by JILL DAVIS
I grew up in a household where dogs won hands down as the pet of choice. My sister’s allergies sealed the deal but after seeing far too many Disney movies, I longed for the companionship of my very own cat. Every night I prayed earnestly for God to send a feline scratching at the back door.
My cousins usually paid our family a visit during the summer. The year I turned 8, my sister, the two boys and I played a rousing game of basketball. The guys were on a winning streak when someone knocked the ball clear down into the nearby woods.
“You’re youngest!” my sister pointed at me. “You’re it! Go get the ball!” The boys snickered, but obviously had no desire to get in the middle of a tiff.
“I’ll be 9 on my birthday. Why do I always have to go?” I argued.
“Because we won’t let you play if you don’t. So there.”
I stormed off in the direction where the ball had taken a big bounce. The weeds stood higher than my neck. Locating the ball’s final resting place proved difficult since huge oak branches obscured the area from the rays of the sun. All of a sudden, I heard movement close to me. Looking up, I spotted what appeared to be a huge mountain lion! And it was poised to pounce right on top of me!
My screams, which probably were heard for miles, brought my sister and cousins running to my rescue. The mountain lion turned out to be an orange tabby cat not more than two months old. With some coaxing from my older cousin, the kitten carefully picked his way down from the tree. Thus, my first experience with answered prayer.
Despite Mother’s protests, I poured a saucer of milk to one hungry kitty. She watched me hang over the cat while he lapped up his meal. She hated cats with a passion. As I petted and cooed at him, she sighed wistfully. When my parents adopted me as a two-year-old, I was not the affectionate child my sister had been. Bonding with me wasn’t easy. Because I often withheld my love, my mother subconsciously did the same. She disappeared into the house, hoping the cat would drink the milk and be on its way.
But the cat hung around. My parents, unwilling to squelch a budding belief in God, agreed to let the cat stay as long as he remained outdoors. He became my constant companion. I named him Kitzel for no good reason and called him with a rebel yell if he strayed from my sight for long. On those occasions, Mother shushed me, claiming, “Your yells are a nuisance to the neighbors.” But the yells were more a nuisance to her. She couldn’t stand anything to do with that cat.
Actually, the neighbors watched out their windows in amusement as I paraded through the neighborhood with my animals. When I rode my horse, my toy collie followed close behind. Kitzel followed a few steps behind the dog, bringing up the rear. The cat shadowed me. His seemed far from independent. He needed me like I needed him.
Bonding with me wasn’t easy. Because I often withheld my love, my mother subconsciously did the same.
Like Mother, my sister, Julie, didn’t share my love for Kitzel. Since we lived in a wooded area, Kitzel caught all kinds of critters. He usually sought them out as playmates instead of meals, but Julie always intruded on his fun by grabbing him by his tail, swinging him high above her head. Forced to release his captives, Kitzel watched them scurry off to safety.
One time I tried to intervene. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“These poor, defenseless creatures don’t have a chance against this hairy beast. I hate your old cat.” She brushed the hair from her hands as a chipmunk disappeared into the underbrush.
“That’s just his nature,” I defended Kitzel.
“Well, I don’t care for his nature, and I’ll swing him by the tail whenever I get the opportunity. He’s not going to hurt anything or anybody while I’m around.” With that, she stalked off. When she was in the vicinity, Kitzel lay low, but never relinquished his hunting instinct entirely.
Pet chores usually fall into the unwilling hands of mothers. If Kitzel needed a vet, Mother had the dubious job of driving him to the vet’s office. The cat yowled the whole way and scratched and bit his way in and out of the car. Mother played Florence Nightingale, despite her dislike for felines. She did the dirty work for me because she knew how I loved him, and she wanted to see me happy.
My sister’s allergies improved, so Mother relaxed house rules and allowed my companion to sleep with me. Because I suffered from restless legs, Kitzel mistook them for prey in the dead of night and pounced on them. I never slept much while he shared my bed, but I didn’t mind. Having him next to me provided timeless memories.
After high school graduation, I moved to Texas. I reluctantly agreed with my parents that Kitzel was too old and set in his ways to change his locale. Mother wrote to tell me my father found a friend in Kitzel as he did his yard work. Kitzel remained a social animal and stuck close to home.
Though I didn’t love Kitzel any less, leaving him behind opened my heart to other cats. I rarely went home for visits, so the attachment to my childhood chum waned. His picture gathered dust on my dresser.
When Mother told me Kitzel died, she accepted full responsibility for his death. She ran over him with the car. Begging my forgiveness, she hoped I would still come home on holidays, despite the fact Kitzel was gone.
As children, our love for pets sometimes appears to eclipse the feelings we have toward family. Fiercely loyal to Kitzel, I used him as a confidant rather than my parents. Apparently, Mother keenly felt left out.
While Kitzel endures as one of my fondest childhood memories, that first answer to prayer could never have been realized had Mother not let him continue hanging around our house. Putting aside her intense dislike for cats, Mother showed me God has a great, big heart. Parents often give us our first glimpse into the heart of God.
JILL DAVIS is a freelance writer from Florida.