Monday, March 28, 2011


Bob Knightly has no idea what a Pandora’s Box he opened with his “Cat Story.” As the old comedian, Jimmy Durante, used to say, “I’ve got a million of ‘em!”

When we were first married, my husband (also Bob) and I rented a tenant farmer’s house in rural Pennsylvania ($80 a month). We attracted animals the way animals attract fleas. Ducks, dogs, but mostly cats. People would drop their unwanted pets by the roadside and eventually they would make their way across the fields and through the woods to our house. And they were always welcome. The first arrival was the most dramatic.

We had been married barely a week when Bob had to attend a medical conference in another state, and I was home alone. It was December and there was a blizzard raging outside. Our little bungalow shook with the wind and to make matters worse whenever there was a lull in the storm I would hear a strange sound, like a child crying. Unable to stand it any longer, I opened the door a crack and looked out. The wind swept in, bringing a wave of snow and ice, and something else. A glob of snow that landed in the far corner of our small living room. As the snow melted, the glob revealed itself to be a black cat with amber eyes—fixed on me in terror.

We stared at each other, dumbly, for several minutes. Then slowly, giving the cat a wide berth, I made my way into the kitchen. I came back bearing two bowls, one with milk, the other with tuna fish. I set the bowls as near the cat and as far away from me as possible and sat down to wait. It wasn’t long before the cat padded warily over to the bowls and wolfed down their contents. A few minutes later everything came up again. As I cleaned the mess, I cursed my stupidity. A little warm milk would have been more sensible to give a starving animal.

The next day Bob returned and was introduced to the new tenant. Still wary, she stayed in her corner of the room and we stayed in ours. But even from that distance Bob noticed her distended belly. Being a physician (but not an obstetrician) he immediately diagnosed a tumor. Oh, dear. I was very upset. But gradually, as he observed her more closely, he changed his diagnosis to--pregnant. We decided to give her a name. Since she was as black as night and had one white mark on her forehead shaped like a crescent moon, we called her “Luna.”

Weeks went by and Luna kept to herself, accepting our food and shelter, but not our friendship. She would not let either of us touch her. No matter how gentle our approach, she would cower, sometimes snarl, and even—spit. We kept our distance. But as she grew bigger and I realized her due date was drawing near, I prepared a bed for her kittens. A lovely wooden box with a blanket, near the stove, the warmest spot in the house. I saw her examine the box, sniffing around it, and I thought it had passed inspection.

One day I was ironing in the kitchen. Something I rarely did. I was concentrating on erasing a wrinkle when Luna came up beside me and mewed. I paid no attention, absorbed in my work. But when she repeated this behavior, I looked down. She immediately ran to the cellar door, which was partially open. Finally catching on, I followed her down the cellar steps. Even in that dim light, I noticed Luna was much slimmer. She led me to the coal bin. There, tucked in one corner, was her brood of five kittens. She immediately lay down and began licking them, one by one. I watched in silence for a while, then went upstairs to call Bob.

That night, for the first time, Luna let us pet her.

Robin Hathaway

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