By Rosalie Tirella
So, it’s been two months of Cece, the homeless, half-starved kitten I was given as a (dubious?) reward for helping find homes for a pitbull mix, two cats, an assortment of hens and one elusive, hiding-in-the-nearby- woods rooster.
This has translated into:
… my Polish immigrant granny’s Christmas creche she brought to America almost 90 years ago, along with all her hopes and dreams, SMASHED beyond Elmer’s help …
Most of my pretty potted plants that I nurtured and loved all spring, summer and fall …
Dug up and dug into … possible peed into…
And here lies the culprit, on my chest, giving my boobies a good clawing if she feels herself slipping off …
… She’s washing herself with that endearing little pink sandpaper tongue of hers while purring loudly …
The havoc that this 7-ounce feline creates wherever she sets her dainty little black paws – which is everywhere in my apartment, including refrigerator shelves after I shut the door! – is forgiven by her smitten owner …
What is it about this furry little demolition derby that sets my heart a flutter?
Is it because Cece looks like the little Black kitten – “Blackie” – that my mom and her two sisters (now all deceased) took in off the mean streets of Springfield during World War II when they were farmed out by my grandparents to work as maids for the Bishop of Springfield? (My mom left their Green Island tenement when she was 14 1/2 years old). They were the original cat ladies – but also pup lovers. Soft hearted and crazy cuz they were young and didn’t know any better, they convinced the good Bishop to buy them two Doberman pinschers – the pitbulls of their day. Which my mom and her sisters adored. Powerful dogs that you’d think would make dessert out of Blackie the kitten. But that never happened. The dogs – Rocky and Bridgette – loved my mom and her two sisters – and, like all dogs, lived to please their mistresses – and, like all good Dobbies, protect them to the max. Rocky jumped on a visiting nun and broke her arm. He also bit a few people – a scary and acutely painful experience for the person at the end of the large canine’s large canines – getting his mistresses into big trouble. They were forced to give Rocky, to whom they fed horsemeat they bought at the butchers, to a farmer in the country. But Rocky loved them and escaped and weeks later came to their doorstep, haggard and bleeding at the tongue. He had cut himself bad trying to get at the milk in milk bottles – and died at my auntie’s ( his fave mistress) feet.
Here’s one of my aunts with Blackie:
I love how she holds Blackie’s paw! In most of my late mom’s Sprinfield photos my mom and aunts are always holding some pet’s paw! Such sweet Catholic girls! So unprepared for my dad and uncles, all (except one!) killers.
So my Cece makes me think of my late mom and my two aunts during happy days of their lives – housekeeping but also dancing to Tommy Dorsey music in Springfield dance halls when big band music was the craze and dance halls were ubiquitous in this huge country of ours and all Americans – every last one! – could dance. I mean REALLY DANCE. They knew and got rhythm. They bought sheet music and learned how to play the songs if they were musicians or learned ALL the lyrics, if they werent. … My mom and aunts were no different. They had a Victrola – which I now have in my kitchen – and 33s that played Doris Day, even AL Jolson ( “Hallelujah! I’m a bum again!”) …
When Cece first came into my life I burst into tears as she ran sideways into Lilac, my hound/shepherd mix! Not because I feared for her life (she could fit into the palm of my hand she was so small – not even weened!) but because of her just born-ness. Her newness in this mean old world. Her innocent recklessness in a world that could squelch her in a second. Her beautiful virgin confusion. I ran to her, scooped her up, still crying and thrust her to my chest! THERE THERE BABY GIRL! I blubbered. I’LL TAKE CARE OF YOU! I LOVE YOU!
And so I did and so I have. I taught my Cece (named after my late mom) how to lick drops of canned kittens milk from my finger tip – and then how to lap it from a tiny bowl I made for her out of an upside down instant coffee cover.
I scooped her up and kissed her little face when the dogs got too rough with her – and scolded the dogs for treating her like a chew toy with an edge they’d never seen in me. To their chagrin Cece liked their big dog water bowl better than her teeny one! And Mommy did nothing to keep her from defiling the waters!!
The pure joy with which Cece attacks life moves me! Makes me forget our mortally dangerous soon to be President Donald Trump. The pain and hatred he’ll create fall to the wayside as Cece races through my kitchen. Guns pop out daisies as Cece makes a virgin dive from the table in my bedroom to my bed! And low and behold!!! I am young again! Tying a long strip of peach ribbon to notebook paper I’ve crumpled into a ball I run like a teenager in my apartment, yelling IT’S CECE! IT’S CECE! HERE COMES CECE AROUND THE BEND!!! And my little kitten is under foot going wild with the paper ball, pouncing on my ankles and giving them some good little bites. Ouch!!!
All babes do the same! Make joy out of nothing. Just last week I saw a poor family walking down a Worcester inner-city street. Mom had the usual clear plastic covering zippered up over the baby stroller she was pushing. Sometimes you just see cheap blankets thrown over the stroller giving warmth and protection to months-old babies in freezing New England weather. You worry about the babies’ little toes and fingers. You stare at the pain…no room at the inn. It’s still true, so many Christmases later! But then you see the Christmas miracle – or Christ himself – the six-year-old girl in her cheap autumn jacket that is out of season but mom wisely undergirds with sweater and shirt. Then there are her mittens and jaunty little yellow knit cap. So little girl is playful – pulls a Cece! As they cross the street, the little girl walks on tip toes – only in the white lines in the cross walk! Stretching her little jean clad legs so her feet won’t touch the gray cement of the street – just the white painted lines of the crosswalk. She is smiling to herself. Her secret game with rules she made all by herself for herself!
A month before, in South Worcester, I saw another little girl doing pretty much the same thing in her cross walk but adding a little dance to the game. Then the little boy in Main South who did the same in his crosswalk – only he would clap his hands every time he stepped onto a yellow painted line! And he’d smile! Tickled at his trick. Poverty was something to be leapt over, clapped to, danced along…
Then you remember how you, as a little girl walked these same Worcester city streets, behind your sweet, very poor single mom. It was wintertime. Ma was always carless – didn’t even know how to drive. … You’re walking home on Lafayette Street after Ma and you and your two kid sisters have gone grocery shopping at Supreme Market on Millbury Street. It’s after a big snowstorm, and the snow plows get to the poor neighborhoods last. No matter! Your mother walks in Lafayette Street, against traffic, against and into the dirty soft snow. She’s pulling her grocery wagon behind her. It’s filled with groceries covered with plastic wrap that she got from the drycleaners she works at 60 hours a week – 40 for minimum wage, 20 under the table. She just got paid this Friday night. You giggle along with your sisters cuz you found the big tire tracks made by the big trucks going down Lafyette Street and now you have a game going home! You’re trying to walk only inside the tire tracks the big 18 wheelers have made in the snow! The tracks are wide and long. Be careful! It’s slippery! You and your sisters are trying to slide inside the thick tire tracks! The street lights give the Green Island night a pleasant yellow glow from above and make the darkened snow sparkle diamonds. Stay inside the lines! you yell to Pat and Joannie.
You don’t want to slip and lose the game – even though you do. But that’s ok because you don’t have far to go if you fall! You see it all! The snowflakes in the snow, the flowers in the dirt! Whoppee! What a game! In the snow! With Ma!!!!!!
Cece joy! If she were human – a little girl and not a little kitten – she’d join in! Back home in our third floor flat we have our own tabby kitten – Rajah! She likes to play, too! And drink from the saucer of milk our Polish granny, Bapy, sets on the floor for her. Bapy feeds her yellow pound cake, too, even though Ma scolds her and tells her not to! The cake will make Rajah sick! But it never does.
I know there are three little bags of cashews Ma bought for me and for each of my two kid sisters in Ma’s purse. Lightly salted. I smiled at the rummies at McGovern’s Package Store on Millbury Street as Ma paid for our bags of cashews. She looks so pretty in her blue wool coat and red lipstick! Just like a princess!
So lucky to be a little girl, a little kid – a Cece in this world!
One of my late mom’s fave tunes! She used to dance to it in our Green Island kitchen! (I love the video!)