Cats were always around when I grew up. Mother had her cat ‘Molly’, Father had a gorgeous but fairly old cat ‘Peter’ he had owned already as a bachelor. Granny, who lived in the “Granny flat” part of our house, had a cat she called ‘Katzi’. They all were free to come and go and also choose who they wanted to play with, or sit with, or be stroked by. Katzi and Molly preferred to stay away from us children. Essentially they were “mousers”, – meaning they were not ‘house cats’. Tthey lived in the barn or stables of our small farm, hunting mice and rats. Sometimes Father would put a cat down into the root cellar when he had seen mouse droppings. They did a rather good job in doing what they were supposed to do. They did not eat all they hunted. Sometimes Father found a row of dead mice or rats lined up, the cat sitting there, looking up at him expecting a ‘thank you’, which they promptly got in form of words and strokes. To me it always seemed his strokes were worth more than ours.
My cousin Renate’s cat had several young kittens when I was nine. My sister Christel and I each got our very own little kitten. Christel’s cat was all black with yellow eyes; mine had a white underbelly, white boots on its hind legs and white shoes on its front legs. She otherwise had a mottled grey coat, but also had one white ear and a white nose. I called her Mooshie. I loved her more than my dolls. Often I dressed her in doll’s clothing and let her sleep in my doll carriage. Once, she got scared and jumped out and tried to run away. She repeatedly stepped on the dress she wore and tumbled about. It was very funny and we laughed heartily. My father happened to see the cat and gave me a good lesson: “If you love Mooshie, you won’t do that again. If she has to defend herself she will not be able to do so and if she climbs up a tree she will not be able to come back down.”
That happened in the same year when my mother’s cat Molly had a very bad eye infection and my father had to shoot her. It disturbed me greatly. He explained he was being kind to the cat. He cried when he shot his own old cat, Peter, a year later, when it was full of arthritis and could not walk anymore. Peter looked my dad straight into the eyes as if he knew what was coming. It was a very emotional moment for me. I will remember the expression in Peter’s eyes forever. I always wanted to have a cat like him.
One sunny afternoon we older kids were sitting on the broken steps leading up to our house and talking about this and that. The weather was very warm and we were bored. Looking up I saw my cat, Mooshie, coming towards us carrying what I thought was a mouse. She came right up to me, put the little thing down in front of me, looked me in the eye and said, “Meow” with a question mark.
“Mooshie”! I called out, “What is that?” She looked at me again and, after another “Meow,” left us, walking away purposefully.
We were amazed, not bored anymore. I picked up the little squirming thing and everyone agreed it was a baby kitten. It did not even have its eyes open yet, was naked and looked weird. After a few minutes, Mooshie came back with another one. She repeated the scenario with the “Meow” and left again. This happened two more times. When she had brought four of those little critters, she stayed with us and started licking them. Mother had heard our excited voices and had come to see what caused the racket. She was very helpful and understanding when I said I needed to have a bed for the little cat family. She brought a carton and an old baby blanket. We made a little nest and placed the kittens in the middle. Mooshie jumped in and curled around them. The babies found the food supply and suckled. It was fascinating and we watched for a long time.
It must have been a week later when Christel’s black cat, “Moorly”, a sister to mine, had babies as well. She had been smart and had them in Christel’s doll carriage in the house. She refused to move out of it, scratching and biting. None of our cats was allowed to stay in the house overnight. Even when it was raining or snowing, they were grabbed from the warm cozy place on the sofa or on a lap and heartlessly placed outside the house door. Father or Mother, whoever did the deed that evening, would put us off with, “There are enough warm places in the stables and barns; they know and they’ll be all right.” Christel agreed to have her doll carriage put in the barn so that the cats could stay in it. The bedding was all ruined but that was no big problem. It was simply replaced when Mother knew Moorly was in the house for her milk. The cats always got milk and the same food we had.
It was fascinating to us how they developed from little naked blind mouse-like beings to the cutest playful kittens. Day and night we were talking and thinking of our little babies, no more boredom, and naturally we assumed we could keep them all. What a shock when our parents explained to us it wasn’t possible, – all of them needed to go to other houses. One by one they were picked up and we shed a tear or two when it came to the last one. Our only consolation was we knew all the people and they promised we could come and visit any time. I don’t remember if we ever did. The bombing had increased and the on-ground fighting of WWII had entered into Germany and everybody had other worries, even we children had to face it. Life changed dramatically.
Those were the cats of my childhood. The story is an excerpt from, and you can read more of the particular time in my book “We Don’t Talk About That”. There were other cats in my life later: Prince Eugene, another Mooshie, Minka, Max, two little goats and several poodles. But they will appear in my second book, the sequel to “We Don’t Talk About That.”
Your story reminded me of my childhood, living on a farm in Saskatchewan in the 40’s and 50’s. Our new born kittens would get a mysterious illness called the ‘George sickness.’ We had a hired man named George but we children, all eight of us, never put two and two together. The day came when my eldest brother found four little kittens’ bodies. He had been milking the cows and after mucking out their stalls had gone out back to the manure pile and there they lay.
We children were devastated! And to learn the truth about the ‘George sickness’ was terrible. What kind of person could do that? We simply could not comprehend it. That night none of us could eat our supper and we all cried ourselves to sleep.
In those days, kittens lives had no value. They showed up regular as clockwork and there was no one in the country to take them in as all the farms had the same problem. There was no money for veterinary bills for cats and no room for sentimentality on the farm. Those were NOT the ‘good ‘ol days.’
Yes, – but that was reality. There were always plenty of cats. When one died or got sick nobody would spend a penny for a veterinarian. We didn’t even know what that was! I learned later we had been lucky we found homes for all of them but during the Russian time, after being evicted the first time but coming back, you wouldn’t see a cat or dog around. My Mooschie showed up but was extremely shy and we wondered how she had managed to avoid the “field kitchens”. But on a farm there were also other ways kittens disappeared. Owls for instance. We had foxes come and take chickens but I don’t know if they would take kittens. Your George should have made sure you didn’t see them…that was a cruel way to learn about it.
As always, I’ve been transported to another time while reading your story, Giselle. I didn’t have pets as a child – but my children did. We always had two cats, although not always the same ones!