My Early Years with Cats (and Mum)

My Early Years With Cats And Mum

At the time that my Mum died, my niece and nephews were too young to know how wise and funny Mum was, so I wrote a document to try to tell them about her.

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The following is an excerpt from that document.

We grew up a couple of doors down from a veterinary surgeon, and for some reason, there would always be animals wandering through our backyard. It seemed natural to us that if there was a Vet, there were animals.

We weren’t allowed to have a pet because we lived on a main road and it would get run over, and what would happen when we went on holidays? So Mum and Dad’s ready refrain was “Don’t encourage it!” Nevertheless, Mum had grown up with cats, and knew all about them.

We couldn’t stop ourselves from trying to pat any cat that ventured into our yard. There was one particular poor cat – all he wanted to do was to lie in the sun on top of the shed in the far back yard. All we wanted to do was to touch him. We couldn’t reach the top of the shed, but we made enough of a kafuffle trying to reach him, that he would melt into the trees on the other side of the fence, safe from our prying hands. We called him Fatso. I realize now that he wasn’t fat at all; he was a light grey longhaired tabby, and he just had a lot of hair. Such is the naming ability of a six -year old.

The far backyard was a second backyard behind the formal one. There was a mulberry tree that, during my childhood, was great for climbing. There were a few orange trees and a banana tree that our Grandfather planted. There was also the “fire”. Back then it was okay to burn weeds and such in one’s own backyard, and this was the pile to leave the weeds so Dad could burn them when he got around to it.

My brother wtih a stray

My brother with one of the strays, with the mulberry tree in the background.

I was helping Mum to carry weeds down to the fire. I was about 6 or 7, so I probably wasn’t much help. On one trip, I couldn’t believe my eyes – there was Fatso lying in front of the fire. I dropped the weeds that I was carrying and ran for Mum. Mum approached Fatso carefully and touched him. She told me he was not well. She said that even though he was afraid, he knew that we would look after him. She sent me for an old pillowcase, and she wrapped him up and took him to the Vet. Fatso didn’t come back, he was indeed very sick. I was amazed – my Mum knew what Fatso had been thinking!

Mum was so wise, she just knew everything. I remember my sister and I were telling her about a cat we saw, and we must have been munching on something at the time. She said, horrified “You weren’t eating in front of a starving animal, were you?” I froze, upset that I had not thought to share. In my young mind, this translated to: share whatever you have with the cats you come across. So that meant the cats were given a diet of iced vo-vos (cookies) and Mum’s homemade pumpkin scones, and even a slice of leg ham that was meant for Sunday lunch.

Mum knew about cats’ digestive systems too. We found a cat, another tabby, that we named Noodles, and Mum must have considered that Noodles really needed help, because she produced some milk and a little meat. We were on the lawn by the playhouse. Noodles gratefully tucked into our offering. I was absolutely fascinated when, after Mum said that the cat’s tummy probably was not used to food and “wouldn’t know what to do with it”, poor Noodles brought it up again on the grass. She could tell the future!

One of the friendly strays.

Years later, Mum gave me a book about a cat. But she had glued together about 30 pages because something awful happens to the cat!

If she had chosen, Mum could have been the world’s most successful house thief. At the sound of Mum’s voice, guard dogs that were alert and ready to bark and bear their teeth found themselves sitting, their ears down, waiting for Mum to touch them. And as she moved away they would watch her a little forlornly, wanting her to hang around and pay them the attention they craved.

In my twenties, I worked at the Sheraton Hotel at Ayers Rock for a year and a half. At that time, there were not too many amenities at Yulara, the village 22km from the Rock, where we lived and worked. The milk came in once a week from Townsville (of all places), the food that was trucked in for our little supermarket had defrosted and refrozen several times, so was quite often not suitable for eating. No fresh bread or fruit and vegies. No hairdresser, and if you want your shoes mended, you put them on a bus to Alice Springs (300 miles away) and hope they came back. A good place to get to know yourself, let us say.

Ayers Rock, as it was known then, from the air.

Ayers Rock, as it was known then, from the air.

Mum helped me survive Ayers Rock. There was no TV, only movies piped in from the hotel. This was fine, although, I know the same half hour of certain movies because that’s what was on when I got home from work, so I saw it over and over. I used to make a mental note – I must watch this movie from the beginning some time. And there was no radio until 6 weeks before I left. 8HA Alice Springs. They used to cross to Dapto for the races, and they had the hide to say that Dapto was out in the sticks!

Mum would tape my favorite shows, like MASH and Magnum and would send the video tape to me with other little things, like Column 8 out of the Sydney Morning Herald, or Good Weekend magazine. These packages were the highlight of the day, and all my friends benefited too. Mum very carefully hit “pause” for the ads, but we asked her not to (which was much easier for her too) so we could see what was going on in the world.

One day I picked up a parcel and was walking back from the Post Office with my friend, Alfred. Of course, I couldn’t wait until I got back to work to open it. I fished out a video tape, which had what appeared to be sawdust all over it. I said to Alfred, “Funny, Mum doesn’t usually do that, and it’s probably not too good for the tape.” I spoke to Mum later on that evening, and I asked her about it. She sounded a little surprised “Sawdust?” A pause. And then a laugh. She had sent a bag of cookies. They had been literally ground to tiny crumbs. Paul in the computer department didn’t mind eating them. She didn’t send cookies again.

Ayers Rock is definitely a place to get to know yourself. It’s like living on an island, except it’s surrounded by sand. Some of my friends would feel down, and they would want to speak to my Mum. She had a very motherly voice, and knew the right thing to say. Her favorite two sayings were: “Everything happens for a reason” and “Everything always works out.” And, of course, she is right.

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