When I was about six years old, we moved to a suburb of Houston. Every lot in our neighborhood was two acres of land, and there were many fields in the area where the weeds were higher than my head. Our new neighbors across the street gifted my oldest sister with two cats, a male and female of the same litter. The male was black, with a white triangle outline point above his nose, the point ending on his forehead and the lines ending on either side of his nose. He was named Punch, but he was short-lived, being hit by a car only a few days after getting his new home. Perhaps he was trying to visit his mother.
The other cat was named Jemimah, and to this day I believe her to be possibly the prettiest cat I’ve ever seen, save one. Calico colored from head to tail, with a white ruff at her neck and white socks, she had quite a personality! Jemimah made herself quite at home, and before long was entertaining male suitors. Her first litter was eleven kittens in all, and in quite a range of colors! Among others, there was the extremely long-furred orange cat, the short-haired tabby, a replica of punch, and one kitten that took Jemimah’s beauty crown. This female was never named, but she had beautiful soft gray fur, with a mix of longer, pure silver hair. She also had a white ruff, and she was absolutely gorgeous!
Jemimah was truly the matriarch of all she surveyed. She had a grace and sense of pride. We fed our cats and dogs our table scraps (and with twelve kids, there could be a pile of scraps!), and in the evening one of us would go outside and call “here, kittykittykittykitty!” until the four-legged furballs would come screaming in from every corner of the globe. One night, Jemimah failed to arrive, and I held the best scraps for her. “Here, kittykittykitty! Heeeeeere kittykittykitty kittykittykitty kittykittykitty kittykitty!” I called, but still no Jemimah. I decided to call one last time before forfeiting Jemimah’s dinner to one of her many progeny. “Heeeeeere kittykittykitty kittykittykitty kittykittykitty kittykitty!” I called one last time, and just as I was turning to scrape the plate, I saw our momma cat out of the corner of my eye. She was running at top speed, just a blur as she slipped under the fence gate and, still a blur, she saw me watching her. I could hear the brakes go on as she screeched to a stop. She sat on her haunches, surveyed me briefly, and then proceeded to wash her face and ears as I watched in amusement. When she finally finished her ablutions, she then sat there, just far enough away that I had to go to her to feed her, and waited on me to wait on her. Obviously, her pride was damaged by being observed doing something so ungainly as running to dinner!
She was the ultimate kitty momma. She was prone to stealing the kittens from the other cats’ litters, and one summer we had to raid her nest to retrieve the kittens she had stolen and return them to their rightful mothers. Only once did she refuse to accept a kitten. When the drop-dead gorgeously grizzled gray cat turned out to be a neglectful mother, we tried to put her babies in with Jemimah’s litter, but she refused to feed them; instead, she moved her kittens to a new site. We tried in vain to save the babies, but they were too young and we were too inexperienced. I cried as one by one, the beautiful kittens succumbed to starvation and died. We never figured out why Jemimah had such antipathy towards her daughter, but of course, that is a secret that Jemimah took to her grave. After her litter and the death of her kittens, the pretty cat eventually wandered off somewhere, never to be seen again.
Jemimah, always tried to get into the house to have her kittens. We always knew when it was her time – not just because she resembled a furry barrel with legs – but because she always found a way to sneak past someone and run for the carpet under Mom and Dad’s bed. Once there, she’d dig her claws into the carpet and refuse to budge. We’d eventually entice her out with some cat food. Once we got our little grubby hands on her, we’d very gently and carefully pick her up (she loved to be cradled, so we had to flip her on her back, and doing that while she was so pregnant required some care) and carry her lovingly outside – then QUICKLY close and lock the screen door so she couldn’t streak back inside the house!
Jemimah made sure that her babies knew their business! I remember being outside one summer twilight, and turning to see Jemimah walking toward the fields behind our house, with her retinue of kittens trailing her obediently. We never had rats on our property near our house. Jemimah was fearless, even taking on our neighbor’s German Shepherd. Bullet never lost the scar left by our cat, as she tried to take his nose off one day! The only time I saw here running from another creature was the day the mockingbird chased her across the yard. They had both decided to set up housekeeping in the tool shed, and the mockingbird would have none of it. She chased our cat across the yard each time Jemimah went back to get one of her kittens. Eventually, all of her babies were ensconced in their new home – in the weeds along the septic line. We had to be very careful about mowing the grass for a while!
Jemimah was for a time, my best friend. As a child, I faced my share of tribulations, and I would pick up Jemimah and cradle her, scratching her ruff and sharing my problems with her. She never gave me solutions, but with her I always felt wanted. As a matter of fact, she had problems letting me leave! If I tried to remove my hand from her neck, she would place her front paws on my wrist and pull it back down to her neck for more scratching! She was a cat who knew what she wanted! I spent many an hour in our backyard, her paws around my hand, sharing my tears and talking out my issues. Every child should have such a pet!
Her offspring were varied, but there was always a theme to the litters. Her litters tended to be large – her first was eleven babies! Orange was a popular color, as was gray (tabby) and calico. And in every litter there would be a kitten with that Punch-like triangle over the nose – sometime white on background, sometimes a dark triangle. They all lived, except for one litter which was smaller (she was much older at this time), only about four kittens. They were all calico, and they all were stillborn. I can only imagine that they were male calicos, which, I’ve heard, don’t usually survive. There was one kitten that made it through the birth, but not the first few weeks. It was a strange cat, with fur that looked like someone had snatched patches from the other cats and stuck it on her while blindfolded. She had a gray tabby patch on top of her head, a triangle above her nose, calico splotches (the same calico colors as her momma) on her body, with patches of orange and silvery gray thrown randomly here and there. I really wanted to see what she would look like as an adult, but alas, my younger sister, in her enthusiasm for the new kitties, accidentally killed it as she tried to make a new shelter for them with some bricks. Poor girl, she took our anger for a while, and she felt absolutely horrible about the whole thing.
As I grew older and became more engaged in my school activities, my younger siblings began to take on the chores of feeding the cats and such. Busy as I was with band practice, etc., I did not realize that Jemimah wasn’t at home for several days. I was told that she had been disappearing a few days at a time. It turned out that she had adopted another family nearby, and was spending time with them! Traitor! But I smiled and returned to my busy schedule. One day, Jemimah just stopped coming back home. I preferred it that way – not having to see her die, not having to bury her as we cried. In my mind, she’s still out there in the field somewhere, catching rats and raiding some neighbor’s affection.
It’s so much better that way.