I Remember Mutti

I grew up calling her Mama. By elementary school she was Mammy-Jay. Don’t remember the joke now, just the name. When I became very sophisticated (around twelve or so), I called her Mother. Mother it was until I studied German in high school. That’s when I began calling her “Mutti,” (pronounced kind of like Moo-tea’ ), the German equivalent of Mommy.

That’s the one she really liked. It may have had something to do with her German roots. Her great-grandmother came over on the boat. Or it may have been because it was special — just between Mutti and me.

My Mutti was a woman of great intelligence, ‘way too much common sense, gentle ways, a quiet demeanor, fierce loyalties and even fiercer done-with-yous. When she was done with you, she was done with you. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was final.

She grew up on a dairy farm in rural Virginia where the church was the center of everything — community events, social life, politics, business, and oh yes, religion. That’s where she met my daddy. They eloped when she was sixteen. It was 1931. They spent the next eight years living with her mother-in-law.

The Great Depression was on, but they didn’t feel the effects as much as others. She said it was because they never had very much, so they didn’t expect much.

She and Daddy both worked six days a week at the garment factory where they manufactured work shirts. My daddy cut out the patterns. My mother sewed on the yokes. For every 144 yokes she was paid 12 cents. She made $6.50 her first week. On the weekends my father and grandfather (Mother’s father) played semi-pro ball. Daddy made more playing baseball than he did all week at the factory.

Even rural Virginia was touched by the New Deal’s alphabet agencies. The WPA, Works Progress Administration, sent a music teacher to Woodlawn Baptist Church. My mother and daddy, along with other young people in the church, were taught to play piano, mandolin, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, drums, trumpet and more.

Then the classes were over. Where would they play?

“In the church, of course,” my grandmother, who was also the choir director, announced.

Guitars in church? Drums in church? Horns in church?

My granny was a slight woman, just about five feet tall. But she could wrestle a six foot deacon to his knees. So that settled it. The music ensemble played in church.

Their first child was stillborn. The baby weighed over twelve pounds and had a birth defect, spina bifida. Her name was Anne Marie. Judy was born next, followed by Linda (born during that bad August storm), Jimmy (who contracted polio at the age of one) and Patricia.

My mother was so grateful my brother recovered from polio that she wanted to help other children. When she was 42 years old, she got her chance. She went to nursing school and became a pediatric nurse. I was ten at the time, so I was the guinea pig for her homework. She wrapped me in every kind of bandage imaginable, but she also gave me back rubs.

As soon as I met the age requirement, I became a candy striper and got to share a bit of hospital life with my mother. The flowers I delivered to patients had to be kept in the coldest part of the hospital. That meant my “office” was in the basement next to the Morgue. We were also pressed into service to transport “liquid specimens” to the Lab. I quickly learned I did not want to go into nursing.

Mutti was an excellent nurse — highly respected by doctors, nurses, patients and parents. When my teenage girlfriend was dying of a kidney disease, she was one of her nurses. When my teenage male friends “played the fool” and totaled their cars, she took care of them as well.

She prepared all of us children to leave the nest and fly on our own. And we did. We were independent and accomplished. We were not afraid of life. At one time Mother and Daddy had children living on three continents — I was in Europe, two were in the United States, my sister Judy in Asia.

After my father died Mutti lived independently as well — learning to manage the checkbook and to pump her own gas. She continued to travel — even visited Russia. She delivered “Meals on Wheels” to senior citizens because she didn’t know she was one. She drove her friends and neighbors to appointments and took time to wash and mend clothes for a local Christian charity.

Nearing the close of her life I was able to spend quality time with my Mutti. She was in her 80’s and only had a few years left to live. God let me enjoy those last years with her even though we lived over 600 miles apart.

She would call and say, “Can you come see me? I’m hungry for you!”

In the German version of Bambi the little fawn cries, “Mutti! Mutti!” as the shots ring out in the forest. His father appears and tells him his “mommy” can no longer be with him.

When my Mutti died at the age of eighty-seven, that’s not what my heavenly Father told me. I missed her so much, but I knew it was not the end. I knew she was in the arms of our loving Saviour and that I would be with her again.

“But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed.

You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again.

At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true: Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!” — 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 (The Message)

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Itching to Give Thanks

Giving thanks. That’s what Thanksgiving is. It is a time set aside to give thanks to God for His bounty.

The Pilgrims knew this. Rev. Robert Hunt knew this. Abraham knew this. David knew this. A Samaritan leper knew this. It is not a secret. Thanking God is as natural as a stream overflowing its banks during heavy rain. He pours and pours His blessings into us until there is no longer room to contain them. So we explode in joyful thanksgiving, letting it spill over to family and friends.

The true first American Thanksgiving took place in 1619 in the Virginia Colony at Berkeley Hundred near my birthplace in Williamsburg. Maybe that’s why I have such a special attachment to the holiday. I grew up with a sense of history. I also grew up with a knowledge of God — without really knowing Him.

Thanksgiving wasn’t just the amazing food or family or football. It was more than that. It was the sacredness of the day — a time to acknowledge how little we are and how big God is and how grateful we are to Him for every breath. I saw people praying and thanking God on that day that never even gave Him a nod the rest of the year. They just couldn’t help themselves.

My mother’s sage dressing was the best! I could eat it until I was just on the brink of being stuffed myself, but I always left room for the cranberry sauce, Parker House rolls and pie. When I grew up, I started my own Thanksgiving traditions, including an expanded menu. My mother and father drove from Virginia to celebrate with us.

One year as I was chopping and pounding and stirring away, I stopped briefly to ask my mother if there was anything she would like to do. She didn’t even have to take time to think about it. “No, I waited on you all those years. I’m content to just sit here and watch you work.”

And work I did. And I made the kids work, too. Their favorite thing was to whip the cream cheese into shape, stir in sliced olives, and spread it on the celery. As they got older, less and less made it to the plate.

I ran across some Thanksgiving menus recently. Here’s a sampling of what I liked to serve: Turkey, gravy, dressing, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, green beans, candied yams, cranberry sauce, congealed cranberry salad with cream cheese and roasted peanut topping, stuffed celery, carrot sticks, assorted pickles and relishes, spiced apple rings, homemade cheese bread, apple pie with extra sharp cheddar cheese, and pumpkin or sweet potato pie with whipped topping.

The running joke in our family, and I must admit that my annual forgetfulness never failed … thus perpetuating the joke, was the candied yams. I carefully prepared them, baked them to perfection and then placed the marshmallows on top for a quick run under the broiler. I would forget, leave them in too long, pull the flaming mass out of the oven, scrape off the top layer, replace them with fresh marshmallows, set the timer, put them back under the broiler. Voila! Perfect every (second) time! Year after year.

Year after year I cooked myself into a frenzy. Afterwards I looked like a self-sacrifice – fingernails chopped off with the celery and onions, burns on hands and forearms, bruises from carrying heavy pots. But I felt marvelous!

Sometimes it was just family, or family and friends. When I came into the church, it was family and church family and anybody else who wanted to come. My reputation grew. I usually served lunch between noon and 2:00 pm, but people would drop by late afternoon, suppertime and even later. We would drag it all out again, reheat it and serve it up. The children and I really enjoyed entertaining.

One time my two younger children dressed up as Pilgrim and Indian Princess to perform an original Thanksgiving play for us. One time after our meal, we packed up all the food and transported it across town to share it again with the “Great Aunts,” who were homebound. The pleasure of spending time with the children and consuming a feast gave them lasting memories.

One time we did not have enough money to purchase the Thanksgiving meal. I had been working with a family from my church to place meals in the homes of those less fortunate. The husband worked for a company who supplied turkeys and trimmings. They had given away all the boxes except one, and my list had been exhausted.

“Can’t you think of anyone?” he asked. “Surely someone has a need.”

In obedience to the voice of God urging me, I hesitantly responded, “I have a need.” “I knew it!” he exclaimed. “We’ll come over tonight.”

And they did. He and his wife supplemented the company’s offering and brought us everything from butter and milk to Parker House rolls and everything else we needed for a glorious meal! We were really thankful to God that year!

When I was in junior high school our principal called us to the auditorium for a reading of the first presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation made by George Washington in 1789. It cemented in my mind that even the president was subject to God, and willingly submitted himself to God’s sovereignty, and wanted the whole country to observe a day of thanksgiving.

I had experienced a similar thing a few years before. When I started school, we memorized the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. A year later we had to re-memorize it and add the words “under God.” Our government officials wanted everyone to know that God was undergirding our country.

Another memorable Thanksgiving Day began with the usual madness and mayhem. I had been cheffing for 3 days and was up ‘way early to throw the bird in the oven and tend to all the other dishes in the works. We were expecting several special guests, so I was paying particular attention to the way we were dressed and groomed. I wanted everything to be just so.

Flitting around in my best dress, hair and make-up perfect, I was queen of all I surveyed. The place settings were set. The children had made name cards for each person. Just lovely! That’s when my daughter announced, “Mom, my head really itches.”

“What’s wrong? Let me see.”

I parted her beautiful, long hair and peered at the scalp. Ew! There were bugs crawling all over her head. What in the world was that?

I remember when I was twelve or thirteen. My grandmother asked me about my teachers at school. “How do you like your teachers this year?”

“Well,” I answered, “mostly they’re OK, but this one woman is lousy!”

“Oh, no!,” Granny exclaimed, placing her hand over her mouth trying to hide the shock of what I had just said. “You mean she has lice?!?”

With the same amount of shock I realized my daughter had lice. I put in a call to the pediatrician. Doctors love to get calls on Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays. It has always been my practice to oblige them as much as I can.

They called in a prescription to the 24-hour pharmacy and told me that I could give her vinegar shampoos in the meantime to start getting rid of the worst offenders. So that’s what we did.

Minutes later our first guest arrived. He was a really good friend, so I didn’t hesitate to ask him to drive to the pharmacy to pick up the shampoo. He laughed, shared his story from elementary school of when he had lice. After his head was shaved and treated with a black, tarry substance, his mother covered it with a knitted cap, which remained there for weeks.

“Oh, joy,” I thought, “will I have to shave her head?”

I decided to wait until after the meal to use the medicated shampoo, so we sat and ate – sharing lousy stories — with my daughter sitting there scratching a bit and smelling like a tossed salad. This did not even remotely resemble Norman Rockwell’s picture. Later we became aware that as one of God’s creatures, the louse does have its place.

Corrie Ten Boom recounts her own lice story in her book, The Hiding Place. During World War II when she and her sister were in a concentration camp, they were confronted with lice among the imprisoned. At her sister’s insistence, they thanked God for the lice, Corrie complying grudgingly. As it turned out, because of the lice the guards did not go into the place where Corrie and her sister conducted Bible study. The word of God went forth unhindered in that dark pit of wretchedness. Hope was born in the hearts of the hearers.

The Rev. Robert Hunt arrived in 1607 with the settlers of the first permanent English settlement in America. Before they reached their final destination at what was to become Jamestown, the ship and crew came to rest at a place they called Cape Henry in Virginia.

After spending three days on the ship consecrating their hearts and lives to Christ, Rev. Hunt led the group to the shore where he planted a seven-foot wooden cross in the sand. He knelt on the beach and worshiped God, claiming the land for the propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Understanding the full import of the journey, he wanted their first act in this new land to be one of giving thanks to God.

An American tradition, a biblical directive, a joy and a pleasure … Happy Thanksgiving!

“You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance” — Psalm 65:9-11

Pocahontas and Me

Despite what my children may tell you, I was not born during the Colonial period, but growing up in the Tidewater region of Virginia did give me a definite connection to history. I was afforded a unique perspective of life as it is and life as it was. After all, Pocahontas (“Girl-who-likes-to-frolic-and-play”) grew up there, too.

The life of Pocahontas was much more adventurous than mine. Read her real biography when you get the chance. In her short time on earth that girl covered a lot of territory. Pleading for the life of Captain John Smith was only one of her desperate moments.

As a teenager she was kidnapped and held hostage by colonists. She had a bit of a set-to with her father, Chief Powhatan, (OK, she really let him have it!) when she realized he valued her life less than the tools and weapons demanded by the ransom. So she decided to stay with her English captors! Placed under the tutelage of a Christian pastor, she was won to Christ. Feisty young girl redeemed by the blood of the Lamb!

My father used to tell me about the Guineamen, the watermen of Gloucester County. They were isolated, tended to marry among themselves, and had a language of their own. Guinea talk included words like boughshes (pronounced bowshes), instead of bushes. And the ultimate commitment query: “Is you is, or is you ain’t?”

One of my sisters was born in Bena, right in the heart of Guinea territory. My brother was born nearby in Ordinary. Thrust into the Guinea culture when they moved there in 1939, Mother and Daddy learned a few things — one of which was a little ritual they liked to perform in Guinea talk.

When I was about so high, Daddy would come into the kitchen, put his hands on Mother’s waist and ask, “Love I, Hon?”

My mother answered shyly, “ ‘Course I does.”

To which he replied, “Kiss I then.”

Just as they started to embrace, I would scurry to get right between them and be enveloped in the cuddle. It gave me a feeling of supreme security and protective love. I would twist around and crane my neck between the bellies to watch their lips touch in tender affection. Then Mother would giggle, pretend to protest, and remind him she had to finish cooking dinner. Before they pulled away, they would each hug me tight to confirm I was a part of their love for each other.

Even though I never met them, I cradled a fondness for the Guineamen.

Colonial Williamsburg in the fifties was a perfect place to grow up. President Eisenhower liked to play golf there, so I saw him several times. One time school was dismissed so that we could line the streets and watch him ride through town in an 18th century horse-drawn carriage with the young Queen Elizabeth II of England.

It was a busy tourist town, but a small community. Everybody knew everybody, and you couldn’t get by with anything. We attended the annual lighting of the Christmas tree — an outdoor event for the whole town. William & Mary College held a homecoming parade each year. My friend Anne and I would scramble for the candy they threw from the green and yellow floats.

There were competing drug stores, The College Pharmacy and the Rexall. There was an indoor theatre downtown, and a drive-in movie called the Stockade. It was built like a fort with restrooms located in the lookout towers. Kids were allowed to sit on the benches down in front by the big screen to be entertained by a banjo player until sunset when the show began.

In the summertime I could ride my bike from one end of town to the other, dodging tourists, horse poop, and the Fife & Drum Corps. When I was on foot, I could always catch a big, gray CW bus and ride as long as I wanted to around the restored area. The buses were free and ran on schedule every eight minutes.

Boys in tricorn hats and knee breeches ran down Duke of Gloucester Street providing a bit of atmosphere. As did the ladies in powdered wigs and silk dresses with panniers (side hoops) jutting out from either flank. The shelf-like protrusions looked extremely awkward, but appeared to be able to support a three-course meal — serving dishes and all.

A brick wall separated my school from the grounds of the Governor’s Palace. It was great fun to climb over the wall and spend a summer’s morning darting through the maze in the palace gardens. Then a quick trip over dirt paths to see the horses and watch the blacksmiths forge horseshoes. It was always so hot in there. Sunday afternoons found our group of friends playing football on the Palace Green.

The Perzekows owned The Food Center, a grocery across and down the street from my house. Their daughter Ethel was about my age. Anne and I liked to play with her. They lived in an air conditioned apartment above the store. They had carpeting, heavy drapes and a striped couch. It was very luxurious and very cool.

The Hitchens’ lived next door to me. Our houses were separated by a big field. Mr. Hitchens had a rotating lawn sprinkler and would invite us kids to come over and run through it when he turned it on. Mrs. Hitchens offered her lovely home for my sister Judy’s wedding reception. People were neighborly.

And then there was the Baganakis family. They lived in a simple block house between Anne’s house and mine, set back quite a distance from the road. They were always very nice, but we didn’t realize how nice until they built a doughnut shop on the front part of their property! Yummy neighbors!

As time passed, Anne’s house became a service station; the Hitchens’ place is now a motel; my house survived as an antique shop.

There was a little rise in our front yard overlooking the road. I loved to sit there in the afternoons when people were coming home from work. I would sing, write songs in my head (I guess that’s why I ended up moving to Nashville), and listen to the sound of gears changing. I still feel a thrill when I hear an engine going through the stages of build, climb, settle in and go! (Fill in your own sound effects here.)

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were my favorite singers then. “How Do I Know? The Bible Tells Me So!”

Have faith, hope and charity, That’s the way to live successfully.

How do I know? The Bible tells me so.

Do good to your enemies, And the Blessed Lord you’ll surely please.

How do I know? The Bible tells me so.

Don’t worry ’bout tomorrow, Just be real good today.

The Lord is right beside you, He’ll guide you all the way.

Have faith, hope and charity, That’s the way to live successfully.

How do I know? The Bible tells me so!

They had a television program that was “must see.” Roy and Dale starred, of course, with horses Trigger and Buttermilk, Pat Brady with his Jeep Nellybelle, and Bullet the dog. One episode that really stands out in my mind told the story of a prospector who bragged about the treasure he had found. The bad guys killed him, but never could find the treasure. Roy found it, though, hidden in a strongbox under a floorboard in the old man’s cabin. It was his Bible.

My family attended the Baptist church; Anne’s, the Methodist. I went to Vacation Bible School at both, though. We made decorative paperweights out of the glass insulators from telephone poles. I guess that made the gift more dear for my mother, who was a telephone operator.

This was back in the day when our number was 395-J, and we were on a party line. My mother had a headset, a special metal pencil with a magic round dialer on the end, and a switchboard with lots of wires and plugs and levers. “Number, please!” she would say, greeting the caller.

I can remember picking up the phone and hearing her familiar voice, “Number, please!”

“Mama, where’s the peanut butter?” I asked … as if she were in the next room.

But the absolute funniest was my friend Anne. She picked up the phone one day and heard the operator utter a cheery, “Number, please!”

Anne, who always called me “Trusha,” instead of “Tricia,” told her quite matter-of-factly, “I want to talk to Trusha.”

Trying to conceal her laughter, the operator turned to her colleagues and asked sardonically, “Anybody here know Trusha?”

“395-J,” my mother piped up.

Do you know that I was quite old before I realized my name was not, “Judy-Linda-Jimmy-Tricia?” That’s what my mother called me for the longest. My daddy called me Huckabuck … after the little known and little remembered dance craze and song, “Do the Hucklebuck.”

Daddy was at his best, though, when he called us to get up in the morning. He stood at the bottom of the stairs and roared like a Drill Sergeant, “Hubba! Hubba!” We knew not to dawdle. We flew down the stairs at his command like the Von Trapp children when their father, the Captain, blew his whistle.

The family ate breakfast together — all six of us. It was monumental. I remember the sunlight dancing across the table as Mother placed before us fresh-squeezed orange juice, bacon, eggs and toast. Sometimes she made sausage, pancakes, waffles or French toast. Pain perdu, the French call it … lost bread … day-old or hardened. It can be revived and redeemed by dipping it in milk and egg and giving it a quick pan fry.

Mother’s was always dark, dark brown with an almost-black crispy crust. She margarined it liberally, gave it a liberal sprinkle of sugar and sliced it into nine conservative pieces. I saved the centermost piece — where the lion’s share of the drippy oleo and mounded sugar had congregated — for last.

Daddy had a coffee ceremony he observed, don’t know why, but this is how he did it. After mother served him, he poured a goodly amount of the coffee into the saucer to let it cool for a bit. Then he transferred it back into the cup, added cream and enjoyed!

My father had an experience with Jesus when I was young. That’s when he introduced Bible reading at the breakfast table. We took turns reading a scripture before we prayed over the meal. I was just learning to read and loved when it was my turn to read from the big, black book with black and red letters.

He also taught a boys’ Sunday School class. A few years later when I was eight or nine, he helped initiate a Children’s Church — quite an innovation for the day. The kids were set free from the constraints of Big Church: “Sit up straight.” “Shh, be quiet.” “Quit fidgeting.” “Stop kicking the pew.” “No gum.” “When I get you home …”

Now get this: The MEN OF THE CHURCH taught Children’s Church. Yes, in suits and ties. They took turns teaching a lesson, leading us in Sword Drills (a competition to see who could find a certain scripture first) and singing lots of hymns. I was the organist. There was an old pump organ with a tiny keyboard that worked just fine for our purposes.

Lunch on Sundays was the most amazing meal of the whole week at our house. We usually had not one, but two fried chickens, mounds of mashed potatoes with butter and gravy, beans (green, lima or navy), celery sticks and carrot curls, other assorted vegetables (never broccoli, cauliflower or anything else considered exotic, though), and cloverleaf rolls. For dessert Mother baked a cake AND a pie.

On Mondays we had ”sloppy chicken.” That was the leftover fried chicken reheated in the leftover gravy. So good and so sloppy.

Impromptu described my daddy. He loved to “spur-of-the-moment” us into all sorts of adventures. This particular night he invited Anne’s family along. We jammed everyone into two cars and headed for ?????

“You’ll know when we get there,” he assured us.

Anne and I sat in the backseat giggling, not caring where we ended up. Wherever it was, it was certain to be fun! And it was fun! It was Buckroe Beach. We walked around the Pavilion where the voice of Elvis blared from the loudspeaker, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog cryin’ all the time.” Over and over and over. We rode the rides, ate the eats and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The mothers couldn’t take the round and round of the Merry-Go-Round and Ferris Wheel, so my mom and Anne’s mom cheered us on from their command post on a sturdy, stationary bench.

It was a Norman Rockwell painting — well, almost. Things happen. That’s the way it is in families, but there were so many exceptionally good and precious times.

On a trip to Jamestown Island recently I stopped to look at the statue of Pocahontas. I know she had some family issues, but there must have been exceptionally good and precious times for her, too. The excitement of meeting those fair-skinned people from across the sea, having her village life turned upside down as she learned a new language and new ways, marriage to a successful English tobacco planter, the birth of her son Thomas, her presentation to King James in London. And, of course, the most exciting thing of all — she found Jesus. Girl-who-likes-to-frolic-and-play” met the Savior of the universe. Just like me.

”Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” — Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

Consuelo Lopez

He lifted his paws and placed them pleadingly on the glass door of the church. He was very handsome and very hungry – a gray and white kitten with no tags and a compelling cry. How could I deny him?

When I took him home, my son said, “Can we call him Guillermo?”

“Guillermo. Yes, that’s perfect,” I agreed.

Guillermo wasn’t long for our household. He had other worlds to conquer. He ran away, returned, ran away, returned and finally ran away. Adios, el gato!

Wait a minute. Is that Guillermo? No, it couldn’t be! If it is, he hasn’t grown. I sat at my desk in the church office watching a very handsome and very hungry gray and white kitten with no tags paw at the glass door.

A friend of mine was there encouraging me to go get the pretty kitty and take him home with me. Even if it wasn’t Guillermo, it might be a cousin. I hemmed and hawed for a bit before deciding to adopt him.

When we got home, my children noticed right away that Guillermo was not a boy. I prefer male pets. They seem to be less trouble. I don’t remember ever having a female pet before. I had two black and white kittens once, Pearl and MOP (Mother of Pearl), but they turned out to be boys. Mildred, the black cat, was actually Milton. We had dogs: Moose, Boots, Hesse, Virginia Wolf (also a boy and part wolf), Gerd von Birkelbach, Jonathan Swift and a few more.

My granny always had boy dogs on the farm. They were always collies, and she always named them “Boy.” That simplified things. “Here, Boy!” We never knew if she got a new dog. There was always a collie, and it was always named Boy, but not necessarily the same Boy.

Now we had a girl cat. I named her (no, not “Girl”). This was a special cat. She needed a special name.

She was as friendly as an aloof animal can be. Her coat was beautiful – sleek, but with just the right amount of fluff. Her carriage was stately, elegant. She had incomparably precise white markings, distinctively adorning her paws and forehead. She had no bad habits — like unexpectedly rubbing against your legs and giving you the creeps, or clawing furniture, or using the indoors instead of the outdoors for her “necessaries.” She had no cry. I thought she might be mute, but I never really questioned it because I liked her silence. It added to her mystery. As cats go, she was an odd bird. I named her Consuelo Lopez.

For you TV trivia people, you are correct! Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that was the name of the nurse on Marcus Welby, M.D.

Conseulo Lopez.

She was a tramp, you know. Not the nurse, the cat. Oh, yes. She would leap onto the sill of the picture window and adopt an artful pose as the “toms” gathered on the front porch to screech her name.

“Consueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelo! We loooooooooooooooooove you!”

In her best Mae West impression, she answered with a slight upward move of her chin and an inaudible, but resoundingly welcoming, “Hello, boys.”

Night after night after night.

Her first litter came forth with the help of my younger son, her birthing coach. He tried to get her to imitate his breathing/hissing through the teeth method, “Hee! Hoo! Hee! Hoo! Push! Push!”

Her mouth open wide, teeth bared, she offered only silent screams. It was the most moving thing I had ever witnessed.

Five healthy kittens later, she cleaned them up, as well as the entire “delivery room,” and was content to rest and nurse her newborns. She left them only for food and necessaries.

As they grew, we tried to contain them. You are familiar with the term “herding cats.” Well, that was our impossible assignment, although our first attempts were not only successful, but entertaining.

Using cardboard boxes, we built a cat condo. It had upstairs and downstairs, peek-a-boo windows, and wall-to-wall newspaper carpet. As the kittens grew, so did the condo. We added rooms and redecorated, but never in time to keep up with their growing demands.

When my older son came home from college, he exclaimed, “They’re demon cats! Mom, they’re hanging from the drapes, and they poop everywhere!”

It was time to clean house. We turned them out, reclaimed our den, and began to watch the miracle of motherhood at its best.

Consuelo was the consummate cat mother. Her skills at training her progeny were unmatched. The kittens and I watched as she hid behind the planter on my deck, paws anxious with expectancy, eyeing her victim, waiting until just the right moment. Then she would spring from her hiding place and pounce on the prey with proficiency.
“Prrrrrrr, pfffttt!” she commanded (which is cat-speak for, “OK, kids, it’s your turn. Go out there and catch a bug for Mama!”).

Consuelo was no longer silent. She had something worthwhile to say to worthwhile creatures (humans obviously didn’t qualify), and she was saying it.

After the hunting lesson, she would bark another command, “Meow! Click-click!” and the kittens would line up behind her in single file. They followed her like General George Patton into the War Room for more instructions.

After a few weeks she implored me to help with the feeding. (She had a way of letting you know what she wanted.) It was time for the troops to start eating solid food. So I complied. She would finish up their meal with a “glass” of mother’s milk.

Eventually, they were weaned. That meant I had to find a new home for them. My daughter and I packed up the adorable fivesome and headed for Foodmax. They were the hit of the day for shoppers who gladly adopted Crusader, Sebastian, Simogne, Priscilla and the calico.

When we came home, Consuelo was distraught. She went to every room of the house calling for her kittens. She ran outside and called them for hours. It was absolutely heart-wrenching. She mourned for days. She was inconsolable.

But it was only a few short weeks until she had another litter. Then another.

When we moved to another city, I was the designated driver for Consuelo and her latest cache of kittens. Nobody else would ride with her.

She was a little tense … panting and hissing things like, “I cannot believe you are dragging me and these little babies halfway across the state. Can you not see that I am stressed out here?!? And what am I supposed to do all day while you go to your new job? Stay at home and take care of these brats? I have a life, too, you know. I’m not just another pretty face. I have a mind, and a darn good one. But, no, it’s always about you. You never think about my needs …”

She really gave me an earful … silently.

One of the first things we did in our new town was to look up a service for spaying cats. My courageous son said he would hold her in the car.

“Get a bath towel to wrap her in,” I cautioned.

“Mom, I think I can control a little cat for two miles,” he said condescendingly.

“OK. No skin off my nose.”

A few seconds out of the driveway, he was begging me for the towel.

Consuelo never took to life without kittens. She caught birds, chased squirrels and tangled with ‘possums and raccoons, but it wasn’t the same. At night when I called her to come in, she never answered me, just dangled a lone paw over the doorway from her perch in the rain gutter. Her zip was gone.

But she continued to mother. She mothered me.

I had lingering pain from a frozen shoulder, and I felt it most at night. Consuelo always knew just the right time to leap onto my bed, walk up my tired arm and rest her head on my shoulder. She would place a paw, with claws open the tiniest little bit, on my cheek as if to say, “If you move, I will dig in. Be still. We both need our beauty sleep.”

The warmth of her little body on my shoulder was better than drugs or a heating pad. She comforted me to sleep with her silent lullaby.

 
 “Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah.
 “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.”  — Psalm 32:7-8 (KJV)

BOYS IN THE TOILET

Raising boys is always a challenge, but especially for a single mom. Guiding young minds to excel academically, to prefer high moral standards, to choose biblical paths over the ways of the world, to become godly men who will stride into manhood with dignity, honor and grace …

Piece of cake compared to teaching them to close the lid on the toilet. I decided to add a unique touch in our bathroom. Under the lower lid (you know the one) I securely taped (and waterproofed) a reminder:

If this lid is up, you owe me $1.00!

There! That should do it! Hit ‘em where it hurts … right in the spending money.

And it worked quite nicely. No more midnight surprise dips in the water for me. Yes, it worked quite nicely until the night of the choir party.

In the busy-ness of preparing for our guests, I remembered the well-positioned potty sign only after a very shy tenor tenuously approached me. “Uh, do I pay you the dollar?”

“ … thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away.” — Job 11:16 (KJV)