My Mom, “My” First Cat, and My Dad’s Stubbornness
Growing up, my mom and I were best friends. She used to dress me up in matching gloves, shoes, and hat and take me to her professional secretaries’ luncheons when I was five or other grown-up venues. I was always the hit of the party because I was a cute kid and I could hold a pretty good conversation with an adult. She still says today that when she married my dad and inherited three children (ages 2-1/2, 4, and 5) it was sometimes like there were five kids in the family, and a competition to see who would be “top dog”. She says I always won because I was the cutest.
When I was twelve, we moved to England. My mom and I had a lot of favorite activities that we did there as mother and daughter. When we lived in London, we liked to go to Harrods and have tea.
I loved the formality and properness of having tea in the afternoon. We often traveled out to nearby castles together and looked around. She loved the history of them; I loved the furnishings, color, and gardens. Other times, we’d go to a nearby arboretum and enjoy the rhodedendrons in season, or go pick up fresh eggs and vegetables at a nearby farm. I loved everything about England and Britain, and still do.
After school, I’d take the bus home, spend an hour or so in the kitchen with my mom while she fixed dinner. It was a great 70s kitchen. White cabinets with orange accents and bright orange, brown, and yellow decals on the cupboard doors that she decoupaged there herself. I’d sit there with my cup of tea, my crackers and raspberry jam, and just talk. I’d talk about school, whatever was on my mind, anything.
Other times, mom would make the trip to the local town where my school was and we’d meet somewhere on the High Street (main street for you U.S. folks) that went through the center of town. (This picture is of the actual High Street.)
We’d go shopping for groceries, find somewhere to have tea, or shop for shoes, or maybe fabric. Yes, my mother helped encourage my love of sewing and fabric and textiles (including yarn) at an early age. One year, we bought my school summer uniform as flat fabric, I got the pattern approved by the headmistress, and I made the summer dress myself. I had the coolest dress in the school. It had darts! At 15, that was very important. Other visits, we’d just walk up or down the entire length of the High Street and look in the store windows.
One day, as mom was waiting for me, she had walked along one of the side streets and passed a small pet store. At the time, we only had a little mutt dog, called Bruce. I have no idea what kind of dog he was other than he had a mix of brown, black, and white long hair. I was pretty much disinterested in him. However, when mom passed the pet shop, she spied a sweet little black, brown, and gray female tabby kitten. As soon as she met me, she took me there to look at her. That was mom’s first mistake. Of course, I fell in love with the bundle of cuteness and it didn’t take much to persuade her that we absolutely must take the little kitten home.
So we did. This was “my” cat. All the way home, I tried to think of a name for her and could only come up with Tigger or something silly. To this day, I can’t remember the original name I had for her.
Soon, it was time for my mom to pick up my dad from the train station. She hadn’t told my dad about our new acquisition to the family. I stayed home and played with the little furball and mom headed out. As she pulled into the driveway, I stood eagerly in the entrance with the kitten on my shoulder. At first, my father didn’t notice her. He got out of the car, grabbed his briefcase, and started towards me. As soon as he spied the kitten, he said, “Oh noooooo…”, turned on his heel, and got back in the car. He sat there, defiant, and refused to come in the house until the cat was gone. He was serious. I was stunned. Mom was torn.
With tears in my eyes, I returned inside and cuddled my little kitten. Mom followed me in and we left my father in the car to pout. I kept asking mom what we would do. She said she’d talk to my dad about it. After possibly a half hour, my father got out of the car, and made his way inside. He headed directly upstairs to my parent’s room and stayed there for quite some time, still pouting.
I was crushed. Heartbroken. Despondent. Depressed. Surely, my father wasn’t serious. Oh, but he was. Finally, he came down later and looked at us both and said, “Either that cat leaves, or I do.” That was that. Dad had spoken. Or so I thought. I kept asking mom if he was serious, and she kept telling me she’d try to talk to him, but finally, we both agreed we probably had to return the kitten.
The next day, I headed off to school and left the kitten with my mother, who was charged with returning her to the pet store. Dad went to work, and sometime during the day, I called my mother from school and asked her if she had returned the kitten yet. She told me she’d talked to my father, and he had caved in explaining that he’d “rather have everyone else happy” and he’d “be miserable” than the opposite. Such relief. I was old enough to know that now my father was just being melodramatic and at this point, the cat was mine.
Later that evening, when my dad came home from work, I again had the kitten in my arms, but didn’t force the kitten on my dad. After a while, Dad passed by and slowly peeked over at the cat and dared to touch her. He gingerly petted her head and after a few times of this said, “How are you, Richard?” Huh? Richard? I corrected him with her real name, which of course, today, I can’t remember. Nope, he kept calling her Richard, and I kept correcting him. He started to become more and more intrigued with her and finally I asked the question. “Why are you calling her Richard, Dad? She’s a girl.”
In a very matter of fact tone, he said, “Her name is Richard. As in Richard M Nixon, because she used to bug me.”
And her name remained Richard. And she was no longer my cat from that day forward. My father became an avid cat lover. Richard always sat on his lap, not mine, slept with him while he snoozed in front of the TV, as did all the subsequent cats they had after I left home. They never had another dog, though.