to playing with kittens, but she figured she’d give it a try.  Rudy shook the kitten off and turned to face her.  Zinnia launched herself at Rudy, but all she got were two pawfuls of fur, since Rudy’s coat was so long.  She slid down the fur to the porch floor and Rudy gently pinned the kitten and chewed on her tail.  Zinnia squeaked and squirmed out from under the restraining paw.  Rudy’s tail was spread out on the porch and the kitten pounced, burying herself in Rudy’s thick tail fur.  The adults, cat and human alike burst out laughing.  Zinnia’s head appeared from the obscuring fur and she squeaked, “What’s so funny?”  Rudy turned without moving her tail (not an easy maneuver) and again pinned the kitten. 

“You’re so funny, pipsqueak.  You just disappeared in the fur of my tail.  You’re small and my tail is so fluffy that ‘poof’ you were gone.”  Zinnia squirmed out again and pounced on Rudy.

“Oh, you’re so soft and fluffy.  Can I take a nap on you?  You’re as soft as Harvey’s favorite pillow.”  The kitten settled down on Rudy’s side and purred.  Rudy lay still as the kitten’s purrs turned into snores.  The others were also getting tired from their enthusiastic play.  Rosebud yawned and snuggled into Titus’ stomach and the other two wandered over to their mother and plopped down next to her.  Within minutes they were all asleep. 

Harvey smiled and shook his head.  “That’s why I like kittens.  All energy until they wear themselves out and collapse.  They live in the moment, the eternal now.  They don’t worry about taxes going up, the roof needing to be replaced or if they can afford the repairs needed on the car.”  He sighed.  “When I’m with them, I don’t worry so much about those things either.  Well, let me get you all a little snack you can eat, even if you’ve got a kitten using you as a pillow.”  He got up and went into the house.

Ginger said softly, “Harvey struggles to pay his bills, but he opens his house to family after family of kittens.  Yes, Caring Hearts gives him the food and pays the vet bills, but it’s still a lot of work for him.  And I know they don’t pay for the cat treats he gives any cat who stops by.” 

The front door opened and Harvey came out with a small bowl.  He carefully distributed the treats, stopping to scratch each cat between the ears as he did so.  The treats were soft and meaty, but squishy so that a sleeping kitten wasn’t even disturbed by a cat chewing on them.  They all sat quietly while the kittens napped, enjoying the sounds of life around them in the town.  Someone down the street was mowing their lawn, birds sang in the trees around the house and an airplane flew far overhead.  The occasional car drove past slowly, obeying the 25 mile per hour speed limit for this small residential street.  It was an idyllic place and time for all of them, and Rudy and LT truly knew that for at least some cats, Pottawatomie was a very special place.  


Photo courtesy of Nuevo Anden - http://www.flickr.com/photos/carlos/152833469

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