Fun and Games with Checkers the Cat! Chapters 14-30
Sheila (Seamands) Lovell is the daughter of Methodist missionaries to India, J. T. and Ruth Seamands. She is a graduate of Asbury College (now University) and the University of Kentucky. She came to Asbury Seminary in to work with David L. McKenna when he became President in 1982. She has been with the Seminary for 38 years, having served five presidents as their Executive Assistant and currently works as a Special Assistant to the President and Grants Administrator in the Advancement Office. In thinking about how to help keep her six grandchildren from getting bored and looking forward to something every day during their time of self-isolation, she began writing this diary from the point of view of her cat, Checkers, who by her own admission is practically purr-fect in every way.
I helped my mommy wash her sheets today. They are really flannelly soft, almost as soft as my fur. She says they help keep her warm during the winter, especially her feet, which are always cold. I do my part by sleeping by her feet during most of the night, except when I wake her up to love on me.
While she was putting the sheets in the big white box, she told me about dhobhi (washerman) days at her boarding school in India. All the kids in their Kodai School dorms had dhobhi days once a week. They would strip the sheets off their narrow iron beds and dump them in a pile and then add the dirty clothes they had been gathering over the previous week. Then the laundry list had to be filled out (shirts – 2, pants – 2, and so on) and then the whole thing went into the white drawstring cloth bag. The dhobi (either man or woman) would squat in the stream running downhill at the dhobhi ghat (washerman’s hill) and the clothes would be washed by beating them on the rocks, usually with little or no soap. Mommy told me this was pretty hard on the buttons. She said she would wash by hand anything she really wanted to protect from harm. Of course the clothes would get all mixed up when the wash was being done. Each piece of the children’s clothing had a nametag sewn into it so the dhobhi, even if he couldn’t read English, could at least match the nametags together and get the clothes into the right bag (which also had a nametag sewed on it). The clothes would come back one week later, nicely ironed and folded into the laundry bag (though minus a few buttons!).
Mommy says she learned from the time she was sent to boarding school at the age of seven to make her bed every day. Every room in the dorm would have inspection before breakfast. The kids were supposed to be dressed and have their hair combed and their beds neatly made and all their clothes picked up and put away. If their rooms passed inspection, they would get in line for the housemother to check them over and then release them to make their way up the steps under the covered walkway to the dining room. (She said all the walkways on the compound were covered for protection from the monsoon rains.)
Then Mommy told me a story about her mommy, Ruth, and how she had the first electric washing machine in the city of Belgaum, India. It was a Maytag wringer washer. Mommy Ruth had big stone tubs built to hold the rinse water, and mommy remembers her submerging the clothes in the tubs with a big wooden paddle. After the clothes were washed and rinsed, they had to be fed by hand into the middle of two big moving rollers to squeeze the water out of the clothes. Too bad if paws got in the way! When the local dhobhi who had washed the clothes for the family before the washing machine came was given a demonstration of this new device, he threw up his hands in horror. “Too much soap, madam!” was his response. “I don’t use any soap!”
I’m with him. I don’t use soap either. I love to stick my paws into the big water bowl Mommy keeps on the hearth for me to play in and I don’t mind getting wet some, but soap would get into my big green eyes and make me squint. I don’t like it when my mommy squirts me with that lemon-water either, to keep me off that big table she eats on. I’ve learned not to get up there any more and now all she has to do is start to reach for it and I take my paws down really quick! Then she pets me and makes me feel good, so I guess I’ll keep doing it.
We read Psalm 91 again today. It talks about not being afraid of the terror of the night. I didn’t understand that – I’m not afraid of the night at all – but my mommy explained that humans don’t have good eyes like I do and they can’t see in the dark. How strange! God must have used up all the night vision on cats and didn’t have any left over when He made the humans. How lucky I am to be a cat!
Mommy was watching me play with my fuzzy mouse toy this morning. It’s bright pink and yellow, with a long tail, and rattles wonderfully when I bat it around. She says it’s just a toy, but that cats like me really like catching and eating the real thing. I guess I’ll never really know, since its doubtful that I’ll ever even see a real mouse. But my mommy keeps me happy with snacks of meat at lunchtime every day. Wonder if mouse tastes better than steak?
Mommy says she never saw a little field mouse in India like what we have here, but she saw lots of rats. Big feisty ones. They traveled in packs and were extremely destructive. She remembers hearing them in the storeroom where all the tinned goods were kept. Even things that were bought in the bazaar were put into tins to keep them out of those ol’ rats’ paws. At night, especially, when she was in bed, Mommy says she’d hear the sudden clanging of a tin lid onto the floor. Those rats somehow managed to get the lids off the cans and dive into whatever was in them. Occasionally they’d even fall into the flour tin and then run around looking around like rat ghosts! Much to Mommy Ruth’s dismay, the rats would eat the labels off the tin cans (they must have liked the taste of the paste used to put the labels on the cans) so nobody could tell what was in a particular can. Meals were often a surprise, my mommy said, when you didn’t know what was in the can you were opening!
Mommy’s daddy, Daddy Jaytee, hated those rats. He was a pretty good field hockey player, having grown up in India himself, and he would often lock himself into the storeroom with his hockey stick and go to war against the rats. The room would resound with Crash! Bang! Thwack! and the squeaking of some unfortunate rats who didn’t run fast enough to escape that flailing hockey stick. Daddy Jaytee would then unlock the door and proudly display the dead and dying on the floor of the storeroom. The cats were let in then to clean up after the slaughter. (Actually, that part sounded pretty good to me.)
Mommy Ruth hated to let the cats into the house because they always had fleas and that got everybody to jumping and scratching. She had to decide between living with the cats with the fleas and without the rats or the rats without the cats and the fleas.
One of the rats’ favorite places to go, my mommy said, was in the “tent room” of the mission house. The Methodists in South India loved to go to their annual jathra or camp meeting held on a riverbank in the jungle. For two weeks, the villagers, pastors and laypeople alike, would bring their families and camp out under the trees or in big army tents and worship and praise God together. Daddy Jaytee and others preached long sermons that were translated into different languages, so that made them even longer! During the rest of the year, the tents were stored in a large room of the house, rolled up and stacked up to the high ceiling. It was a wonderful place for my mommy and her sisters to play, jumping around on that mountain of tents. The rats loved them, too, nesting in them and chewing holes in them, but that didn’t stop the sisters from playing there. The rats usually kept quiet as mice when the kids were jumping and shouting.
The mission house sounds like it would have been a wonderful place for a cat to live. Lots of places to explore and hide and wait for dinner to run by. Mommy says she’ll tell me more about the house so can write about it in future pages of my dairy.
Mommy read me something different this morning out of her big book. She said it was the first chapter of Genesis. I made myself comfortable stretched out on the carpet (I was tired from watching the birds at the bird feeder all morning). When she got to the story of the fifth day, I pricked up my ears. That was the day the big book says that God made the fish in the sea and the birds of the air. Now I don’t much like fish; Mommy has tried to give it to me in my feeding bowl but I just turned up my nose at it. But I do love those birds! They’re a lot of fun to watch and to chase, even though that hard invisible barrier keeps me from getting to them.
Then when Mommy read about the sixth day, I got really excited. That part of the story talks about God making all the creatures on the earth. And He said that they were all good! Well, of course, especially the little furry ones like me. And you know the best part? The big book says that God made the creatures first, so that when the man and woman came along they would have company in the garden. Even though I don’t live in a garden but in a house, I know that my job is to keep Mommy company. She says so all the time. I’m not exactly sure what “company” means but I think it means being together, and right now we’re together all day every day. If my mommy didn’t have me to talk to and play with, what would she do? She needs a lot of looking after.
I’ve helped my mommy watch programs on the big black box with pictures. Some of them are about the creatures God made, like the pangolins and the Indian lions I’ve already told you about. I loved the lions – they’re my really big cousins – but those scaly pangolins? What was He thinking? You can’t cuddle up to them like to you to me, with my soft fur. Anyway, that got my mommy thinking about all the creatures she had living with her in India. Her family had three dogs, a couple of cats (of course!), parakeets, a parrot, and a guinea hen. At one time she had a colt (she told me that’s a baby horse) and even orphaned twin fawns that a villager had found in a forest and had given to the missionary for his children.
Mommy told me that her guinea hen had come to a bad end. They make a lot of noise and Mommy Ruth got tired of hearing that bird screeching out in the side yard. So when my mommy got on the train and went back to boarding school, Mommy Ruth had the cook kill and put it into the stewpot. She wrote and told my mommy about it. But the guinea hen got the last laugh – Mommy Ruth said that was the toughest old bird she had ever tried to eat. My mommy said it served her right for eating her pet!
Mommy loved Blackie, the big black Irish-setter-mutt mix. He was a wonderful guard dog for the mission house. No robbers ever came near his deep bark! Mommy Ruth was his favorite human, though Blackie thought Daddy Jaytee was okay, especially when he fed him toast smothered with buffalo whipped cream and sprinkled with sugar for his breakfast. Lots of people tried to steal Blackie, my mommy said, and he would disappear for awhile and then make his way home again with pieces of chewed-through rope tied around his neck. But when the family moved from Belgaum to Bangalore for their last year in India, Blackie disappeared for good. The family never saw him again. Mommy said someone stole him again and this time they must have put chains on him that he couldn’t chew through. It made Mommy Ruth very sad to lose her doggie friend.
I wouldn’t want someone to steal me away from my mommy. That’s why I love to hear her read from the big book in Psalm 91 talking about God with words like “refuge” and “fortress” and “shield” and “rampart.” Mommy says those are all words that refer to God’s safety and protection for his people. Feeling safe is really important to me, too, and I’m glad that God made me and protects me and my mommy during these anxious days.
Yesterday my mommy kept me entertained telling stories about the various pets she had when she was growing up in India. I wanted to know more about the twin fawns that the village man gave to her Daddy Jaytee for his girls.
She didn’t know much about them except that apparently their mother had been killed and that the man had found them in the forest outside his village. He had known that the missionary was coming in his jeep to their village very soon so he kept the fawns in his hut. When Daddy Jaytee drove to the village, my mommy had gone with him. She didn’t know she’d be coming home with them! Daddy Jaytee couldn’t say no to the villager’s gift, so he fawns rode home in the back of the jeep with my mommy sitting with them, trying to help them not to be afraid.
Back at the mission house, the deer had to be kept somewhere safe from the dogs on the compound so they went into the detached garage and the jeep had to sit outside. Fortunately, Mommy said, it wasn’t the rainy season. They kept the fawns for some time, with the sisters hand-feeding them and playing with them. Soon, though, they began to realize that the fawns would have to go to a better place where they could be safe and not cooped up inside all the time. Fortunately, Mommy Ruth had the perfect place in mind.
Before India gained its independence from Britain in 1947, there were many territories of the country ruled over by families of Hindu rajahs and ranis (kings and queens). They were usually very wealthy, with lands and jewels and money. When India became independent, these royal families were permitted to keep their titles and their money but not their lands. Just outside the town of Belgaum, the family of the Rajah of Sawantwadi had a second home. The current rajah had become the king of Sawantwadi when his father had died, and Ranisahib, his widowed mother, lived with him and his family. Mommy Ruth became good friends with Ranisahib. The family had a big home and Rajahsahib had developed a small zoo on his compound. So the fawns that had been given to the Seamands sisters went to live in royal luxury at Rajahsahib’s zoo and the jeep went back into the garage!
Ranisahib and Mommy Ruth, the Queen Mother and the Missionary Mama, had an unlikely but warm friendship, my mommy says. She remembers the two of them laughing over games of mahjongg in the living room of the mission bungalow. Now mahjongg had a bad reputation among missionaries because it was a well-known Chinese gambling game. When Ranisahib offered to teach Mommy Ruth to play, she (Mommy Ruth) was horrified and hastily explained that missionaries didn’t gamble. “Oh, that’s no problem,” Ranisahib said, “we don’t have to gamble for real money.” So Mommy Ruth got her own mahjongg set and had the various denominations of money (10s, 100s, 500s, and 1,000s) made out of carved bone so they could gamble with fake money. As if that weren’t bad enough, my mommy, said, Mommy Ruth taught the Methodist missionary wives to play in Kodai, where she remembers majhongg parties going long into the night!
Ranisahib was quite a modern woman for being a Hindu widow. She wore bright saris and lots of jewelry, where widows usually wore drab ones and were supposed to put away their jewelry. Furthermore, she had Mommy Ruth cut her hair and she smoked little imported cigars. And she loved the ice cream that Mommy Ruth made out of buffalo cream and froze in metal ice trays in the refrigerator, an appliance that my mommy said was a rarity in Belgaum. I loved hearing about real-life kings and queens. We don’t have any of those here in America, but I feel like the queen of my house. Mommy makes a pretty good subject.
My Mommy told me that today is Palm Sunday. I didn’t know what that was (it’s my first one) but she said that is what Christians call the remembrance of the day that Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey. (That’s like a smaller horse, my mommy said). The people were so happy to see Him that they laid their coats on the road and waved palm branches and shouted in His honor. The palm tree is a kind of tree that grew where He lived and people just cut the branches off and waved them and laid them in the road in front of the donkey. They were greeting him as their Messiah and Savior.
So every year Christians remember and celebrate this special day. They usually go to church and people come marching down the aisles waving their branches and shouting “Hosanna!” (that means “save now” or “save us, we pray” in the Hebrew language, Mommy told me).
But today was a different sort of Palm Sunday. Mommy met with her Sunday school class by something she called “Zoom.” Now I know about what she calls the “zoomies” when I go running through the house like mad and leap onto the back of a chair or slide way into the back of my big cardboard box that the new microwave came in and which my mommy left in the sunroom for me to play with. But this Zoom is on the little skinny black box she has sitting on the small table in the sunroom. It shows pictures of lots of people and I hear lots of different voices coming from it. Then she watched a short service from her church being livestreamed after that.
In the middle of yet another Zoom meeting this afternoon, she left for an hour. Yesterday a man from her church had brought her a palm branch, which I’ve been playing with, and she took it with her. Then she got in her car – the first time I’ve seen her drive it for well over a week – and went to the church. There a parade of over twenty vehicles formed behind a police car escort and, with lights flashing and horns honking, Mommy said, the parade wound its way through Wilmore, with the people in the cars waving their palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!” People came out of their houses and waved and some of them had palm branches, too. It was Mommy’s church’s celebration of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem at a time when people can’t be out of their cars and be close to each other.
That’s the thing about the church, my mommy said. Even when people can’t physically get together to worship in a church building, they can still gather on the black box with pictures. Jesus said that where two or three are gathered together, He would be there with them. Mommy said they didn’t have those picture-boxes when He was on earth, but if He knew the future, which she said He does, I guess he meant that He would be with them even when they’re looking at each other on that black box. The people of the church can still pray and read the big book, and even sing hymns out of the smaller red book, like my mommy does, even when they’re not together. I know that my mommy misses going to church with the others that meet her there every Sunday, but someday they’ll be able to do that again when this scary virus time is over.
In the meantime, she keeps reading me Psalm 91 out of the big book. Verses 10-11 say (talking about those who take refuge in the Most High), “then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent: For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Mommy said that angels are God’s special friends and helpers, and He tells them to protect His people. That makes Mommy feel really safe, and I guess if she feels secure, then I can, too. I really like those words in the big book.
Sounds and smells. My life is full of sounds and smells. When my mommy opens the window on these warm spring days, my world expands. There are lots of sounds I hear that I don’t really understand, until she explains them to me. I didn’t realize how loud the train is outside the front door until the sound came through the open window. The train sounds its horn with four blasts always when it reaches the crossing just down the street. Sometimes, when the trains are going really fast the horns seem really loud, but if they’re going slower, like when they have to wait for another train to pass them, they don’t seem as loud.
And today, I couldn’t figure out what those trains were doing. I couldn’t see the track because of the trees in our yard. The horns were blasting for several minutes and there was lots of noise and shouting down on the track. Mommy said it wasn’t the trains at all but the men working on the tracks and the railroad crossing, with their special trucks and machines that run on the tracks. They had to keep blowing their horns to warn the cars that even though the crossing bars were still up, there was activity on the track and to watch out.
And then there is the sound of the birds. They sit in the trees just out of reach and sing to each other. How I’d love to try to catch one but Mommy won’t let me out of the house. She says she’s afraid I’d run away and get lost out there. Maybe she’s right, but it sure would be fun to try.
To take my mind off my longings, she told me a story about a bird that was her pet in India. She said parakeets are very common there and you can buy them in the bazaar. One time the sisters brought home a little green parakeet from the market when they were living in Bangalore. They named him Tommy and my mommy taught him to talk. He could say, “Pretty Tommy, pretty Tommy. Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss!” He got so tame she let him stay out of his cage and sit on her shoulder. One day Tommy decided to go exploring and flew into the kitchen and landed feet-first in a big pot of stew that was cooling on the stove! Mommy Ruth yelled at my mommy, who snatched up her pet, with the stew dripping from his feet, and held him tight. Mommy Ruth was expecting guests for dinner that night, and there was no way she was going to dump out that whole pot of stew just because of one little bird that couldn’t fly straight. “Don’t tell anyone what just happened,” she warned my mommy. The guests came and ate, pronounced the stew delicious, and no one was ever the wiser. I really liked that story. A bird dripping with stew sure would have tasted good!
Then Mommy told me about the time someone left the front door open just a moment too long and Tommy flew off her shoulder and right out the door. She screamed and ran after him but he had flown into a big tree some distance away. Mommy just knew that he would fly off and be lost forever. She ran to the bottom of the tree and called his name. Poor Tommy was so scared to be out in such a big world, when all he’d every known was a cage, that he just sat there high on up on the branch and shivered. But before too long he flew down to my mommy’s shoulder and she took him back into the house and put him into his cage where he was safe. I guess that’s why my mommy doesn’t want me to go outside either. It’s a really big world out there and I’m not sure I’d be safe. Here in the house with her, I have my “rampart,” the nicely carpeted wall surrounding the perch on top of my scratching post, where I spend a lot of my time, looking outside. I feel snug and secure there, just like the words in the big book say about God, whose “faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” I like being safe, but sometimes I sure wish I could go out and chase those birds!
I got in trouble again yesterday. My mommy says I’m like a two-year-old, but that can’t be right — I haven’t even had my first birthday yet! Anyway, I just love it when she opens the window in the sunroom. I sit in the windowsill and enjoy the breezes and the sounds and smells. Of course, I also have to play with the cords on the blind and the sheer full-length curtains at the windows. As I was exploring the window, I suddenly discovered that my claws could hold on to what she calls the screen. It was wonderful! I climbed higher and higher, even under the blinds, until I bumped my head on the top of the window and couldn’t go any further. When she saw what I was doing, she came and unhooked my claws and put me down and scolded me. I ducked my head and lay down on the carpet, but I don’t think she was fooled. The next couple of times I climbed the screen she came and helped me get down, but the next time she just watched. I guess she figured I could get down by myself, and I was doing fine part-way, until I slipped and fell all the way to the floor. It took a few moments before I could get my breath back. I bet she thinks I learned my lesson, but I’m not sure I can resist those screens!
Mommy saw me scratching behind my ear and asked me if I had fleas. I didn’t even know what a flea is, but I don’t think I have any. I never go out or get around any other animals, so unless she has them, I don’t have any way to get them.
That reminded her of a memory about something else in India, though it was lice this time, not fleas. When she was growing up in Belgaum, she played with her ayah’s (nanny’s) children. There were no other Americans in town, so all her friends were Indian and spoke Kannada with her, the main language in the town. Their ayah’s little cottage was right behind the mission bungalow so she and her sisters were there a lot. Unfortunately, they often brought lice back to the house. Every month or so, Mommy Ruth would get out the squirt-can of DDT. Mommy told me that DDT is a pesticide – it kills bugs and things. It was used all over the world after World War II and did a good job of killing fleas and other disease-carrying poochies (the Kannada all-purpose word for bugs).
Mommy Ruth would corral her girls in the kitchen and sit them down on a stool and apply the DDT to their hair. She says she can still remember the sound the squirt-can made when it dispensed a cloud of that stinky stuff. They would have to rub it all through their hair and wear it for a day or two until Mommy Ruth was sure there were no lice. Now DDT is extremely poisonous – that’s how come it kills poochies so well – but the Seamands missionary kids used it on their bare skin. It’s a wonder, my mommy says, that she has any brains at all. She told me that DDT was so bad that it was causing the bald eagles and other birds to die out in America. Somehow it made the shells of the mama eagles’ eggs so soft that the eggs couldn’t protect the unborn chicks. That’s why bald eagles were finally put on the endangered species list and DDT was banned from use in America and finally from all over the world. But my mommy says it sure did a number on a head full of lice!
Speaking of poochies, Mommy says that there was one peculiar bug that the kids in Kodai used to play with all the time. They were black with hard segmented shells, and had lots and lots of legs. When they were touched or felt they were in danger, they would roll up into a tight ball. The Kodai kids called them rolly-poochies. They weren’t dangerous at all and lots of fun to roll around or to have crawl over their hands. Sometimes the kids even played marbles with them! I wish I could see one. I just love to bat round things and chase them under the furniture and all over the floor. But I’m not sure that rolly-poochie would taste too good. Too many black legs!
The windows were open again today and the birds were singing loudly in the trees. Mommy helped me listen for the chattering of the robin and the particular click and song of the cardinal. We don’t have robins at the birdfeeder, though I see lots of them on the ground outside the window. The cardinals do come, though. Mommy has a particular kind of birdseed that they like. Today there were a mommy and a daddy cardinal eating together.
I also saw a big gray bird on the ground, and Mommy told me it was called a dove. It made a distinctive cooing sound. That reminded her of childhood memories of another type of bird her family kept as pets when she was little. In India, lots of people keep pigeons as pets, and Daddy Jaytee, who had grown up in India from the age of three, enjoyed his pet pigeons too. One particular old granddaddy pigeon adopted Daddy Jaytee as his human. When he was let into the mission bungalow, he would make his way, walking along the stone floors and up the short flight of stairs into the office. Daddy Jaytee would be sitting at his desk writing letters on his typewriter, and that pigeon would fly up onto his shoulder and just sit there, nestling under his neck and keeping him company as he worked.
The mission bungalow was whitewashed, inside and out, with a red-tiled roof. It was a magical house to grow up in, Mommy said, because it was so big and had so many rooms. Her family had been told many legends about the house, one of which said it had once been the audience hall of a rajah’s palace. She never learned if that were true, but she could easily believe it. The room had four fat pillars framing the space that the family used as a living room, while the wooden ceiling above them soared high overhead. It was so tall that she and her sisters could play badminton without the shuttlecock ever touching the ceiling. Outside the pillars on either side were long open hallways leading to the tent room and a guest room on one side and another guest room and the wide stone veranda on the other. The spaciousness of that great room and its surrounding hallways meant that my mommy could ride her tricycle on a long oval track around and around without bumping into anything.
My mommy had some favorite pigeons, too. She had trained a couple of them to ride on the handlebars of her tricycle, so as she whizzed around her racetrack, the birds would teeter-totter on the handlebars, hanging on for dear life and cautioning her in pigeon-speak to be careful. They seemed to enjoy it, though, because she said they never flew off until she stopped. I would have loved to have seen that. I bet those pigeons would have made good eating, too!
I love watching the birds. When I was living in the feline rescue place before my mommy found me, the nice lady who took care of me had a small black picture box in the room where I lived with my brother and several other kitties. The picture box had what she called a “loop” playing on it, with lots of different kinds of birds flying and hopping around. I would sit there for hours, and now that I have my own house I like to sit in the windowsill, with the breeze in my whiskers, watching them come and go at the birdfeeder.
Mommy read me some words out of the big book, where Jesus talks about how God takes care of even the very littlest birds of the air. I guess He must love them a lot, because he sure did make a lot of them!
Her computer couldn’t get to the Internet yesterday afternoon and evening, so my mommy was frustrated. Fortunately, she was on vacation so she didn’t have to be on her laptop for work, but it was hard for her to not to be able to check her email and the news online.
So she spent her time telling me stories about Kodai. Her favorite time of year in Kodai was when Mommy Ruth and Daddy Jaytee and her younger sisters would drive up the steep and twisty ghat road and take her and her older sister out of boarding school for several weeks. Mommy Ruth usually came in time for Easter and would stay the entire month of May, which was vacation time at Kodai School. Daddy Jaytee usually came a bit later. They would always leave in early June to go back to Belgaum. Mommy Ruth knew that the monsoon usually began on her wedding anniversary, June 5th, and she wanted to be home and off the roads before the torrents of rain began.
Each denomination had its own compound in Kodai at that time. The Methodist compound was at the top of the bazaar hill, just across the road and around the corner from the Kodai School compound, and not far from where the siren sat. The compound was a large one, and had over a dozen cottages on it. Each Methodist missionary family had their own cottage and came to it every year for their children’s May vacations. Those were glorious, lazy days, Mommy said. No school and all those MKs with nothing to do but play all day. There were endless games of capture the flag and kick the can. The tennis court saw tournaments and the pear and cedar trees always had kids hanging out of them. She couldn’t climb the eucy trees, of course, because they never had branches close enough to the ground, but one enterprising person had shinnied up the young eucy tree at the end of the tennis court and had tied a long piece of rope to a stout branch. The rope was so long it swung way out over the edge of the compound’s steep hill leading to the servants’ quarters. Mommy Ruth used to tell her kids not to swing on it, because it was too dangerous, but of course they didn’t listen. (Why does my mommy fuss at me then when I don’t listen to her when she tells me not to climb the screen?) I would like to have seen that eucy tree. Just think how high I could climb up!
The raspberries and the mangoes were both ripe in May. My mommy says she remembers how the mango walla (seller) would come to the front porch with his large round basket full of mangoes on his head. Thatha would stand there and pick up every mango and smell it all over, turning it over and over in his hands. He would set several aside to buy and both missionary and merchant would go away satisfied.
There were picnics on the wide swath of lawn by the front gate just across from the garden. The garden was full of flowers – roses and dahlias and lots of other kinds. It was tended by the mali (gardener) who had a wonderful green thumb. It kept the whole compound smelling sweet. There were punting parties on the Kodai Lake where the little kids amused themselves by catching tiny fish in tea strainers. There were “white elephant sales” in the KMU (Kodai Missionary Union) building on the school compound. Mommy said we call them garage sales today. The missionary ladies would buy and sell boxed foods that had come from America and clothes for their kids who seemed to grow like weeds while in boarding school. But the best of all were the musical plays that the missionary parents would put on. Daddy Jaytee had a deep bass voice and always sang in those plays. Mommy says her favorite was one about pirates. Mommy says those vacation days in Kodai were the best! I wish I could have been there, too, climbing the trees and rolling the rolly-poochies.
I guess missionaries had to sacrifice a lot to take Jesus’ words from the big book out to India, but it sounds like they had a lot of fun, too. My mommy sure has lots of good memories about it.
Her Internet was out for nearly a day and my mommy was really frustrated. She tried unplugging and re-plugging and resetting and, she told me, all but standing on her head. She finally called the cable company and they promised to send someone over. This morning she really did stand on her head – when I looked, she was under the computer desk trying to untangle all the cords that make it all work. She finally got it all plugged back in properly, hoping that would solve her Internet problem, but nope, nothing worked. Of course I had to come to her aid by getting under the desk with her and chewing on all those interesting colored wires, but she didn’t seem to think that was very helpful.
I was very busy this morning. Mommy had read me an article she found that said cats have a very good internal clock. I don’t know about that, but I do know when I’m hungry. So when my tummy-alarm went off today I did what I usually do. I got up in my sleeping mommy’s face and put a paw on her mouth. She’s so well-trained! She knew exactly what I wanted. Then she said those words I always love to hear in the mornings: “Time to get up? Time for breakfast?” When I meow at that, she always laughs, thinking she has taught me English, when really I’ve taught her to speak cat.
After my breakfast of Friskies shreds and Purina One Kitten Chow, I was ready to let out some energy. I always get the zoomies right after breakfast. I just have to take off running, jumping onto the back of the nice soft chair in the living room, then one jump down and up onto the chair in front of the fireplace, then another jump down and into my big box at a dead run. I always slide right into the back of the box and Mommy always laughs at the thud my head makes. It doesn’t hurt me, though, and then I have to go back to the start and do it all over again. Finally, I jump up onto the windowsill in the sunroom and stare at the blinds until Mommy takes the hint and comes and opens then all up.
That’s when my real work begins – taking charge of all the birds at the feeder. But this morning there were unwelcome visitors – two squirrels helping themselves to the birdseed. Mommy raps hard on the window to scare them away whenever she sees them. Then she fusses at me and tells me that’s my job – to scare away the squirrels. I never do, though; they’re far too interesting to watch. The other day she smeared some yellow stuff onto a paper towel and rubbed it all over the iron pole that holds the two feeders. She told me it was something called vegetable oil and it was really slippery so she hoped that squirrel would just slide down the pole. It didn’t work, though; he just shimmied right up as usual. I’m thinking he probably liked the taste of the oil that got onto the bland seeds he was holding in his paws.
Anyway, the nice cable man came in just before noon. He was wearing a white thing over his nose and mouth. I was a little nervous but not too scared; he worked very quietly. He fixed it so Mommy could get on the Internet and after he left, she had to call someone else to check out something called a router. Turns out the tech on the other end was a young woman in Chennai, India. Mommy told her she had grown up in India, in Karnataka State, and the lady found that interesting. She finally fixed it so Mommy could get her Wi-fi.
This morning Mommy read Psalm 91 out of the big book and then she read the next one, too. They both talk about old age. In Psalm 91 God says about the person who loves and trusts Him, “with long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.” And in Psalm 92 it says that the righteous “will still bear fruit in their old age, they will stay fresh and green.” I’m not sure why but those words made my mommy happy. She doesn’t seem old to me and she said she doesn’t usually feel old – except when she had to get up from lying on her back under that computer desk!
Mommy gave me a new toy this morning. It’s a small plastic oval, bright green, and it rolls wonderfully when I chase it. She called it an Easter egg, and told me it is a symbol of new life coming from the resurrection of Jesus. She read out of the big book about that first Easter morning and the hope that it represents. What a wonderful story!
Then she began to remember what Easter was like at Kodai School. She had already told me about the kids being taken out of boarding to live for a while as day students on the mission compounds when their parents came up from the plains, usually before Easter. So everyone, parents and kids alike, looked forward to the Easter celebration.
It actually began on Saturday, when the word went out that everyone should pick all the Easter lilies they could find and bring them to the school gymnasium before a certain time in the afternoon. Now these weren’t the trumpet-shaped flowers that Americans call the Easter lily. They were the much more dignified-looking calla lilies, which were growing in abundance all over the mission compounds. Mommy said that she remembers cutting down the lilies on Furzbank, the Methodist compound, being careful to give them long stalks, and taking armloads of them to put into galvanized tubs of water in the gym. Sometime during the evening, the school’s artists wove some of them into a large cross, which was suspended over the stage. The remaining flowers were gathered into beautiful arrangements that decorated the large stone gym, which was set up with rows and rows of folding chairs. Risers were put up for the choirs. All was in readiness.
Easter morning began before dawn for Mommy. She lay in her bed in the dark, shivering with delicious anticipation for what she knew was coming. Then she would hear it – distant drumming over the hills, breaking into the darkness and the silence of the city. Somewhere, Indian Christians were in happy procession to their church, following their drummers, celebrating the resurrection of their Lord. She never saw them or knew exactly who or where they were, but her heart was with them. Ever since her Kodai days, she has always associated Easter with the artistry of Indian drums beaten in complicated rhythm by joyful hands. For her, no American praise band has ever been able to come close to that experience.
Then it was time for the sunrise service on Coaker’s Walk. This wide pathway cut around the side of the mountain overlooked the plains below. As the sun rose over the Palni Hills, the lights of the small villages far below winked out. When it was time for the Easter service on the school compound, girls in white dresses and boys in dark pants and white shirts began to gather with their parents. The girls had their hair styled by their moms and the boys had their cowlicks slicked down. The majority of Kodai School students came from missionary families in those days and the missionaries of all denominations worshipped together at Easter. The service opened with the students processing into the gym, leading the congregation in Charles Wesley’s great hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Alleluia!” Then the various class choirs and the high school chorus presented their carefully-rehearsed anthems. One of the missionary pastors preached the Easter sermon. It was always a wonderful service.
Mommy said that Easter this year will be very different from usual Easters, since we will all be staying home. I’ll help her watch her church’s services on her computer. I know she’ll be singing Easter hymns and taking part in the worship, while sitting in our own sunroom. She said social distancing doesn’t mean our hearts are distant from each other or from God. The coronavirus and even death itself are no match for Him. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
Mommy’s problems are finally solved, thanks to her son, Jaytee. She says he’s brilliant, especially about all kinds of technology. When she couldn’t get her TV and her printer to connect to the Internet, he came over and fixed everything for her. He was wearing one of those white things over his face and made her put hers on too. Why is everyone wearing those funny things these days? Mommy told me that her family used to call her son “little Jaytee” (to distinguish him from Mommy’s Daddy Jaytee). “Little Jayee” isn’t little at all – he’s way bigger than my mommy. I wasn’t too scared of him. He got down on his tummy and I let him pet me. I could tell that he liked cats; he told me he has two of his own. But I could already tell that – the cat hairs on his clothes gave them away.
Mommy read Psalm 91 to me again and then read another story out of the big book. It had everything in it – angels and soldiers and a big stone and frightened women. And best of all it had Jesus – only he had been dead and now He became alive again. That seemed to make Mommy very happy. I came and lay down on the carpet by her feet while she read to me. She reads to me a lot these days and tells me stories.
Anyway, she was able to join her Sunday school class today and listen to her pastor, also. And in the afternoon, she turned on her black box with pictures on her desk and listened to some wonderful music. A man sang, all by himself, except for another man playing the organ, in a huge empty space that Mommy said was a church. I liked to hear the man sing, though I didn’t understand his language at first. But then he sang a song called “Amazing Grace” in English while standing on some big stone steps. I lay curled up inside my rampart, my perch on top of my scratching post, and listened to the whole concert.
After that, Mommy had a late lunch (she had already given me my noontime snack), and I went over to talk to her. She didn’t understand me at first, though I was sure I was making myself perfectly clear. I kept meowing and finally she got it. I wanted her to take a nap with me. Ever since she’s been home all the time, she hasn’t sat on the couch as much, napping, with soft music playing on the biggest black box with pictures. She puts a soft blanket over her and stretches out in her special chair and I come and keep her company, curled up in her lap. She hasn’t been doing that so much and I really miss it. So today we both slept for an hour and it made me feel really good. I like my routine.
It has been raining; I can see it on the windows and on the driveway. The birds don’t come out as much when it’s raining. Mommy says she remembers the rain on the tin roofs of the buildings in Kodai during the monsoons. She loved to snuggle down in her bed listening to the rain on the roof. In Belgaum it sounded different, because the roof on the mission bungalow was made of red clay tiles. There were always leaks in the roof because of the monkeys. They came swinging out of the jungle, leaping through the trees, and for some reason they loved to jump on those red tiles and run across the roof. The tiles would shift and crack and when the rains came the leaks came with them. She told me about having to walk in the rooms of the house through the maze of pans and bowls parked under the various leaks. There would be a plink-plonk here and blip-blap there. If you were lucky it didn’t land on your pillow, she said. Mommy Ruth was forever getting coolies to go up on the roof and replace the broken tiles, so for a while there would be no leaks and the pans and bowls could be put away.
Back in Kodai, there were huge storm drains to carry the runoff. Mommy told me a story about her and one particular drain. It ran alongside the row of cottages in which some of the faculty lived. It was made of concrete and stone and was big enough to crawl deep into and even to turn around in. It’s getting time for me to tell Mommy to turn off the lights and get ready for bed, so I’ll have to leave that story for tomorrow’s diary entry.
When my mommy was in boarding school at Kodai, all of the kids in grades 2-7 ate in the same dining room. They had their own jars of special treats carefully labeled with their names and kept in the center of their tables. The jars of jelly or tins of Lyle’s Golden Syrup were lovingly and sent to them by their parents. But of all the goodies that were sent, peanut butter was the most prized. Woe betide to anyone who dipped into someone else’s peanut butter jar without permission! My mommy told me that this love of peanut butter gave her an idea. When she was in sixth grade, she began talking to her friends at her dinner table (whom she had conscripted into her plot) about a secret way to get more peanut butter. The discussion was held loudly enough, she told me, that the second-graders at the next table couldn’t help but overhear.
It seemed that a Mr. Peanut Butter Man lived in one of the storm drains on the compound. (It just happened to be the dry season in Kodai.) He was a rather lonely little old man and if a student went to visit him, he would give that lucky kid a small jar of peanut butter. Mommy said this was like catnip to one particular little kid. (I’m not sure what catnip is, but from her description I think I’d really like to try it sometime.) The little girl asked my mommy where Mr. Peanut Butter Man lived so she could go see him.
She was told that she had to make an appointment and be accompanied by an older student to his hideaway. The appointment was made and my mommy got into character. She dressed in dark jeans and top and covered her red hair up in a scarf. Taking her torch (flashlight) in hand, she crawled deep into the drain, all the way to where it made a left turn to go around the building. She managed to turn around there and back down the tunnel a ways, so she would be facing Mr. Peanut Butter Man’s visitor. Of course it was dark in there, and Mommy knew the little girl would come with her torch.
The unsuspecting victim was scared to go in the drain by herself but Mommy’s co-conspirator encouraged her with, “You want some peanut butter, don’t you? Well this is how you get it.” The little girl finally crawled into the drain, her torch lighting the way. She called out hesitantly to Mr. Peanut Butter Man, who answered in a quavering voice about how happy he was to have a visitor. When she made the left turn and tried to shine her torch on him, he threw his arm up over his face and said, “Oh, don’t do that! My eyes can’t take the light.” She obediently lowered her torch and they talked briefly. He finally said, “Why did you come to see me?”
“My friend said you would give me some peanut butter,” she ventured.
“Oh, yes, yes, of course,” he replied. “Delighted.” And held out a small jar. Hardly daring to believe her eyes, she breathed a “thank- you,” snatched it out of his hand, and began to scoot quickly backwards towards the opening of the drain. “Good-bye,” Mr. Peanut Butter Man said regretfully. “Come and see me again sometime.” When she got out safely into the light, she examined the jar. It really was full of peanut butter! She ran all the way back to the dorm to tell her friends about it.
Of course, Mr. Peanut Butter Man couldn’t take the chance of anybody else coming into his drain, my mommy said, so he crawled out as quickly as he could and went back to his own dorm room, where he changed clothes and emerged some minutes later as my mommy. She never knew if anybody else tried to visit that drain, and she and her friends never fessed up. Mommy never even told her family about it until years later, and by then she had forgotten the name of her little victim. But she always said that giving up some of her precious peanut butter was well worth the fun she had had that day.
My mommy has been home for over a month now. I can hardly remember life without her being underfoot all day. No, wait – I’m the one who’s underfoot. At least that’s what she says. I got used to her going out to work in the mornings and coming home at lunchtime to give me a snack and love on me some. As I said, cats have a very good internal clock; I know when things should happen. Her being home all the time isn’t really changing that – it has just given me more time to train her to do things when she’s supposed to.
Take breakfast, for instance. Her clock radio usually comes on about 6:15. She lies in bed listening to the news for some time before she decides to get up. Sometimes she even falls back asleep and I have to put my paw on her face to let her know it’s time. This morning I just meowed about 7:15 and she got right up! (I think she’s learning.) She gets dressed and puts her face on, while I lie in the sink or on the bathroom floor or on the bed watching her. I like it when she goes into her closet and gets out those shiny things she puts in her ears. I jump up on top of the little dresser where she keeps them all sorted out by color and I watch as she chooses the right ones to go with what she’s wearing. Now I’m not completely colorblind, but apparently I don’t see the sharp differences between colors that she does. I do know that those various hoops and dangles are shiny, though, and that’s what I like. I wish she’d forget to close that drawer so I could get in there and play with them, but she never does.
She gets me my breakfast before she even makes her bed. See, she knows I’ve been waiting patiently for her to go through her routine. And right after I’ve eaten my Friskies Shreds, I’ve taught her that I just have to launch into the zoomies for a bit, working off all that good food in my tummy. She keeps out of my way because I get to going so fast I’m liable to run into things. Then I leap up onto my perch by the window and stare at the blinds. She knows to come open them up for me then so I can get to work watching the birds.
As she eats her cereal, I’ve taught her that I like to help her finish up the leftover milk in her bowl. I sit on one of the dining room chairs watching her eat, knowing it’s coming. She never gives me enough to hurt me, since cow’s milk really isn’t good for little furry creatures like me, but I like to help her do up the dishes by licking the bowl clean. I’m not sure why she puts it into that big white box after that, the one that she makes the water to swish in every so often. I never leave anything in the bowl.
I get off my perch about noon, when the tall box in the sunroom makes that bonging noise so many times. She knows to get me a snack, usually some bits of ham or turkey or maybe even some steak. And then around 6 in the evening I have to go get her to tell her it’s time for my supper. Sometimes she gets busy and forgets for awhile and I have to go find her and remind her to feed me. And then when it gets to be late at night, I have to go get her again and remind her it’s time for bed. Honestly, a little cat’s work is never done!
She read me some new words from the big book today, from Psalm 121. I listened closely, especially to the part that says, “The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” I like the idea of God watching over us and protecting us. But really now, what would my mommy do if she didn’t have me to watch over her?
Mommy has her music on again. The only time it isn’t it on is when she’s watching TV or when she’s out of the house. I guess she likes music a lot. Fortunately, she likes the kind that’s sort of soothing and doesn’t hurt my ears. I liked it a lot when we listened to that man sing alone in that church on Easter Sunday. She told me that right now she’s listening to a lot of movie themes on something called Pandora.
She told me that she took a lot of vinyl records with her when she married Daddy Jim. I never met him; he was gone before I came to live with Mommy, but I’ve seen his picture on her dresser. He looks like a nice man. She said that he was really good with electricity and electronics and could take things apart and put them back together again. The Christmas after they were married, he bought her a very special present.
Back in those days (50 years ago) you could buy something called a Heathkit. That was a company, my mommy told me, that sold radios and record players in parts. You had to put them together yourself. Daddy Jim ordered an entire console, a large wooden cabinet that held both a record player and a radio. It came in a million pieces, she said, all tubes and wires and nuts and bolts. It took him a month to put it together, but when he was finished she had a beautiful piece of furniture that gave her the music she loved.
The house that my mommy and Daddy Jim lived in was a very old two-story farmhouse, built on traditional lines. When you went in the front door into the hallway, there was a room to the left, stairs that went up to the second floor, and then the rest of the house on the right, including the parlor, another room which became their office, and then the huge farm kitchen and bathroom beyond. Their bedroom, where the console lived, was the room on the left. So when Mommy was in the kitchen, she couldn’t hear the music.
Daddy Jim had the answer –a speaker on top of one of the kitchen cabinets wired to the console. The house didn’t have a basement, just a root cellar, and crawl spaces under the rest of it. With her help he managed to run the wire clear from the bedroom to under the kitchen. While Mommy was out of the house one day, he finished up his task and presented it to her proudly when she came home.
He had run the wire from the console, down through a small hole he had drilled in the bedroom floor, under the rest of the bedroom, under the hallway, into the root cellar, and up through the kitchen floor under the cabinets. Then it ran up through the bottom cabinet, was neatly pegged against the kitchen wall so it wouldn’t be in the way, up through the two shelves in the top cabinet and out the top cabinet into the big speaker he had put there. It was a beautiful bit of electrical engineering and my mommy was thrilled. She could put a big stack of records on the turntable and listen to music for hours while doing the cooking.
The euphoria lasted until one day while Daddy Jim was a work, Mommy got a hankering (that’s what she called it) for a big cup of tea. She filled the kettle and put it on the stove, got out a teabag, and reached into the upper cabinet for her favorite mug on the top shelf. She took hold of the handle and was surprised to meet some resistance. She tugged it but that mug wouldn’t budge. She got up on a chair to look, and just about fell off the chair laughing. Her wonderful husband had pulled that wire for the speaker under the house and up through the floor and the cabinet and into the speaker — right through the handle of her big green mug! That mug was never going anywhere. Of course, Daddy Jim denied the whole thing but Mommy said the proof was right there. It was still there when they left that house to move to Wilmore.
My mommy has been telling me a lot about India lately. And today a friend she was in India with sent her a picture of a letter written in 1952 by Mommy’s grandfather, Thatha Seamands. She had recognized his handwriting immediately. Thatha had written to her friend’s father welcoming him and his wife when they had first come to India as missionaries. That got Mommy remembering about her grandparents.
Thatha had grown up in Tucson, Arizona, my mommy said, when it was still a shoot-‘em-up Western town. He even met Buffalo Bill Cody one time when Cody was doing his Wild West show in the area. Thatha knew well the hot dusty mountains and washes surrounding his hometown and also the wild creatures that had adapted to the climate – horned lizards, snakes, and scorpions. I’m not sure what those creature slook like, but my mommy said I wouldn’t like to meet up with them – they might hurt me. Thatha had grown up hard and rangy. Ajji (grandmother in the Kannada language), on the other hand, grew up in relative luxury in Pennsylvania, the talented, pampered daughter of doting parents. She had a beautiful soprano voice and could have made a name for herself in opera. But she married a “poor missionary” as she described Arnett Seamands and left her easy life behind to live with him in India with none of the comforts of home. They went to India in 1919, just after World War I.
They ended up in the city of Gulbarga, in the central Deccan plateau. The climate was hot and dry, much hotter than Belgaum, where Mommy lived. Because of the heat, it also had snakes and scorpions. When the Seamands kids went to visit Ajji and Thatha, they had a wonderful time turning over rocks and watching the scorpions run out from under them where they had been taking advantage of the shade.
The kids were never allowed to run around barefoot, my mommy said, because scorpions were everywhere, especially in the house where they enjoyed the coolness of the stone floors. One afternoon when my mommy and her sisters were visiting their grandparents, she awoke from her nap and stretched her legs down towards the floor and then pulled them back, screaming in terror. Everyone came running to see what was going on. When Thatha saw the huge scorpion on the floor beneath the bed, his first thought was to grab his sturdy lathi (a heavy bamboo stick common in India) and beat it to death, but Ajji urged at him to catch it, not kill it. After some maneuvering, he managed to upend a large glass jar over it and trap it. The kids were fascinated, now that the beast couldn’t hurt them. They watched that scorpion repeatedly try to climb up the glass walls, until, in frustration, it just gave up and died.
I’m glad my mommy didn’t get stung by that ol’ scorpion. It would have hurt her very badly. Ajji, on the other hand was not so lucky. She stepped barefooted on a scorpion one time when Thatha was gone on a visit to a nearby village, a frequent occurrence. It bit her on her big toe. The pain was instantaneous and had Ajji screaming for her ayah (housemaid). She had no painkillers in the mission bungalow and there was certainly no pharmacy in town. She was crying with pain until she remembered the bottle of whiskey in the guest bathroom cabinet. As they lived in the mission house, Ajji and Thatha had frequent guests of all kinds, one of whom was a traveling evangelist. He had a heart condition and kept some whiskey on hand for medicinal purposes. Now Ajji had never had a drop of liquor in her life – her strict upbringing saw to that. But in a desperate attempt to ease the pain, she grabbed that bottle and drained it. She woke up on her bed several hours later to find that the pain had eased to a faint throbbing.
Ajji knew that her ayah had put her to bed, but she had no memory of it, or of anything, really, since drinking that whiskey. In some trepidation, she asked her ayah, in Kannada of course, “Did I do anything crazy?” “No, memsahib,” was the reply, “but you sure laughed a lot!”