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

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