Thursday, February 16, 2017

Genealogical Journey: All My Cats Earned Their Keep ( Part 3) by Mary S. LaGoy

This is the third and final part of Grandma's story with my edits in italics.

My success with Bucil Boney's education prompted me to institute an informal routine for training all feline members of the household.  After being housebroken, a laving amount of flattery developed their interest in shaking hands.  More flattery, to which I finds cats rather susceptible, induced them to jump over my clasped hands, a stick or a litter mate.  Next they learned to beg, at which, to the unprejudiced, they appear more graceful than dogs, nature having more adequately screened their exterior genitalia.

Usually they then learned other things, depending on individual aptitudes, and several went in for self-education.  For example, "Smoky," a big blue female, assumed the role of my body guard.  One evening she accompanied me to the mailbox, where she sprang at and frightened away a strange, non-feline male who accosted me.

Despite the tradition associating cats with spinsters, in due time I married and had children.  For a few years there were no cats in my home in upstate New York.  One bitterly cold March day, however, my young son entered the kitchen, partly carrying, partly dragging a big, tortoise shell female, splashed with buff color, "as though a squash pie had been dumped over her."

"Isn't she pretty, Mother?  I think she's freezing!" the little fellow coaxed. (My Dad Bill Lagoy was the young fellow.)

Sure enough, the reputedly "dumb" animal investigated the coal range, in which I had a banked fire. Finding the oven temperature to her liking, she stretched out to enjoy the warmth inside.  Though all the neighborhood children came in to view the defrosting creature, nobody claimed her, so "Calico" stayed with us.  Within a few weeks she had six kittens to shich she proved, according to an elderly neighbor, "a better mother than most Christians."

That was my son's first encounter with newborn kittens, and his enthusiastic fondling was quite rough. Though she was concerned, their mother was too gentle to scratch her benefactor.  Therefore, I steeled myself for some character building.  By pulling the boy's hair (gently)--you know she gave it a good yank!-- I made him realize how he was hurting the kittens.  Then, through the nursery rhyme beginning:  "I love little kitty....."taught proper handling.

I love little kitty, her coat is so warm, and if I don't hurt her, she'll do me no harm.  So I'll not pull her tail, nor drive her away, but kitty and I, very gently will play.  She shall sit by my side and I'll give her some food; and kitty will love me because I am good.  I'll pat pretty kitty, and then she will purr; and thus show her thanks for my kindness to her.  I'll not pinch her ears, nor tread on her paw, lest I should provoke her to use her sharp claw.  I will never will vex her nor make her displeased.  For kitty don't like to be worried and teased.  

There may be other ways to instill kindness to animals, but this one worked.

Though calico was fully grown when she came to us and I never attempted any training, she untied one knotty family problem.  During the Depression, when my babies were arriving, cod liver oil had been prescribed for me.  As I could afford only the cheap, most unpalatable kind, my distaste was projected to the children, with the inevitable daily struggle to get them to swallow their rations.  One afternoon, however, when I accidentally spilled some oil, the cat licked it up with such relish that the children decided it must be delicious stuff.  Each day after that my young fry vied with each other over serving Calico, at the cod liver oil party which I staged.  

Outstanding among Calico's kittens was a yellow male of such outgoing personality that he inherited the name "Bucil Boney II."  He was not handsome, but outsize ( possibly due to his mother's party attendance) weighing 14 pounds at maturity.  And he displayed a high I.Q.  One day, as I reprimanded my son for some misdeed:  "I've told you, over and over, not to do that!" the big cat began throwing himself about on the floor.  "Look, Mother!" interrupted the culprit, "Bucey knows what 'over' means!"

Again the cat responded and, alas! the attempted discipline turned into applause for the cat's trick.

As that feline extrovert enjoyed performing, I taught him a routine which impressed even our non-cat loving friends.  As soon as guests arrived, our Barrymore would join the group in the living room, where he would strut back and forth until he attracted attention; then extend a paw to be shaken.
While I threw him cues, the cat would lie down; fold up his paws, roll over; sit up to beg; jump over an obstacle, and as the grand finale, run to each of my children as I directed:

"Go to Billy."

One of his half-sisters, "Fusty" of the aggressive nature, helped us raise chickens during the war.  She alone, among our five dedicated rat slayers, was entirely trustworthy in the rat-infested barn where we had to keep our hens; or in the coop where our neighbor kept racing (carrier) pigeons.  One spring my children persuaded me to let a broody hen set on a clutch of (21) eggs.

Fifteen chicks broke their shells on schedule and were instantly seized and killed by the rats.  After that I installed Fusty as baby-chick-sitter.  When I checked later, there were six dead rodents on the floor and that many live, newly hatched chicks with the hen; in spite of which that ungrateful critter was ruffing up her feathers, with intent to drive away the poor, misunderstood cat.

A calico cat of another dynasty contributed to my first success in growing Annual Sweet Peas.  At a resort where I worked one summer, a cat named "Cookie" was to be humanely destroyed because the owners were going south for the winter and hadn't found a caretaker.  Instead, I took her home.

Though the cat was clean and affectionate, I presumed she was too mature to be teachable.  Late in the fall she had five kittens, which were too young to go outdoors before cold weather arrived.  While I fretted about getting them housebroken, their mother taught them to use her pan of sand.  She took one kitten at a time, galloped the length of the house with it, to the back door leading to an enclosed porch where the accommodation was kept.

The sand was regularly emptied into a hollow spot in our yard.  In the spring I planted the sweet peas there.  All through the blooming season, which was the longest I ever saw, I could not determine which provided more enjoyment:  the fragrant abundance of flowers which resulted, or watching the kittens batting at my choicest blooms, as they played games among the rows.

And who had a better right?

Though I never developed a talking cat, like the fictional "Tobermory," nor the counterpart of an Obedience-Trained Dog, in one way or another, all my cats paid for their milk and meat.

Your's can, too.  Try them!

                           - The End -

Aimed at McCall's Magazine.  Alternatives:  1.  Red Book   2.  Suburbia Today

Photographs suggested to supplement "ALL MY CATS EARNED THEIR KEEP":

1. Kittens playing games among rows of sweet peas.

2.  A grown Siamese cat on a girl's shoulder, and a young animal investigating the young lady's shoe laces.

I googled " Tobermory" and read the short story by Saki.  It tells the tale of a cat who a man has taught to speak in perfect English.  Initially when the scientist makes this claim, people scoff at the idea.  Then when someone actually engages in an actual conversation with the cat, everyone suddenly becomes interested, until Tobermory begins to tell things they'd rather not have revealed in public. The cat probably should have been taught manners and the consequences of repeating what was overheard.  

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