Fun and Games with Checkers the Cat! Chapters 30-60
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.
My mommy and I have been watching nature programs on the big black box with pictures. The last one we saw was about an orphaned baby elephant that a Kenyan game preserve successfully raised to young adulthood. Mommy had already told me about her elephant ride in the Indian jungle, but yesterday she started telling me about the monkeys that live in Belgaum.
She had told me before that Belgaum sits on the edge of the Darwar jungle, so swarms of monkeys have come into the town. They swung through the banyan trees. most often in family groups. The babies would cling to their mommies for dear life. They would use the roof of the mission bungalow as a route from one section of trees to another, landing with a thud on the red tiles. A monkey is most vulnerable when it’s on the ground, Mommy said. I know all about that. I feel more comfortable, too, when I’m high up.
Monkeys are considered sacred to the Hindus. The ancient Hindu scriptures tell the story of how Hanuman, the monkey god, helped rescue the god Rama’s wife, Sita, from being kidnapped. Ever since, monkeys have been revered and it is forbidden to harm them in any way, no matter how much damage they cause to crops and even to people.
Mommy told me monkeys can be really mean when threatened. One time, when she and her sister were at boarding school, Blackie, Mommy Ruth’s great doggie friend, cornered a large monkey in the boy’s hostel (dormitory) on the compound. Blackie was just playing but the monkey didn’t know that. He saw no way out but to attack. He lunged at Blackie and grabbed the dog’s muzzle with his strong jaws. By the time Blackie could shake him loose, his jaw was ripped open and bleeding badly. Mommy Ruth thought he was going to die but she nursed him back to health. With no vets around, Blackie’s jaw eventually healed, but he never chased monkeys again.
Mommy told me an instance when she walked alone into the edge of a forest (she doesn’t even remember where she was at the time) and saw a strange sight. A group of about a dozen monkeys were sitting on the ground in a circle, looking for all the world like a staff council meeting. Another two monkeys were posted outside the circle; Mommy thought they must be sentries. The largest monkey was clearly in charge, and conversations in monkey-talk were taking place back and forth around the circle. Mommy was as quiet as a mouse, watching in fascination, until one of the sentries spotted her and sounded the alarm and they all scampered back up into the trees, scolding her for interrupting their meeting.
Kodai never had monkeys when my mommy was in boarding school. They stayed down on the plains and never ventured into the cooler Palni Hills. But as India’s middle-class has grown, Mommy told me, they discovered the beauties of Kodai for their vacations, and now there is a steady stream of traffic up the ghat road, the only way up there. The monkeys followed the humans, as they threw away leftover food and food wrappers and now they are all over Kodai. When Mommy and her sisters made their epic journey back to Kodai after 50 years, they were invited to dinner at the home of an Indian friend’s parents. They went out into the garden for dessert, and as they were sitting there a big mean-looking monkey landed on the roof of a nearby shed, climbed down the downspout, and walked right alongside the humans sitting in their chairs on the lawn. He bared his teeth at them and nobody moved or said anything. The monkey crossed the lawn and disappeared into the trees on the other side. Their Indian friends acted as if it were a common occurrence, my mommy said, but she was really uncomfortable to be so close to that monkey.
Mommy said some people keep monkeys as pets, but I can’t imagine anyone choosing one of them over a lovable little furry creature like me.
All right, I admit it. I’m vain about my looks. I have the cutest little black nose and my fur has wonderful black-and-white markings. Mommy says I look like I’m wearing a tuxedo. She showed me a picture of one, and she’s right. My fur is so soft. She loves to stroke it. And my whiskers are long and white and a couple of them even curl up towards my eyes. No wonder I like the way I look!
Humans – at least my human – have fur only on their heads. And so, my mommy explained, they have to wear special coverings they call clothes. She changes her clothes and wears something different every day. She likes bright colors and wears them a lot, though often I can’t really tell the difference. My eyes, it seems, are not like human eyes – they don’t see that many colors. But I can see in the dark and she can’t!
My mommy has always been vain about her fur – er, hair. Especially in the sun, it shines a pretty color she calls auburn. She told me she has always loved being a redhead. In India, while she was growing up there, people only had red hair if they were Muslims and had been to a hajj (a holy pilgrimage) to Mecca and dyed their black hair red to show the world they could afford to travel that far. But my mommy’s hair is naturally red: her Daddy Jaytee had red hair and so did Thatha, when he was younger. Of the four sisters, three of them were born with red hair. The Indian people were entranced with it. But they were so sorry about the freckles. The villagers thought the girls had had smallpox and that’s why they had those spots on their faces.
Anyway, today my mommy did something to her hair. Of course, I had to watch the whole procedure. She said she usually does this after getting it cut (that makes me shudder—why would anyone cut their fur?) but since she has been staying home she hasn’t been able to get it cut. And it has been getting lighter. So today she put a towel around her shoulders and got out a box. It had a picture of another human on it with hair about the same color as hers. She put on black rustling covers on her hands, mixed two bottles of stuff together, and began squirting it onto her head. She did that until her hair was wet and standing up all over. It smelled so funny and she looked so strange, I kept my distance. Then she waited a while and when her little handheld black box made a clanging noise, she went into the other bathroom. There she hung her head over the bathtub and rinsed her hair, put some more stuff on it, waited a short time longer, and finally rinsed that out too. Why would she put all that stuff on only to take it off again?
I love to play in that bathtub, so I just had to sit up on the sink and watch what she was doing. When she went back into her own bathroom, she got out a black thing that makes a low whirring noise. I kept my distance then, too, because it blows hot air out of its mouth. I know that because she turned it on me once, just for fun. I ran away because I didn’t like the noise or air blowing in my face.
When Mommy was done with all that, her hair was darker and shiny again. That seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to. All I ever do is just lick my beautiful fur down and I’m done!
Mommy also likes to paint her claws. She first takes the old color off with some stuff that smells pretty awful and then puts on new color. It doesn’t last very long, since these days she has to wash her paws real often. She thinks her claws are real pretty with their new color. Maybe sometime I’ll let her paint my claws too!
“Look, Checkers, I’ve got a present for you.” Mommy took the package from the man in the red-white-and-blue truck, after asking him how he was. She brought it back inside and opened up the box. It had an interesting collection of white pieces in it. She read the instructions carefully and put it together. Then she filled it up with water and plugged it in behind the chair that sits in front of the fireplace.
I had to go over and smell it all over, stick my paw in the shallow pool of water, and lick at the water coming out of the faucet. It was a little different from the bathroom faucet where my mommy lets me take a drink in the mornings, but it does the same thing. The water runs in a continuous thin stream so I can take a drink from it whenever I want. I thought it was wonderful, and Mommy heaved a sign of relief. She’s been putting a glass bowl of water out for me up to now, because I just didn’t like the other kind of fountain she had bought me when I first came to live with her. It made a funny noise I didn’t like and the water just kind of swirled around instead of coming straight down, like it does with this fountain.
The trouble with the glass bowl was that it wasn’t big enough for me to play in and I used it turn it over with great regularity. That made the carpet all wet and meant I had no water to drink until Mommy discovered what I had done. Anyway, I love this new fountain. It’s big enough to stick both my front paws in at once if I want to and it makes a lovely soft sound besides.
I guess this means that Mommy has forgiven me. The last few days her cable TV has been going off. She told me she knew it wasn’t the Internet because she could still get Pandora and the streaming channels, so then she looked at the cable box. It seemed to be responding to the remotes, so next she looked to be sure the cords were plugged in tightly. I ducked my head and tried to make myself small at that point (hard to do when I’m getting bigger all the time) because she found where I had been chewing on the cable. The wires were completely bare in some places. She even called the cable company to see if the box itself was okay, which they tested and found it was. So it had to be the cable. She went out into the big dark room where her car lives and came back with a roll of black plastic tape. She wrapped the tape around the two (!) places where I had chewed on the cable. The cable channels have been working intermittently ever since; today again they wouldn’t come on. She had to maneuver the cable some and got it to work again.
I really don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Those wires are so black and shiny and such fun to gnaw on. Mommy said it was bad enough I was interrupting her TV-watching, but also she was afraid I would electrocute myself chewing on those wires. I wasn’t sure what that meant but she spoke so sternly I ducked my head again to show her I was sorry. She also moved the TV stand back flush against the wall so I couldn’t get behind it. She told me she had had to go online and order a replacement cable because she can’t even go out and buy one at the store, and that I wasn’t even to think about chewing on it when it came.
I can still get to those cables because the TV stand is an open one, but it isn’t really as much fun now that I can’t zoom behind it on my way to the kitchen or lie down behind it and play with the cords. She seemed really pleased when I went around it this morning as I ran before her into the kitchen so she could get me my breakfast. Best of all, Mommy has left out the box my new fountain came in so I can play in it. It’s a small shiny one, not like the big cardboard one the microwave came in. That box has been sitting in the sunroom for months now and I still love jumping in and on it and chewing on the flaps. I guess I had better be good since Mommy has had so much trouble with her electronics these past few weeks. I don’t like it when she’s mad at me and I need to keep her happy while we’re stuck together all the time in my house.
My mommy is rarely sick. She has a pretty strong constitution and the worst thing that hits her these days is a bad cold. She was just getting over being sick last Thanksgiving, when she came and got me and took me home to live with her, but that was unusual for her. I’m sure I made her feel better right away, although I hid from her for the first couple of days. I didn’t know that she could be trained as easily as she was, but she took to it pretty quickly.
This business of people all over the world being sick is a really bad thing. When Mommy and I watch the news together, a lot of it is bad news. That’s one reason that she keeps reading Psalm 91 to me, since it talks about God’s protection from the pestilence and the plague. She’s also careful, wearing that blue thing on her face when she goes out to the store.
She told me that when she got sick or hurt in Kodai her mommy and Daddy were 900 miles away – two days on the train and another half day by bus up the ghat road – so they couldn’t be with her. When kids got sick in Kodai they went to the “dishpan” – the medical dispensary – on the school compound. They could be treated for routine illness or injury there. It was for sure nobody wanted to go there.
It was run by a small wisp of a woman, a nurse who ruled with an iron fist. She was German and my mommy said she didn’t have much of a bedside manner. Most of the kids were afraid of her – my mommy included. Of course, it didn’t help any that she was the one who gave the kids all their shots. They had to have typhoid and tetanus shots regularly. The typhoid ones made a big knot in little skinny arms and hurt a lot. So the kids tried to stay away from the dishpan.
Kodai school had a movie night about once a month in the gym. It was something the kids always looked forward to, as they didn’t have TV to watch. One night, when my mommy was in fourth grade, she couldn’t really enjoy the movie because her neck was hurting so. She told her sister about it. Her sister looked at her critically and said, without much sympathy, “Your glands are swollen; you’ve got the mumps!” Now her sister was four years older than Mommy and was going to be a doctor when she grew up, so she knew everything. When she said she was taking my mommy to the dishpan, Mommy had no choice but to go with her. Sure enough, it was the mumps.
So my mommy had to stay there in quarantine for a week. She couldn’t have anybody visit her, though her sister did stand outside the window and talk to her some. For some of that time, she was alone in the dish since nobody else was sick. Mommy was very lonely and bored. There was no one to talk to. Her teacher did send schoolwork to her, but it was no fun without her friends. And because her throat was so sore she didn’t get much to eat. They fed her soup and soft food. Towards the end she got so hungry she told me she snuck into the pantry and stole the only food she could find that wasn’t locked up – a couple of carrots. She was relieved that nobody saw her do it.
Finally, her quarantine was up and she was allowed to go back to her dorm. The skinny iron cot in her dorm room was the same as the one in the dish, but she had her roommate there and her friends up and down the halls. She told me it wasn’t until years later that she could appreciate that nurse and the care she gave her. And her sister really did become a doctor. When her sister visited her here a few months ago, I was a bit leery of her at first. But she was really nice and soon I felt like I could go visit her on the couch. My mommy said she is a really good doctor and she and her sisters still go to her for medical advice. There was another time when her sister helped her out after she had an accident, when Mommy really needed help. Mommy said she’d tell me that story tomorrow.
I wanted my mommy to continue the story of the time she had an accident at Kodai School, so I meowed at her this afternoon until I got her attention. She knew what I wanted – for her to sit on the couch under her big soft blue blanket so I could sit on her lap and get lots of love from her. It’s a really good thing I’ve been teaching her to speak cat!
She told me that the classes were small at Kodai; the whole school was only about 250 kids. Her class usually had between 20-25 kids in it. When PE time came, the entire class went out to the playground or took part in team sports together somewhere on the school grounds. One day, when she was in fifth grade, Mommy and her classmates were playing double dodgeball on the basketball court next to the high school girls’ dorm.
Now I know what round things are, because she gives them to me to play with, but I didn’t know what a dodgeball looked like or how to play the game. She told me two teams play and have to stay on their side of the basketball court. The object of the game is to throw the ball at one of your team’s opponents; if it hits them then they are out. If they catch the ball then they can throw it back at your team.
Since the girls and boys played together, the boys usually hogged the ball, Mommy said, telling me that that meant they were the ones up at the center line throwing it at the other team. That left the girls standing around behind the boys with very little to do. Mommy was playing around with some of her girlfriends well behind the front line of boys at one point, and her team’s boys were throwing the ball at the other team. Somebody on the opposing team caught the ball and that meant that her team’s front line of boys came running towards the back of the court to keep from getting hit with it. One of the boys skipped backwards towards my mommy just as one of her girlfriends gave her a playful push forward. Mommy’s face collided with terrific force against the boy’s spine.
Mommy told me she stood there, stunned, blood spurting from her nose. All she could think of was getting to the girls’ bathroom, which was up the steps, across the flag green, and into the classroom quadrangle. Someone ran and got her sister, who followed the trail of blood into the bathroom. Mommy’s sister helped her clean up and get the bleeding stopped. Then she walked her down to the dishpan to get looked at by the nurse. Mommy said that nothing could really be done for her at the dishpan and for a couple of days she walked around with her face a mass of bruises and her nose mashed over to the side of her face.
Mommy Ruth was in a hospital hundreds of miles away getting ready to have my mommy’s baby sister, so she couldn’t come. Arrangements were made for Mommy to take the bus down the ghat and then the train to a mission hospital for surgery on her nose. An ayah accompanied her to the hospital and Daddy Jaytee met her there. Two surgeries and several days in the hospital put her nose back in place and Mommy went back to Kodai while Daddy Jaytee went back to be with Mommy Ruth. My mommy’s little sister waited to arrive until he could get there.
My mommy says she has had a crooked nose ever since then. I really don’t notice it when I put a paw on her face to wake her up in the mornings. I’m glad that she got all better. I can’t imagine hitting my little sensitive nose like that. It would really make it hard for me to track her through the house and follow her like I do. How else would I be able to know where she is?
My mommy makes a strange face sometimes. She opens her mouth wide and a funny noise comes out, sometimes loud and sometimes it’s soft. She told me it’s called laughing. Now I don’t know exactly what that is, but it seems to make her happy, so I guess it’s okay. Little furry creatures like me don’t do that sort of thing. I know how to say meow when I want her to do something for me and that makes me feel happy, but laughing? Not so much. I do, though, make a comforting noise in my throat when I’m sitting on Mommy’s lap or when she’s petting me. It means I feel comfortable and safe, and, I guess, you could call it being loved. I also have a soft little chirpy sound that I make when I see something interesting out the window, like a bird. Maybe that’s close to what the humans call laughter.
Mommy laughs at some of the things I do. She seems to enjoy it when I get a drink from my new water fountain. I guess it’s because I make a lot of noise lapping from the running water. But I know that it makes her happy that I really like drinking from it. She laughs when I try to get a running start on the wooden floor of the kitchen, because I skitter all over. She laughs sleepily when I put my paw on her face in the night to get some love from her, and she really laughs when I get the zoomies and run around the house like crazy. It makes her smile when I dive headfirst into the wastebasket and skritch around in there. But she throws such interesting things in it! She laughs at things she sees on the big black box with pictures or even sometimes at nothing at all that I can see.
She laughs the most at the black squiggly things in books. I can’t make any sense out of them, but she can. She calls it reading. She reads to me out of the big book; that’s where that Psalm 91 lives. And she tells me little stories that she calls jokes, that make her laugh.
She especially likes to laugh when she tells me stories about India. She told me about a couple of lady schoolteachers at Kodai who were planning to take a trip together with the gentleman who taught French. They were all looking forward to it, but just before they left, something came up and the French teacher had to cancel. They went without him, and halfway through their trip the ladies sent him a telegram to cheer him up. It was just four words. They meant to reference a famous French novel about a thief who finds redemption, but the man at the post office who wrote down the message didn’t get it quite right. When the telegram arrived in the French teacher’s hands, he read: “Without you, less miserable!”
Mommy especially loves stories that play with words. If one of those stories makes you laugh in two languages, she says, it was really a good one. She told me about some missionary friends of hers who had gone back to the States with their family. (Now, to understand this story, you have to know that the Hindi word for “milk” transliterates into “dhudh” in English. The mommy was asking her son what he wanted to drink. “We have whole milk, two-percent milk,” she said, “chocolate milk, and buttermilk. Which would you prefer?” He shook his head at all those choices and said, “Yankee dhudh will do!”
I’m glad my mommy enjoys life so much. She makes it fun to be around. The only problem is that when she’s mad at me or doesn’t like something that I do, I can hear it in her voice right away. She doesn’t laugh then. When that happens next, I’m just going to have to think up a good joke to tell her in cat!
I watched my mommy drive off in her shiny red car three times today. She said she was going to her church to do some work in the files of the Community Service Center (she goes there every day) and then she had to take some letters to her boss for him to sign. Whenever she comes back, I can hear the door roll up in the big dark room where her car lives, and I go to say hello to her. I lie down on the carpet and she always rubs my tummy and scratches my neck when she comes back in the house. I guess she’s glad to see me too.
Her trips in the car must have gotten her to thinking about how she used to get around in India. She has only two legs while I have four, which is twice as good. I walk everywhere – except when I’m jumping, which I do a lot. But she said she had good memories of her walks in Belgaum. Her ayah, whose name was Jyothi, would take her and her younger sisters on long walks every day. Of course the sisters, when they were little, would be riding in a pram, a little chair on wheels because they couldn’t walk very far. They would go down the dirt road from the house, past the big banyan tree where Thatha had grabbed the cobra by the tail, past the church, and out the lower gate onto the blacktopped road. Then they would go down the hill a long ways and usually stop at the tank, which is what they called the large reservoir not far from the old fort. A trip down that road was always an interesting journey. There would be lorries (trucks) and bicycles and of course lots and lots of people walking. The women would be carrying brass pots balanced on their heads and usually a small child or two hanging on or around them. Mommy said you always had to be careful where you put your feet because the bullock carts and the water buffaloes and herds of goats used the road, too, and left lots of stinky stuff on it to step in if you weren’t careful.
The reservoir was fun to see, too. People would walk their water buffaloes or drive their cars into the water and give them a bath. Sometimes they’d take a bath, too, while keeping at least some of their clothes on. Some women would wash their clothes in that same water and wash their children, too.
When my mommy was four, she went to a small school about a mile from the mission bungalow. Her school bus was a bicycle that one of the cooks would ride. She would be perched on the bar in front of him, squirming the whole way to try to get comfortable. The cook would take her in the mornings and pick her up in the afternoons. She would take her lunch in a metal tiffin carrier, which had round stackable sections and a handle that held them together. She liked going to that school. The two lady teachers taught her how to read. She still remembers one of her early reading lessons: “Pat is in the pit. The pot is in the pit. Pat and the pot are in the pit.” She did her lessons and her sums on a black slate with hard chalk to write with.
The family had cars in Belgaum, usually a jeep, which is what Daddy Jaytee had to have to get out into the villages where he would preach and teach the words from the big book. Mommy Ruth drove it too, and the Belgaum people would be amazed at her, because not many women drove in the city at that time. But my mommy remembers coming in to Belgaum station on the train and sometimes hiring a horse-drawn tonga to take the family to the mission compound. She told me a tonga had two big wheels and a covering over the top. The cart had two long shafts that attached to the horse’s harness. She and her family would pile their luggage into the open back of the tonga and climb up into it and the tonga-walla would cluck to his horse and start up.
I guess there are lots of ways to get around, but I still like my four feet the best. My back legs are very strong and let me jump a long way up, way above my head. For some reason, my mommy calls them “rabbit feet,” but I’m not sure what she means. I’m not a rabbit – I’m a cat. She should know that by now.
I would love to go outside. Every day when my mommy opens and raises the blinds in the sunroom, I sit on the various windowsills or curl up in my cat perch and watch the birds and the squirrel coming to the birdfeeders. Sometimes I get so excited I try to jump through the window to get at them, but most of the time I’m content just to watch. Mommy gets after me for not getting after the squirrel when he climbs the iron pole up to the birdseed. But he’s a little scary, like a big rat with a bushy tail. Of course, my mommy says that’s exactly what he is and it’s my job to keep him away. But he doesn’t seem to be afraid of me and I really can’t be bothered anyway.
She won’t let me go outside because she tells me that if I ran away, that would make her very lonesome. Since I have to be right next to her or at least be able to hear what she’s up to all the time, I guess I won’t try to go outside. If I ran away, who would look after her?
My mommy told me a story about the time her daughter, Jessica, ran away from home. They lived on a farm: my mommy and Daddy Jim and Jessica and her brother, Little Jaytee. Most of the time, Mommy said, Jessica was a sweet little girl, but she had a stubborn streak. One of the things she liked to do best as a three-year-old was to eat the toothpaste. Now I watch my mommy squeeze some stuff on her stick that buzzes and put it in her mouth before she goes to bed. She told me that the stick was an electric toothbrush and the stuff she puts on it is toothpaste. You’re supposed to brush your teeth with it, she told me, but not eat it.
But Jessica loved to eat the toothpaste. Mommy would fuss at her and take it away and Jessica would get mad and cry. But she didn’t get to eat the toothpaste. So one day she decided she was going to run away from home. “Run away from home?” Mommy asked her. “But why?” “Because you won’t let me eat the toothpaste.” “But the toothpaste isn’t good for you; it’ll make you sick in your tummy.” “I don’t care. I like to eat it and you won’t let me, so I’m going to run away.”
Mommy didn’t argue, but just said, “Well, okay then, I’ll miss you.” She told me she helped Jessica get a pillowcase from the closet and asked what she was going to take with her. “I have to take Ber-Ber,” Jessica said. Now Ber-Ber was a very old, ratty-looking brown bear that had already raised two cousins, but Jessica loved him and carried him everywhere. So she put Ber-Ber and her favorite book in the pillowcase and slung it over her back. It hung down and dragged on the ground. Then she started out the door but at the last minute she came back in and grabbed her little brother by the hand. “Come on, Jaytee, we’re running away.” Jaytee would go anywhere that Jessica did, so he happily went with her and they marched down the front porch stairs and out to the gravel road. Mommy waved bye-bye from the porch and watched Jessica drag her brother up the road, past the gate that led down into the pasture, and around the curve.
Now the gravel road only had one other house on it so there was very little traffic for Mommy to worry about. She sat on the porch steps and waited. It didn’t take very long. As soon as Jessica got out of sight of the house, she got scared, and turned right around and came back as fast as her little legs (and her brother’s) would carry her. “I’m so glad you came back,” my mommy told her. “I was lonesome without you – but you still can’t eat the toothpaste!”
I guess my mommy is right. If I ran away and couldn’t see the house any more, I’d get scared too. I’d have to run all the way home where, I hope, she’d be waiting for me. She’d tell me she was glad to see me but that I still couldn’t play with the cords on the blinds.
Mommy was upset with me this morning. When I jumped up on the bed to wake her up to get my breakfast, my paws were all wet. She knew I had been playing in the fountain but she didn’t mind that – she’s glad I like it. When we went into the kitchen, though, she saw that the fountain was empty. How did I know it would turn over when I put both my front paws in it and pulled it towards me? She found the carpet all wet and the fountain’s motor running over an empty bowl. She filled up the bowl right away and then waited for the water to run out of the faucet. Nothing happened. She told me she would be really mad if I had burned up the motor by running it without water, but luckily for me, it started running again soon. I heard her ask Jessica’s husband, Brian, to make a special box to put the fountain in so it can’t be tipped over. We’ll just have to see about that.
Later, after getting some housecleaning done, Mommy was in a better mood and told me more stories about the farm. She and Daddy Jim lived on the farm for twelve years and Jessica and Jaytee were born during that time. The old farmhouse had a huge kitchen, in which she used to walk miles, she said, between the stove and the sink, which was clear across the room. She used to joke that the first word her kids ever said was “Bang!” That was because she was forever dropping things in the kitchen and clashing the pots and pans together and crashing things into the big porcelain farm sink. One day, Mommy said, that word came back to haunt her.
Jaytee and his big sister, Jessica, were exactly a year apart, so there were two cribs in the kids’ room in that old wooden farmhouse. When Jaytee was about 18 months old, my mommy put him to bed in his crib one night and then went to answer the phone in the next room. She could hear her little boy jumping up and down in his bed. Now this was something she had told him over and over not to do (much like me turning over my water bowl, she said). Suddenly there was an ominous cracking sound in the kids’ room. She ran in to see that Jaytee had jumped so hard that he had split one side of the headboard from its frame, plus knocking one of the wheels from the bed. She put it all back together and scolded him for jumping. He soon fell asleep and she thought the worst was over.
The next morning, as Mommy was dressing his big sister, Jaytee started jumping again in his crib. Mommy turned around to yell at him when suddenly the bed just began to disintegrate at the same corner that he had busted the night before. As if in slow motion, as Mommy described it, the bed began to collapse towards the floor, taking Jaytee with it. He was frantically trying to scramble up the slippery, tilting mattress just like a terrified rat trying to make it up the listing deck of a sinking ship. She dumped Jessica back in her crib and managed to grab Jaytee with one hand before he hit the floor. He clung to her neck, shaking, and, looking in amazement at the damage he had wrought, said in an awed whisper, “Bang!”
Fortunately, Grandpa Rob came over later and fixed the bed, without Daddy Jim finding out. He would have been mad, Mommy said. Every time she tells that story, my mommy says it reminds her of James Thurber’s book about his weird relatives, including his grandpa who in his old age was still fighting the Spanish-America War of 1898. At any given moment, he would grab his old gun and run up the stairs, yelling “Charge!” Thurber has a chapter in his book entitled “The Night the Bed Fell.” Little did Mommy know she’d have her own version of that episode in her own life.
I’m glad Mommy knows how to laugh. I’d be in a lot more trouble if she stayed mad all the time. I really hope that Brian can’t figure out how to make that box for my fountain. It’s a lot more fun when I can tip it over.
I have a bad habit (Mommy says) of getting in places I shouldn’t be, or that might even be dangerous for me. I love to get into the garbage bag full of shredded paper and chase some of it out onto the carpet. I used to get up on the dining room table and the kitchen counters until she started squirting me with a mixture of water and lemon juice to get me to stop. She knows I don’t like the smell of citrus, so now all she has to do is just reach for the squirt bottle and I’m down from there.
Just this morning I amazed her with a mighty leap from the floor on to the top of a five-foot tall chest of drawers. She wouldn’t let me stay there and play around because she said she was afraid that when I jumped down from that height I’d hurt my paws, so she picked me up and put me back on the carpet. I scampered off to skritch around in the big plastic bag full of Christmas decorations in the guestroom closet.
Mommy told me she had had the same problem with her kids when they were little. They were always getting into things they shouldn’t. One time, she told me, that happened with Jaytee and the fire extinguisher. It was a small kitchen variety and it lived in the bottom section of the cabinet right next to the stove. She had told him repeatedly not to touch it, but one night while she was busy cooking supper and had her back turned to him, he just couldn’t resist and took it out of the cabinet. Before she could grab it away from him, his little fingers hit just the right place to trigger it. White powder spewed out of it, covering both Jaytee and Mommy – and dinner cooking on the stove. Mommy tried desperately to turn the thing off, but there was no way to stop it, so she flung open the door onto the back porch and ran out with that little red monster in her arms and threw it into the back yard, where it happily fizzled itself out. Mommy stalked back into the kitchen to find a little ghost of a boy standing there shocked and delighted, but knowing that punishment was coming. Mommy had to clean them both up, along with the rest of the kitchen, and throw away everything that had been on the stove, since it was now covered in that white powder. It was after that that Mommy said she brought the playpen into the kitchen and dumped both kids and their toys into it while she was cooking. That way she could keep an eye on them and they couldn’t do any damage — except maybe to each other.
But the story that still makes her laugh the hardest involved the clothes dryer. The old farmhouse had a screened-in L-shaped porch just off the kitchen and the kids could safely play out there. Now the washer was in the bathroom but the dryer lived on the back porch. Mommy’s first mistake, she said, was letting the kids push the buttons to turn on the dryer after she had dumped a load of clothes in it. They loved pushing those buttons and they would quarrel over whose turn it was to start it up. One day the kids were playing on the porch while Mommy was working in the kitchen. Suddenly she heard the dryer start up and then a wail and a thump, followed by another wail and another thump. Mommy rushed out onto the porch, where Jessica was standing there alone, staring wide-eyed at the dryer. Mommy jabbed at the button to stop it, jerked open the dryer door, and hauled out a shaken Jaytee, who clung to her dizzily. He had only gone a couple of rounds, fortunately. She promptly spanked Jessica’s backside, only to be rewarded with three-year-old innocent blue eyes drenched with tears and the stout declaration, “But I was gonna get in next!”
Mommy and I had a Zoom Sunday school meeting today and we read Psalm 16 together with her class. It talks about God being our refuge but it also says, “I shall not be shaken.” I like that it talks about being kept safe but I can’t help but think that little Jaytee could have used that part about not being shaken!
Life on the farm was never dull, Mommy says. She and Daddy Jim lived there for 12 years before she took a job at Asbury Seminary and the family moved to Wilmore. I think I would have loved it on the farm – all those wide-open spaces, those yummy birds and rabbits, and the field mice everywhere. Of course, Mommy said, I couldn’t have lived in the farmhouse with them. Daddy Jim was raised on a small farm and to him, animals were meant to stay outside, even a cute furry creature like me. I don’t know where I’d sleep if I didn’t curl up on Mommy’s bed.
I was glad to hear, though, that Jessica and Jaytee did have some kitties as pets. Jessica named hers Tommy, I guess in honor of Daddy Jim’s brother, and Jaytee called his Strawberry. Mommy didn’t know why either. They were two daddy cats but they loved the kids as much as I love my mommy. The kids would dress them up in doll clothes and make them look silly, but they never seemed to mind. They cold come up on the back porch to play but not come into the house.
Mommy had other pets on the farm, too. Someone gave her a Saint Bernard puppy, who was promptly dubbed Barney. Mommy told me that Barney didn’t listen to her at all, kinda like me, I guess. I never saw a Saint Bernard, but my mommy said he was so big even as a puppy that she couldn’t pick him up. He was forever ripping his claws down the screen doors and knocking things over. When he ran away once, Mommy had to go look for him in the car. He was naughty and Mommy said he came to a bad end.
Daddy Jim had Angus cows on his farm. Mommy said he treated them like his pets. Each one had a name and when he called them they would run to him. Of course, they probably expected him to feed them. (When my mommy says words like “breakfast” and “snack” and “supper” I know that means food so I run to her, too. Like she says, it’s good to be bilingual – English and Cat!) After they were married, Daddy Jim mourned the loss of his favorite cow. He told Mommy that he had sold her to pay for their honeymoon down in Tennessee. Now that made Mommy feel bad, that he had had to do that, and she tried to be really sweet to him. It wasn’t until many years later that he finally confessed he hadn’t done that at all. He had worked extra hard to make the money, and his favorite black cow was still in the herd. Mommy said she was kinda mad at him that he made her feel so sorry for him for so long.
She saw one of the cats playing with something in the yard one day and discovered a half-dead tiny baby bird. It didn’t even have feathers on it yet. She brought it inside and poked some bread soaked in milk down its throat. She didn’t think it would survive, but that bird surprised her. She kept him in a box on the water heater in the kitchen. She fed him real often and he got so that every time she walked by, he’d open his beak for food. As he got bigger he graduated to bugs and worms mashed up, and when he began to feather out she realized he was a blue jay. When he got big enough, he would sit on the towel rack on the wall and screech at her to be fed. Then he began flying around the kitchen. Jessica was terrified of him. He delighted in zooming over her head when she and Jaytee were sitting in their high chairs at the kitchen table. Mommy let him out on the screened-in back porch so he could fly for longer distances and he’d screech about that, soaring and dive-bombing and finally landing on her shoulder. She kept him inside long enough to get really strong, and then, she said, she let him go. I guess she was sad about that.
I wish I’d been there. I’m always trying to get to the birds outside the sunroom window. It would have been fun to have one actually in the house for me to chase around! My mommy sure has had a lot of different pets, but I think I’m probably the best one of them all.
It’s very dark outside and I can hear things striking the windows. Mommy has the blinds down so I can’t see what they are, but she says they’re bugs attracted to the light that seeps through. I keep running from window to window and even climbing between the blinds, but it’s no use. I’ll never get to those delicious-sounding bugs.
All those bugs flying around the lights made my mommy think about going to the jungle camp meeting when she was little. There were plenty of bugs there too, especially flying around the Petromax lanterns at night.
Mommy Ruth would start getting ready for camp meeting a few weeks in advance since there was so much to do. Over a hundred tents stored in the tent room, where the sisters loved to play, had to be hauled out and spread wide across the grass underneath the banyan trees and inspected for holes, especially since the rats loved to play in them too. Coolies were hired to do the hauling of the heavy tents and their wives to patch any holes they found. The tents were then packed up onto the back of lorry (large truck) and driven the 18 miles from Belgaum to the camp meeting site beside the Khanapur River. There they were pitched across a wide area, awaiting the hundreds of Indian Methodists – preachers and laypeople and their families – who live within them in the jungle for a week. Food had to be ordered and sorted and packed into the jeep, along with axes and hammers and brooms and cooking utensils.
Large ditches were dug for latrines around the camp. My mommy explained that those were like litter boxes, only for humans. For privacy, Mommy Ruth insisted on having a tent set up over the one she and her family used. The family would set up camp inside one of the large tents. Everyone slept on camp cots and kept their clothes inside their suitcases so the rats and the bugs couldn’t get into them. Food was cooked outside; Mommy Ruth and Daddy Jaytee brought along their cooks to make their meals on camp stoves; most of the Indian people cooked for their families in large pots over their campfires.
Preaching was held in the largest tent, usually three times a day. The Indian Christians love to sing, my mommy said, and many of the songs they sang were written by Daddy Jaytee in Kannada. The services would go on for hours, especially as the sermons would be preached in one Indian language and then translated into one or two others. Thatha and Daddy Jaytee were usually among the preachers.
Everybody had to watch out for snakes, though. One night, Thatha and other men killed a huge python that decided to come to camp meeting. It was so big and heavy it took several people to hold it. My mommy has a picture of Thatha and the others with that python; she has the python’s skin, too.
Wild animals roamed the jungle, so campfires were kept burning. Others hunted by day. One time my mommy remembers sitting around the table outside at lunchtime, waving a chicken leg around over her head as she talked. What nobody noticed was the huge hudhu (hawk) sitting in a tree above their picnic. Suddenly he swooped down and grabbed that chicken leg right out of my mommy’s hand! She screamed in terror and pain – that hawk left gashes in her fingers with his talons. She never played with her food out in the open again.
Mommy says those camp meetings were of great encouragement to those Methodist Christians. They would go back to their villages filled with the Spirit to witness to their neighbors. It all sounds wonderful to me. I would have loved to be there – except for the part about the python and the hawk. Mommy says they love to eat little creatures like me, but I know she would have kept me safe.
I was actually quite good today. I didn’t turn over my water fountain – and now I can’t. Jessica’s husband, Brian, came over with his boy, Jake, to make sure of that. He put strange black strips on the bottom of the fountain and stuck the whole thing onto an old cookie sheet my mommy gave him. Now it won’t budge at all. Mommy told him I had taken hold of the fountain with my teeth and dragged it out of the corner just the other day, and she knew I would be overturning it again if she let me keep that up. I guess they think they’re pretty smart.
She gave me a few bits of chicken for my snack at lunchtime and then told me about the chickens on the farm. It seems that when she married Daddy Jim she also married 200 hens in a henhouse across the gravel road that ran beside the house. You see, Daddy Jim had been living with his parents in the old farmhouse and he was running the farm with his dad. His mom and dad were slowly fixing up an old schoolhouse building for them to move into someday, but when my mommy came on the scene things moved so fast they hurried up and finished the renovations and moved in.
Daddy Jim’s mom had been taking care of the hens and selling the eggs. When my mommy moved to the farm, she inherited the whole enterprise – henhouse, hens, and the egg business. Now my mommy came from a city and from teaching English to college freshmen, so she wasn’t thrilled about that aspect of being a farmer’s wife, but she says she did her duty. So every day she filled up buckets of feed and water and hauled them into the henhouse and came back out with the eggs.
The ground sloped down away from the gravel road and the henhouse had been built on that downward slope. Daddy Jim had built a narrow wooden ramp up to the door of the henhouse. At first it wasn’t too difficult for Mommy to navigate all of that. But then two things happened: Mommy got pregnant and Daddy Jim decided to put an electric fence around the henhouse. It seems that the brush had grown up around it and he wanted it cleaned out but he didn’t want to do it himself. So he figured if he put an electric fence around the henhouse and turned his beloved Angus cows into that part of the field, they would do the job for him.
When my mommy saw what he had done, she was horrified. He had run that electric fence right across the end of the ramp. And furthermore, he hadn’t put a hook in it so it could be taken apart to let anyone in. There was no way to get into that henhouse without climbing over that three-foot-high electric fence. At first, Mommy didn’t say anything about it. But as her girth increased, it became harder and harder to get those full buckets over the fence. There were a couple of ways she could do it. She could lean over it and put the buckets downslope and hope she didn’t spill everything, or she could climb over the fence first, leaving the buckets on the road, and then lean over the other way – reaching uphill now – and grab the buckets one at a time and lift them up and over the fence. Then the process had to be reversed to get back onto the road with buckets full of eggs.
After shocking herself for the umpteenth time, my mommy announced that she was through. That fence had to go – and so did the chickens. Fortunately for her, the price of corn had gotten so high it was no longer profitable to keep them. The hens were sold off or dressed and put into the freezer and there was no more climbing over that electric fence.
I think I would have liked Daddy Jim — he did some funny things. Mommy says she was glad when they left the farm, but she sure has some interesting things to tell me about it. I hope you enjoy them, too.
This morning my mommy was singing out of the red book. It was a song I hadn’t heard before. “All creatures of our God and King,” she sang, “Lift up your voice and with us sing, Alleluia!” She said there’s another hymn very much like it. It goes “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.” I really like that part about God making all the creatures. I think He really enjoyed making us cats. Why else would He have made us so special? And that started Mommy off about other creatures she had known in India.
She especially liked the geckos, the little lizards that roamed all over the mission bungalow. Mommy Ruth said not to try to catch and kill them – they were the good guys. They caught all the flies and mosquitoes in the house and in that way helped to protect her family from disease. Mommy loved to hear them at night. They moved silently straight up the walls but often she could hear them giving their signature call, which sounded a bit like my mommy clicking her tongue at me when she wants to get me to stop what I’m doing. When Mommy and her sisters did corner a gecko, if they tried to pick him up by the tail, he and his tail would part company and he would skitter away. But not to worry, Mommy said, it didn’t hurt him and his tail would grow back. I wouldn’t want my tail to fall off – it twitches so beautifully whenever I’m stalking a bird out the window. And I sure wouldn’t want anyone trying to pick me up that way. That would hurt!
There was one creature my mommy didn’t ever see, but he made his presence known. She had told me they lived on the edge of a jungle, so sometimes jungly creatures would make their way to the compound. No one had told my mommy about this particular one, but one night when she was home from boarding school and was sleeping in the guest room off the living room, she was awakened by a horrible gargling scream up over the ceiling. She was petrified and lay there shivering until the creature finally moved on. It took her a long time to get back to sleep. The next morning she asked what that noise was, and Mommy Ruth told her it was a civet cat who had taken up residence in the rafters between the ceiling and the roof. Civets look something like a cat, my mommy learned, but they eat fruit. They leave a strong scent behind and are highly prized for that in some places in the world. Mommy Ruth hated that old civet cat, though. Not only did he disturb her sleep he sometimes used her skylight as a litter box and that really made her mad. If she had had a rifle, she would have shot him herself, but of course she didn’t. After my mommy went back to boarding school, Mommy Ruth got tired of that civet cat prowling around over her head and had the police come and shoot it. After that there were no more blood-curdling cat screams or messed-up skylights.
And of course there were the snakes. The house had indoor plumbing, which meant that the family had running water from the compound’s well. They had to draw a bucket of water to flush the toilet. Instead of a built-in bathtub, there was an area with a raised edge, something like a shower stall without the shower. It was right next to the wall and drained out of the house through a narrow open drainpipe. It was called a buchela in Kannada. The sisters would take pour baths, where they simply stood in the buchela and poured water over themselves, soaped up, and then poured on more water to wash the soap off. Or sometimes they took baths in a galvanized tub. In any case, that open drainpipe meant that all kinds of creatures could come into the house through any of its four bathrooms. That’s how the kraits could get in. They are skinny snakes with striped markings and more deadly than cobras. Mommy Ruth once killed one with her saddle oxford and Daddy Jaytee nearly had a heart attack. He said kraits can jump and bite you and are very dangerous. I shivered when Mommy told me about the kraits. I’m glad my house has a regular bathroom with no open drains. Though I’d kinda like to see a snake sometime.
When humans get ready to go someplace, they start gathering up things. My mommy grabs her phone and her purse and her keys and then looks around for anything else she needs to take with her. They sure do carry a lot of stuff around with them. Now me, if I want to go someplace, I just go. All I have to take is me.
Mommy was reminiscing today about getting ready to go to boarding school each year, beginning when she was 7 years old. Mommy and her older sister would leave on the midnight train from Belgaum one night in early January to travel to Kodai to begin the new school year. That meant that preparations would have to begin well before Christmas.
The Kodai School academic year ran from January to October during those days, divided up with a month of vacation in May. The parents would drive up to Kodai for a month to six weeks and take their kids out of boarding to live on their respective denominational compounds during that vacation time. That meant that the girls were gone from Belgaum for 9 months at a time. At the end of the school year they would clamber onto the buses to be driven down the ghat road and catch the trains going in all directions from Kodai Road station. Their long vacation lasted from the last week in October over Christmas to the first week of January.
The packing and sorting for boarding school would begin, Mommy said, several weeks in advance. Being away from home for that long a time meant that the missionary moms had to make special provision for their kids’ clothes. Everything had to be taken out of dresser drawers and closets and assessed for needed repairs. And name tapes had to be sewed on everything – every separate sock, all the jeans and tops and dresses and underwear and pajamas and robes and jackets and raincoats. Even their scratchy thick army blankets had to be identified. Mommy Ruth had thick rolls of name tapes for my mommy and her sister, red letters on a white background, and the girls would have to help sew them on, since it was such a big job. Name tapes were necessary to keep the clothes from getting mixed up with roommates’ belongings and to help the dhobi keep them straight after beating them on the rocks to get them clean.
Of course, the girls would be growing during those months away, so the tailor would have to be called in to make them new clothes in larger sizes so they wouldn’t grow out of just everything before they came back to Belgaum. Last-minute haircuts would be given, since Mommy Ruth knew that the next time she saw her girls, four months later, their bangs would be hanging over their eyes, leaving them peering out from under, trying to see.
And the shoes! Imagine buying enough shoes to keep little girls’ growing feet covered for the next 5 years. Before getting on the big ship to come back to India from furlough when my mommy was 8, Mommy Ruth took a shopping trip to the downtown shoe store. When the salesman greeted her, he was astonished to hear her say, “I want a dozen pairs of shoes in graduated sizes for each of my girls.” (There were 3 of them at that time.) She loaded up her car with all those black-and-white saddle oxfords and packed them carefully into a metal steamer trunk. Those shoes had to last until the next furlough, several years into the future.
My mommy says she has loved saddle oxfords ever since. She wore them all the time when she was little. Now, my fur is black-and-white, though my paws are pure white. I wonder what they would look like if they had a black stripe across each of them. And could it be that my mommy picked me to come live with her because my beautiful fur reminded her of a beloved pair of shoes?
My mommy scared me this morning. She didn’t get up at the usual time, since it’s Saturday, she told me, and then she gave me my breakfast, made her bed, and had her own. That’s not what scared me. After breakfast, she said something about cleaning up and began picking up all the lovely rustle-y papers she had let me chase all over the house (from some package she had received). That didn’t scare me either, though I was sad to see all those lovely paper toys get thrown away. Then she said she needed some rock-‘n’-roll to help her work. What scared me was when she turned on the black box with pictures to some loud music and then grabbed a long yellow stick with feathers on the end of it and began moving around with it in front of the music. She said she was dancing, but whatever it was, I ran away quick and hid under the bed.
I crept out after a while and she was using that yellow stick with feathers on the window blinds. She ran those feathers all over those blinds and when I jumped up on the windowsill to investigate, whatever she was doing made me sneeze. Her too. She did that to all the blinds and then opened them up again and opened up windows all over the house. It was glorious! She opened more windows than ever before and I had to try out every one of them. I was sad when she closed them all up again when it got dark.
Mommy said she wished she really knew how to dance. One of the things she really loves to do is watch people dance. The Hindu religion believes in reincarnation, she said, which is that human beings, after they die, come back into the world to live as someone or something else. In her next life, she told me, she wants to be a dancer. Meanwhile she isn’t very graceful, I’m afraid.
She told me about the time she and her cousin, who was visiting her in Belgaum, had a few Indian dance lessons. The teacher was a really graceful Indian woman who tried to teach the American girls some classical dance moves. Mommy remembers the teacher telling her that there were many movements of various parts of the body in classical dance. She thinks the lady said there were 17 different movements of the eyebrows alone! She may not be remembering that right, but I can’t see how that’s possible. Mommy has three that I’ve noticed: the first one when her face is just in normal repose, the second when she’s surprised, and the third when she’s not happy with me. Then her eyebrows lower and her eyes get kinda squinchy and her voice gets stern.
Anyway, the dance lessons didn’t last very long. Mostly the girls collapsed in a heap laughing, my mommy says, and the nice dancer lady had to give in and laugh too. But one time, Mommy remembers, at Kodai they had a special program put on by some classical dancers. One lady danced an interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer. Mommy said it was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen.
Meanwhile I’ve been puzzling about those eyebrow movements. I have beautiful eyebrows – they stick up pure white and long, to match my whiskers. They help me get around in dark places by letting me feel how wide a space is so I don’t get my head or body stuck in it if it’s too narrow to enter safely. I’ve tried to move them when I’m looking at my reflection in the window glass, but I can’t seem to get the hang of it. I can’t look stern like Mommy can. I guess I’ll just keep on being the pleasant-faced, curious little furry creature that God made me to be. He gave me big green eyes that can see in the dark to go with the eyebrows, and I use them to see when I’m checking out the house after Mommy goes to bed. Mommy says that when God made the living creatures of the earth, He said they were good, and even very good. I know that He was looking especially at the cats when He was saying that!
Since it was Sunday, Mommy and I went to Sunday school and church this morning. Well, we didn’t really go – she went to Sunday school on her little black box, which showed pictures of several more people on it. She called it a Zoom meeting. Then church was live on her bigger black box. Mommy sang the songs and said the prayers all by herself. She said it wasn’t as nice as really going to the church building and being with all the other people there, but it was better than not going at all.
Then it was lunchtime and Mommy had another Zoom meeting later in the afternoon. But in between she got out a big white thing from the closet. Of course I had to come over to see what she was doing, and she told me I wouldn’t like it. It had a light on it and made a terrible roaring noise when she pushed it along on the carpet. It wasn’t so bad when she was in the guest room and the living and dining rooms, but when she came into the sunroom with it, where I was snoozing comfortably in my perch, I got up and ran away fast and hid under her bed. Then she brought that roaring monster into that bedroom, too, and I had to run away again and hide in her closet under her clothes. I didn’t come out until that awful noise had stopped and she called to tell me it was okay. She said the monster was called a vacuum cleaner and that it swept the carpet clean. I hope she doesn’t get it out again anytime soon. I’ve seen her use a long stick with lot of bristles on the end. She uses it to push crumbs around on the kitchen floor. I don’t like it either, but at least it doesn’t make any noise. She told me it was called a broom.
That got her thinking about the brooms she saw the Indian people use in Belgaum. They didn’t have a long handle that you could use to sweep while you were standing up. She said they were made of shorter bristles tied together tightly with string and the sweeper had to bend way over to use it. She remembers the mali (gardener) using one of those when he swept the driveway under the portico at the front of the mission bungalow. He would also sweep the spaces between the flowers that he tended in front of and beside the house. He kept a lovely garden, using his hand-held sickle to cut the weeds and the flowers for inside the house. He would carry a metal watering can that he filled up in the rectangular stone tank in the side yard and water the flowers, except in the rainy season, of course.
Mali always had to be careful in the garden, as it offered lots of places for snakes to hide among the cool leaves. He never wore shoes so his hard bare feet were always at risk. Many people are killed by snakebite in India every year, Mommy said. Mommy Ruth’s book tells the story of a village man who was sleeping in his hut one night when a cobra fell down onto him from the rafters above his bed and bit him on the nose. His shouting woke everybody up and his family immediately began weeping and wailing, knowing that he was going to die. The man was terrified, but he had heard a missionary in his village tell the story of a new God who loved His people and performed many miracles. The man, a Hindu, prayed to this new God, asking Him to spare his life. Then he went back to sleep – and woke up the next morning! It was really a miracle, my mommy said, as he should have been dead in 30 minutes, especially having been bitten so close to his brain. The man became a believer in Christ and told his story to anyone who would listen. He was responsible for bringing many others to Christ also, and the next time the missionary came to his village he and many others were baptized into the Christian faith.
In the Hindu religion, the cobra is one of the manifestations of their gods. Sometimes Hindu people around Belgaum would even feed a cobra to keep him happy so he wouldn’t try to bite them. Mommy’s story made me feel really happy. Mommy’s God is a God of love Who doesn’t wish harm to His children, not one who tries to do them evil, like the cobra. He wants to keep us safe, like it says in Psalm 91. I like hearing about Mommy’s God.
I’ve had a pretty good day and I’m really tired tonight. I got Mommy up to love on me and feed me breakfast and then I listened in on her Zoom prayer meeting with the people from her office. After that, I took upon myself my usual job of watching all the birds at the bird feeder. It’s an endless procession: blue ones, red ones, black ones, gray ones, even an occasional yellow one. All that flying around just exhausts me. And then I chased a big black fly in the blinds and up and screens. He got away, but I’ll get him the next time.
Mommy’s been telling me a lot recently about going to boarding school in Kodai. She started going at the age of 7. Her older sister had already been there for four years, so that made it easier for my mommy to be away from her parents. She said she didn’t really remember being too terribly homesick. She had several roommates over the years. The younger girls’ dorm was a very long, two-story building made of stone. The younger grades lived on the main floor, with the housemother’s rooms at one end, and the older elementary girls lived on the lower floor.
When the students came to Kodai in January, it was always the cold season there. It never snowed, but occasionally they would get some frost on the grass. Mommy said her feet never got warm in bed, even piled high with blankets. She went to bed in heavy flannel pajamas and socks and still shivered herself to sleep. There was no warm furnace, like we have in our house, and the only fireplace was in the big room where the girls would gather to hear the housemother read them a bedtime story and to say their prayers together.
All the meals were eaten in the cafeteria four times a day, including tea at 4 p.m. Mommy said she loved teatime, with hot cups of tea boiled with milk and sugar in them. That would tide them over until suppertime. When they were ready for bed, the housemother would come to each room and kiss the girls good night and turn out the lights. On Sundays there was always a “rest hour” after lunch. The girls were confined to their rooms and it was during that time that the students all had to write a letter to their parents. It didn’t matter if it was just a few lines, that letter had to be written before they were allowed to go out and play. The housemother always looked at the letters before they were put into the mail. Mommy’s sister told her years later that when she first got to Kodai she was very unhappy and very homesick. She would pour out her heart in her Sunday letter to her mommy and daddy, telling them how she felt, and the housemother would tear it up and make her write another much more cheerful one.
Classes were held in the big quadrangle building, also built of stone. Mommy enjoyed her classes and her classmates. There were always a lot of changes in her classes, as kids would come and go as their parents took furloughs back to the States. Mommy had just one year in Kodai before her family went back to America to live in Illinois with Mommy Ruth’s parents for a year. It was in Illinois when she was 8 that she was first introduced to snow. Of course, her older sister had to put a snowball down her back the very first thing. Mommy says she’s hated snow ever since. She told me she really didn’t like school in America very much; she says she felt very out of place. She was glad when her family left on the big boat back to India so she could go back to school in Kodai.
I wish I could have been with her in Kodai. I could have slept on the end of her bed and warmed her feet up for her. And I would have really liked to have all those little girls around to love on me. If they were homesick, and Mommy said lots of them were, I could have made them feel better. I’m so glad I found Mommy so I could live with her. If she didn’t have me, I don’t know who would watch all those birds for her!
Mommy said she was proud of me today. She had seen me chasing around a big black fly yesterday but I couldn’t catch him. But today I found him again and this time I swatted him and did him in. Mommy said I was a really good girl and she was glad I got him. I hope others come in the house too so I can show her how good a girl I really am.
I really helped her write this chapter tonight. I sat up on her desk with my tail hanging over the keyboard so she had to keep moving it out of the way so she could type. And I chewed on the white thing she plugs in to the little black box she holds in her hand to talk on. After that I climbed into the big white box she brought some file folders home in and managed to bring down the lid on top of my head. I actually like sitting in boxes – they make me feel surrounded and safe.
Mommy said there were a few times in India when she didn’t feel safe. In Belgaum the water buffaloes were often herded down the middle of the blacktop and Mommy always tried to stay out of their way. They are black and more squat and low to the ground than some American cows are, but they are strong and sometimes mean. They pull the bullock carts and the plows and work very hard. Their horns are thick and kind of flat, my mommy says, and curve around towards the back of their heads.
The water buffalo that she saw most often was the one that the milkman brought to the mission compound every couple of days. Her owner would tie the cow up under the big banyan tree not far from the kitchen door. Then he would bring his chumbus (brass pots) into the kitchen and wash them and his hands under the watchful eye of the memsahib. That way Mommy Ruth knew that he had clean pots to milk into and that he didn’t add any extra water to them to water down the milk, which he sold to her by weight. He understood what she was doing and there was a sort of truce between them.
While water buffaloes don’t give that much milk, not anything like what an American milk cow gives, it had wonderful rich cream. Mommy Ruth would skim off the cream and put it into a separate container in the fridge. That refrigerator was a gift from some church friends in America and it was a wonderful appliance to have, Mommy said. The mission compound had one of the few refrigerators in the city. The family really went after that cream, especially Daddy Jaytee. The cook would make delicious buttery toast in the oven of the wood-fired stove in the kitchen, and for breakfast one of Daddy Jaytee’s favorite things was to take a piece of toast and spread it with pure buffalo cream and sprinkle sugar over the top of it. That made my whiskers twitch! I love cream, too. Daddy Jaytee wasn’t supposed to, but he would always give the big dog Blackie a bite of that toast and cream and sugar, which Blackie loved.
Daddy Jaytee loved ice cream, too, and Mommy Ruth made it for him in ice trays out of that buffalo cream. It was soft and delicious and she was famous for her ice cream, which was a new treat for her Indian friends. Ranisahib, Mommy Ruth’s queen mother friend, loved it too and would have some when she came over to play mah-jongg with her. One time Mommy Ruth was entertaining some other Indian friends and served them some ice cream. They had never had it before and found it delicious.. They took big bites of it and then grabbed their heads, groaning, as the cold went straight to their brains. Mommy Ruth had to teach them to eat it slowly.
My mommy read aloud Psalm 50 in the big book tonight, where God says that he knows all the animals and birds, and that the cattle on a thousand hills are His also. A thousand hills! That amounts to a whole lot of cream!
My mommy has lived in America for most of her life now, she told me, but her early growing-up years in India have given her so many memories that she can’t help but think of them when she thinks of home. The mission bungalow in Belgaum, especially, and what a house it was! The living room/dining room was 65 feet long from the doors off the front veranda to the kitchen door. It was 17 feet wide inside of the huge pillars that held up the ceiling, with another 6 feet on the outside of the pillars. Mommy says it was a magical house to grow up in. It had lots of bedrooms and four bathrooms besides Daddy Jaytee’s office and the tent room. There were lots of places to play hide-and-go-seek and ride tricycles inside and even play badminton in the living room.
Now Daddy Jaytee was a very good musician, Mommy says. He could play the piano, trombone, accordion, and even took lessons on the Indian tablas (small drums you beat with just your hands). And he could sing, too. The piano in the mission bungalow sat against the wall of the store-room (where the rats played) and just outside the doors into one of the guest rooms. Daddy Jaytee would play that piano almost every day when he was home. He and Mommy Ruth made their girls take piano lessons, trying to make musicians out of them, too, but it was really no use. Mommy told me a story about that piano.
At that time, there were only three girls in the family – Sylvia, my mommy, and Sandy. Sylvia was four years older than my mommy and she was five years older than Sandy. So there was quite an age difference between each of them. Little Sandy loved to bang out tunes on the piano, and the one she loved best was “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” She played it constantly, until one day the two older girls had had enough. Sylvia said to her little sister, “Sandy, if you play one more note on that piano, we’re going to lock you in the bathroom.”
Sandy looked at them defiantly, Mommy told me, walked over to the piano, stuck out her finger, and went “pling” on a piano key. That did it. The two girls grabbed her and dumped her into the guest bathroom and shot the bolt on the outside of the door, locking her in. Sandy thought it was all a big joke until her two sisters went away, giggling. Then she cried and beat on the door and promised never to play the piano again, but it was too late. Her sisters not only left her there, they went out to play.
Sometime later, Mommy Ruth began looking for Sandy. She finally asked her other two if they had seen her and my mommy and Sylvia turned to each other with guilty looks on their faces. They had completely forgotten about Sandy! Mommy Ruth made them tell Sandy they were sorry and banished them to their rooms until she decided to let them come out.
Fifty years later, the three sisters made an epic return journey back to the places they had lived in India. They went back to the mission bungalow in Belgaum, which was still standing, and, with much laughter, they recreated the locking-Sandy-in-the-bathroom incident. It wasn’t until then that my mommy thought about why there was a lock on the outside of the bathroom door. She told me that it was probably because every bathroom in the house had a door that led to the outside of the house and Mommy Ruth didn’t want anyone breaking in to the house through a bathroom, so she had had extra locks put on the bedroom side of the interior bathroom doors as an extra safety precaution.
I hate it when my mommy shuts a door in my face, so I could imagine how Sandy felt in that bathroom. But I’m glad that my mommy’s family can laugh together about things like that. Family is so important, isn’t it?
I didn’t feel good at all this morning. I guess I ate too much and then had a bug for dessert. Anyway, my little furry tummy was really upset but I got rid of it all on the carpet. I was afraid Mommy would be mad when she heard me moaning and saw the mess, but at first she didn’t know what I was saying. She had never heard me make that low kind of sound before but she knew something was wrong. She cleaned up the carpet and talked to me very sympathetically and wasn’t mad at all. I just lay around most of the day without much energy, but I got to feeling better in the afternoon. Tonight I did eat some supper and even have enough energy to indulge in a few zoomies. So I guess I’m okay.
Mommy had seen me eating something off the carpet early this morning and assumed I had eaten a bug. I guess he didn’t like me very much. To make me feel better, she started telling me about the time she had been almost done in by bugs on the farm – specifically r flies.
It all started one spring morning when Mommy noticed a couple of flies in the kitchen. That was nothing new so she went after them with the fly-swatter. But after she killed them she noticed that there was something different about them. They had yellow abdomens, not black like a regular housefly. And they seemed to be just a bit smaller. She shrugged it off and went about her business until she saw a few more of them. She went upstairs and was horrified to find one of the windows upstairs just full of those flies. She sprayed them with bug killer and more poured out of the window sash! It was a losing battle so she just closed the door on the room and left it.
But a couple of the downstairs windows were beginning to show signs of an infestation, too, so she gave up and called for help. The pest control man said it sounded like cluster flies and said he’d come out and see what he could do. He ended up digging a narrow trench around the house and filling it with fly poison. He said that such things often happened around farms and since the flies laid their larvae in the ground that was the only real way to kill them out. Mommy vacuumed up flies for days but she finally saw less and less of them and considered her battle won. She really hates flies – that’s why she was so proud of me for having killed that big black one the other day.
I guess she got to see a lot of Mother Nature on the farm. She had the black Angus cows and the chickens and the groundhogs. She told me about the day she had taken the kids across the road and down the hill from the house to the garden. She was hoeing in the potato patch when Little Jaytee hollered, “Mommy, look!” She looked up and suddenly grabbed the kids and told them to hold real still and be very quiet. There between them and the road, walking parallel to the garden plot, was a mommy skunk followed by her three babies. All had their white-striped tails held high. She told me it was really a wonderful sight. The skunk family paid the humans absolutely no attention (for which Mommy said she was thankful) and just walked on over to the next field and out of sight. Mommy said when she could breathe again, she had to stop the kids from trying to follow them in their excitement.
Mommy read me Psalm 50 again tonight. It says in verse 11 where God is speaking, “I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine.” I guess that means He knows about skunks, too. Mommy says they are smelly, but they are furry and black-and-white, like me, so they can’t be all bad.
Today I became a proper Seamands! My mommy said so. She made herself some whipped cream this morning to put on her oatmeal and she put some on the tip of her finger and offered it to me. I loved it! That’s when she said, “Well, Checkers, you’re a real Seamands now.”
I told you about Daddy Jaytee and his love of buffalo cream on buttered oven-baked toast. Well, Mommy Ruth loved it, too. And that love of cream apparently got passed down to the whole family. All the sisters love it. Whenever they get together for a dinner, they always have lots of whipped cream around to put in their coffee. And it has to be whipped just so, with vanilla and some sugar added.
Mommy told me a story about Breanna, who is her daughter Jessica’s daughter. Mommy said that makes Breanna her granddaughter. I guess I understand that. Anyway, it happened at one of their dinners together. Mommy loves to have her whole family get together for a potluck lunch or dinner at our house. This happened some years ago, when Breanna was quite a bit smaller. She was sitting among the big folks at the table, and when there was a lull in the conversation, she suddenly announced, “I don’t have a birth certificate!”
“What?” everyone laughed. “What do you mean, you don’t have a birth certificate? Of course you do — everybody has a birth certificate.”
“Well, I don’t belong in this family,” Breanna was making her point.
“Oh, honey, why would you ever say such a thing?” The grownups didn’t understand her. “Of course you belong in this family.”
“But I don’t like whipped cream!” she blurted out.
Breanna still doesn’t like whipped cream, but she is definitely a part of the family. I guess I would be, too, even if I didn’t like it, but it’s more fun when I do.
Meals with family and company have always been a part of her life, my mommy says. I usually run and hide when a big bunch of people come in that I don’t know, but I can hear them talking and laughing and telling stories. In the mission bungalow in Belgaum, my mommy says they had company all the time. At one time, the family had a houseguest for several months, Mommy remembers. He was an I-3; that’s what they called Methodist missionaries to India who had not been out on the mission field before and who were serving for a short term of three years to see if they were really called to it. (At that time a usual term was 7 years.) The Belgaum I-3 was named John, and Mommy said she had a big crush on him. He was learning how to be a missionary from Daddy Jaytee.
Everybody knew where the mission compound was and anyone in trouble or just looking for a place to stay for a couple of nights would show up on the front veranda. One time when Mommy Ruth really needed someone to help her, God sent her a young Mormon man whose missionary service for his church was working with the Indian government in trying to figure out how to get rid of the worms that were damaging the cashew nut crop. Other times it was traveling evangelists or Methodist bishops. I think my mommy must have learned her love of hospitality from those days in India when there were visitors all the time. I like them okay, but sometimes I just like it best when it’s only my mommy and me in our house. That’s when I really feel safe and loved.
Today is Mother’s Day, or so my mommy tells me. She said it’s a special day when we honor those women who bore us or even women who have acted as our mothers in some way. I don’t remember my own mother. When my mommy and Breanna and Jake came to the home of the nice lady who helps place little furry creatures like me up for adoption, the lady told her that my brother and I were rescued after a house fire. She said that my own mommy’s body had been found lying on top of us, where she was trying to protect us. I guess that’s what mommies do – love and protect their little ones.
When my human mommy took me home with her, I ran away and hid behind the washer and dryer, scrunching myself as far back in the corner as I could. I was so lonely and scared. I cried for my brother and the other kitties I had been living with. Mommy left me alone. She put out food and water for me and set up my litter box but she didn’t try to get to me. She just made sure I was all right and then went on her way. I could hear her moving around the house but I was too afraid to go find her. For two days I didn’t eat anything, but finally I had to go get something in my tummy. After that I began to poke around my new house some, still hiding under beds and couches.
But soon I began to lose my fear and needed my neck scratched and my tummy rubbed, so I went closer to her. She said my name was Checkers and I began to learn it. Now those days seem really far away and my mommy and I are good friends. She has taught me really important words in English, like “let’s get up” and “breakfast” and “supper” and “time to go to bed.” I’ve taught her words in Cat, like “let’s get up” and “it’s time for my breakfast” and “I need for you to sit down on the couch so I can sit in your lap” and “it’s time to go to bed.” She keeps me warm and safe and lets me play with paper clips and chew on her pens when she’s trying to write and opens the blinds and the windows so I can see the birds and feel the sun and let the wind blow through my whiskers.
My mommy really misses her mommy. Mommy Ruth was a beautiful lady, with wonderful legs even into her 90s. She was dancing the Charleston on New Year’s Eve just a few months before she died at the age of 97. She loved to laugh and be with people and, especially, feed them. She hosted thousands of dinner parties in her homes and loved her family fiercely. She was strong enough to be away from her own mommy for seven years at a time in India, in a new land and culture and learning a new language, and yet gentle enough to pick up a little parakeet out of the stew when he flew into it by mistake. She could cook and cut hair and sew and drive a jeep through flooded rivers and boss around coolies building a septic tank or carrying a hundred tents out of the mission bungalow to load onto trucks for the jungle camp meeting. She was brave enough to kill a poisonous krait with her sturdy shoe and kind enough to make friends of rajahs and ranis as well as village men and women. She loved words and passed that love down to her four daughters. And she wrote books about her life and about God’s love for her and for all His children.
I wish I could have met Mommy Ruth. She liked animals of all kinds, except maybe my mommy’s guinea hen, which she tried to eat but found out that that hen was really one tough old bird! My mommy says that if Mommy Ruth had been born fifty years later, she would have run a big business empire, she was that smart, but she chose to follow God’s call to India with Daddy Jaytee. She’s in Heaven now, my mommy says, and is still loving us all from there. I guess mommies are the same whether they’re human or some other living creature. They are all special and so today I am wishing all of them a Happy Mother’s Day!
It was very blustery this evening. Mommy didn’t open the windows all day because it had been gusty and chilly, but we could see the wind moving through the evergreens outside. The birds and the squirrel looked kind of cold and out of sorts, but they came to the bird feeder anyway. I was glad I was inside and snug and warm within the carpeted walls of my rampart kitty perch.
Mommy says she has always loved the sound of the wind in the trees. She had told me before about the wonderfully tall eucalyptus trees in Kodai, with the distinctive smell that their leaves gave off when the ayah used them for kindling in the morning fires she built in the bedroom fireplaces.
On the mission compound in Belgaum there were many different types of trees. Of course there were the banyans. There were a couple of large ones just across the dirt road that ran beside the mission bungalow. Banyans are truly magical trees, Mommy said. They have large green glossy leaves. They grow thick trunks and have lots of wonderful branches just right for climbing. She told me that the branches actually send aerial roots down from themselves to the ground, where they grow into new trees. One of the biggest banyans in the world is in Bengaluru (she knew it as Bangalore when she was little) and Mommy said it has over a thousand aerial roots. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful tree to get my claws into? Mommy Ruth always told my mommy and her older sister not to climb the banyans because there could be cobras living in them, but the girls didn’t listen. They were up in those trees every chance they got. The aerial roots made wonderful stout swings to play on.
Just beyond their ayah’s house was a long row of mango trees. They were great trees to climb also, my mommy said. They had lots of good-sized branches starting low enough to the ground to swing up on. Their Indian friends taught them to play gida mungya (tree monkey) which was just another form of tag in the trees. My mommy has loved mango trees and mangoes themselves ever since those days.
Going down the dirt road towards the church was a tamarind tree. The leaves on this tree resembled skinny ferns and the fruit grew in pods. Before the tamarind fruit is ripe, it is green and extremely sour. It used to be a point of pride for the girls to try to eat one, but they usually gave up after a few bites. When the fruit is ripe the pods are brown and brittle and the insides are sweet and very dark. The Indian ladies use it for flavoring in their curries or to make chutney out of. But Mommy says she remembers her ayah, Jyothi, having big brass pots that she used to keep water in in her kitchen. My mommy used to help her polish them up bright and shiny using the ripe tamarind fruit mashed up into a paste.
When Mommy and two of her sisters went back to India after fifty years, they went almost immediately to Belgaum. They wanted to visit the old bungalow, especially. My mommy says that as they entered the compound gate and turned the curve to go up the hill, she could see that the house was still standing, although the veranda had been boxed in. She had been very fearful that something had happened to those banyan trees. Maybe they had been cut down – the house just wouldn’t have been the same without them. But to her relief they were still standing. Fifty years, though, had blurred their lines as the original trees had thickened and other banyans had grown up around them. The two trees were practically one and so overgrown as to be impossible to climb now.
And Mommy Ruth had wanted them to see especially if the Christmas tree she had planted so long ago was still there. It made her very happy to know that it was, although it had grown up at an angle instead of straight up. Mommy has such good memories of the trees of her childhood. I just wish she’d let me out sometime so I could try out one!
A strange man came to our house today. He was wearing something over his nose and mouth like my mommy wears when she goes out, and he was carrying a metal thing with steps on it that he could make taller or shorter. Mommy called it a ladder. He was there to wash the windows, which is what Mommy calls the pieces of glass that I sit and look out of every day. They are so clean now! I love it when she opens up the blinds every morning and lifts them up halfway so I have a clear view of the birds at the feeder. And it’s even better when she pushes the windows open so I can feel the wind on my whiskers and smell all those interesting smells from the outside. It’s been too chilly to open them for the past couple of days but maybe tomorrow it will warm up enough for that.
Mommy says that the mission bungalow in Belgaum had a red clay tile roof. She had told me before about the monkeys coming in from the nearby jungle and using the roof as a sort of highway between two sets of trees on the compound. They would land heavily on the tiles sometimes and either dislodge some of them or break them and that would allow leaks through the roof during the monsoon season. Mommy Ruth hated those monkeys doing that. She would have to get some coolies to go up on the roof and replace those tiles to stop the leaks.
My mommy had also told me about how high the ceiling was in the huge long room her family used as a combination living room/dining room. It had a ceiling high enough to accommodate a badminton game in the middle of the living room. Around three sides of the ceiling was a sort of flat-topped cupola inset with narrow windows. The family could hear the monkeys squeaking and gook-ing as they swung onto the roof from the trees, and often in their travels they stopped to look in those high windows. Mommy says it was a common thing to look up and see several monkey faces looking down on them in the living room. It was almost like being in a zoo, she said, only the monkeys were the ones watching the humans on the inside!
Train windows were another big part of my mommy’s life. It took two days and nights on the train to get from the Belgaum station to the Kodai Road station, where the students would all pile out of the trains and board the buses for another half-day’s travel up the ghat road to Kodai. The kids would put down the train windows and put up the screens, which kept the bugs out. And if the screens were somehow not put up there were some stations on the way where the monkeys would literally swarm the trains and try to grab things between the bars on the window or even crawl in between the bars into the compartment. The trains in those days were all coal-fired and had shrill whistles, not like the big diesel-driven engines with the lower whistles that rumble past our house. If you sat facing forward at the window, Mommy told me, you were liable to get cinders in your eyes and by the end of the train ride there was a fine layer of black soot over everything and everybody. You had to wash your hair as soon as you could after arriving at your destination, Mommy said, and the water would run grey until all the cinders and soot were washed out.
Mommy and I spend a lot of time each day in the sunroom. She says it’s called that because it has six big windows that look out on the trees and driveway and the sun comes up right outside the windows facing east. Mommy has set up her little black box on a small table in that room and has her bigger black box on her regular desk right behind her. She loves the sunroom because it has views on two sides and brings a lot of light into the rest of the house. Sometimes I get too hot lying on my cat perch by the window where the sun pours in in the mornings and have to get down and stretch out under the carved Indian lamp table to get cooled off. Mommy is always looking at the birds and telling me their names and helps me listen to their calls. She reminds me of how God made them all and said they were “good” and even “very good.” They do give me endless entertainment and I bet they really taste “good” too!
Mommy was so frustrated today. Her internet access went out last night and was out until mid-afternoon today. She said she lost a whole day of work. She was looking at me when she said that. I’m not sure why. It’s just that last night after I saw her safely to bed and all the lights were out, I was playing around on the computer desk. She came in to see what I was up to after she heard a rather big noise. She said I was looking very innocent sitting on the desk. I don’t really think I did anything but anyway . . .
It took her hours of rebooting and unplugging and plugging back in and resetting and nothing worked. She finally called tech support (I don’t really know what that is) and they got her back on the internet with her larger black box with pictures. Then the smaller one on the card table wouldn’t work properly either and she had to call tech support at the office. Ayyo! (That’s apparently what the Kannada people say when they are having a problem.) But now she’s back on and can communicate again.
She had told me before about the letters she had to write home to her parents every Sunday. That was the only way to communicate with them 900 miles away — half a day down the ghat by bus and another two days and two nights on the train. When the mail came to Kodai School, it was sorted out by dormitory and the housemother would lay it all out on a table in the entrance hall. What a thrill it was for my mommy to receive a letter from Mommy Ruth and Daddy Jaytee. They usually wrote about once a week. Mommy would walk around with the letter in her pocket, unopened, delaying just as long as she could, until she couldn’t stand it anymore. Only in the most unusual circumstances would communication between parent and child at Kodai happen by telegram or phone.
Mommy told me the story of the most frightening phone call of her life in KodaI. She and her family had come home to Kentucky on furlough for a year, and as soon as that school year ended, she boarded a plane and flew back to India to start her next school year, which opened in June. Her family was going to finish up their summer in Kentucky and fly back to India in the fall and she would join them in Madras (now Chennai), not her beloved Belgaum, for the long vacation as soon as the semester was finished. Towards the end of September, Mommy told me, she was sitting in her 10th-grade class, when one of the workers in the school office came to get her. “You have a telephone call from America,” she was told. Mommy says she’ll never forget that walk down the stairs to the ground floor and across the quad, on legs trembling with fear, to the office, where she picked up that black handset and croaked, “He – hello?” Nobody called the school on the telephone and certainly nobody called her without it being the worst kind of news. Somebody had surely died, and she didn’t want to hear it. It was Mommy Ruth and Daddy Jaytee on that transatlantic phone call, through a cable on the bottom of the ocean, my mommy said – no satellites or cell phones in those days. The connection was terrible – it was hard to hear — but she managed to get the gist of it. Her younger sister, Sandy, was sick, and the Mission Board had refused permission for her and the family to return to India. My mommy would not be going to Madras but would be flying back to America for good. That would be the end of her schooling in Kodai. She was weak with relief that it wasn’t a death they were shouting back and forth about over that terrible phone line.
So communication is important, Mommy told me. That’s why she is teaching me English and she’s learning to speak Cat. We have to be able to understand each other. Understanding each other, she said, is so very important that when God wanted to be able to tell His created ones about what He is truly like, He sent His own Son in the form of a human to be able to tell them God’s Good News. That’s what the words in the Big Book Mommy reads to me are all about, she said. I think I understand – but she really needs to brush up on her Cat!
I really do love my toys. My mommy let me have some of those shiny round things she hung on a tree in the house a few months ago (who has a tree in the house, anyway? I never did understand that). I just couldn’t leave them alone so she finally gave up and just gave me a couple of them to bat around.
But my favorite toy of all? Paper clips! That’s right. Mommy has a bunch of them and she gave me a couple so I wouldn’t try to pry them off the papers she has all over her desk. I especially like the big shiny blue one. Paper clips are just the right size for me. I can easily pick them up and carry them around in my mouth. I just love dropping them into my water fountain so Mommy can fish them out again. And this morning I carried one into the sink in the room where Mommy keeps her litter box (she calls it a bathroom) and she had to move quickly to close the drain so it wouldn’t disappear down it.
I also love rustling around in the big black shiny bag she puts the pieces of paper in after she runs them through a small growly machine in her sunroom office. The paper comes out in long strips and I carry them all over the house. Some of them end up in my water fountain too.
Mommy says she doesn’t remember a whole lot of toys when she was growing up. She said she really never though about it, but realizes now that she didn’t need a lot of manufactured toys in India. Her Indian friends didn’t have many. Most of the playing my mommy did with her sisters was outside anyway. Climbing trees, of course, was always fun to do (cobras or no cobras), and there were plenty of them on the mission compound in Belgaum and on the Methodist compound in Kodai.
One of her favorite games in Belgaum involved stacking up a bunch of small flat rocks on top of each other and trying to make points by knocking it down with a tennis ball (which Daddy Jaytee provided – he was a really good tennis player) either by throwing it or rolling it at the stack. Another favorite was one that Mommy called by its Kannada name transliterated – chinnie parni. This was played with two bamboo sticks, one about 12 inches long and the other 4-5 inches long. You balanced the smaller stick crosswise against your fist as you held the longer stick, flipped the smaller one into the air, and hit it with the bigger stick. It’s really quite hard to do, Mommy said, but her ayah’s boys were quite adept at it. When the smaller stick landed on the ground, you used the longer stick end over end to measure how far away you had hit it. Instead of counting by numbers, you called out the measure by reciting pow, chishti, mushti, gorda, pook, dhorla, jil. The more jils you counted, the higher your score. A simple game? Sure, Mommy said, but bamboo sticks were easily available and cheap.
She and her sisters taught the boys to play hide-and-go-seek around the corner of the bungalow and out among the trees and when somebody sent them a Monopoly game, they taught them that too. It didn’t seem at all strange to her to be playing “my-nopoly” (as they called it), with everybody speaking in Kannada, while sitting cross-legged near the dripping sheets Mommy Ruth hung out on the veranda to dry while the monsoon rains fell hard all around.
And in Kodai, especially during the month of May when everybody was on vacation, there were endless games of kick-the-can, capture the flag, and flashlight beacon at night. As for toys in Kodai, well, there were rolly poochies to play marbles with and fallen eucy trees down the hill below the family bungalows which became pirate ships for hours of endless fun.
Mommy plays with me and helps me find my paper clips when I lose them on the carpet or under papers on her desk. Now why won’t she let me chew on the round shiny things she calls buttons on her clothes?
My mommy had told me yesterday about getting that terrifying phone call about her younger sister’s illness that ended up keeping the family from going back to India. On her trip to India and back that year, she had gone by plane. But just a year earlier the family had gone back to the States by ship for a year’s furlough in Wilmore.
Mommy said that she and the family had boarded an Italian passenger liner in Bombay (now Mumbai) that summer. The girls were 17, 13, 8, and 2 years old. Mommy’s older sister had graduated from Kodai School and would be entering Asbury College (now University) in the fall. My mommy was going into 9th grade. It was going to be a long journey by ship, from Bombay to Karachi, Pakistan, then around the Middle Eastern peninsula, up the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal, and then on to dock in Genoa, Italy. There they would board another boat that would take them across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City. It would take weeks. On the way coming back to India 5 years before, in the middle of the ocean, Sandy had said, plaintively to Mommy Ruth, “I just want to see a tree!”
It was a journey of about 24 hours from Bombay to Karachi. What none of the passengers knew at the time, Mommy told me, was that just after the ship docked in Karachi, the entire Italian maritime fleet worldwide went on strike. All of the stewards and cooks and cleaning crews and the other workers on the ship laid down their mops and brooms and towels and declared they were on strike until their employers paid them higher wages. The ship was forced to move to another dock so it wouldn’t be in the way of other ships unloading, since it wasn’t known how long the strike would last. Mommy Ruth was actually on the dock with Daddy Jaytee, having gotten off to go get food for the kids who remained back in the cabin, when the ship began to move without warning. Knowing that the kids would be terrified at feeling the ship move and their parents not there with them, she screamed at Daddy Jaytee that she had to get back on board. She raced to the gangplank, which the sailors were beginning to pull up, and actually jumped onto it to scramble up and onto the ship. The sailors just shook their heads at the crazy American who would do such a thing.
All of the passengers, Mommy said, were furious with the captain and those in charge. Why, they demanded, were passengers allowed to get on the ship in the first place if all the workers knew there was going to be a strike the very next day? Unfortunately for all the passengers, the answer was obvious. They were the pawns in the workers’ chess game against the owners.
So for the next seven days, the ship just sat there. No one did any cooking or cleaning. The passengers were taken off the ship and put on buses to go to restaurants for each meal. That meant lining up on the docks, men, women, and children, in the searing Karachi sun (no shade anywhere) to get on those buses. People fainted in line and mothers worried about their children standing in the sun so long. Meanwhile, the ship got dirtier and stinkier. There were no clean towels or soap or people cleaning the cabins. No food was handed out; it was all locked up in the pantries and kitchens. The crew had food to eat but the passengers didn’t.
It was at this point, my mommy told me, that Mommy Ruth instituted a rebellion among the passengers. I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to tell you what happened, because I’ve used up my page. While my mommy was telling me this story, all I could think about was how fierce a mother’s love is for her children. She will do anything to protect them from harm. Mommy Ruth was very brave, almost as brave as my own real mommy who gave her life trying to protect me and my brother from the fire. Stay tuned.
When my mommy paused her story yesterday, she had left Mommy Ruth about to start a rebellion among the other passengers on the Italian ocean liner. There were hundreds of passengers on board, many with small children. They all had the same problem as Mommy Ruth – taking the kids out in the hot sun to stand waiting in line for buses to take them off the docks to their meals and living in increasingly smelly and dirty rooms and bathrooms.
Finally Mommy Ruth had had enough. She saw the crew members, men mostly, hanging around doing nothing while her children went hungry. So she gathered up her courage and marched herself down to the kitchens. There she found a group of men sitting around a table eating and drinking coffee while her own kids were crying for something to eat. She gathered up her courage and told them she needed food for the children.
“No, madam,” she was told, “we are on strike so we cannot make any meals for you.”
“Then let me into the pantry and I’ll get the food myself.”
“Oh, no, madam, that is not allowed.”
Suddenly furious, she drew herself up to her five-foot-five height and spat, “All right then. You just sit there drinking your coffee. If you won’t let us have any food, I’m going to go round up all the mothers on this ship and we’re going to come back here and destroy your kitchen!”
They had enough grace to look chagrined, my mommy said. Mommy Ruth stomped off to carry out her threat but before long a steward found her and said, “Yes, madam, there will be milk and cookies in the kitchen for the children.”
All this time the passengers, including Daddy Jaytee, were working with their respective consulates to get them off that ship. Finally, after a week, all the passengers were flown out by the planeload to Europe. My mommy’s family had to go in two separate groups and met up together in Zurich, Switzerland. After living in hot, dirty conditions for a week, the cool, clean Swiss countryside was like dying and going to heaven, Mommy said. It was there that the family was introduced to fresh ripe strawberries to dip into whipped cream (again) and sugar. After a few days of such bliss, the family was again split up and Mommy Ruth and the two younger ones set off for America. Daddy Jaytee and my mommy and Sylvia spent a few days being tourists in Paris and London before sailing on the Queen Elizabeth to New York. Sylvia had inherited Ajji’s weak stomach and was seasick the whole trip, even though the crossing was very smooth, while my mommy and Daddy Jaytee had a wonderful time exploring the ship, eating scrumptious meals, playing ping-pong, and going to the movies.
Mommy and her family spent the next year on furlough in Wilmore. They expected to go back to India, but that was when Sandy got sick and they were prevented from going back. Soon after that, Daddy Jaytee began teaching missions at Asbury Seminary, and was a professor there for the next 28 years.
My mommy was sad not to graduate from Kodai School like her sister did, but she has wonderful memories of India. She loves to tell me her stories and I like to listen to them. I tried to imagine being on a big ship like the ones she talked about, but I think that would be just a little bit too much water for me!
Today it was so warm, my mommy had to close the windows and turn on the air conditioner. I didn’t like having the windows closed, but it did feel better with some cool air circulating, especially since I wear a fur coat all the time. When it was colder, Mommy had the fireplace on and that really felt good, too. The first time Mommy turned on the fireplace, I just had to go over and investigate it. I didn’t get too close, of course. I could tell the fire could hurt me, and my mommy made sure I didn’t get burned. Mommy has told me the story the nice feline rescue lady told her about the firemen finding me and my brother after they had put out a house fire. It was probably the smoke that killed my real mommy, and not the fire itself, but still it is a sad story.
Mommy told me two stories about fires on the farm when she and her family lived there. The house was a big old two-story frame farmhouse. When it was first built, many years ago, the only heat in the winter came from coal grates in bedrooms and in the kitchen. When my mommy and Daddy Jim decided to get married and move into the house, my mommy told him that she had to have central heating, so he installed an oil furnace in the root cellar. Only the first floor was heated.
When Jessica and Jaytee were small, everybody slept on the first floor. When they got older, Mommy moved everybody into the three bedrooms upstairs. In the wintertime, she would turn on everybody’s electric blanket and after baths in the big claw-footed bathtub, they would hustle into their pjs in front of the bathroom heater and scurry upstairs to get under the covers. One year, Daddy Jim decided to put a wood stove in the kitchen (there was lots of room for it), which kept the family toasty in the winter and cut down on the expensive heating oil that the furnace used.
The stovepipe was cut into the kitchen’s chimney and the hot gases vented up and out over the roof. One night, my mommy told me, she came home to find water all over the kitchen floor. Daddy Jim told her that he had just gotten the kids out of the bathtub. They always saved the bathwater and used it to fill up the washing machine. (The washing machine was in the bathroom, because that was where it was the easiest to hook it up to the plumbing.) So the bathtub was full of water and the kids were putting on their pjs while Daddy Jim was talking on the phone in the kitchen. Suddenly the phone line went dead. Daddy Jim instinctively looked at the chimney because that was where the telephone lines ran through to get to the pole outside, and saw to his horror that curls of smoke were coming out of the woodwork. He dropped the phone, ran into the bathroom, grabbed the bucket, filled it with water from the tub, and threw it on the chimney. He did this a couple of times and then put out the fire in the wood stove. It seems the stove had simply put out too much heat through the stovepipe into the chimney and his quick action had come just barely in time to keep the whole house from going up in flames.
When Mommy and Daddy Jim left the farm in the summer of 1982 to move to Wilmore, even though the kids were excited about it, they were sad to leave the house. It was the house they had lived in since they were born. My mommy said that whenever the family went to visit Grandma Jesse and Grandpa Rob, they always drove up the gravel road into the old farm to just look at the house. Some years later, the family made that trip and came around the curve up to the house – only to find that it had disappeared! It was completely gone, burned to the ground. The only thing recognizable was the claw-footed bathtub where the bathroom had been. It was such a shock, Mommy said, and Jessica burst into tears. No one had told them that the house had burned up. Years later, Mommy found a photograph of the house and had a copy made and framed and gave it to Jessica for Christmas. Fires cam be good things and they can be bad things, Mommy told me. The fire that took my real mommy was a bad thing, but it was also a good thing in that it led to my mommy taking me home to live with her. I’m glad that we’re together now.
It’s supposed to rainy and be stormy for the next two days. Mommy says that April and May, especially, are the times for possible bad storms, and even tornadoes, in Kentucky. She told me tornadoes start with really bad thunderstorms that send down funnel clouds that can be very destructive, even deadly.
When my Mommy and her family lived on the farm, they had severe weather often. One day in particular, the family never forgot. Daddy Jim was working nights at a factory in the next town, so he would come home and sleep in the afternoons before getting up and going back to work at night all over again. Mommy was running a children’s clothing store in the county seat town and the kids would get off the school bus there and stay with her until she closed the store for the day.
On this particular day it had been very stormy. Mommy was startled to get a telephone call from Daddy Jim. “The house has been hit by a tornado!” he said in a very agitated voice. She asked if he had been hurt and he said no, much to her relief. She told him she’d start for home right away, so she closed the store and got the kids into the car. The storm seemed to have lifted by the time they turned onto the winding blacktop county road into the Meadow Creek community. When they turned off the blacktop onto the dirt road leading to the farm, they had only gone around a couple of curves and suddenly Mommy had to pull up short. Trees and branches were blocking the road. They got out and managed to move enough debris around for the car to get through. As they came around the last curve and in sight of the house, she stopped again and just stared.
The farmhouse had a second-story porch across the front, that you could get to through the door from the upstairs hallway. At least there had been a second-story porch there. It was completely gone now, and the door led to nowhere. And one of the big pine trees at the side of the house had been uprooted but fortunately had fallen alongside the house instead of on top of it. Shards of spindles from the porch railing were all over the yard. Mommy and the kids picked their way carefully into the house and got the story from Daddy Jim.
He had gotten into bed, he said, and was saying his prayers before going to sleep. His bedroom faced the front of the house. It was storming badly and quite dark outside; he suddenly heard a loud noise and opened his eyes to see that it was unnaturally light outside his bedroom window. He looked out and realized that the upstairs porch was gone. He said he was glad he had been saying his prayers, because he really felt that God had spared his life in that storm.
When the family inspected the rest of the house for damage, they discovered that the porch had been ripped right off and hurled over the top of the house. Most of it lay in the back yard, but one sharp spindle had come right through Jaytee’s bedroom window and landed on his bed. He could have been badly hurt if that had happened when he was sleeping there. And Daddy Jim’s shed where he kept all his tools had been damaged, too. In the shed he had set up one wall of shelves where he kept all his nails and screws and small parts nearly arranged in plastic milk jugs. The tornado had pushed against that wall and dumped all the milk jugs and their contents into the middle of the floor. It took Mommy hours and hours to sort all those screws and nails by size back into their proper containers.
The insurance company didn’t replace the upstairs porch but just paid to put two tall columns up with a roof on top. It was serviceable but not nearly as picturesque as before. So then the upstairs hall door just continued to be a doorway to nowhere. I shivered when I heard that story. If a big wind comes here, I’ll just hide under the bed, like I always do.