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Betty Newsom

© Copyright 2000 by Betty Newsom

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One summer my husband and I and our four children camped, in our fold down canvas top camper, in my parents back yard for a few days. My mother warned me to keep my children away from a stray calico kitten because it was limping and she was afraid it might be sick.

We placed our fold-out camper under an old apple tree next to my great grandparents’s antique barn. The next morning we discovered that the little calico kitten, who limped and might be sick, had managed to climb up on the camper step, jump several inches up the metal side of the camper, wriggle under the snapped-down canvas wall, jump up and curl up in bed beside three-year-old Kenny.

My husband and I carefully looked her over and decided she wasn't sick but just had a sore leg. Every night the small kitten found a way to climb into the camper and sleep next to Kenny. When we returned home we took her with us.

I don't like to give a new animal a name until I'm sure it's not going to wander off so some time went by before the little calico kitten received her name. One day, while I was folding clothes, I was thinking about a name for her and thought we might call her Lovey. Later that day, since the kitten had adopted Kenny, I asked him what he thought we should name her. I was surprised and pleased when he said, "Lovey".

Of course, that became her name.

Lovey was a lot of company for Kenney when the older children went back to school. One afternoon, when she was almost full size, I looked out in the front yard and realized that there was something unusual about her that day--something quite different. Kenny had taken eight BAND-AIDS and stuck them all over her fur coat.

I didn't know what might happen if Lovey tried to lick or scratch them off. I wasn't brave enough to go outside and start ripping BAND-AIDS off a cat, so before she could start trying to pick at them herself, I took my scissors outside and cut the hair underneath each BAND-AID and lifted them off. She went around looking like an awful "bad hair day" until all of her fur grew out to the same length again.

One day when I was alone in the house I heard a terrible commotion out in the garage. When investigated the noise I found Lovey howling and jumping around trying to kill a fishing rod. Every time she jumped or hit it the rod would slam against the wall. She must have tried to play with the fishing lure on the end of the line and it had stuck in the bottom of her paw.

There are a lot of things that I wouldn't volunteer to do. Tackling an outraged cat, in severe pain, to remove a three-barbed fishing hook from her paw is high on my things-I-really-don't-want-to-do-list. However, since I was the only person at home, it automatically became my job.

I wrestled Lovey into a bath towel with only her head and the harpooned paw sticking out. I placed her on the washer, in her terry cloth strait jacket. Talking very sweetly and confidently to her, I pried the hook out of her foot. She licked the paw clean and it didn't become infected. That evening I delivered a stern lecture to the boys about removing all lures and fish hooks from their lines, before they put their fishing poles away.

A few years later we built a new house in my great-grandfather's woods, just across the field behind my parents' home.

Our calico cat, Lovey, had returned to her place of birth, but it wasn't an easy journey for her or for me.

The day she returned to her birthplace I fastened her in a box in the back seat of my station wagon. As I was driving down the road she clawed her the way out of the box and terrified, agitated and howling, she started bouncing off the seats and windows trying to escape. I drove very slowly the last five miles of the ten-mile ordeal, with Lovey clinging to the back of my seat; with her front claws embedded in my neck and shoulders.

When we arrived at the woods I put her in a wire chicken pen under a big tree. She lived in the pen for three days until she calmed down. When she realized that all of our family was staying in this place and that this was now her home as well, we set her free. She was fine after that.

Time passed and Lovey became a mother.

Our new house had a cement patio just outside the dining room door, and the dryer vent blew warm air out across it. During the cold months, Lovey and her kittens gathered at that corner of the patio and let the warm air blow over them. Even after the dryer had shut off, they would huddle together on top of the warm spot of cement.

It was a good arrangement for the adult cats, but unfortunately the little kittens liked it, too. When the dryer was off, the kittens liked to crawl into the four inch aluminum exhaust pipe. As they grew bigger, they could no longer turn around to crawl out so they had to back out. They looked funny scooting out of the dryer vent backwards, decorated with lint fuzz.

I became concerned that some of them would get stuck in the pipe and we wouldn't be able to rescue them so we placed a wire cover over the vent. That allowed the warm air to escape and eliminated the possibility of our kittens suffocating inside the narrow pipe and it still allowed the cats their sauna-like experience on the patio.

Most cats seem to be instinctively drawn to dark, narrow places. We had a large stack of firewood by the barn that the kittens liked to climb on. When they were little they could crawl into some of the spaces between the chunks of wood to hide and take naps. As they grew bigger, they would sit and stare at the woodpile. They seemed to be trying to figure out why they could no longer jump into their kittenhood hiding places. The woodpile still looked the same as it always had to them. They just didn't realize they had outgrown the small cozy spaces.

Most of Lovey's kittens grew up at our home in the woods. At one time I counted seventeen cats on the place, even though we were very generous in sharing them with our family and friends or a friend of a friend or a rumored friend of a friend’s friend.

Before Lovey’s next-to-last bunch of kittens arrived, she became bigger and bigger until she looked like she had swallowed a soccer ball. When she finally gave birth there were eight kittens. Four were calico-colored like Lovey and the other four were a variety of colors.

When all of them tried to eat at the same time, the bigger ones would crowd out the smaller ones. While Lovey was out on a hunting trip, we fixed a second box and put the four calico kittens in it. When she came back inside the garage/family room, she carefully looked over the new housing arrangements and accepted the two box system. After that she divided her time between the two boxes. We referred to one box as the "Calico Room" and the other box was called the "Nursing Home".

The eight kittens must have worn her out. Her last litter was only two babies. When they were about three-weeks old, I left for church one afternoon driving our pickup. I stopped at a restaurant thirty-five miles from home and when I opened the truck door, something fell out onto the parking lot. It was one of the little kittens! When I put it back in the truck, I found the other one behind the seat. Our pickup had been parked out by the trash barrel that afternoon, and Lovey must have moved them in when the doors were left open.

I was thirty-five miles from home, and still twenty miles away from church. I wouldn't be going back home for several hours and faced a whole evening, trying to care for two tiny nursing kittens that barely had their eyes open. I went on to church and while I was there, I spooned some diluted milk into their mouths several times. When I returned home, Lovey was sitting in the driveway looking for the mobile home she had moved her family into. She was glad to see me coming down our road and turn into the driveway.

After that episode, we were careful about keeping all vehicle windows rolled up and the doors closed. Even then, while the kittens were still small enough for her to carry around, I always checked behind the seat before I left home.

We never learned what finally became of Lovey. When she failed to show up to eat we searched for her but couldn’t find her. We lived in a thick woods in the country, surrounded by farmland. She enjoyed complete freedom to wander around as I don't like to keep animals cooped-up inside of a building. One summer day she had unexpectedly limped into our lives and twelve summers later she simply walked out.

Lovey has her special place in our hearts. She was a member of our family and she can never be replaced.

I am the mother of 4 grown children and grandmother to twelve. Cats have always been a special part of my life. I love books. I write a human interest column (nostalgia, pets, kids, humor) for The Republic, a daily newspaper in Coumbus, Indiana. Besides being addicted to reading I also love to crochet and do crafts.

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