My mother had been an elementary school teacher before she married Dad, and she brought her training into my young life.
For instance, my Grandmother collected alley cats, tempting them with bowls of water and milk and sometimes pieces of chicken. They roamed around her back porch, awaiting opportunity.
One day Mom, pregnant with my little sister, spotted an expectant cat at Grandma's house, grabbed her and took her home as a lesson. The cat, a half-tamed creature from my Grandmother's colony, squirmed but my mother convinced her to come inside. Then she broke down the pregnant cat's resistance by feeding her chicken. The big black cat with odd white markings agreed to stay. She even allowed herself to be petted.
Mom trained me, at five years old, and my older sister Margaret, almost 10, to be gentle with our new pet. We named her Wiggle, which is what she liked to do to get out from under our hands.
When kittens popped out of Wiggle, Mom called us to watch, which I did with attention. The kits, wrapped in skin when they popped out, hardly moved as their mother ate that skin off. It looked disgusting, but I said nothing; for all I knew Mom had eaten the skin off of me when I burst out.
The four kitties, one boy and three girls (Mom explained how she knew) took after their mother being mostly black with white patches. We named them One, Two, and Three. The fourth cat, mostly white, we called Petunia. My favorite, I played with her the most.
A month later, the kittens had grown enough so I could chase them around the house. I chased Petunia into the kitchen when I heard Dad's car in the drive. She followed me into the screened-in porch. When I heard Dad whistle, I raced out the door to greet him.
I heard the screen door bang shut, but not quite. When I turned I saw Petunia's head caught in the white wooden frame.
"Oh, Daddy!" I cried.
"Don't touch her," he said. He opened the door slowly. When he picked Petunia up, her head fell over.
"Broken neck," he said.
"Is she dead?"
We took Petunia to Grandma's house to the corner of the lot for burying cats. Dad dug a big hole, laid my sweet pussycat down inside it, and let me toss in the dirt to cover her.
For months afterwards, every time I passed through that screen door I kicked it, wishing that Mom had taught me less.