Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, growing up, history, memoirs, personal history, pets, Uncategorized, youth

Reigning Cats and Dogs, etc.

I’m not really sure where Smoky came from in the first place, and I’m even fuzzier about where he ended up, but it all started with him.

I was five years old when Smoky came into my life. He was my first kitten. He was small, all-black and had those little bright kitten-eyes that win you over along with those irresistible squeaky mews from a little pink-tongued maw.

From a very early age, I exhibited a love of animals. At the Immaculate Heart Day Nursery where I spent my happy pre-school days, I was known for my commanding performances of “Clarence, the Cross-eyed Lion” from the television show, “Daktari”, which of course involved crawling around on all fours and roaring.

I also loved to visit the animals at the small zoo at High Park in Toronto, and feeding the ducks of adjacent Grenadier Pond was the highlight of my days.

The very first movie I was ever taken to see in a theatre was the 1966 flick, “Born Free” about George and Joy Adamson and their pride of lions. I was five years old and it made a huge impression on me, so much so, that I desperately wanted to have my very own cat. That was when Smoky came on the scene.

All I can recall about the little black fella was that he loved to scale the drapes and secret himself away in the T.V. set to sleep beside the nice, warm tube. I have no idea how or when Smoky disappeared from my world, but he did! What I rather suspect is that there was some sort of overheating issue inside the old G.E. television set that nobody told me about.

In any case, we moved from Toronto to the suburbs and it wasn’t long before my whinging got to my dad’s soft heart and another creature came to live with us. This was the start of many a phyla to grace our home at number #### Triangle Road.

After Smoky, the first cat to come calling was a stray. She was a short-haired gingery tabby and she was hanging around our back porch. This had nothing to do with the fact that I was putting out saucers of milk every night, honest.

I begged to be allowed to keep the stray, but despite my pleas, my mother held firm against the idea. My dad was a bit more pliable.

It was Good Friday and I was at the bottom of the street visiting with my friend, Frances when the telephone rang. Her older sister, Rachel said it was for me. When I took the receiver, I was surprised to hear my mother’s voice say, “Come home, we’ve got a surprise for you.”

Well, no points for guessing what the surprise was; the stray-cat was in our kitchen lapping up a bowl of milk when I walked in the front door. I called her “Tammy”. I don’t remember why.

Tammy had a short and infamous time at our house. Looking back now, I can see it was because my mom had issues with a non-existent condition she believed Tammy had. The cat merely cleaned itself fastidiously, as felines are wont to do, but the excessive licking of her fur drove my mother to distraction and one day, Tammy was swept up and taken to the nearest shelter to be adopted by a more tolerant and deserving family.

A number of critters were introduced to erase the loss of poor Tammy from my memory: there was a fish called, “Goldie” or something equally inspired, and a turtle named “Sam”. Why a turtle would be deemed to have such a name is now beyond me, but that’s what I christened him. Perhaps it was taken from one of my favourite books, “Green Eggs and Ham”.

I can still recall the almost tender feel of Sam’s teency claws pinching my flesh. He had a very inauspicious life of floating about in his plastic dish, clambering up his plastic ramp and sunning himself under his plastic palm. It was sad when one night he hoisted himself over the plastic wall of his dish to make his big break for freedom and ended up dried out under the sofa. Of course you know what happened to “Goldie”—belly-up and the old flusheroo. Sam, being easier to handle, was buried in a cardboard box, in the backyard.

When my best friend Janey, next-door, got a kitten and named it Elsa (after the lion in my beloved “Born Free”), it wasn’t long before I had my dad driving me to the house where they got her so I could pick out one for myself. So began the “Misty” era.

Misty, was what they call a mackerel-tabby, in England. She was blackish grey with prominent striping—a real beauty! She was a lovely puss with a friendly disposition and when she was old enough we got her fixed. Problem is, the “fix” didn’t really take. When the “heat” was on in the Springtime, the local males were still getting a whiff of Misty and coming around to leave their calling cards—a bit of their singular scent along the sides of the house, in the bushes—everywhere! It wasn’t long before my mother got wind of the situation and started working on my father to do something about it. Before long, Misty was taking that all-too familiar trip down our driveway, and out of my life! I still swear she was sitting in the back window meowing for my help. I cried all night long.

You do get over these things and it really helps when your dad lets you get not one, but two budgerigars in their own fancy cage with perch and seed feeder and some sort of bone-thing to sharpen their beaks. Of course, being from a Catholic family, they had to be Christened with the names of saints (that’s the rule, didn’t you know?) and so they were called Peter and Paul(ine), after two of the most important apostles.

Budgies are fun. They are noisy and chipper, they sing sweet songs and you can carry them around on your index finger or your shoulder or even on your head. My birds were a beautiful cerulean colour with black and white striped heads and long tails. They had a good life. We treated them well, kept their cage free of their grey poop and fed them all that birds love to eat. Everything was just dandy until my dad thought they might like to go outside in the backyard for a bit to get some fresh air. He carted their rectangular cage out the door, through the garage and into the backyard and rested it on a chaise longue.

The fresh air went to P & P’s heads because they went mental! Somehow, one of them sprung the latch on the door and the other one beat it open. Off they flew, never to be seen again. Well, at least one of them was never seen again. The other one ended up on a neighbouring street in the house of a girl who lived across from my one of my school-friends. I know this because, while I was visiting Jane T. and we were playing outside, a neighbour-friend of Jane’s started talking about how they had found this blue budgie outside and now it was in her room and she was keeping it. It was hopeless to explain; she was never going to give it up and how could I prove it was my Peter, or Pauline?

That’s how why we turned once more to cat ownership. We’d just come back from a vacation visiting my mom’s family in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and I got the notion to have another cat. There were lots of kittens at a farm near my cousin’s cottage on the Bras D’ Or Lakes, and I came back from the trip with a bee in my bonnet. My father, helpless against my pleas/tears gave in and we got a gorgeous silver tabby and called him Fourchu (sounds like For Sha) after a small town in C.B.

Fourchu (now “Forche”, like “Porche”) was a real charmer of a cat. He was cuddly, loving, fun to play with and would let you do anything to him. Sadly, he didn’t live too long because he developed a urinary problem that plagues many male cats and at the time, we (and apparently vets) knew little about how to treat it. It was recommended that we add tomato juice to Fourchu’s food, but I know now, that’s probably what did him in. After a hellish time, he had to be put to sleep.

One of my memories of Fourchu was how he used to sit atop the aquarium that housed our gerbils. My dad outfitted the glass case with a wood-frame, wire-mesh cover and Fourchu would lie on the mesh and make whimpering noises while the inhabitants bounced up and down and bumped his belly with their nubby noses.

In fact, that may be how Sneezer got his nose infection. He used to rub his nose furiously with his front paws until it bled. It would scab over and then he would start again. He was one of a trio of gerbils. My dad named them, “Caesar, Beezer and Sneezer”, partially after one of his favourite off-colour ditties from his British Army days. I googled it and can’t find any reference, so maybe he made it up. It went something like this: “Julius Caesar lit a beezer, off the coast of France”. I don’t know anything beyond that because whenever he started to tell it, he would end up gasping with laughter and not being able to go on. It was his little private joke.

In any case, Caesar, Beezer and Sneezer were so-monikered and they became playmates for me and my sister, Nancy. We didn’t buy plastic runnels and pods for our pets—no! We made them from scratch with empty tissue boxes and toilet rolls and our sleeves and pant-legs. If you’ve never had a gerbil run up your pant-leg then you’re missing out! It’s tickly and it makes you giggle and as a kid you actually believe the gerbils are having a whale of a time, but that’s probably just sheer panic that’s making them run like the devil, isn’t it?

Our poor trio came to bad ends. We had switched their abode from the aquarium to a nice wire cage with spinning wheel and Caesar got his foot caught and had to bite it off to free himself. He bled to death on the floor of the cage. We found him on Sunday morning upon returning from mass and running downstairs to check on our pack. I don’t know how many times he went around on his last ride; it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Beezer didn’t fare much better. My sister took him and Sneezer to school so they could be observed by her classmates and some bright spark of a thug-child dropped the brick that was holding down the lid right onto poor old Beez. I’m so glad I didn’t witness that.

Not really sure what happened to Sneezer. He probably just expired from sheer loneliness, or maybe his nasal infection finally killed him.

We had many pets in our house, and there’s more tales to tell, so watch this space..

Kat Mortensen©2009

Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, growing up, memoirs, personal history, Uncategorized, youth

A Kiss Is Still A Kiss

As a little girl, I used to love my Daddy’s kisses. He would come home from work and I would run towards him, fling myself into his arms and call out, “Take ‘er, Daddy!” He would scoop me up and plant one on me. I would laugh and then he’d put me down and give my mom a kiss. This went on for many years, until I was a teenager, I almost always would race up to my dad when he got home, give him a kiss and then go on my way. Even as a teenager and a young adult, I never failed to give both him and my mom a kiss goodnight. We were a very loving family.

Lots of people remember their first kiss. They treasure it along with the faded rose pressed between the old book on the shelf or tucked away in the corner of a “hope chest” in the attic. I’m not much of a sentimentalist. That’s not to say that I’m not emotional, or don’t carry memories in my mind, I do, it’s just that I don’t hold on to many physical mementoes and I don’t remember my first kiss.

Perhaps it’s because my first kiss wasn’t very memorable to begin with, or maybe because the person who gave it to me didn’t rank very high on my scale of desirability. More than likely, it’s because I soon afterward sent him packing – not for the kiss, but because I just felt hemmed in.

At the age of 15 I had my first date and although it was exciting to experience, I don’t remember being too keen to have a second one, at least not with that particular fellow.

I tended to hanker after the boys I could never have, thus rendering me safe to have my fantasies, but not ever to have to act upon them. It was a good method, especially for a Catholic girl who wasn’t supposed to get physical with boys in the first place. Of course, eventually some boys came along with whom I wanted to spend more time and eventually I quite enjoyed kissing. In fact, I would say that along the way I became quite expert at kissing. I grew to like it – a whole lot!
 
On the other hand, I was kissed by quite a number of boys who I never wanted to kiss again. If the kiss went badly, they were history! They probably never knew what had gone wrong and I sincerely apologize if I hurt their feelings, but let’s just say that if you had a moustache, or you shoved your tongue in my mouth, unbidden, or your lips were too dry, or too gooey, or your 5 o’clock shadow shaved the skin off my cheek, or you didn’t smell right – too flowery, or worse still, I tasted aftershave on your lips, then you’ve only yourself to blame.

I suppose I always gravitated to someone with a semblance of what my father had in terms of appearance and demeanour (although I would never have thought so at the time). My father was clean-shaven (and my mother and I made sure he stayed that way). Any suggestion of facial hair and my mother would harangue him until it came off.
 
If I was interested enough in someone to accept a date and that person did have facial hair, I either was just curious to see what it would be like to kiss them (not so good, as it turned out) or I had intentions of making them change it for me if I liked them enough. This rarely happened. The kiss with the hairy moustache usually resulted in the heave-ho.

Once, when I was quite a bit older, I was working in a school as a personal assistant to a blind student in Grade 9. I took a shine to his Science teacher, a fairly meek, reddish-haired, bespectacled and bearded man who was 11 years my senior. Every time he came around to give personal instruction to my charge, I would fairly gush over him – making huge gaffes in my speech and blushing beetroot red at the same time. I finally decided to take the bull by the horns and approach him. I believe I said something along the lines of “I’m quite nervous around you, you seem to like me, why don’ t we go out and see if we can overcome all this?” He was quite amenable to the idea and we went out for a nice Italian pasta dinner and to see a Japanese film.

I think what I liked about Mr. Science, was his intelligence. He had a not bad sense of humour and he was a perfect gentleman, but the age difference made me feel nervous because I really felt this guy was ready to take the big leap, if you know what I mean and I definitely wasn’t thinking along those lines.

After a couple of dates (on one occasion I happened to mention that I didn’t like beards, by the way), I took him to my favourite dance bar, and he stuck out like a big ol’ sore thumb! My usual crowd were looking at me like I’d brought my dad along and I knew that there was no way this could go on.

When Mr. Science called a few days later, I told my parents to tell him I was sick with the flu and couldn’t even talk on the phone!
 That night, I was in my room when the doorbell rang. I hung inside the doorway, listening while my dad answered (it was after dinner and rarely did someone just show up at our door). I could barely hear the conversation, but there was a definite exchange and then I did hear my dad say, “Oh, she’s sick with the flu – he could lie with the best of them when required – she’s in bed.” “Took one of those Nyquil things and went out like a light.” (My mom added from behind). Then I heard a voice say, “Oh, Well could you give these to her when she wakes up?” There was a rustling of paper and then the door was shut and the person was gone.

I heard my dad say something and then my mom came charging down hall to where I was cringing in my bedroom doorway. She had a huge bouquet of rosesin her arms.
She said, “You’re going to have to tell him you don’t want to see him anymore.” Then she started to laugh. I said, “What’s so funny?” She replied, “Well, I didn’t recognize him at first because he shaved off his beard.” I was stunned. I never thought he’d take it that far. I realized then that I’d made a narrow escape. This guy was SERIOUS!

I spent the better part of the rest of that school year, dodging Mr. Science by taking circuitous routes in and out of my blind-student’s high school. Eventually, he gave up on the experiment. He grew back the beard and everything was forgotten. We never did kiss.

When I was in a high school, a fairly decent looking guy I knew suggested we get together to “do homework”. I was game and invited him over to my house one evening. As I recall, he said he needed my help on an English essay, I didn’t suspect anything and, as I say, he was cute enough, so I went along with it.

Well, P came over and we did do a bit of homework, but he wasn’t really paying attention for some reason. I was right into the essay – would have got a good mark if it had been my own.

When it came time to leave, P was sitting on our landing at the top of the stairs to put on his shoes (my parents were in the family room downstairs watching t.v.). I sat down beside P, in a friendly sort of way – like you do, when suddenly he grabbed me, and pressed his lips against mine. It was only seconds before he was sticking his thick, sea-urchin-like tongue into my mouth. It actually made me gag! I pulled away and stared at him like he’d just walked in off the street. I’m pretty sure I said, “I think you should go home now.” (or something to that effect).
 
I even told my mother what had happened because quite frankly, I was disgusted! Fortunately, P wasn’t in my grade at school, he was a year junior to mine. It was easy to steer clear of him and that I did. He eventually got married to someone I always considered rather snotty and I often thought about how she would most likely spend the rest of her life kissing a mouth with a big, thick, prickly tongue. Better her than me!

Then there were they guys of whom you just could not get enough. Their kisses were the perfect combination of texture, pressure, intensity and taste. When your lips came together it was soft and tender at first and then deeper and fervent and finally, one of you would find a crevice between the top and bottom teeth and you would explore each other’s mouths like you were savouring a bowl of jell-o with Cool Whip on top. It was heavenly!

When you first saw each other, you watched each other’s lips move as you spoke, watched the corners of the mouth rise and fall, the teeth flash when they smiled. You conversed, but all you could think about was when you would come face to face and your two lips would meet. It drove you to distraction!

Sometimes, you would wait for that second meeting, but sometimes that was just impossible! You would be talking about some insignificant thing and one of you would move in a bit closer and then it would happen; your lips would touch and that would be it. The rest of the night you would spend in a back booth of kissing until your lips were chapped.
 
I was pretty forward for a Catholic girl. If I felt the molecular charge (and for me that was quite rare), I would act upon it, either by stating my feelings or by touching the person’s face. I was not afraid.

When I met my husband, back in 1993, it was a “blind” date of sorts because we met through a telephone dating service. It was de rigueur to meet in this way. There was no internet dating, no “e-Harmony” or “Tinder”.

Our first date was spent in an open restaurant in the middle of a mall. To say we got on “like a house on fire” would be an understatement. Every joke he told made me genuinely laugh; every thing I said, held his interest. We had many things in common, our upbringings, though at opposite ends of the city were very much the same and our cultural references, identical. We connected in a big way.
 
I felt an immediate trust in this new man I had only just met. I threw caution to the wind and even accepted an invitation to sit in his car and listen to his new “Waterboys” cd. (How bad could he be, if he liked them?)

True to my instincts, he was the perfect gentleman and we had great fun enjoying the music and getting to know one another. I came away from the date thinking, “I like this man. I’m not going to get carried away, but I DO like him and he’s a really nice guy.”

Strange things happen to you when you really have an attraction to someone. In their absence, they seem to be always at the back of your mind, your curiosity perpetually musing over unanswered questions: What does he eat for breakfast? Where does he go for fun? Does he like “The Cure”? What would he be doing right now?
 
The true test for me as to whether I really was in to someone was if I could see their face when they were gone. If I could envision them, detail by detail and feature by feature, they were in serious jeopardy. If their face became a blur, they were in for the long run. K had turned into The Invisible Man.

When we finally got together for a second date, we went to the movies to see Woody Allen’s latest, Manhattan Murder Mystery. It was a laugh and we both enjoyed it. I don’t remember whether or not we held hands or he put his arm around me.

On the way back to my house, I suggested we stop off at my favourite little Irish pub. When he parked in the parallel spot in front, we sat in the bucket seats of his white Toyota and listened to my current favourite classical piece at that time (I’d heard it on a skating competition), the Meditation from Thaïs by Jules Massenet, performed by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. I was always very moved by this piece and this time was no exception. I felt an exhilaration and my emotion was infectious for he was feeling the same way. Again, I decided to do something risky. Thinking of how date-night typically ends with that awkward moment where you have the first kiss, I said, “Let’s just get this kiss out of the way, so we can enjoy ourselves.” He was game. He moved in and I leaned over. Our lips brushed, lightly at first and then more insistently. It was just right. All the elements came together in perfect harmony. Who could have known that this was to be the first kiss with the only man I would ever kiss again in that same way?
 
Sorry, Mr. Science. It’s all about the right chemistry, don’t you know?

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, growing up, memoirs, personal history, Uncategorized

Golden Slumbers

I was very fortunate as a little girl to have parents who doted on me. At Christmas, “Santa” brought (almost*) everything I could wish for and on my birthday, I was pretty spoiled too. One of my earliest memories is of a big square cake with LifeSavers all over the top. It was a fantastic cake for a four year old.

My parents were very sociable people and probably because I was an only child, they wanted me to have a large circle of friends. When birthday time rolled around there was no hesitation about inviting some pals, having a big fancy cake, playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and sending everybody off with a bag of loot.

The older I got, the more elaborate the parties became. We’re not talking pony rides or clowns or anything like that (unless you count my dad’s general goofiness,) but the numbers increased, my dresses got fancier, there were more gifts and the cakes were even more fabulous!

My birthday is in late June, so summer activities and treats were always a part of things. We had a small bright green and yellow, rectangular plastic pool. It was the kind you put together rather like a tent, with metal poles and red plastic triangular corner seats. We filled it up with the garden hose and then, it was, “Everybody into the pool!”. Imagine a dozen little girls running around in little frilly bathing suits, some sporting tight rubber beflowered caps, and all shrieking at the tops of their lungs when they would dipped their little white toes in the frigid water. It took a while for the hose-water to warm up and then all the party-kids would jump in and start splashing about. Then my mom would appear with her special popsicles made from kool-aid and jell-o, so when you licked them, they would never lose their juiciness. Heaven!

In the 1970s, it became popular for kids (girls, particularly) to host and attend slumber or “pajama parties” and have guests sleep overnight, . For me, this had its good points, and its bad ones too, I enjoyed the “party” element, but the sleepover part was always troublesome.

I hosted my first sleepover when I was turned 8 years old. Everyone brought, groovy coloured sleeping bags and mine was a military blue with striped flannel inside. My father, who was ex-British Army, had sewn on elasticized straps at the bottom to secure the bag when it was rolled up. Ever the utilitarianist, he had used straps made from the waistbands of his old underpants. Sheer humiliation!

When it came time to go to sleep, we lay out our bags on the carpeted floor of an empty dining room because my folks were still in the process of furnishing our new suburban bungalow. We were all giddy with excitement at sleeping together in the same room and the chatter was noisy and incessant. After a few yells from my parents, the noisiness gradually faded and the girls nodded off one by one. Only then, did it dawn on me how hard and uncomfortable the floor was. I could not stop thinking about how my nice bed with the soft mattress and all my stuffed toys, was just down the hall.

Slowly and silently I unzipped my bag, grabbed my pillow and my teddy bear and sneaked down to my bedroom at the back of the house. I don’t think that move did much for my reputation. Everybody else woke up the next morning in a heap on the floor with cricks in their necks and sleep in their eyes. I emerged, bright eyed, bushy-tailed and ravenous for pancakes! As I recall, it didn’t take long for somebody to rat me out in class, I was a sissy from that day onward.

Turns out, not only could I not sleep on the dining room floor, but on a number of occasions I bailed out in sleepover situations. When my parents went to a dinner party at my friend Donna’s house, I was all set to stay over, until I heard Mommy and Daddy preparing to leave at the end of the night. I could not let them go without me! I raced down the stairs with my little travel case all packed and said, in a small voice, “I want to go home to my own bed.” My parents were mortified, but they knew better than to argue with me when I had made up my mind.

On another occasion, I was to stay at my girlfriend Janey’s house, just up the road. We had a nice dinner, watched some t.v. , and played a fun game, but when it came time to go to bed, I lost my nerve and Janey’s mom had to call my dad to come and pick me up and take me home. I was never invited to stay over again.

I bailed on my best friend, (another Jane) next door. When my dad put up the army- issue pup tent in my backyard, we got our sleeping bags in, crawled inside, nattered on about nothing for ages and then she fell asleep. Good thing my parents didn’t lock the back kitchen door because there I was, pillow under one arm and teddy clutched in the other, waiting to be let in like a lost dog in the rain.

Thankfully, there was a cut-off point for these events; once you hit high school age, it was uncool to have pajama parties.

Nowadays, I find sleep is very fragile as you get older and I still much prefer to sleep in my own bed than anywhere else on earth. As far as sleeping bags or camping are concerned, don’t even go there!

*See sidebar for “The Easy-bake Oven Mystery”.

Kat Mortensen ©2009

Posted in Uncategorized

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back!

Welcome Back to the 60s, 70s and 80s.

About 10 years ago, I wrote a regular blog entitled, “Poetikat’s Invisible Keepsakes”.  It began as a vehicle for poetry and ended up being a daily journal filled with photographs, stories, memes, recipes and yes, lots of poetry.

One of the offshoots of this blog was in the form of memoirs of my childhood and youth, which I called “Blasts From the Past”.  I wrote regular “blasts” consistently from late 2008 until the end of 2010.  This was a great unburdening for me, prompted by the death of my father in November of 08.  Not that I had horror stories of my childhood at home, it was merely that many of my experiences of growing up came to the fore after such a great loss.

Now, with the recent death of my dear mother, earlier this year, the need to create and find catharsis in my life is very strong.

Only this morning, I read a nifty little poem by my blog-friend “scooj”, who maintains “Natural Adventures“, about the abject fear he had as a child when he was learning to swim.  I immediately felt the strongest affinity for this piece as I too, was terrified of the water.  Recalling a post from “Blasts  From the Past”, I dug it out of the WordPress archives and reread it, giggling to myself all the way.  It was then that I decided to re-vamp all those old posts from a decade ago and clean them up to present in a new blog.  Thus, “In Hindsight” has been born.

I hope the anecdotes and observations to come will interest and strike a chord with the people who deign to read it.  I swear, every word is true!

Kat