#45 Your Cat Is DeadPosted: June 10, 2013
Back to that strange summer of 1959, when my mother got rich and my brother and I traveled with her out east to see her ex-lover, maybe not so ex, or the man we thought of as a grand-father. (Mentioned in Back Again, North Carolina posted 4/29/13) Then we went to see our father who had been training all summer in New Jersey for the National Rifle Championship. Oh did I mention the photo? Since Dad was away, my mother had my 14 year old brother take a picture of her leaning over a padded footstool with her breasts spilling out? It was a very thoughtful picture of a wife to send, I’m guessing to my father. Yes, she had her 14 year old son take that photo.
Anyway it wasn’t a fun summer until we got to New Jersey. For the first few weeks I had horrible non-fiction boils on my leg, which my mother refused to let me cover with bandages. And in sweltering St. Louis I was brilliantly wearing skirts with scratchy fully starched layers of netting or tulle or crinoline underneath. That slip could have walked by itself. It scratched against the painful boils on my leg. I was just, adorable.
And then we visited the grandfather like man, actually her boyfriend, Wade, for a while in North Carolina. I don’t know how long we were there. My leg had scarred by then and I was wearing civilized shorts.
Finally we got to Cape May and the ocean and my father and the boardwalk and Wildwood. Then we all drove west for the rifle competition in Ohio. We stayed in old Army barracks left over from World War I. There were wooden walls with a canvas roof that flooded. Fortunately we had our luggage on air mattresses. They were floating one morning in a foot of muck. I think that was the year my father won the national championship. He stood even taller then. Oh and my bother and I rowed in a lake and snakes kept getting caught on the oars. Since we were in the boat my brother couldn’t get rid of me as usual. Nobody was going in the water with the snakes.
We stopped in Detroit where my father, ordinarily a Buick man, picked up the new big white Pontiac he had ordered, with fins. Then we drove it west back to Washington State. We always stopped at quirky roadside displays. If you’ve ever been to Walls Drugs somewhere on the way to Mt. Rushmore, you know what I mean. I’m not sure if that was the place with the trained pigs and the chicken that played baseball. Not all our summer adventures were quite that educational.
And so on through big Montana, the slip of Idaho, and across wide and varied Washington State. For some reason I remember a song on the radio, a guy hangs his head or he just hangs. Tom Dooley? Maybe not.
Then through the Cascade Mountains, around Hood Canal, closer and closer to home, Port Angeles. After 3,000 miles when we were about five miles from our house Dad stopped the car and my mother got in the back with me. That NEVER happened. Our seating arrangement was permanent. Something not very good was about to happen.
She told me what apparently my father and brother had known all summer. My beloved cat Gus, named after our neighbor Gustav, had gotten into a fight or maybe run over by a car. Details were vague. Anyway he was dead. Gus, the cat, had been dead all summer. There was this plan, probably kind, to wait to tell me closer to home, so it wouldn’t ruin my summer. As if the boils on my leg hadn’t done that job already. But by the time she got the words out we were turning on to our street where I expected to see my fuzzy and fully trained Manx cat greeting me. What was it she was telling me?
So here’s how she broke it. She told me that Gus had died. But that she, my mother, had gone through something much much, oh so much worse. Her father died. What? Did she say my cat died? Her father? I never knew him. She said to try to imagine how terrible it was for her. So I was not to be upset. It was much worse for her to lose a father (twelve years earlier) than for me to lose a cat, ever.
So I didn’t cry. I couldn’t feel. She did say my cat died right? All my mind could do was try to figure out how terrible it would be to lose my father, who by that time had pulled us into the driveway of our house. But it wasn’t that either. Her father died, not mine. Don’t cry about the cat. And I didn’t. I never did. And it’s not accurate that I didn’t know what to do. I did know. I consoled my mother about her long dead father and asked if there was anything I could do.
But Gus, he was one great cat.