A Lesson from Childhood

Today served as a reminder of something I experienced when I was about ten years old.

My mother caved in to my longing for a cat. And one day soon after my birthday, in the heat of July temperatures that can easily hit 110, we drove to one of her friend’s homes. She led us to the backyard where there was a small storage shed. There, prancing and hopping beneath its cool shade was a group of little kittens. They chased and bit and pawed at each other. Bright eyes looking everywhere. I instantly knew which one I wanted. It was all white except for some spots of different shades of brown mixed with black. I would later learn that this type of cat was called a Calico. I took it home and my mom christened it Polkas.

A year later Polkas got really fat. It looked like she had swallowed a football. Her large, overblown stomach swung from side to side as she walked. I was too scared to touch her during those days, but still spent countless hours watching her lick the overgrown mass.

We were watching TV, cartoons shown in the afternoon, when we heard tiny screeches and little meows. We stared at each other, our open mouths revealing what we each knew was happening. Kittens! Polkas! We rushed to the sounds and found Polkas on my brother’s bed, pinkish blood staining his sheets as a wet kitten emerged. Polkas licked it vigorously and then lay her head down again. We watched. We said nothing. Life was coming into the world in front of us. Finally the last kitten came out, Polkas gave it three exhausted licks and lay down, closing her eyes, surrounded by that wet mass.

One month later, I came home from school and eagerly searched the floor of my room. I found Polkas and what remained of her brood beneath the rocking chair. It seemed that she could not find the best spot for her young family as each day I came home, I would find her in a different place. I examined the kittens from afar and saw the tiny black one laying at Polkas’ feet. It looked very weak. Each of the previous few days I had come home to find a dead kitten. One was dying every day and it looked as if this one might be next. Wanting to help, I gently moved it closer to Polkas’ belly. The tiny thing just raised its head and opened its mouth in an effort to meow, but no sound came out. I lifted its little head, but it did not go near the nipple. I tried to angle his mouth and put his face into the belly, but the kitten would not respond. Desperate, I shoved one of the other fatter kittens away. It meowed in protest and Polkas glared at me, but I didn’t care. This kitten was going to make it and I was going to do whatever it took to keep it alive. I held his head, practically shoving it into the nipple and did not let him go for quite some time. All I wanted was to help. To help keep this little life on Earth. Help. Help. Help.

The next day, as soon as I came home from school, I ran to my room. I found Polkas beneath my bed with three kittens. I slowly stood up and searched the rest of the room. The tiny black body was in a corner of the closet. Lifeless. Cold.

I learned a lot from this life lesson. A lot about life and a lot about me too. The way I coped with this pain was that I didn’t have another pet. Years later, my older brother gave me a kitten, again for my birthday. But, knowing what would eventually come, I let my other brother take care of it and it became his cat. This way I didn’t have to carry as much emotional pain when it got hit by a car and died during the night, alone in his cardboard home. I am not cold or emotionless, but sometimes it is just what has to be done.

4 thoughts on “A Lesson from Childhood”

  1. Oh, the emotion and pain of losing a pet family member runs as deeply as losing a human family member. I can feel all of your emotions in this piece and especially the closing off of the emotions at the end. I completely get that.
    Perhaps some day…

      1. Yes, but I know that is much easier said than done. We adopted our 2 cats soon after a very, very difficult period of repeated loss (multiple miscarriages and my father within 9 months). I wasn’t ready, didn’t want to, and after 6 years with these bundles of joy I don’t know why I hesitated…the time will come:-)

  2. I am wondering what happened “today” to remind you of that vivid set of events around having a cat and kittens. You elaborated so beautifully on the important moments.
    I was never ever going to have a cat again after I gave up Carlos to a vet tech. Then I bought a house that belonged to Mickey.

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