Once or twice a year, when we’re heading up to Steamboat, Colorado for a ski trip, we stop at a grubby convenience store on Highway 127 South, at the southernmost edge of the hamlet of Walden. In winter, we leave after work, which makes for a dark, often snowy, drive. In addition to pausing there for the obvious reasons of (a) a relatively clean restroom, and (b) there are a good selection of moose t-shirts to make fun of, we always buy each person in the car a one dollar lottery ticket. It’s one of those scratch-off sorts, the kind that you have to dig around in the bottom of your purse to find a penny so you can make a crumbly mess of little, gray shavings in the car. After being on the road for three hours, driving through Wyoming and its everblasting wind, and often whiteout blizzard conditions, making piles of shavings are the least of our worries. In over ten years, no one has ever won more than four dollars at a time, and yet, we continue to buy the tickets. I suppose that’s why Powerball fever has overtaken this country. A couple weeks ago, the jackpot edged six hundred million dollars. What kind of bright and shiny future might that buy you? How might it change your life? In a way, taking the minimal effort to purchase a lotto ticket, filled with the accompanying fantasy that work need never control you again, is remarkably similar to the three separate attempts we have made to adopt a cat into our family.
As with lottery dreams, cat ownership at the Kemme house has been brief, and illusive. There is never a shortage of dogs (or dog hair on couches), but cats are of short duration.
The urge to add a cat to our pet lineup is seasonal, typically occurring in late spring, during the peak of allergy season, and just about the time the kids get out of school. The hay fever connection is crucial for understanding why we let down our guard in the first place, and even consider the possibility of a feline. It’s true, at first, the animals are winning little creatures, rubbing their soft faces up and down your shins, making a convincing argument that YOU are the only hope they may ever have for lifelong happiness. You sigh, pick up the cat, and unfailingly, the damned things rev their internal engines, and Purrrrrrrrr. Cats come equipped with these machines because they know that, without them, they would never be able to trap a human.
Early on in our marriage, when a cat was under consideration, Dr. K’s first shot off the bow generally began with: “You’re going to let an animal in our house so it can poop in it? On purpose?”
This was always succeeded by the ominous statement, “And, you know, I’m allergic to cats.” This seemingly simple sounding warning was actually a volatile threat, underlying the portentous question, “Who do you love more, me, your husband, whom you can reason with (somewhat), or an unknown entity, a furry fickle being that will never allow you to control it?” That whole control issue has stopped me in my tracks many a time, keeping me safely within the dog aisles at PetSmart.
Our first foray into to felinedom happened before we ever considered allowing human children into our home. There was a Memorial Day barbecue at my sister and brother-in-law’s house, and somebody had a cat which needed a good home. I suppose the pollen count was up. That’s the only explanation I can provide for the fuzzy thought process which must have had us in its grip, and why a furry, gray creature (whom I had just named Pepper) kept making attempts to climb from the back seat into the front, wrapping itself around Dr. K’s neck as he drove home from the party. He began sneezing uncontrollably, and looked over at me in the passenger seat, the accusation clear. We turned around, and took the cat back to my sister’s house. That cat ownership experiment lasted two blocks.
Down the road, there were kids, and there was a local farm museum with Baby Animals. Of course, some people do think that kittens fall into the farm animal kingdom, somewhere, which is why our son Harrison came home from a day of volunteering at the farm, in tears because there was this amazingly, wonderful, creature, with lots of black and white fur (whom he’d already named Harry, in honor of Harry Potter, a living wonder of his own, in our house at that time), who had NO PLACE TO GO, Mom, after the farm days were ended.
This sad announcement was followed by a noticeably weakened statement from Dr. K: “You know, I’m allergic to cats.”
The next afternoon, Harry joined the fur brigade at our house. He was cooly acknowledged by Lucy and Ethel, two large collies, who excelled at bird trapping. They worked in tandem. Lucy (the nicer of the pair) had the responsibility of calming any bird which had hit a window at the house; she nosed it, murmured words of encouragement to the downed feathered one (“breathe, you know you can do it, just settle down, smooth your feathers, and when you’re ready, go fly!”). Once the bird was unruffled, Ethel would shoulder her way in, and with teeth bared, put an end to the avian’s dimwitted consideration of leaving the yard. The two collies then had lunch. I wasn’t so sure a kitten was a good match for those teeth.
After a day or so of snarling (dogs) and hissing (kitten, low volume, but nasty, nonetheless), I noticed a change in Lucy’s demeanor. She playfully nosed Harry, rolling him over, sniffing his tummy (very nice, round and full). Harry thought our house was an endless playground, climbing all over the clean laundry drying on racks, happily disregarding any growling of my own, telling him that, “This sort of behavior from cats, Harry, is not okay!” Needless to say, Harry ignored me and decided to climb up the silk living room curtains. The next day, I saw Lucy pawing at the kitten, with Harry pawing back. “How cute!” I thought, as brainlessly as had any window-struck bird. Within a day or so, the dogs had come up with a fun game. It was called, “Let’s Grab Harry!” It involved a mouthful of kitten, and the goal was to see how vigorously they could shake him. After a few days of being dog-rattled, Harry was a goner. He wove, he stumbled, he forgot where the litter box was, and, well. You probably can figure out what happened to our little black-and-white friend. At least he lasted two weeks.
Round three, Cats – 0, Kemmes – 2. Stray cat in yard in rainstorm. Looks terribly hungry. Dr. K drives to PetSmart at 8:57 pm in thundering downpour, purchases cat bowls, cat food, cat leash, cat carrier, and fluffy cat bed. Somewhere in between all this preparation for cat ownership, he must have forgotten he was allergic to them. Before the cat had the chance to eat dinner, it decided to take a stroll in the yard, where it became the (wet) object of a coyote snack. We live in the country. That cat never had the chance to be named.
Which brings me back to the Lotto.
My friend Elle told me that, since the Powerball jackpot had climbed to $590.5 million a couple of weeks ago, she decided to buy a ticket. Problem was, she had never bought a ticket before, and didn’t know how to do it. She called her husband, Big Dog, to get step-by-step instructions on how to go about doing the picks. It is complicated, much more so than stopping in at a convenience store in the middle of nowhere, paying for your fill up, and adding a couple of one dollar tickets to the credit card. She spent $30. It seemed like a lot to pay when the odds of winning are 1 out of 175.2 million people. Particularly since, over ten years of trying, we’d maybe won ten dollars. Total.
“It seemed like it was worth a try, at least,” Elle told me. “It would have been so great! I was going to take my entire, extended family on a trip, buy new cars for everyone, pay for my kids’ college education!”
I could see her point on that one. We have two kids in college, and it’s a bit like driving a brand new car off a cliff, every year. Except that the kids eventually acquire letters after their names.
I also told her that buying Powerball tickets reminded me of cat ownership. Furry at the start, giving you lots of warm ideas. They rub their face on your leg, promising everlasting friendship and devotion. Then, they take off a run, on the hunt for the litter box. At least, that’s where I hope the cat was headed.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @. Life inspired. Vodka tempered.