Oct 31, 2008

A Halloween Story

When my niece Heather posted this photo of me and her dad (my brother Bratley) on my Facebook page last night I'm pretty sure she had no idea how spooky her timing was. This photo was taken exactly 47 years ago tomorrow and was one of the most memorable days of my life.

The tale of events leading up to this photo is one of tragic death, terror, suspense and mystery--in other words, the perfect story to tell on Halloween. Let us begin.

On a crisp Fall afternoon just before Halloween 1961, a friend of my dad's came to our house for a visit. While he and Dad sat on the porch talking for a couple of hours, Bratley and I played in the yard nearby, blissfully unaware of the tragic events that would soon unfold.

It was when Dad's friend got into his car to leave that tragedy struck. Unknown to any of us, the warmth coming from his engine had tempted my beloved kitten Ribbon to take a cozy afternoon nap under the hood. She was having such a nice snooze that the sounds of him getting into the car didn't wake her, or at least didn't wake her in time to make tracks before he started the engine.

The next few minutes are forever burned into my memory like one of those slow motion segments in a horror film. I remember this as if it happened yesterday: we heard the 'varoom' of the engine starting and then a horrifying, gut wrenching scream came from under the hood. Ribbon came flying out from underneath the car screaming in a tortured cry of agony that came from the deepest pits of hell. She flung herself up in the air over and again, then fell to the ground where she writhed and screamed for what seemed like hours but was probably only a moment or two. And then she went quiet and still.

I do believe I became completely hysterical when I saw this. I have absolutely no recollection of what Dad was doing or where Brad was, nor what my Dad's friend's was doing, nor what happened after Ribbon stopped moving. All I have is a foggy memory of watching her and then my Mother rushing outside from whatever she had been doing in the house, and her grabbing my arms and telling me to stop screaming, and of me not being able to stop. And the next thing I remember is Mom slapping my face for the only time in my life and telling me to stop screaming and then her hugging me and telling me Ribbon wasn't in pain anymore and was now in Heaven. And I vaguely remember hearing my parents trying to comfort the friend and telling him I'd be alright.

I don't remember one single thing that happened next, although I do hope there was a proper funeral service for Ribbon and I hope I attended.

Fast forward to Halloween. Because we lived in the boonies (zip code EIEIO), trick or treating was an affair that required a car and driver. Just before dark when trick or treating was the spookiest and best, Mom dressed Brad and me in our gypsy and hobo costumes (we were always dressed as a gypsy and hobo--thinking up new and innovative costume ideas was not Mom's thing--then she loaded us up in the Buick to head out for booty.

Mom knew all the best places to go, too: the houses with mothers who gave out homemade popcorn balls or cookies, and that one special house where the mom handed out the motherlode of all treats, homemade candy apples.

After a successful night of trick or treating, we arrived back home. The moment we pulled into our driveway my mother froze in her seat and issued an order in her most powerful, no-nonsense voice: "You kids stay in the car".

She had spotted an alien object on our front porch.

There, right in front of the door where we couldn't miss it, sat a wooden orange crate with a lid on it. With a muttered oath about someone putting a skunk on our porch (the named suspect being an associate of my teenage brother Roger) and with a final stern warning for me and Brad to stay put, she got out of the car and gingerly approached the orange crate.

She crept up on it, and while keeping a cautious distance between herself and the suspicious crate, she peered between the slats to see what evil lurked within. And then she said a bad word that starts with an "s"--which was totally out of character for Mom--and she flung open the lid.

And out of the crate came cats. Lots and lots of cats.

There were cats of every color, description and size--fluffy cats and short haired cats, big cats and little cats, black cats, white cats, brown cats, spotted cats, stripey cats. That orange crate was the clown car of cats. Cats kept pouring out of that crate, and when I saw them I sprang out of the car and dove right into the middle of them. I grabbed as many cats as I could hold in my arms and started hugging on them and kissing on them, all the while dancing around the porch in pure unadulterated joy.

The mysterious question of how those cats arrived on our front porch was answered later--most likely a confession extracted during a torture session administered by my mother.

My Dad's friend had felt so terrible about what had happened that he'd done his very best to find me a suitable replacement. In hopes of finding that one special kitty that might replace Ribbon in my affections, he had gone around asking people if they had an extra cat and apparently everybody did. When he'd gathered up a nice selection he gift wrapped them in an orange crate and made his delivery while we were out trick or treating.

And that's the story of one of the happiest days of my life. It's a tale that's repeated in our family almost as often as the one where we accidentally forgot Bratley in the graveyard, and even today if you mention that friend's name to my mother who is now in the fog of Alzheimer's, she'll say that same bad word and talk about that damn crate full of cats that showed up on our front porch 47 years ago.

I, on the other hand, still feel joy when I think back on that magical night in 1961 when I had all the cats in the whole world right there on my very own front porch.

PS In case you wonder what we did with all those cats, they worked it out amongst themselves. All but one of them took off for parts unknown over the next couple of weeks, no doubt to find a house with less competition for the hugs and kisses of a five year old girl.

Or maybe...you don't think....you don't suppose that Mom....nahhhh...

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