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 Martha 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 a mother who soon decided she didn’t really enjoy being a mother at all. Her children were supposed to be ornaments, but we turned out to be flesh and blood.

I lived in a house surrounded by my grandfather’s orange grove, next door to his wonderful two-story, Spanish-style home. His orange grove became the enchanted forest of my childhood, and my grandparents were wise, saintly people who gave me the love and guidance 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, while I was from a wealthy and privileged family on acres of land. I didn’t fit in, even though I wanted to. I was not allowed to try.

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, and they eventually made their way to my grandmother’s back door. But grandmother was a worrier, so she had my grandfather construct an elaborate extension onto a tool shed with lumber and chicken wire which became grandma’s cat hotel.

Grandma’s cat hotel had shelves at all different levels and handmade beds and walkways and all manner of places 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 were always waiting for her, gathered at her back door. But still, she called, “Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty,” using a high-pitched voice that sounded like something you’d hear on the Texas farm where both my grandparents were raised. The cats were so hungry that even the wildest of them raced inside grandma’s cat hotel to get their food. This was her way of protecting them from the perils of the 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, 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 and talk with each of my friends—petting the friendliest and trying my best to tame the wildest. There were always at least about a dozen cats in grandma’s cat hotel, sometimes nearly twenty or more.

The wildest cats were so afraid, nothing could tame them. They were driven into the cat hotel by hunger, but 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, each of them settled into a place of repose, despite their uncertain and sometimes fearful lives. Often, I spent an hour or more just watching them curl their paws, narrow their eyes and commune with the eternal. We had a lot in common. I was also a stray, saved by the love of my grandmother.



~ Text and photograph by Russ Allison Loar
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