Grandma's Cat Hotel




I was a lonely little boy.

My father was a traveling salesman and a workaholic. He was from the generation that believed children should not be seen or heard. My mother was a spoiled only child who thought having a boy and a girl was the socially correct thing to do. Things didn’t quite work out. My older sister and I were adopted.

My sister was adopted first, as an infant. About five years later I was adopted shortly before my second birthday. I was a troubled child; wounded by homelessness; adopted by parents who soon decided they didn’t really enjoy being parents at all. My sister and I were supposed to be ornaments, but we turned out to be flesh and blood.

I lived in a house surrounded by my grandparents’ orange grove, next door to their wonderful two-story, Spanish-style home. Their orange grove became the enchanted forest of my childhood and their home was my sanctuary. They were wise, saintly people who gave me the love and guidance I was missing from my parents.

Yet I was a lonely boy. I was generations away from my parents and grandparents. I was born in 1950. My grandparents were born in 1885. The neighborhood kids had little use for me. They lived on a crowded street of lower-middle-class homes. I was from a privileged, upper-class family on acres of land. I didn’t fit in.

So what does a lonely boy do? I became friends with my grandmother’s cats. She was such a kindhearted soul, not only would she make sandwiches for homeless men who showed up at her back door now and then, but she also fed every stray cat in the neighborhood. The orange grove was a sanctuary for strays who inevitably made their way to my grandmother’s back porch. My grandmother was a worrier, so she talked my handyman grandfather into constructing a large extension to a tool shed, using lumber and chicken wire. It became grandma’s cat hotel.

Grandma’s cat hotel had shelves at different levels, handmade wooden beds and all sorts of cubbyholes for the cats to hide in, to feel safe and secure in. She lured them in every afternoon before dark by filling up a wide, flat basket with pie pans of cat food. They gathered each afternoon on her spacious back porch. Just in case there was a straggler, she called, “Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty,” using a high-pitched voice that sounded almost like hog calling; something you’d hear on the Texas farm where both my grandparents were raised. The cats were so hungry even the wildest of them raced inside grandma’s cat hotel to get their food. She distributed the pie pans and then closed the chicken wire door. She was protecting them from the perils and the predators of night.

Each cat had a name and a particular set of habits and peculiarities which my grandmother taught me. One short-haired gray cat with a white ring around her neck and white paws was named Trippy, after her habit of rubbing against my grandmother’s ankles while she walked, threatening to trip her. Bobo Blackie was a solid black tomcat with many battle scars, named after a television wrestler. Most evenings I would visit the cat hotel in the hour or two before dark—petting the friendliest and trying my best to tame the wildest. There was usually about a dozen residents of grandma’s cat hotel.

The wildest cats were so afraid, nothing could tame them. They were driven into the cat hotel by hunger. No matter how many times I spoke kindly to them; no matter how many treats I gave them; they remained fiercely wild. They shivered and hissed as if attacked when I tried to pet them.

After dinnertime was through, they settled into their favorite places of repose. I sometimes spent an hour or more speaking to them, petting them, watching them curl their paws, narrow their eyes and commune with the eternal. We had a lot in common. I too was a stray, saved by the love of my grandmother.



~ Text and photograph by Russ Allison Loar
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