Kits The Harlot
"Notre Père quiêtes aux cieux…." My mother intoned.
"Donnez-nous aujourd’hui …." We responded by rote barely audible.
Ma continued the litany of 1 Our Father, three Hail Marys, and one Glory Be followed by the request that his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.
"Ainsi soit il." We all Amen’d together. Prayers were always said in French even though we didn’t have a clue what they meant until much later in our lives.
We were silent for a moment as Ma did a bit of housekeeping around dad's gravestone. I was 12, Joe 10, Dave 7, Marianne 5.
During the prayers and the silence that followed, I spotted a kitten across the road at a house that abuts St. Jean’s Cemetery. It was a Calico kitten with the most beautiful black, brown, and yellowish orange markings. The cat was nosing around when it spotted us. It came across the street and trotted between the gravestones in a serpentine manner. While Ma was pulling some unwanted weeds, the kitten came up to each of us in turn and rubbed its fur against our legs as cats have probably done since the era of the Egyptian Pharaohs.
In the early years after dad had died, Ma would pack us all into "Old Betsy", the 1940s something green Ford convertible (for some reason, the convertible part had been welded solid) and on Friday nights during the summer, we would stop at the cemetery, say a few prayers, then she might cut across the city and take us to Puleo's on Highland Ave. in Salem for an ice cream.
So, here we were playing with the kitten, a welcome distraction for Ma who still got teary eyed during these times.
As we walked back to the car, the kitten followed.
A boy and a girl were playing in the yard across the street from the cemetery.
"Come here Kits." The girl shouted.
The kitten looked up and continued to follow us as we headed back to the car.
"Here Kits, come on, Kits." She continued.
Kits tried to jump in the car with us but I scooted her away and she ran over to the little girl.
In the next few weeks, we not only met the little girl and her brother but their parents as well. They were all out in the yard when we arrived at the cemetery. The boy and girl were twins, George and Mary. They had round faces, light reddish-brown hair, and were both on the pudgy side. Mom and dad in contrast looked like they had just stepped out of "American Gothic". He was tall, thin, gaunt, and wore rimless glasses. She was hefty, with a kind but sad look to her face.
As soon as we drove up and got out of the car, the kids came over and introduced themselves.
"Hi, I’m Mary and this is George."
"Kits really liked you guys."
"She kept following us." I answered. As if on cue, Kits came running from the cemetery and followed us around like last time.
This scene repeated itself for several more weeks and then just before Labor Day, Mary and George’s parents came out of the yard to talk with ma.
"We're moving out West soon and wanted to know if you want to take the cat?"
"Well, I don't know." Said ma.
"Oh please, please." We all shouted in unison, screaming and jumping up and down.
"I work all day. Who is going to take care of it? And by that I mean feeding it and cleaning up the messes?"
I promised on everything I held dear that I'd take care of her, feed her, cleanup after her, everything.
"Well, let me think about it."
Kits came home with us the following week.
We decided that she would be a house cat and would spend the nights downstairs in the semi-finished cellar and days upstairs with us. Kits turned out not only to be independent like most cats but she was also incapable of being trained. We tried to teach her to go on paper but she’d always go wherever she pleased; at least she did it on the floor in the cellar and not upstairs in the house.
The big change occurred when Kits was about a year old. It was summer and I kept the small screened cellar window open. The window was at ground level. Kits would jump up on the window sill and watch the birds in the backyard. My bedroom window was above the one in the cellar. I awoke from sleep one night at about 1 AM to what I thought were babies crying. I squinted as I looked out into the dark and saw five or six male cats. They were after Kits and, besides the crying, they’d get into fights. After about a half hour, it wasn't cute anymore. I got the hose from the side of the house and sprayed them until they took off. Then I went down the cellar and closed the window. This happened for three or four nights and drove us nuts. Finally, on the fifth day, Kits snuck out the back door that had been left open and she disappeared.
After two days and three nights, she returned and what a mess. There was a small tuft of fur missing from her back quarter, numerous scratches, and her coat was in complete disarray. She ran into the cellar and didn't come out for days. When she finally reappeared, the fur had been tongue-cleaned and her wounds were healing.
"Where the hell have you been?"
"Is that the best answer you can give?"
I guess that's about the best you can expect from a cat.
A few months later, a litter of kittens arrived. There were five. Two of them died in a couple days but the other three flourished. We kept them until they were weaned then having unsuccessfully tried to give them away, we ended up calling the Animal Rescue League who came and picked them up.
Kits was always a neglectful mother at best and would soon get tired of caring for her litters.
"You're not a fit mother!"
Oftentimes when she returned from her numerous trysts, she’d be loaded with fleas. We wouldn't realize it until the house became infested. Ma would rub flea powder all over Kits and put her in the car. Then we’d close all the windows in the house and cellar. We’d spray RAID in every room including the cellar working our way towards the door. Two cans of RAID usually did the trick.
Ma would then drive us to Puleo’s for an ice cream while the RAID performed its lethal function.
When we got back, we opened all the doors and windows to clear the air and we would stay out in the back yard for about a half hour. By the time we were allowed to go back inside, there wasn't a flea left alive. The smell of RAID lingered for about a week and, other than that, there didn't seem to be any residual effects.
In later years, Kits developed a terminal case of Mange. We ended up calling the Animal Rescue League to come and put her to sleep.
"So long, Kits."