Top 10 Things You’ll Reconsider Once You’ve Become a “Kitten Mom”

Phoebe June is a delight. We adopted her on December 7th. Later that evening, I saw via Joanna Gaines on Instagram that on that same day, Chip surprised the family with a new kitten! For a moment, I questioned whether I should change Phoebe June’s name to Magnolia, but somehow “Phoebe” had already “stuck”. We do love “Fixer Upper” and the Gaines family and wish them the best with their new additions – the kitten and the soon-to-arrive baby!

I’m sure if you’ve seen any of her innocent-looking photos, you’re assuming that Phoebe June spends her days with her powder-puff paws crossed waiting for someone to stroke her velvet fur.

Phoebe on Adoption www.midweststoryteller.com

The reason for that is that all the action shots I’ve tried to obtain of Phoebe have been a complete blur. When she is not striking a demure pose for the camera, Smuffy and I are taking turns at Wildcat Patrol. Well, I take more turns than Smuffy, but then I also get the most kitty cuddles, so I suppose I can live with it.

Our veterinarian wanted to know if Phoebe was alert and playful. I showed him my scratch marks.

Having a cat in the house is different from having a kitten in the house. Our last two cats, who were two years apart in age, each lived to be 16 years old, so it’s been a long time since we started afresh. Though they remained playful all their lives – Y I K E S ! – it’s not the same as bringing home a charged-up little lightning bolt of energy that is the most playful hunter on earth – a 7 ½ week old kitten.

Phoebe June had an adorable sister. Here they are on the day we met when I was trying to decide which to adopt.

Phoebe June and Sweet Sis www.midweststoryteller.com

Sweet Sister seemed docile and shy – such endearing qualities. Phoebe June, on the other hand, entered the room with an air that suggested that if it were not a fun-filled place, she’d be happy to remedy the problem in three seconds or less.

Having had a couple of truly neurotic cats in the past, I chose brave kitty. I got brave kitty! She’s smart and tries her best to cooperate with the rules, but some things prove irresistible, such as the taking down of the Christmas tree. I should have probably gotten a sitter for that one.

To give you a glimpse of our fun-filled days and a guide should you consider bringing home a kitten, I’m sharing this list that reflects how we’ve acclimated to Phoebe June’s world.

Top 10 Things Kitten Mom www.midweststoryteller.com

Cats are fascinating and each one seems to have strange traits, odd fears and unique habits that don’t have any rhyme or reason and don’t quite fit in with any of the scientific studies on cats. There are just some things the experts can’t explain about feline behavior.

Phoebe June has her share of these quirks already, but the one that is the most puzzling and causes me the greatest loss of sleep is her unexplainable desire to eat my hair! This she confines, annoyingly, to the early morning hours. She’s a clingy sort, but being nocturnal, she roams a bit a night and nods off under the bed between her excursions and a few hops back onto the bed to be sure I haven’t run away from home.

Then, in the pre-dawn, when the stealthy mountain lions of the wild stir and head out for the hunt, Phoebe June stirs also. She hunts for one thing only – Mommy! It’s as though she’s re-discovered me after a prolonged absence and the joy is too much for her.

Climbing onto my head with her purr-box rumbling like a Harley, she wraps all four paws around my head and clinging with all her might, tries to remove my hair! And the question is: Why?

Needless to say, at this point I am awake! As I disentangle her and pull her down to ruffle her fur and give her a snuggle, I can’t help but giggle at the amount of affection that seems to be lavished upon me in this strange act. Though she may be clutching at my head with all her strength, there are no claws involved, only purring, wallowing and (sigh) gnawing.

And then you fall back asleep?” you assume. Nope. Phoebe June’s full affections take a while to dissipate and she’ll make several more attempts at snatching me bald before she gets it out of her system and settles down on my shoulder to flop around until breakfast is served.

Hopefully, this is a passing phase, because one of her favorite times to run amok through the house is around 10:45 each night. These frenzies can last a couple of hours, so if she doesn’t give up one or the other habits, I may be feeling soon, as they say, “a mere shadow of my former self.”

I thought Phoebe June’s story might bring you a smile during the wintry days of January. You can deny it, but I know you’re watching those funny cat videos online!

If you’re a “cat person”, I’m sure you have a story or two to of your own about the cats in your life. Scroll back up to the top of this post and “Leave a Comment” to share them. I’d love to hear from you!

Have some cat-loving friends? Be sure to SHARE!

Want more on how Smuffy deals with cats? Check it out here, but please, cover your eyes!

Life in the Funny Papers: Parenting Can Make You Laugh (If You’re on the Outside Looking In)

I’m sure most of you have enough going on in your lives that you haven’t given much thought to why I haven’t been posting lately.  For the handful of you who were wondering, the short version is this:  Gimpy knee followed by a case of poison ivy for the record books (especially for me, since I’ve spent my life up until now as the person who “doesn’t get poison ivy”), followed up by an injury to the midsection that was so painful that I couldn’t get in a position to use either computer.  TWO poison ivy shots and lots of rest have me on the mend.  All that, I’m sure, would make a great story, but it hasn’t gotten funny yet, if you know what I mean.

Anyhow, I’m back!

After treating you to that gem of a story about my aunt Gladys Pearl, my mind lingers on my mom and her siblings. I’m thinking it’s time to introduce you to Mom’s brother, Gerald. This seems like an odd thing to attempt, since I never knew him. He passed away before my time. I heard all about him, though. Oh, yeah!

If you are parenting young children and about to tear your hair out – take heart! That challenging child is nothing new and not necessarily a product of modern society. My grand-parents lived to tell about it, although I’m not sure how long it took them to laugh about it. 

Here they are as newlyweds, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead:

Nettie and Judge Get Married www.midweststoryteller.com

Grandpa Judge (who, as we’ve already touched upon, wasn’t one) and Grandma Nettie (formally Jeanette) married in 1913 and had six children.

Here’s Gerald Virgil, the oldest, and his little sister, Martha. 

Spiege and Martha www.midweststoryteller.com

He looks fairly harmless to me, but then I have to remember that when this picture was taken, he was just getting started.  Somehow, Martha doesn’t look as happy as big brother.  That could be due to the usual uncertainty babies have about strange photographers.  Martha might, however, with a wink and a smile, claim it was because she was being pinched.

According to siblings, Gerald tended to be just a tad spoiled. Well, as spoiled as a child could be if he were born to parents who scratched out a living in a small town along the railroad tracks in the Midwest in the early part of the twentieth century. Life wasn’t a walk in the park for any of them and Gerald, unfortunately, had a problem with his eyes early on, causing him to need strong glasses. As her firstborn, Grandma Nettie doted on him.

Gerald had a mind of his own from the start. As he grew and began, shall we say, expressing himself, he soon became known as Gerald only on paper and perhaps in his mother’s heart.

I don’t think I ever knew his name was Gerald until I was old enough to take an interest in family tree records. The stories I grew up with were all about “Spiege”.

That might seem an odd name, but Uncle Spiege wasn’t given it – he earned it. In the early 1900’s, a cartoon in the newspapers regularly featured an ornery little boy named Spiegel. I’ve done quite a bit of searching and I haven’t come up with any of these cartoons. I’d love to see one or to know the name of it, so if any of my readers remembers it or knows an “old-timer” who does, please comment and let me know.

Gerald, outdoing Spiegel’s shenanigans by a country mile, soon had the nickname applied and over time, it was shortened to Spiege.

Spiege operated according to his own whims and fancies, a quality that caused Judge and Nettie to practice extreme diligence in parenting, whether they liked it or not. Once having gotten an idea, Spiege acted on it. As a grown man, people may have described him as entrepreneurial, driven, fearless, innovative, artistic, uninhibited. In his growing-up years, however, those who knew Spiege likely used a different set of adjectives as they developed a keen awareness that this was a boy who needed to be watched.

Sittin' on a Stump www.midweststoryteller.com

Watching Spiege wasn’t easy. Filled with wanderlust, he ended up anywhere and everywhere, doing whatever he pleased. Also, he possessed two qualities that would try the patience of any parent – a devilish impulsiveness and the annoying habit of never asking permission.

On one of the rare occasions when he and his sister, Martha, happened to be getting along, they decided to “play hobo”. This involved some clothes even shabbier than the ones they were already wearing, some old tin plates, scraps of food scavenged from the kitchen and the absolute necessity of building a fire in the loft of a neighbor’s barn. Later, when the game was over, but the fire was only getting started, someone spotted smoke rolling out of the barn. Volunteers arrived to find a fire burning on the barn floor below a blackened hole in the loft above where the hobo campfire had burned its way through.

Once, at suppertime, the family decided that what the meal lacked was cheese. Judge instructed Spiege to run over to the store and bring back a block. The family waited in their basement kitchen (strange, but true) with the other food on the table. This included a family favorite – a big bowl of chocolate gravy.

The best I can figure, by asking what seemed like a million questions, is that this is a half-set pudding of sorts.

Soon, they heard Spiege clomping down the stairs. It never occurred to them that, being Spiege, he’d need instructions on cheese delivery. Stopping halfway down the stairs, Spiege paused, lowering the block of cheese between his knees with both hands. Most likely, he intended to demonstrate his prowess at the underhanded toss. Once the cheese landed in the bowl of chocolate gravy, however, any applause he might have received gave way to chaos as the rest of the family set about cleaning the floor, walls, windows and one another. They found out that night how chocolate gravy tasted with everything, especially cheese.

Grandpa Judge once happened upon Spiege after hearing loud noises and figuring he’d better go investigate. He found Spiege at the cistern, banging away at the large mass of concrete that covered it.

What in the world are you doing?” demanded Judge.

Spiege, hammering with all his might, explained it away as though it were an everyday occurrence. “I need a piece of this concrete.”

With a great love of horses, Spiege loved to draw and paint pictures of those beautiful animals. If he’d stuck to this hobby, Judge and Nettie may have avoided sleeping with one eye open all the time.

Spiege got into so much trouble that it became difficult to tell when Spiege found trouble and when trouble found Spiege. It got so that if anything happened, Spiege heard his name being called as the first person to be brought in for questioning.

This, no doubt, fueled his natural urge to wander. Spiege often disappeared, coming home when he got good and ready. Judge and Nettie, despairing over this, tried everything to keep him at home or at least get him to report his whereabouts.

Nettie, in a fury one day after finally finding Spiege and dragging him home, decided to put a stop to it by making the punishment fit the crime. Judge, hearing a lot of banging and screaming and yelling, came around the house to see what all the fuss was about. He found Nettie at the shed in an obvious fit of temper.

What are you doing?” he asked.

I’ll put a stop to this,” she fumed, leaning against the latch. “I’m gonna cure that boy of running off once and for all. Get me a hammer and nails! I’ll fix this door so he can’t get out till I’m good and ready to let him out! That’ll teach him a lesson!”

You can try it if you like,” said Judge, peering through the cracks in the shed, “but I don’t think it’s gonna teach him anything. He’s gone.”

Nettie jerked the door open. Spiege had already found a loose board and wriggled out through the back of the shed.

Being a loving father, Judge racked his brain for a way to teach Spiege a lesson before they all lost their minds for fear of something happening to him on one of his wanderings. One day, before leaving for work at the barber shop, he took a length of rope and, in sheer desperation, tied Spiege to a chair on the front porch.

There,” he said, securing the knot. “This is one day you won’t be going anywhere. You’re going to stay put all day long and see how you like it.”

After a while, Nettie ventured out onto the front porch to check on her son. Stunned, she looked around for any sign of Spiege or the chair. Had he fallen off the porch while trying to free himself?

Frustrated, Nettie paused, staring ahead, wondering what to do next. A small movement caught her eye. Something seemed out of the ordinary. Squinting, she focused her gaze across the yard, beyond the railroad tracks, across town, all the way to the front porch of the general store where Spiege sat, defiant to the last and still tied to the chair!

I think they pretty much turned him over to God after that and let him roam.

Topping off at 6’4”, Spiege, as a teenager, felt pretty sure of himself. He’d outgrown his younger brother, Tim, by a full foot in height.

Spiege as a Young Man www.midweststoryteller.com

Tim, by the way, wasn’t really named “Tim”… (I know, I know – here we go again – more on Tim later.)

Sometimes, when you really need someone to lean on, you run to big brother. One day, Tim, arrived breathless and wildly disturbed, begging Spiege to come with him. Jumping in the old jalopy, Spiege drove as fast as he could, listening to Tim’s story.

Having decided to take a walk along the train tracks to a nearby town about six miles away, Tim had enjoyed a leisurely walk until he’d spotted a pack of dogs up ahead. Assuming that they were feasting on some animal that hadn’t made it across the tracks in time, he went to investigate, only to find that it was not an animal, but a man, who had been hit by the train.

It was a gruesome sight to behold for the two boys and they hurried back to town to inform the authorities.

That night, Judge and Nettie crawled under the covers, only to have their two sons come into their room and begin spreading blankets and pillows at the foot of their bed.

Judge sat up, staring at them. “Now what are two full-grown boys like you doing sleeping with their Mama and Daddy?”

The boys continued making their pallet at on the floor, unmoved by any aspersions cast against their manhood.

If you’d seen what we’ve seen today,” said Spiege, “you’d sleep with your Mama and Daddy, too!”

Wanderlust had left Spiege for one night, at least. He was happy to be where the home fires burned and the family circle offered comfort and peace.

Spiege continued to go his own way, doing things with a sense of adventure – everything from venturing out west to try his hand at sheep herding to finding a sweetheart through social media. (A newspaper ad.) The latter worked out pretty well, as their marriage lasted “until death do us part” and they raised five children together.

Knowing Uncle Spiege when he was young would have been an adventure, and it’s one I’m sorry I missed – I think.

Although Uncle Spiege lost the sight in both eyes – one to cataract and one to detached retina – he never lost his strong will and creativity. He created amazing things in his workshop that most of us with 20/20 vision could only hope to accomplish. He’s shown here at age fifty when a local newspaper did an article on how he’d lived his life after going blind.

"I Don't Live in Darkness" www.midweststoryteller.com

In the interview, Spiege said this:   “If I could get a job as much as this pension pays, I’d tell them to take the pension and keep it.  I’ve found out one thing.  You can’t sit around and hold your hand out.  I knew a blind man once who made $2.75 and hour, but he thought more of a wine bottle than he did of his job.” 

I think this is an inspiring comment coming from a man with a lifelong disability who had every reason to feel sorry for himself.

If you are raising a child who is “difficult” or perhaps a child with a disability, keep in mind that within those challenges lies a spirit that can rise above life’s circumstances. In the meantime, however, you may need to hide the hammer, repair the shed and invest in really heavy chairs.

I’m still wondering what the kid intended to do with that big chunk of concrete.  

Enjoy your summer – and keep an eye on the kids!  Even if you’re not raising a Spiege, there might be one roaming the neighborhood, and it’s only funny in the funny papers (and perhaps on blogs almost a century later).

Comments?  I always enjoy hearing your thoughts.  Just click on “Leave a Comment” under the title of this post.  And, whatever you do, don’t forget to share!

Little Gladys and the Extended Cure

Let’s journey back to the late 1920’s. If you can recall any tunes from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, hum along.  It’ll put you in the proper mood.

In the tiny town along the railroad tracks where my mother grew up, life revolved around daily chores, school, church, and a trip to the store for necessaries, news and a haircut (all in the same place and provided by her daddy, Judge, who wasn’t one, but that’s another story). A break in the routine came when relatives visited or when the kids got to go spend time with grandparents.

Even prior to being old enough to attend school, my mom often stayed with her grandparents to help out the old folks, seein’ as how their rheumatiz kept them from doing all the things they’d done when they were spring chickens. They lived near another tiny town just ten miles down the tracks. By the way, is anything ever “up” the tracks?

Here they are dandling a couple of the grandkiddies on their knees, Grandma in a dress that seemed to reappear in most of her photos and Uncle John sporting a fine head of hair and a beard to match.  I imagine he cut quite a figure in his Union Blues back in his Civil War fighting days, don’t you?

Martha and Uncle John www.midweststoryteller.com

Just so we get things straight – Grandma Martha married John, who had actually been married to her sister, Emma. It was all on the up-and-up, because Emma had passed on, leaving Uncle John a free man. Martha, having been first widowed (now that fellow was my mom’s actual grandpa) and then receiving a court judgment freeing her up from a no-good scoundrel, married John, who, in addition, was a second cousin, once removed. So, my mom grew up with a step-grandpa/uncle-by-marriage cousin whom they all called Uncle John. Well, now that that’s all cleared up…

Now isn’t this a little darlin’?

Little Gladys Pearl www.midweststoryteller.com

She’s my mom’s little sister, Gladys Pearl.  I have no idea where she came up with that parasol, but I’ll bet she was mighty proud of it!

The family didn’t call everyone by double names, but they must have sensed that it was a fit for Gladys Pearl. She’d need it later, when she married and moved to the Deep South.

Little Gladys Pearl had a turn at staying with Grandma and Uncle John. Things were different in those days. Though big cities may have already embraced telephones and electric lights to a certain degree, out here in the Midwest things remained “off the grid”. In fact, there was no grid. Believe it or not, even good parents believed that anyone with a responsible job who could look you in the eye and shake your hand could be trusted. They may have had a few qualms about putting a small child on a train and giving the conductor instructions to see that they got off at the right stop, but they did it. I’m not sure if anyone met Gladys Pearl at the train when she reached her destination, because I’m sure they didn’t have a phone. Somehow she got there and perhaps had to find her way out to Grandma and Uncle John’s place.

Gladys helped Grandma and Uncle John with small chores and they enjoyed her visit, just as they did when their other grandchildren came. Having a pair of energetic little legs to run after this and that eased the daily grind.

One night, after going to bed, Grandma and Uncle John tossed and turned. Their rheumatiz seemed determined to keep them up all night. Miserable, they called out to Gladys Pearl, asking her to please bring them the liniment.

There seemed no point in going to the trouble of lighting a coal oil lamp for such a swift and simple errand. Gladys Pearl crawled out of bed. Guided by the comforting voices of Grandma and Uncle John and a glimmer of moonlight, she felt her way through the darkness and groped for the cupboard door. Following their instructions, her fingers soon fell upon a small bottle. Grasping it, she turned and, feeling her way toward their bed, handed it to her grateful grandparents.

Grandma and Uncle John passed the bottle between them, splashing the fluid onto their fingers and rubbing it everywhere. They applied it to every aching joint they had before resettling themselves under the covers.

After a bit, they called out to Gladys Pearl again, thanking her for being such a good helper and telling her that they felt better already! All three now settled in for a good night’s sleep.

The following morning when the household came to life, the day began with surprises all around.

Little Gladys Pearl, doing her best, hadn’t managed to get hold of the liniment bottle. Even if there had been a sliver of moonbeam to assist her, she likely hadn’t learned to read anyway.

What Gladys Pearl got was a glass bottle version of this –

Mrs. Stewart's Bluing www.midweststoryteller.com

Just in case you missed the punch line, I’ll explain. (And, if you are below a certain age or have never made a salt crystal garden with your kids, you probably did miss the punch line.)

Laundry bluing is exactly that – BLUE! To be specific, it’s NAVY blue! Clothing dyes include blues, yellows, etc., but over time the blue fades away, leaving fabrics “yellowed”. To bring the crisp, newness back to whites, you would add a tiny touch of bluing to a wash load. Note the instructions for usage as pertains to diluting –

Mrs. Stewart's Bluing Instructions www.midweststoryteller.com

Full-strength bluing, applied directly (and liberally) to the skin, left Grandma and Uncle John navy blue all over, not to mention their night clothes and the bed sheets. And, in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t wash off – it wears off. It’s a good thing they were country folk. They could, most likely, avoid a trip to town for a month or more if necessity called for it. This case of the blues probably made them reluctant to socialize.

Though this true story has made it through the generations, I’m sad to say that it never occurred to me to ask who noticed first.

Did Grandma and Uncle John wake up and, looking down at their hands, come to the conclusion that a mysterious deadly plague had descended on the household overnight? Or, did Gladys Pearl wake up first? If so, it must have been traumatic at her age to look in on Grandma and Uncle John, hoping they might be stirring and working their way toward fixing her breakfast, only to find her grandparents had turned blue!

As far as I know, the old folks took it all in stride. Grandparents have a way of doing that when it comes to the little ones. Besides, they did “ask for it” – didn’t they?

One other unanswered question remains. I’m fairly certain, however that the answer is “no”. I doubt they ever wrote to the address on the back of the bluing bottle, informing the company that their product, when applied during a bout of rheumatiz, worked wonders. 

I’ve used Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing, with care, in the laundry.  It does the job on those yellowed cottons.  Check out their website here.  They have instructions for everything.  Maybe you can find out what it does for fish and dogs.

Comments? Questions? I encourage you to seek out the old-timers in your family and ask plenty of questions. It can’t all have happened just to us, you know.