64. That Darn Cat

64. That Darn Cat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

That Darn Cat

It is impossible to keep a straight face in the presence of one or more kittens.

~Cynthia E. Varnado

“Brace yourself,” my brother warned as he hung up the phone. “Grandma is coming.”

Don’t get me wrong. We loved our grandma but when we heard that she and Gramps were coming for Christmas, we had mixed emotions. Gramps, a big, jovial fellow was always making us laugh. But Grandma, although tiny in stature, could be a grouch! She didn’t mince words. “Nice girls don’t wear tight dungarees.” Now I wouldn’t be able to wear my new jeans. “Only fools spend money on movies.” There went our plans to see A Magic Christmas.

My brother and I quipped in unison: “When Grandma speaks, everyone cringes.” Mom was not amused and warned us to be respectful.

Then we remembered Grandma’s number one rule: “No pets in the house.” Milot, our beloved cat would have to be banished to the basement. The basement wasn’t heated. We glanced sadly at the gray and white Maine Coon, pregnant with her first litter. She was comfortably curled up on the counter in the kitchen — for now.

Mom had taken great pains to make everything perfect for the holidays. A bright, berry wreath hung on the front door. Live poinsettias adorned the windows. The vanilla fragrance and the soft light of scented candles created a calming effect. She smoothed out the festive red and green fabrics concealing the foldout tables and reminded us, “Mind your manners, don’t talk with your mouth full, and use your napkin.”

“What’s a napkin?” half-joked my older brother, Dee.

The house was glowing. And so was Mom.

It was the first time all the relatives were coming to our new home. “Ooohs” and “ahhhs” were heard as each one entered. The grandparents were the last to arrive. We heard Gramps’ old Chevy come to a screeching halt. I ran to the door as my brother removed the cat from the room. I gave Gramps a big kiss and turned to hug Grandma. She held me at arms’ length, scrutinizing my face and blurted, “Too much rouge!” She meant “blush.”

“Oh, Mama,” Gramps jumped in protectively. “It’s the cold that’s making her cheeks so rosy.”

My brother carried their overnight bag into the spare bedroom. They were staying a couple of days.

As Grandma’s gaze took in the elaborate decorations, a “Humph!” escaped her lips. “Nothing better to do with your money, Mrs. Millionaire?” In the true essence of goodwill, Mom tactfully ignored the dig and welcomed her parents affectionately.

Everyone gathered in the tiny quarters. We spent a while catching up. Aunt Katherine got promoted. Adele announced her engagement. All good news except Grandma’s arthritis was acting up.

Eventually, we took our places for the feast. Traditional American fare was tastefully arranged all around. There were even delicious side dishes from our grandparents’ old country. The turkey took center stage. The parties at each table joined hands as the youngest, Cousin Mille, said her well-rehearsed grace. Things went without a hitch until she got to amen. Then an unexpected snicker arose from the kids’ section, followed by increasingly louder chuckles and giggles. Soon boisterous laughter was in full swing. With a low moan coming from deep within, Milot, the cat was moving in slow motion, dragging Grandma’s size 44 Double D bra behind her.

Mom’s face was ashen. Grandma’s mouth was open wide. Her complexion had taken on the color of the pickled beets on the platter in front of her. The laughter had come to an abrupt halt. An ominous silence ensued. My brother snatched the cat — which refused to let go of the brassiere — and whisked her out of sight. Mom threw us a harsh look and Grandma scolded, “An animal belongs in the yard; not in the house.” Gramps grabbed a shot of Schnapps and practically shoved it under Grandma’s nose: “Here, Mama. This will help your cold.” Grandma slugged it down. And then another.

The Schnapps seemed to help because gradually the corners of Grandma’s mouth turned up. She confessed, “That darn cat! She made me smile.” Before long, we were all smiling and chatting, gladly putting the cat-and-bra incident out of our thoughts. The rest of the meal went smoothly. The supper was a huge success.

When all the dishes had been cleared, we gathered around the brightly lit tree and followed our custom of Christmas caroling. Aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters put aside any differences of the previous months. A feeling of contentment, gratitude and love enveloped us in a warmth not unlike a bear hug. For a few hours, harmony and accord prevailed; at least in spirit if not in our musical attempts.

Sometime later Mom noticed that Grandma was absent from this pleasurable and rare gathering. “Go find her,” she urged.

I wandered toward the guest room. The door was slightly ajar. Without opening it further I peeked inside. Grandma was sitting in a recliner, her head bent over something. I looked closer. Milot, the cat was snuggled happily on her lap. Grandma’s face wore a blissful expression. Her weathered hands gently stroked the cat’s chin and behind her ears. “Pretty Milot. Whose kitty are you? Are you Granny’s little darling? Yes, you are,” Grandma purred. I don’t know whose purr was louder.

Busted!

I sneaked away without being seen.

In February, when Milot had her litter, Grandma timidly asked for one of the kittens. She and Christmas spent the next seventeen years living together in peaceful contentment. And Grandma’s disposition improved immensely.

~Eva Carter

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