in the Country
When E.F. Hutton meows . . .
© Another Day in the Country
Fifty years ago, my little girl wanted a kitten. Her father, for some unknown and undiscovered reason, decreed that if we were getting a kitten for her, it couldn’t just be any old kind of cat — all though we had plenty of those later on. It had to be a Siamese.
The only thing I really knew about Siamese cats was a ditty from a Disney movie in which you could see this taunting pair of cross-eyed Siamese singing:
We are Siamese if you please
We are Siamese if you don’t please
We are former residents of Siam
There are no finer cats than we am
At least, that’s how I remember the words. The tune is catchy, too — a keeper, obviously.
So we found a Siamese kitten for Jana.
I did know that Siamese cats purportedly don’t shed hair all over the couches and you — which was a nice feature. However, I didn’t know how grating the sound of their “meow” could be. This kitten had a particularly piercing call — for food, to go out, for attention, and, it seemed, for conversation.
We named her Hutton after a money investment firm with a rather winsome ad that said, “When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen.”
When our Hutton talked, we also listened — anything to get her to be quiet.
Our home above the Napa Valley was built on a virgin piece of land. No one had ever built there before — at least, we were pretty sure that was the case.
The land was covered with huge old oak and pine trees, exotic red manzenita and madrone trees with peeling bark, and, of course, poison oak. That was nature we could readily see.
The part we couldn’t see very much — thankfully — was the wildlife, which included rattlesnakes — lots of them. They’d pretty much owned the area until we moved in. We had to be very careful, especially with children and pets.
For the first 20 years of our claiming the land, rattlesnakes always were turning up in unwanted places. Now, we rarely see them.
While I could caution the kids about cute little snakes, Hutton was beyond my lectures. Sure enough, she encountered a baby snake that wiggled and squirmed and tried to get away but in desperation bit her right on her face.
I found the kitten with her face swelling up. We rushed her to the vet, who administered antivenin and saved her life, but the venom damaged her lungs. From then on, Hutton breathed with a wheeze.
She was mostly an outdoor cat, sleeping in the garage at night, but as she aged, she wanted to stay inside more. She’d hide. We’d all get ready for bed and then someone would say, “Hutton’s still in here. I can hear her breathing.”
Years went by, as did various other cats, and then we moved to Kansas, where I have been the one wheezing.
Since living in Ramona, we’ve never had a snake problem with the huge number of cats we named as ours.
What aggravates our cats, surviving in the rough and tumble world of ferrel cats galore, is maintaining and claiming land rights.
Skeeter, my resident cat, has decided to be a mostly indoor cat for safety reasons. If I’m outside, she’ll push open the screen door and come out. When I go inside, she’s usually not far behind.
A line of stray, crusty old males patrol the border between my yard and the unused, unmowed alleyway between my yard and the grassland next door, leaving their calling cards to claim right-of-way.
Unlike Hutton, Skeeter has a very quiet way of talking. Maybe it’s just that my hearing is not as acute as it once was. What I do hear is her purring. It is an insistent rumble that almost shakes the bed.
As daylight approaches, she jumps up on a far corner, signaling that she wants to go out — not really out, but on the back porch. It’s her second home.
It also means she is ready for action on my part and hopefully interaction. While she waits, she purrs.
Is purring in cats really contentment? I googled it. It seems as if it is. Google also says it’s a soothing mechanism — maybe like humans taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly to calm one’s self.
Sometimes, in the night, I think it is Skeeter’s purring that brings me back from deepest sleep, but it’s actually a train idling, waiting for a signal to proceed to its destination.
The idling train emits this low, incessant rumble that seems to shake the trees and shiver our timbers. Just as we take a deep breath, turning over to go back to sleep, the engineer receives permission to head on down the tracks.
The whistle blows, again and again and again. And the quiet breaks open like dawn, heralding another day in the country.