The Imaginary Kitty

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‘Few people saw Wombat. Now no one ever will.’

My Oldest Younger Brother Scott swore that Wombat was an imaginary cat. He and his sons stayed with me in Amagansett a whole week and never saw her once. Oh, maybe one of the boys glimpsed a little black shape slinking down the stairs in the middle of the night, but not well enough to establish that it was an Actual Cat.

Can you find the cat in this picture? Wombat was notoriously good at hiding. Sometimes in plain sight

Well, I’m sorry to say that yesterday Wombat left this earth and went to Wherever Good Animals Go. Perhaps she is hanging out with Mango. (I would say Mango and Tuna, but Tuna had issues. (See “Tuna finds the Baby Jesus Sweet Spot” for details.)

Once in a while Tuna would deign to play

Tuna wouldn’t sit on your lap or even let you pet her. Which is really all you ask for in a cat, yes? But even though she didn’t do her Cat Job, Tuna had her fine points — for one thing, she loved The Dude’s playing so much she would sit on a pile of music books next to the piano — so I’m betting she’s Up There teaching Wombat some bad heavenly habits right this very minute.)

Mango was like a large stuffed animal that purred. For three different families

Mango, on the other hand, was everybody’s best friend. He was so indiscriminately affectionate that he “belonged” to no fewer than three families — all at the same time. (You can read more about his shameless exploits in “Lost Cat: Answers to the Name Mango.”)

But this piece is about Wombat.

Wombat demonstrating her Doorstop Pose

Dear little Wommie may have been elusive and slow to make new friends — she once famously bit The Beau so hard that he had to take antibiotics; in her defense, Beau’s approach to patting her head was the same approach Dude Man made when he wanted to “play,” which usually involved biting — but when Wombat decided to befriend you, well, you were befriended for always.

Wombat displaying some Catitude while “guarding” a needlepoint project

Wombat making like a meme. (That pillow is the finished project from the previous photo)

Wombat remembered all the people she spent quality time with when she was a kitten — all, like, two or three of them — and, no matter how much time had passed since she’d seen them, she would refrain from hiding when they visited. (Julie and Reva, I’m talking about you.) But with everyone else — no matter how nice they were — she would hide. Usually in the bottom of my wardrobe.

Wombat’s preferred hiding place. She would nudge open the door on the right and hide among my shoes

Once, when the apartment was being shown, a prospective buyer was measuring the wall where the wardrobe was and Wombat popped out — just like a cat-in-the-box — and scared the guy so much he dropped his tape measure. (He didn’t buy the apartment.)

Wombat at an impressionable age

She may not have cottoned to outsiders, but Wombat sure as heck loved her family. The Dude called her “The Creature” and, when he didn’t think anyone was listening, talked baby talk to her in a high squeaky voice. If she was sitting on my lap when he came home, she would immediately run to the door to greet him. (To this day, I don’t know how she knew it was him getting off the elevator and not our next-door neighbors. But she knew.) Dude Man was the Play Parent. He would engage in horseplay (see above biting note) and when he said the words “laser light” in a certain tone, she would run right into his office to chase the little dot around — even if he didn’t have the laser pointer out.

A boy and his kitty, less than a week ago. Sigh

Once in a while, she and I would play games, too. “Fetch” and “Hide and Seek” were our faves. (Yes, she would fetch a toy and bring it back. And yes, she loved it when you peeked around the furniture and said “boo!”) But, most of the time, with me, it was all about my lap.

Sometimes she’d chase me and bat my legs so that I’d sit down and make a lap

As for The Child, well, Wombat was actually The Child’s Kitty. When her Childness was a sophomore in high school she begged for her “own kitty,” so we went to Strawberry Fields in Montauk and picked her out of a rescue lineup. We almost took her brother too, but we had Tuna and (sometimes) Mango at the time and I drew the line at three cats.

The Child and Wom sharing beauty tips

Even though The Child disappeared soon after into the World of Higher Education and then Grownup Life, Wommie didn’t forget her — perching on the end of her couch and even (sort of) keeping her company in the tub.

Want me to wash your back?

But the person she adored the most was, well, me. It would be easy to say that her adoration was due to the fact I was the One Who Fed her — but she ate kibble pretty much any time she wanted, poured by all and sundry.

Perhaps if the others had been around her as much as I was, I wouldn’t have won this particular popularity contest. Who knows? All I can say is, whatever her reasons for fixating on me, I sure did like it. There really isn’t anything quite like being absolutely and unconditionally adored by a furry little animal.

I bought her a perfectly good cat bed. But guess where she slept?

Well, it’s getting late, and I’m getting sad. It was almost exactly 24 hours ago when I said good-bye to her Womness, stroked her cashmere-like coat, and patted her silky ears for the very last time. It’s time to wrap this up — and go mix myself a stiff Manhattan.

I miss you, sweet dear little cat. Sleep well

Amagansett, New York. December 2020

 

 

Groundhog Gal

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‘Caught in the continuous Corona Lockdown Loop’

Ten minutes ago when The Child was ten years old she was allowed — nay, encouraged — to invite friends out to Amagansett for weekends.

How many friends? As many as the car had seat belts for. If somebody didn’t mind a middle seat, that meant three. The car ride from the City could take ages, but those kids were pretty good at entertaining each other. They’d play car games, like Count The Cows (you lose all your cows if you pass a graveyard) or that one where you say a word starting with the last letter of the previous word. Some smart aleck would invariably contrive to use the word “xerox.”

See all that traffic on the left? Guess which direction they’re going

Once we got to the house, things were fairly easy too. At that ten-to-twelveish age — kind of the sweet spot of kiddom, in my opinion — the Host Mom (at least a Host Mom like me with an easy breezy parenting style and a safely-isolated home location) could pretty much just throw those tweens outside and let them fend for themselves. 

The Child (right) with one of her easy-to-entertain pals

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Before the parade passes by

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‘Believe it or not, summer’s almost over’

I’ve written about the astonishing swiftness of summer before. (See “The Days are Long, but The Season is Short.”) And more than just that one time. (See “Yup, Summer’s Officially Over,” etc. etc.) One would think that by now, with so many summers under my baby-boomer belt, I’d be used to the swiftness of it all.

One would be wrong.

What made me realize that this particular pandemic-plagued summer was already sailing inexorably into its sunset was a photo my beloved Favorite Only Sister posted on Instagram recently.

Here it is. Showing a mixed assortment of Clinton County Parade spectators. Looks like I missed a *sniff* swell time that year

She posted it because, yes, it’s Clinton County Fair Time again. The Parade pictured was enjoyed during a time when we kids were all grown up, some of us with kids of our own. I was, alas, missing from the scene that particular year. But I did get to witness the “Surfing the Internet with God” float (pictured at the top of this post) on another similarly-memorable Parade-watching occasion.

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The Zoom Zoom Room

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‘Connecting in the Time of Corona’

I don’t know about you, but my head is spinning these days. No, it’s not from the craziness of the News Cycle — though the suggestion of ingesting bleach or zapping the inside of my body with “light” is rather mind-boggling — no, my noggin is spinning from all that Zooming.

I’ve been Zooming (or FaceTiming or Facebook Messengering) with West Coast Cousins of The Dude, members of my New York City Ladies’ Club, the Curator of the Frick Museum, and even Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah. (I’ve already written, in “Apocalypse Now,” about Zooming with John Krasinski.

Why, the whole Earth is zooming! (Thanks, New Yorker)

And that was just this week. It’s kind of funny, actually (if anything about this Corona Crisis can be funny), but I’ve been feeling more connected than ever during these weeks of isolation.

Somehow I thought that isolation would be more, well, isolating. But, as it turns out, I’ve got my coffee with the ladies on Mondays, my art lecture on Tuesdays, my Family FaceTime on Wednesdays. And this week, I’ve added a Cocktail Hour with my Bridge Buddies on Thursday. I hardly have time for those endless hours of curled-up-in-a-big-chair-under-an-afghan reading I’d pictured myself doing.

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A Merry Minimalist Christmas

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‘And a Happy New Decade’

Yes, yes. I’ve told you enough already about the Downsizing. (For those of you out of the loop, blogwise, The Dude and I are soon to move from a normal-sized New York apartment to what I call The Ken and Barbie House. Which is itty-bitty, to say the least. And I do mean the least.)

Floorplan of K & B House. Yes, that’s a 6×6 kitchen

But have I told you about the Staging? In order to move into the teensy apartment, we have to sell our normally-sized apartment. And, in order to sell it, our arms were twisted to Stage it. “Staging” means you, basically, get rid of anything in your home that gives any clues to your personality: photos, artwork, memorabilia. This also (at least in our case) meant getting rid of anything that provides comfort and coziness: carpets, pillows, lamps.

Stripping the living room. Only things left are the piano and the cat bed

“Our” living room, after the Stagers had their way. Sigh

Living in a staged apartment is rather like living in a hotel room. The stuff isn’t yours (those are rented couches; the coffee table isn’t ours either) and god forbid you spill anything. It’s also rather echo-y and noisy, what with the carpets and curtains gone. And don’t get me started about where on earth to put a cocktail — all my end tables were banished.

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So far, so good

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’Wise words from my mom, the Birthday Girl’

I just love birthday parties. Especially when they are somebody else’s. In my personal opinion, birthday parties are just absolutely the best. (Weddings are a close second — or, hey, maybe even a tie.) With both, you get to celebrate a happy event, see a ton of friends and relatives — then you get to eat cake and make a bubbly toast.

This particular birthday was my mother’s (gasp) 90th, and we got to eat cake twice — while making multiple bubbly toasts. The first time was on her real, actual birthday last Wednesday, October 9. (The way-cool picture at the top of this post featuring my Two Favorite Women in All the World is from that happy occasion.) And we got to do it all over again on the weekend at a big Open House we held for family and friends.

Zillions of friends and ka-jillions of relations prepare to eat mucho cake and sip major bubbly

In case you’re wondering, my mom won’t mind me giving away her age. Not this time, anyway. She used to quail at being asked, “How old are you?” She, like me, was brought up to consider this an incredibly rude question, but you’d be surprised how many people — people who do not work for the DMV or even the Social Security Administration — ask it.

My mom used to answer Rude Age-Asking People by counter-asking, “Why do you want to know?” Which worked. Sometimes. For tips and pointers my Mom taught me on how to handle awkward questions, see my story titled, (naturally) “Why do you want to know?”

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Who wants to go on a Walmart Run?

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‘No, my hometown didn’t have a Costco’

When I was growing up Midcentury-Modern Style in the Midwest, my very small home town had a main street with a few stores (and several taverns) on it.

If you wanted to, say, buy a Christmas present for your mom (Evening in Paris was a popular choice), you’d take your allowance or your paper route money and go to the Dime Store. (Ours was a Ben Franklin, but we always called it the “Dime Store”.) Which was owned by a really crabby guy who totally didn’t like kids and would follow you around like you were going to shoplift. There really wasn’t any other option.

Then, sometime after I’d gone off to college, a Walmart came to town. It was out on the west end by the Dairy King (totally different from the Dairy Queen). A (gasp) Walmart.

My Personal Family. In the front yard of the house I grew up in — in my Walmart-welcoming home town

Did my town protest? Did they try to keep that Walmart out? No way. They welcomed it, big-time. I remember reading a Big Story about its Grand Opening in the local paper (which I subscribed to because I worked there during the summers.) And it was only a matter of time — and not much time, either — before everyone was shopping at this new Walmart.

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Dad and the Magical Mystery Trolley

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‘It’s been ten years since he rode off into the Sunset’

Ten years ago tomorrow (June 12, 2009, it was) my Dad was pretty darned happy. He’d made it to 80, and he was the guest of honor at a big ole party at the assisted living place.

Oldest Younger Bro Scott (and me) at Dad’s Big Birthday Party. This is, famously, the Last Photo Ever Taken By My Dad. He borrowed my camera and shot it from his wheelchair

Dad loved living there, which may seem hard to believe. But he was kind of like their Prom King; he ruled at Scrabble and Rummikub and Trivial Pursuit, but mostly he regaled his co-residents and fans with jokes and stories. He knew lots of jokes and stories.

Dad was a whiz at games. And only partly because he cheated

Yes, Dad cheated at games. He would reach into the Folger’s can where we kept the Scrabble tiles and sort of “Braille-read” the letter faces for the Zs and Qs and Js. He had a very good sense of touch. Which did not diminish with age.

Anyway. Dad was living at the assisted living place because he’d been diagnosed with dementia. It took a long time for him to be diagnosed. Those of you familiar with dementia (so sorry if you are) know that it can be notoriously difficult to pin down. One of the symptoms is a bad temper (though they call it “agitation”), and, bless his heart, my Dad had rather a short fuse his whole life. (He used to explode if somebody scraped a pan or chomped a raw carrot or served him semi-thawed-out-frozen-for-economy’s-sake-bought-in-bulk-from-the-factory-store Bunny Bread, for example. And this was when he was, like, thirty.)

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Nope. It’s not the sport with the pointy orange ball

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‘I become a Blazers Fan. For a few days, anyway.’

There’s a scene in a Woody Allen movie where Woody’s character is making nervous small talk with a woman on their first date. He asks her what her favorite sport is and she says “swimming.” “Swimming?” he sputters. “Swimming? Swimming isn’t a sport. Basketball is a sport. Swimming is what you do when the boat sinks.”

My Mom, ready to swim. ‘Cause it looks like that raft’s ready to sink

Well, I was always kinda with the date on this one. I’ve never been that into team sports. Not even when I was at the University of Missouri, which was, and probably still is, a Big Football School (Mel Gray and John Matuszak ate in my cafeteria). I used to gamely sit in the bleachers with my eventually-to-be-First-Husband-the-Frat-Boy, guarding my nylons from splinters, corsage pinned to my insubstantial breast. Surreptitious sips of Mad Dog 20/20 helped. Sort of.

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Strolling The Prom

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‘Yet another trip down my personal Memory Highway’

It might be only a tad wider than a sidewalk, and just over a mile long, but The Seaside Promenade — lovingly dubbed ‘The Prom’ — is jammed with traffic. Memory traffic; for me, that is.

As you Faithful Readers know all too well by now, I was raised, Midcentury-Modern-style, in a small town in the Midwest. It was a nice enough small town, but as it happened, all five of us Henry Kids scattered to the four corners of the country pretty much as soon as we could get our respective acts together.

The small-towny, rather Carlyle-esque house where my parents lived in Seaside

And, a decade or so after the last of their brood flew the coop, our parents too pulled up stakes (I’m dizzy from mixing metaphors here) and relocated to Seaside, Oregon, an unassuming small coastal town that one of my beloved-and-hilarious Younger Brothers immediately christened “Carlyle-by-the-Sea”.

We had an Old Crab or two in Carlyle, too

Similarities? Lutheran Church with coffee hour: check. Library where they forgive an overdue book (or two or five): check. Neighbors who don’t mind if you “drop in”: double check. Plenty of local character(s), too. Carlyle had Skinny Man and Skinny Lady and That Guy Who Rode His Bike Everywhere (when I was a kid, a bike-riding Grownup was definitely considered a “character”); Seaside had Bubble Man. This was a guy who rode a bike-like contraption that spit out bubbles. I never actually saw him, but my brothers swear that he existed.

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