Thursday, August 29, 2019


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.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Enlightening Ruby

I sat in my living room, doing little or nothing, when my big orange tabby cat, Ruby, dashed across the floor in front of me. Her hind legs pumped like crazy and her front paws slapped as though she chased some little critter. Maybe a mouse. I couldn't tell.

A little while later she raced back, legs and paws flashing, but this time I saw clearly what she was chasing: nothing. Nothing at all.

I laughed. I'm willing to put money down that she learned that from me.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Tango

"Dance lessons in there?" I squinted out the car window as Mama stopped before an old Alma warehouse. She nodded.

I eased into the brilliant afternoon sunlight, ambled up well-worn steps and yanked the door open. The huge dark room looked empty. Slowly I saw other high-school girls, a big brown box of a record player, and the instructor, Mr. Romero. He'd come from the South to teach us. Once a week, for a month. That was the deal. 

I knew how to bop the polka at barn dances with skinny stone-faced mustached men, but dapper Mr. Romero specialized in ballroom dancing.

He put on Big Band music. "We'll start with the fox trot. It's a closed position." He grabbed me and held me close. I heard my girl friends giggling, then he let me go. 

We girls coupled and held each other tight."Now slow, quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, that's right." His foot tapped in time. 

The fox trot proved great fun. Who wouldn't like to scamper to the fast tempo? I'd sweat out my blouse's arm pits by the time we left.

Next week we learned the quick step, danced with wild swinging arms and side kicks. Mr. Romero taught us walks, runs, turns, and when we'd learned those, he showed us locks, hops and skips.

The third week, he taught us to waltz. "It was the scandal of English society in the 1800s," he said. 

We danced with each other. "1-2-3-, 1-2-3-" He barked out the time.

"Smooth," he cried. "Long flowing movements."  

We glided around the floor, trying not to bump into each other.

"One last lesson," he said as we streamed out of the warehouse. "Next week, the tango."

No one showed up for that last lesson but the teacher and me. Mr. Romero carried on as though everyone had come. He put on the music. He described the dance: a passionate, sensual form. 

"You pick up your feet when you tango, like the stalking action of a cat." He showed me. "You turn to the left, then to the right." 

We began, his fingers delicate on my back, my hand clasped his. He led with the slightest touch. 

Our bodies swept across the floor, turning and leaning, our feet in an odd backward walk that felt just right. 

We merged with the music, with each other. Time stood still.

Then the lesson finished. Mr. Romero packed up his big brown record player and shook my hand. 

I never saw him again, and I never again danced the Tango, but they remain a sensuous part of my life.

Oh the Tango, the Tango, the Tango, its bliss, its elation, its exuberant euphoric feeling, his fingertips on my back, our bodies moving so delicately together, touching but but not intersecting.

Years passed before I perceived that such ecstasy is not the norm but the exception.