Although I happily call Southern California home now, and have done for almost two decades, I was born and raised in Great Barr, Birmingham, England. I was born (literally…) in a nice house, in a most respectable town in the mid 1960’s. It was the sort of town where all the neighbours knew everyone else’s business, where back doors were never locked, and neighbours often walked into each others homes unexpected.

Since the age of eleven - due to circumstances I would rather not divulge too much of - the only family left living in our house was myself and my dad. My siblings being several years my senior had left. Some might feel sorry for me for not having a mother around. But they shouldn’t as in actual fact I had not one, but three mother figures…The first was my wonderful aunt Olive, who lived three doors down. She always took time out of her busy day to check in on me .The second was the next door neighbour, Gwen, who owned the house between ours and my aunt’s, who made the best apple pie you ever could wish for. And finally there was my other neighbour, Audrey, who as you being a shrewd reader probably have already fathomed out, was the neighbourhood cat lady…

I am quite sure the neighbourhood you grew up with had such a lady, as surely every neighbourhood does. She was the one who took it upon herself to take care of as many strays as possible, as well as having several of her own. Her cats were divided into two categories; firstly there were the housecats. These cats, naturally all purebreds, lived within the walls of her home almost as cat royalty, they were her pride and joy, and boy didn’t they know it! They would strut around the house, with their chests puffed out, and noses up high and allow Audrey the pleasure of waiting on them hand and foot. Then there were the outdoor cats. These were of a completely different category all together. They were the random strays and moggies and feline neighbourhood misfits; some lived there permanently, and others still were just passing through.

Now as an inquisitive young eleven year old with a love of animals, these cats were the ones that caught my curiosity and captured my imagination.

I can recall with vivid clarity one hot summer back in the mid seventies. I was a boy scout at the time, and rather proud of it. It was bob-a-job week … and to explain to those of you who are not familiar with such a thing, this as a fund raising event. For a few weeks every summer all the boy scouts of England hit the streets, knocking on doors asking for a job to do, for which they were paid the traditional ‘bob’, which is five pence, or hopefully a few pennies more. To prevent the dedicated boy scouts from banging on your door all hours of the day, once you had employed one, and wanted no more jobs completed, you would simply place a yellow sticker with a big black tick on it by your front door.

Well, anyhow there I was all proud in my neat Boy Scout uniform. My shorts and green shirt neatly pressed with my merit badges adorning my sleeve, my scarf around my neck perfectly secured with my woggle. I knocked on Audrey’s door with high hopes … In previous years she had always taken care of me.

In a few moments the door swung open to reveal Audrey grinning at me from ear to ear.

“Oh my goodness,’ she declared whilst still smiling at me, “aren’t you a godsend! I am up to my eyes in it!”

I was quickly ushered inside and the door was securely closed behind me.

“Where should we begin?” she said as she bit her bottom lip thoughtfully.

“Ah, I know you can help me with the dusting!”

With that she dashed off only to return moments later with a pink apron and a feather duster.

So there I was, before I could argue, dressed in a pink apron, which naturally had cats on the front of it, and holding this feather duster.

“Follow me,’ she commanded.

It was then that I noticed about a dozen eyes studying me with curiosity. These are some of the most beautiful cats that I have ever seen, and I could not wait to scratch a few ears, rub a few bellies and get to know them

It seemed every direction I turned I discovered another cat looking at me with inquisitiveness.

I spent the next hour dusting away. I dusted on top of wardrobes, I dusted shelves on bookcases, and I dusted dozens upon dozens of cat ornaments. And all the while they watched me suspiciously; they never once came to me, despite my best efforts, but were always there.

Finally I had dusted to the satisfaction of Audrey, and after a glass of fizzy lemonade and a slice of pork pie, she informed me it was now time for the garden …

I peered out the window cautiously at the army of cats that seemed to be patrolling the back garden…One black tabby appeared to be the largest cat I had ever seen … I was convinced that he must have been crossed with a leopard or something.

“Will I be okay?” I nervously enquired.

Well several minutes later, there I was outside with the misfits.

I have to confess unlike the inside cats, who I could not wait to play with, but never had the opportunity, I was nervous of these cats. But it was the funniest thing, instead of them all being suspicious of me, they did the exact opposite of their inside counterparts. Within moments I found myself sitting on the grass playing with them … And that big cat I mentioned, well he was the friendliest of the lot, and wouldn’t quit trying to get me to play with him.

Audrey watched on all the while in bemusement.

I must have stayed there the entire afternoon … As before I realised it -it was time to go home next-door and have my tea … I never did get that gardening done for her … But I did get twenty pence, and another slice of pork pie to take home with me. But more importantly I went away with a valuable lesson … You cannot judge a book by the cover, and that goes for animals also.

I went back to play with those cats on a regular basis, and I remember weeping a few years later as the big black tabby needed to be put to sleep.

 ****

I still make it back to England quite frequently… My older sister and her husband are living in the house presently...

And as for my three mothers? They are all still alive and plodding along quite nicely! Olive is still as sweet as ever, Gwen, who is in her 90’s now still makes the best apple pie in the world, and Audrey … Yes, she still has a house, and garden full of cats…

The end.

© P. S. Gifford

(Dedicated to Pauline Dewberry - another cat lady)

Biography of P. S. Gifford

Paul was born in Birmingham, England and in the mid 80’s relocated to Southern California. He is married, has a teenage son, two dogs and a rabbit (all rescues…) and an endless dream.

To discover more about him than is decent in public conversation you can check out his website, aptly named…

www.psgifford.com

Paul has also had a number of his stories published by PetWarmers and if you wish to contact him to give him your comments on this lovely story, you can do so at: psgifford@earthlink.net

Paul also wrote a tribute to his dog Eddie Valentino which you'll find in the Napping on a Sunbeam section.   

 


A Cats Purr

"Cats make one of the most satisfying sounds in the world: they purr ...

A purring cat is a form of high praise, like a gold star on a test paper. It is reinforcement of something we would all like to believe about ourselves - that we are nice."

Roger A Caras

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