Near West Neighborhood Cats

 

The Near West Side Neighborhood has been a cat neighborhood for as long as I’ve been around here.

From 1978-1982, my young son and I rented a house from John Layman at 706 West Sixth Street.  I had a few cats and my friend Marla moved to Canada and left her cat, Dumpling, with us.  Our neighbor Terry Morgan had a cat named Mama Baloney.

Several years after I remarried we began looking for a house in this neighborhood and we were able to buy a house back in the Near West Side in 1992.  I got to know lots of neighborhood cats.  There was Weird Al who lived with Linda and Mike, but who decided to move in to our house.  He lived with us for a few years until my son’s big black Lab came to stay with us and Al decided to move back in with Linda and Mike.

Judy at the corner of Eighth Street and Fairview had 3 cats, a lovely long haired Persian and two short haired black cat brothers.  One of the brothers had a neurological problem and he walked sort of sideways.  But he seemed pretty happy.

Miss Margaret, who lives a block north, has always had free ranging, glorious, long haired cats.  Her cats are 15 years old now.

There was a heart breakingly frightened long haired black cat who would not let us come near him, but he visited our back yard.  We had to put food for him at the very back edge of our yard so he could eat and not be afraid.  We fed him for a few years before he left and we never saw him again.

Our cat Pearl, who was a very sweet, but not a very smart cat, learned to climb and jump up on the roof of our back deck.  She would walk up and over the house roof to the front porch roof.  Then she would sort of forget how to get back for a while.  Many times neighbors knocked on our door to tell us Pearl was trapped on the porch roof and was meowing piteously.  We would thank them and tell them it was OK.  In a while, Pearl would remember how she got there and retrace her steps to the back deck porch and climb down.

Fluffy Harman was one of my favorite neighborhood cats.  She was mauled to death by the drug dealer’s pit bull when he got loose.  That whole horrid situation was finally resolved by neighbors working with the City, and the drug dealer and his dog went away and that old Victorian house was renovated.

Marti, who lives a block north and a couple of blocks west, has had several cats that I’ve known over the years.  Great cats.  Katua, Percy, Frankie and Mr. Gatto, who recently died.

Dave and BJ, across the alley, had Kit Kat who had a few serious arguments and scuffles with some of my cats over the years.

Thumbs is a sweet, champagne colored cat who lives a couple of doors east of my house and sometimes comes by to ask for bite of cat food.  I bring a snack to the front porch for him.  My old cat Pumpkin sometimes goes to parties at Thumbs’s house and my neighbor Zack sends me pictures of Pumpkin mingling with the guests at the party.

The point is that neighbors in the Near West Side have always had indoor/outdoor cats.  And the neighbors have always known and enjoyed each other’s cats.

Some people who have recently moved into our neighborhood are seriously disrupting the long time NWS cat culture.  They have cats that they keep confined in their house.  They are trying to make us all confine our cats because that’s what they believe is best.  It is cruel to confine a cat who knows and loves the outside world.  Cats are only partially domesticated animals and most of us love that about them.  Our indoor/outdoor cats will not trade all their wildness for cat food.

The gentrification of our old Near West Side neighborhood has caused physical and cultural dislocation for both people and their cats.  We are trying to work out livable solutions for both species.

Veda Stanfield for The Poplar Grove Muse

Aqua Net in the Produce Aisle

The lingering wisps of a woman’s hairspray waft over me in the produce section of the grocery store. I look up from the drippy heads of red leaf lettuce. I won’t find her. Still, I look.

Every so often, I am caught off guard by this smell. The truth is, I’m not sure what I’m smelling other than my grandmother. I breathe in her signature scent.

I am 4; she is visiting us in Virginia. I am eating a hotdog in the backyard. My mother runs into the house. Something Grandma said has made Mom sad. I tell her I hate her and run in after Mom.

I am 8. I want to go to a Bon Jovi concert with neighbors. Grandma is at the kitchen table and tells my mother I am too young. Mom sighs and says she’s probably right. I hate her again.

I am 12. I have traveled across the country by myself to visit Grandma and Grandpa in California. I am nervous, but find she is different this time. I leave feeling loved.

I am 21 waiting for her in the lobby of a hotel in London. Our vacation to England is where I return to most. We’re meeting, just us, for cheesecake and ice tea.

The elevator door opens. Grandma’s once tall frame hunches over; the top of her spine is curved. Her sun-speckled, papery skin draped in bright silks; she slowly makes her way into the lobby. Arms out a little, looking for something to hold on to, her thick snowy white curls are sprayed wild like the beach wind is her stylist. Orange lipstick stains the same thin lips I have. I stand and head towards her. As I get closer, I hear her trying to breathe. Raspy and shallow, she is known to alternate oxygen and Marlboro Reds in the same room.

Pete is her name. Mom says it’s because she was one of the guys when my grandparents were in college. She cooked for my grandfather’s fraternity, and they called her Pete.

There’s more to the story, I’m sure. I ask questions, but Mom’s not sure or doesn’t tell. She says my Grandmother is a very private person.

Back in the lobby, her gruff voice, and familiar phrase, “Hey, Kell Bell. What’s shaking?” makes me smile. I lean in towards her, help her steady herself. I inhale. “You always smell so good,” I say.

We head into the cafe, eat cheesecake, drink tea. I tell her about Clark, the man I love. She asks questions about him and what we’ll do after college. I make sure the ones I ask her are easy. I ask about her volunteer work, her friends, the weather. I wonder about the hard questions I have. I wonder about her mother and the stepmother her father married shortly after her mother died. I wonder about my mother’s childhood, the fragments of sad stories I’ve heard over the years. Why Mom often told me I had no idea how good I had it.

We don’t know each other well. This, maybe our fifth or sixth meeting, is one of a few of my memories. A handful more will come. Grandma and Grandpa will be at my wedding; she’ll move to Virginia, where Mom will mother her again. She’ll meet my son and later my daughter. We’ll eat sweets together, and I’ll tell her my stories. She will keep hers.

“Excuse me,” someone says as they reach past me for the carrots. I breathe in again. She is gone. I resist the urge to find the woman who carries her scent. I want to douse myself in my grandmother’s story. I want to know her. I wonder what would have happened if I had offered to listen.

~KGS for Poplar Grove Muse

www.curiosityencouraged.com

Big Love

We walk in circles
sit in circles
talk in circles.
We shoot hoops
on the basketball court
and bathe in the shallow creek
with hoots and hollers
as the cold water
kisses our bare skin.
We light candles
and pray in our rooms
one big prayer
of courage.
Then we listen
to the loud
bulging sound of frogs
and the persistent call of
the whippoorwill.
We are clearing
our minds and hearts
getting out brooms and rags
and buckets of soapy water.
We are packing up old books
and dusting off the shelves.
We are making space
to welcome what emerges
out of the crack
where our hearts have
split open.

By Laura Lasuertmer for The Poplar Grove Muse

Meditation on meditation

 

 

 

 

 

Empty your mind, they say.
Concentrate on a sound.
Let it go.
Find your inner…
Find
Look
Seek
Let it go
There is that irony
in deliberately
chasing
nothingness
In deliberately
emptying the mind
In controlling the body
so that the mind
may empty
as many describe it
Concentrate
but
let it go
Open that mind-fist
and let
the wind of thought
fly away.
Sit still
Go for a walk
Stand still.
Let it come
Let it go
I like it best
when surprise stops me
as I am busying myself
makes me take a second
and a third
and a fourth
and however many more
looks
at the wonder of what I see.
Not sought
but emerging as the focus
on its own
filling the mind
rather than emptying it
(although some may argue it is emptied of all else
when this occurs)
Letting it play out
usually an instance in the life
of another being
beast
or flora
showing me
our connectedness
in ways
both expected and
unexpected.
The irony of it all
is the best meditation
for me.

Bev Hartford for The Poplar Grove Muse