​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​CHAPTER 1. FELINE RETROGRADE

    A flashback to an impoverished  mid-1950's farm in Nebraska. The author shares the farm life and establishes the basis for her fear and hatred of cats. 


    The author begins life's great adventure, leaving the farm behind, establishing a career, and reuniting with friends  who introduce her to their cat who makes a profound impression on the cat-hater. 


    After time in Alaska, in a marriage, a divorce and finishing college, the author relocates to central Texas and settles down in her own home, a home, she realizes, that needs a cat. 

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Austin, Texas. August 1987.  Since succumbing to Princess’s gentle paw, for the first time in my life, I went hunting for an animal.  I had now become more and more animal-oriented and even the thought of cages filled with lost, lonely, about-to-be-killed animals made me physically queasy, so I had to find another way to find my little girl. 

       I couldn’t afford a purebred, but I was sure someone had a nice little girl cat to give away. But week after week, no cat of any kind appeared, not at my door, not in the newspapers, not from the community bulletin boards, not from word-of-mouth advertising. My original shopping list read: “Wanted: Free, six-week-old, tame, affectionate, healthy, smart, purebred, female Siamese” but had grown shorter each month I had impatiently waited. It now consisted of  “Cheap female cat, preferably Siamese.” I tried to be optimistic, but that optimism was burning as low as an old light bulb. 
As I headed home from a long Saturday of intensive new-house furniture shopping, I wasn’t thinking about my cat shopping list, just about how tired my feet were. Then I saw the blinking signboard in front of Palmer Auditorium announcing Cat Show Today!  I felt a spurt of energy kick in when I read the words. I’d never heard of a cat show–-dog show, yes, but-—cat show? Did they race them? Have them do tricks? Maybe they sold cats at a cat show! The car behind me honked as I stomped on the brakes and made a sharp right into the parking lot. I found a space in the sparsely-occupied lot and rushed to the ticket office.

     “Is there still time?” I asked the ticket taker. Was my treasure inside this auditorium?
     “Another hour. They’re still doing judging,” she assured me. Judging what and how? I plunked down ticket money and trotted inside.
      For most of my life, I had carried the idea in my head that felines were the most despicably evil creatures on earth, had hated their slinkiness, and their staring eyeballs with the snake-slits in the middle. And now, here I was, voluntarily paying to go into something called a cat show because of that long ago, one-night-stand with Princess.
Was I crazy? Or had I truly had a revelation?

     As I walked into the auditorium, I realized there were all kinds of people who loved, or at least liked, cats. They were sitting, strolling, and standing by cat cages that displayed discrete For Sale signs followed by dollar signs with three-digit numbers before the decimal. These cats were expensive! Booths lined the perimeter of the cavernous auditorium, one next to another, all filled with cat toys, cat trees, cat clothes, cat food, and cat miscellany, all promising pampering for kitties and fun for their humans. I was getting excited as I meandered through the rows of tables, all topped by wire crates. I might find myself a cat here. It might happen. Today! I could return the side table I’d just bought, and I’d maybe have enough money. Maybe.
     At one side of the arena, an audience sat on brown metal folding chairs, watching as a male judge in a red vest stood behind a table where purple, blue, red, gold, and white award ribbons covered the blue tablecloth. I sat down to watch. He snared a cat out of its cage and inspected it, opening its mouth, checking the teeth, stretching the tail out. Brave man!
      I asked the woman with cat earrings sitting next to me what was happening. “The judge is assessing the cat’s tolerance for being handled. He’s checking the breed standards for the way its head is shaped, the body length, and general configuration.”
     “I never knew there were so many kinds of cats. What kind is that?” I whispered. I’d never seen one like it—--all white, with long and silky-looking hair, and a smooched-up face.

      “A Persian.”
      “Thanks for explaining. My first cat show.” I smiled at her. She was already turning back to the stage and didn’t respond.
I’d always heard that cats were standoffish; maybe their owners were also.
      The judge held the cat up horizontally at eye level—the way I’ve seen prize-winning fish measured—--stretching it out to its fullest length. He pulled and turned and twisted the poor thing this way and that, turned it on its back in his arms, and finally set it down on the table. The official picked up a stick with a feather on it and shook it. The feline obligingly reached a paw out for it. The judge picked up a purple ribbon and handed it, along with the docile cat, back to its grinning owner. The audience clapped. 
      I knew this was good, but had no idea why the cat won an award except, perhaps, because it hadn’t scratched or bitten the judge.
Such passivity! Did they dope them?These were more like stuffed animals than live ones. I mentally compared them to the screaming devils on the farm and wondered how all of them could be members of the same species. I watched awhile, then became bored and went back to wandering. The array of so many breeds, the ribbons on the cages, and the prices left me stunned. No longer would I think of a cat as just a cat. I revisited some of the cages and studied the cats and the breed names, the exotic sounding names, and the lithe, graceful, calm, and beautiful animals. Had these cats been clothes, they would have hung in Saks Fifth Avenue, with diamond collars attached. I needed something from the Salvation Army. We had been selling the wrong thing on the farm—---these cats were worth more than our cows had ever been. 
      Disappointed from my impromptu and unfruitful shopping, I headed toward the exit. It was probably better that I hadn’t found one. After all, really, what did I know about taking care of cats after only a few hours of exposure to Princess all those years ago? I had some learning to do before I actually became a caretaker. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to have a cat. I could try getting a dog. I’d have to fence the yard--—that would be expensive, though. I needed a reason to exercise, and I could walk a dog. I shuffled toward the exit, tired, let down, and now eager to take my aching dogs home. 
      As I neared the door, I glanced at the large wire cage sitting on the floor out of the way of the foot traffic. At first I thought it was empty, but then I saw a huddle of small white kittens piled up in a corner behind a hand-lettered sign, “Siamese Kittens $20.” Twenty dollars! I had just passed cage after cage with price tags of hundreds, even a few of them for thousands of dollars for fuzzy, flat-faced cats, for cats with leopard spots, tail-less cats, no-hair cats that looked like little aliens, and now, here were kittens, Siamese kittens, for $20!  I tried to tamp down my excitement. Had the fates decided I was ready to be a cat mom after all?
      A jeans-clad woman sitting on a chair off to the side of the cage appeared involved in her novel. As I bent over to get a better look at these white kitties with faintly gray ears and tails, one of them—--there were four in all—--unraveled itself from the pile, stretched its front legs way out in front and pushed its butt into the air for a long stretch. Then it folded itself back into a cat again and strolled to the front of the crate. It stopped in front of me, sat down on its haunches and pushed a paw against the grating as though trying to touch me--—or grab my swinging necklace. I straightened, and the cat again made pawing motions against the enclosure, now standing up on its hind legs. I stared at the Texas-sky blue eyes that seemed to be fixated on me.
      I felt like this animal wanted my attention. It was choosing me, wasn’t it? The sign said Siamese, but it didn’t look at all like the beautiful Princess. But it had come right toward me! I watched as the tiny thing put all four feet on the floor again, then moved over a few inches to the food bowl. It nosed around, looking for just the right bite of kibble, like a woman choosing just the right pearl. I was hooked on this hungry kitten that wasn’t trying to sink its claws into me.
      Okay, so, maybe I was about to make a purchase, even if it wasn’t a Siamese look-alike. I no longer had a list of demands, and the cat filled the cheap requirement. 
      “Excuse me,” I directed at the woman who was still engrossed in her book.
      “Can I help you?” she inquired with disinterest, lowering the book but not getting off her chair.
Maybe she was just cat sitting and the owner would come back later?
      “Uh, what kind of cats are these? It says Siamese, but they aren’t, are they?”
      “Yes, Seal Point.”
      “Seal Point?” I could feel my face wrinkling into a frown. “Aren’t Seal Points dark buff cats with black ears, legs and tail? And a mask, a black mask?”
      “Not as kittens. These are only eight weeks old. They don’t turn their adult color until about six months and, eventually, the white body turns taupe, and the light gray points turn black, and you have a Seal Point Siamese.”
      “Why are these so cheap? What’s wrong with them?” I asked suspiciously. I didn’t want to start out with a sick cat, not on my budget, even if these were by far the cheapest things at the entire show—--maybe cheaper than a bag of cat food, and available, and right here in front of me now.
      Apparently sensing a way to get rid of one, the seller got up and moved over to stand beside me, brushing her bangs away from her forehead. “Nothing’s wrong. They’re purebred, but not show quality. I’m a breeder, and I can’t keep cats I can’t show.”
      “Why aren’t they show cats?”
     She shrugged. “The markings are wrong, the bone structure in the head a bit too round. They’ll be fine as house cats, and they have the great Siamese personality. I’m going into breeding the traditional triangular-head Siamese instead of these Appleheads.”
      I stood silent, trying to make sense of what she was saying while simultaneously debating my next move. My feet hurt, I was stressed and ready to go home, with or without a kitten—--the kitten that was now lapping delicately at a bowl of water, its little pink tongue flicking in and out, acting unconcerned about my decision.
I’d probably imagined it wanted me.
       “Is it female? Do you have a female? I want a female,” I told her firmly remembering my shopping list. If she didn’t have one, that would take care of it. I’d wait.
      “These are all male.”
      I could feel my dream evaporating. I bit my lip, considering. “All of them?”
      “Yes. Why do you want a female?”
       “I’ve heard they’re more affectionate.”

       “In my experience, it’s just the opposite. The females are fiercer hunters, but the males are more likely to be lap cats.”
      I didn’t want a male. I remembered those disgusting, humping male dogs on the farm. But suddenly, impatience and proximity overtook caution. I wanted a cat now. I’d been waiting a long time. My house needed a cat. I needed a cat. And here was one in front of me, I could afford it, it had put its paw out to me … 
      Suddenly, I flashed back to a special dress I had needed for a date. I’d visualized it clearly in my mind, but after checking every dress store in our little town, I admitted defeat. My perfect dress didn’t exist. In desperation, I finally chose a second best. I bought it, and the dress turned out to be perfect, better than the one I’d originally envisioned. My date had loved the color, talked about it matching my eyes, and he kissed me that night. Hmmm. Maybe there was a lesson there.
      I decided in an instant. “I’ll take him.” 
      After all, I just wanted the cat for company. And this one seemed OK so what did it matter if it was male or female, Siamese or barn cat? I’d get it fixed or whatever they did so it wouldn’t hump anything or dispense babies. I had felt good when the cat had reached out its paw, like that time in fourth grade when the team captain had chosen me ahead of the other, bigger kids for the first time. Being chosen “not as the leftover one” was good. 
      I pointed to the kitten that had finished eating and was now strolling back toward the nest. “How can I get him home? I didn’t bring a cage.”
       “Oh, I have a cardboard carrier. He’ll be fine in it.”
      The thought struck me that she was giving it away like an extra newspaper, of not much value and with no heart connection. What was wrong with this cat? Why would she sell a $200 cat for $20 unless there was something wrong with it?
       “What’s your return policy?”
       “I guarantee all my cats to be healthy for a month.”
      “What if he doesn’t like me?”

       “Oh, he will. Siamese are very affectionate.”
       That made me feel a little better--—it was good to have an edge. I watched as she snared the little rat-sized body and dumped it into the cardboard box with the air holes on the side. While I held the top flaps down, she put a couple of strips of packing tape across the top and then wound some twine around the box—--up, down, and over—--then tied it.
       Buyer’s remorse and a sense of inadequacy crept in as I watched her. I didn’t even know the questions to ask to get the answers I probably needed to care for him. He was so little, what if I stepped on him? How would I even know if he was sick? I really didn’t want a male cat.
       I just needed to leave, just turn around and go and … . The seller gestured that the cat was in the box, all wrapped up and ready for me, the gift to myself. I forked over the last bill in my purse, hoping that the cliché would be true, and I didn’t realize how little I was paying for a lot.
       With my purse hanging off my shoulder and my arms wrapped around the box, I headed for the parking lot. The box shuddered. I rebalanced the load and speeded up. The container dipped and shook again, and a cat yowl floated out from the air holes. That kitten couldn’t have weighed two pounds. How could this box be so heavy, so noisy? I prayed I wouldn’t soon be chasing a tiny animal around the huge parking lot.
       I had a cat! Now what was I going to do? Before I could figure it out, the box gave another shudder and started tipping out of my arms. I righted it again with my knee and rushed the few yards to my car. I had a cat! I felt my heartbeat pick up speed.
Ohmigosh, what had I done? I was totally unprepared for this. Please let me learn to be a good mom, don’t let me mess it up. I felt my heart beating faster and felt the big smile on my face. It was the best shopping day of my life! I had just purchased my long-sought-after dream.


Photographs are the property of the photographers, and may not be copied, printed, or otherwise reproduced on any other site or used in any other publishing medium without the written permission of the individual photographer: Betty Bobo, all photos of Texas scenery;  Deanna Chesnut, all manuscript, photos of cats, books, and people. ​Copyright 2017 USA




(We'll be there before school starts!  =^,_,^=