Thursday, June 2, 2011

Loving Cats

When I was growing up in northern Minnesota, my grandparents had a dairy farm. And on this farm, they had a quadrillion inbred cats. Each day, out of large dented tin buckets, my grandma would pour the still-warm milk into large dented tin pans. Then she'd call to them like only my grandma could call to them, “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” Like a song.

They would come. They would come from everywhere: cats from under the calf barn, cats from the stories of hay, cats from the pasture, cats still warm from milk house. My three-foot-tall rubber-booted self watched them slink and slither and surround us. Watched them lap up the milk with their rough pink tongues. Watched my grandma move among them, scattering the three pointed cat food with a skilled hand, singing her song of welcome. I can smell it still: all of it in its many layers of smell.

On the farm, the mother cats would hide their babies. A few lucky times, I found them, these small nests built into the square bales. Six or so kittens cuddled together in their cumulative warmth, eyes still shut, they wobbled on their thin soft legs blind.

Sometimes their sweet blue eyes would be sealed shut by a white crust. I'd reach in, so carefully, so slowly, and scoop the kitten up. I'd unzip my pink sweatshirt and tuck her inside as I slowly made my way to the milk house.

I'd enter the warmth and find my grandma, who would take the small kitten from my young hands and hold it in her own. She'd wet a paper towel and gently, slowly, surely, wipe away all the crust until the kitten's eyes could open. “Make sure to bring her right back where her mom can find her,” she'd say, not as gently.

Love is loving cats that come and go and fight and die and multiply and won't stay named. Love is pans of warm milk. Love is singing, "Here. Here. Come and be full." Love is the invitation to the milk house, and gentle hands wiping away what is sure to return.

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