He was Siamese “if you don’t please” — very independent, or so it seemed. He appeared one dawn in the barn/shop where my brother works on boats and campers. Stunning blue eyes, peering from atop a rig. My sister-in-law lured him with food — a dish in the barn, then in the yard, then near the garage, then inside the garage. Grandkids called him Mocha for his coat, a stir of creams and browns.
Before Mocha, my brother was a dog person. But the cat trailed him, as a dog might, to the house, back to the barn, and stayed curled and purring by the heater for hours. He liked a petting now and then. In time my brother devised a timed cat feeder for use during the humans’ trips and built two cat doors — one from outdoors into the garage, another from the garage into the house. If you look up tips on having a cat in the house, he says, you’ll find “hard rules as to the limits to be placed on where, how much, etc., that the cat is to comply with, but… ‘He’s to be an outside cat only!’ … ‘OK, he gets indoors, but just during the day, and not on the furniture!’ … ‘OK, put the cat bed there so he’s not all over, but he’s not going in the bedroom!’ And so it goes, often ending with getting crowded in bed.”
“How’s Mocha?” I typed. The cat had had a serious infection.
“Mocha seems to be fine. Full of playfulness; loves to find things to invent games for and with, for instance, hanging ear buds. Prone to what Dad referred to as ‘humbug runs,’ when ChiChi would take off running, for no other reason than the (seemingly) pure joy of doing so. The latter being very popular with Mocha during walks together about the property, mixed in with a game of hide and seek!”
Ah, ChiChi … Mom was done having pets. Everyone knew it. But Uncle Ed gave her a baby Chihuahua for Christmas. I was married, living out of state, thus missed ChiChi’s puppy days. Recently I asked my brothers about them. One emailed, “Mom was less than enamored with having the dog, but of course became very fond of the little thing.” Another: “Mother thought it was ‘so cute’ that ChiChi could walk under the cabinets in the toe kick area when she was a puppy.” He added, “ChiChi would be the ‘boss’ whenever any other dog, regardless of size, would enter her patrol area in front of Park Apartments, even over to Daniels Street.”
Included was a tough luck story: “ChiChi was Dad’s companion on fishing trips to the (Columbia River) sand bar and other errands. One of Dad’s adventures with ChiChi was picking pears in an abandoned farmyard near the Alcoa plant. He had been there picking pears with his fabricated pick-the-pears-in-a-Crisco-bucket attached to a long bamboo-pole contraption. It saved having the pears drop on the ground and getting damaged. Anyway, ChiChi got lost that day. Dad had looked for her for quite a while and could not find her. I remember him coming home without her, and then I went back to the area with him to look for her. We found her on the opposite side of Lower River Road from where Dad had been picking pears, which was close to the river. She was covered with cockleburs, or something like them, little balls with lots of spiny hooks that attach to fur and clothing. As I remember, Dad had to cut her hair to get rid of all those cockleburs.”
Cockleburs? A bad time! But ChiChi didn’t get stuck there (ahem) forever. She invented good times. She did humbug runs and made people laugh. Mocha did, too, after his infection, and he played hide and seek, and purred and lolled on his back for veterinarians. Cat humor, dog humor. (But there’s a difference. When they play jokes, cats and dogs are opposites. Cats keep a straight face. Dogs crack up, right at the start, give away the punch line, and guffaw all the way through.) Mocha and ChiChi said of bad times: “That was then. This is now. It’s time for fun!”
Same for humans. Bad times, yes, then good cheer! My husband punctuates life with goofiness and kind acts — friends, with reach-outs and high words. Into her 80s, my Mom kept a cookie jar filled, and grown kids and grandkids stopped by to grab cookies on their way somewhere. We all have her recipes and her puzzle: “Take the number 15873. Multiply by any single number. Then multiply by 7. All numbers in the answer will be the same as the one used to multiply at first.”
In our Minnesota kitchen, a door opened to a small landing and, tight to the left, steps to the basement. Dad’s workbench was down there, plus the furnace, wringer washer, potatoes, rutabagas, home-canned fish, pickles, peaches, you-name-it. One Saturday near coffee time, Dad quit “putzing” (his word for fix-it jobs) and crept partway upstairs. He stretched out on the steps, placed his head on the landing, facing the kitchen door, and waited for Mom to call him. She opened the door. His head grinned at her from down on the landing. She screamed and jumped back, and scolded him again and again. He laughed. Eventually she did, too.
Late in life, Dad sat chuckling in his wheelchair. I asked him what was funny. He was quiet. Then he smiled and said, “Oh, nothing. Just some laughter left over.”