What the Cat Dragged In

Posted: October 6th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Miss Kate, Mom | No Comments »

While our kids were strangling each other on the sidewalk the other day, a neighbor casually mentioned to me that his cat brought a rat into their house the night before.

“A mouse?” I asked weakly, venturing hopefully to correct him.

“No, no. It was a rat alright,” he replied. “It was actually pretty big too.”

It was one of those things someone tells you nonchalantly, and it’s all you can do to repress a full body shudder and exclamation of GAAAHHHH!

Several minutes later, he’d moved onto some other topic or was chatting with the kids or something, as I stood frozen, frantically wondering, “Was it dead? How big was it? Was it half-dead? Eeeeeeeeew!!! What room did it drag it into? Oh God, was it on a carpet? Was there a trail of blood? Did their kid see it? How the hell–and where–did they dispose of the thing?!”

I could barely stand to even think those thoughts, but I also couldn’t stop myself. For the remainder of the evening, back inside having dinner and such, any quiet moment would lead my mind back to thoughts of THE RAT, which as the night progressed grew larger, bloodier, and more diseased in my imagination.

Well, hey. What do they expect having cats. One of the first things I told Kate when we brought her home from the hospital as a newborn was, “We’re dog people.” I mean, it’s important for kids to know what their family stands for right out of the gate.

My disdain for cats started out with allergies as a child, then progressed to more of a fear of them (don’t laugh) after a couple episodes where I’ve been clawed at. (Turns out they don’t like having their stomachs scratched vigorously or being thumped on the back. Who knew?)

But after this rat story I have a whole new reason to hate.

The thing is, I’m starting to see some cat-like qualities in my own offspring. In Kate. No, I’m not allergic to her, and sure she’s scratched me a few times but in minor unintentional scenarios. Thankfully we’re not at the rat stages, but Kate is doing her fair share of taking the outdoors inside.

Today I was reaching blindly for a rattle for Paige in the great toy abyss between her and Kate’s car seats. Instead I withdrew a plum-sized chunk of concrete. Not exactly the German wooden toy that’ll get Paige into Princeton that I was groping for. And clearly Kate’s work. God knows how she manages to reach down and pry off a piece of the sidewalk before we snap her into her car seat.

And that’s just the car. Inside the house, her play kitchen is a shaman’s workbench. The girl has collected acorns, leaves, sticks, fistfuls of grass, dandelions, and other small organic matter. It’s wedged into little containers, mixed in small enamel pots with tiny wooden eggplants. I even found a Tupperware in her bureau alongside her basket of barrettes, filled with a cache some sort of random sidewalk nut.

Needless to say, outside is another story altogether. The bucket in the back of her trike is full to overflowing with pebbles, leaves, dessicated kumquats, pieces of straw, prickly chestnut husks, and a thoughtfully curated collection of twigs. Seed pods are especially prized booty, as she employs the multiplicity of innards for a variety of projects, most often as the key ingredient to her specialité, homemade ‘soups.’

And I should really just write the hipster architects who live on the corner a check for all the polished gray stones Kate’s purloined from their modern front yard-scape. By year’s end she’ll have denuded the place. And from the small crazy-person piles around our yard and spilling forth from her various front porch bowls and baskets, it’s quite clear that she’s the perpetrator.

Of course, aside from being creepily cat-like behavior, this all can’t help but remind me of my mother. Which is to say, what Kate’s got is in the genes. Driving down the road with my mom you’d think she was swerving to avoid an oncoming car, but really she’d careen to the side of the road with break-neck velocity then hop out giddy like a school girl to haul in a branch laden with pine cones. Some women swoon over designer labels, but a piece of driftwood or a fallen bird nest was what’d weaken my mother’s knees.

Her pine cone habit was at times out of control. Look for a clear place to sit in her car and you’d re-enact a scene from The Sound of Music. For as much as she gathered, emptying the car of her earthly treasures was a less immediate compulsion. The back seat was typically off limits it was so overburdened with her finds, along with her stash of old bread, crackers, and cereal she fed to wild ducks. (The woman single-handedly changed the dietary needs of the North American Mallard by causing them to grow dependent on stale Ritz Crackers.)

At least the pine cones, chestnuts, shells, and other natural detritus my mother gathered were the raw materials for some backwoods-type Martha Stewart projects. (Though it should be known she found Martha to be “a puke.”) She’d gild a bale of nut husks and pair them with some holly sprigs, quahog shells, and maybe a pineapple or two. Slap on some peat moss and rig in a few candles and next thing you know we had a centerpiece worthy of a White House state dinner. As wacky as she was, the end products were always impressive.

As far as I know, none of Mom’s roadside finds made their way into her repertoire of soups, though it’s hard to really know for sure. Come winter, she did did make a hearty stew.

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