When I introduced this column to BerkshireStyle some five years ago, I said that it would have no theme. I intended it as a vehicle to present whatever caught my attention or fancy, whether it be serious commentary or incidents that simply amused me. This month is a compendium of things that made me laugh, silly episodes with only one common theme—most involved animals.
In compiling them, I am using some stories told to me by my sister, a woman with a never-flagging sense of the absurd.
Let’s start with cats. We have always been a family of animal lovers, our houses filled with many personable critters. At present my sister has one cat, Reese, a stray transported by relays from Delaware to northern Vermont to fill the pet-void in her house. Why you might ask when there are so many deserving native cats? Because my sister-in-law is part of a rescue organization in Delaware who brought Reese to us in Connecticut before we took her north when we went to Thanksgiving dinner in Vermont. Thus Reese, a Southern city street cat, ended up in the wilds of Vermont.
She landed on all fours and was soon mistress of the house. She quickly discovered the thrill of the hunt, enthusiastically eliminating any rodent that ventured near. And therein lie two of the stories.
When Reese arrived, she was relatively young and spry. She liked the outdoors and to honor her new family she often caught and brought in her prey, sometimes still squiggling. My sister’s husband is not well, suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, and Reese was a diversion and companion for both of them but Candace tried hard to shield her husband from the cat’s nocturnal disturbances.
One night she was awakened by Reese yowling in triumph over her latest conquest, a mouse that she released alive in the living room. Rather than admiring the offering, Candace, trying to be quiet so she did not wake her slumbering husband, mounted a hunt for it.
She finally secured the little rodent and, still without her glasses on, went to her front door to evict it. Unable to see beyond her own nose she did not notice the fat skunk ambling across her lawn. With a World Series-worthy toss she threw the mouse out, smack into the side of the passing skunk. The skunk, understandably excited, sprayed the side of the house inevitably waking Rick. Ahhh, the best laid plans of mice and men.
Fast forward five years. Reese is now mature, much fatter and much lazier. Her mouse-hunting days have been set aside but her desire to show off for her family is unabated. Candace has had to resort to other means of rodent control and a mouse trap was set up in the cloak room. Reese on a perambulation of the house discovered a deceased mouse in the trap, picked the whole contraption up and carried it proudly to the living room. Self-importantly, she laid it at their feet with a “see what I caught” flourish.
“As if we wouldn’t notice the trap,” my sister observed dryly.
One last story from the northlands, this one about a mechanical “pet.” As Rick has become more handicapped, Candace’s workload has increased. Mercifully technology serves to relieve some of her burdens: her computer allows her to work remotely while a dishwasher and a Roomba vacuum cleaner do some of the housework.
This summer she signaled to me that there had been a death in the family, that her dearly beloved dishwasher had died despite “emergency surgery.” For weeks she grumbled about doing dishes until her birthday drew near and my brother and I decided to replace it. Thrilled she awaited its delivery and plotted how she would get the old one out the door and off to the recycling center. She said the newly installed handicap ramp outside the house would allow her to roll the machine to the roadside where she could get help loading it on the truck.
As she was getting ready to remove the old dishwasher, “Robbie,” her Roomba was hard at work vacuuming cat hair. Candace rolled the old machine out the door and down the ramp only to find that faithful “Robbie” had followed her out the open door, sweeping energetically as he came down the ramp and out to the drive.
Back in Connecticut we’ve had our own moments, only one of which I will share. For several years I fed buzzards during the winter. I never noticed them much when I was growing up in Connecticut but with warming weather they are ever more evident and less inclined to move South in the winter. I found their huddled, shivering bodies pathetic in the depths of winter and discovered that they would steal the cat food I set out for the stray cats in our neighborhood.
Soon, I was feeding them and became quite familiar with some individual birds. They are bright, funny, personable animals with likable traits such as forming monogamous pair bonds and maintaining strong family ties. They are also playful. Who’da thunk it.
I’ve cut back on feeding now largely because buzzards blab. If there is a place to find food they tell everyone in their flock and it was becoming a nuisance for the neighborhood. We only have two who come now, faithful old friends who can be distinguished by the toes they lost to winter frosts. But the word is still out there that there might be a goodie or two to be found and, from time to time, other birds drop by.
Recently about six young birds flew in, fledged but still with tufts of baby fluff here and there (my husband says they look like they still have their pajamas on). I offered no food because I did not want to encourage them but they strutted and hopped around the yard for a while like jostling teenagers.
Then one of them noticed a soccer ball the human children in my house had left on the lawn. Instantly two or three ambled over. One pushed the ball with its beak, another took up the game and pushed it farther, a third propelled the ball with its feet. Soon all were engaged in what looked very much like a soccer game. I ran to call the human children to watch but just as quickly the birds’ interest flagged and they flapped off toward the morning sun that still shone down on their red rubber ball.