The Last Supper

767 Dorchester Wpg.

767 Dorchester was an old house with a wonderful interior layout located in a quiet neighbourhood of Winnipeg. It was white with green trim and had flower boxes under all the many windows. I needed ninety-eight geraniums for planting the boxes every spring. It was a sight to behold. I would plant a hundred pots with cuttings and have those on the wide window sills indoors in preparation for the next season. Just imagine how long it took every day to water all those. In full bloom, they made the house look ‘rich’.

A bright hallway and a wide stairway leading to the second storey were the heart of the old house. Through French doors on either side of the hallway, one entered into a huge dining room on the left and on the right into a most charming living room with lots of windows and an open fireplace. A built-in breakfast nook in the kitchen was one of our favourite spots. All our family meals were served here. It was the children’s place to do their homework while I was preparing our meals. There was an ancient sink in the middle of the long counter, an old ‘rounded’ fridge and a more modern stove.

1-image0-001All of us loved this old house! Mr. Moffat had rented it to us. He not only came to collect the rent every month but occasionally stopped by to say ‘hi’ and chat. He always complimented me on the work I did in the garden. Spring flowers were followed by colorful summer flowers and big sunflowers stood guard. The tomatoes, thriving along the sunny side of the garage, still tasted like real tomatoes.

One warm July day Mr. Moffat turned up and was greated with welcoming smiles. But that day he seemed uneasy. He even sat down for tea and after a few minutes, he told us he was selling the house. He was giving us three months notice to find another home. I lost it and completely broke down. I cried and begged him to sell the house to us but, sadly, it was out of his hands. A lawyer had bought up the houses next to us. Our house was the last in the middle of all the others. Mr.Moffat said he had held on as long as he could. The houses would be demolished to make room for an apartment block. What a shame. It was heartbreaking.

We went house shopping and in the end decided to buy a bungalow from a builder in a suburb called ‘Southdale’. We were promised the house would be ready for move-in on October the first. The children started school in our new neighbourhood in September. Driving the kids to school each morning I loaded the car with ‘stuff’and brought more boxes in the afternoon when I  picked them up. Our friends Inge and Peter had offered their garage as a storage place. They had also bought and lived there already. Only our big pieces of furniture remained for the moving company.

Our last meal before the big day consisted of leftovers but I had baked an apple pie for desert. I had left the baking oven door slightly open so that the heat could dissipate but I did leave the pie in it. For the children, playing outside, the backdoor was always open. My husband and I drove out to the new house with the last boxes. When we came home I closed the baking oven door and started cooking. The family was sitting around the table in the ‘nook’and chatted excitedly about moving and sleeping here for the last time. I served dinner and switched the baking oven on to warm up the apple pie. We loved hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream! At last, I could sit down and start eating myself.

I was restless and got up again. My husband was annoyed. “Why don’t you finally sit still and eat, you drive me nuts…”

767 Dorchester entrance

Just to prove something I went to check the pie. I opened the baking oven door and stumbled back screaming as our neighbour’s cat jumped out of the hot oven and almost into my face. The cat ran like crazy for the back door, scratched the screen and meowed loudly. What if – oh my God!

The pie was half eaten. The other half went into the garbage. Luckily the cat lived and there was only vanilla ice cream for desert. I was so shaken up that I was in no condition to even eat my dinner.

Kids and Kittens

Kittens - 2

Me – feeding our cats sausage

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.

Kittens - 3

My greatest love

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.

Sister Edith with Mom's new cat

Sister Edith with Mom’s new cat

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.”