Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I really do want to tell you about Schwartz, who for all the world looks like a stand-in for Sugar, although his profile is far less Siamese and far more elfin in nature. But to tell the story of Schwartz, I must first digress and tell the story of a snake named Basil.


But this is supposed to be the story of Schwartz, my current cat, who replaced the old cats a few months after they died (at the ages of 19 and 20). One was a crabby, foul-breathed ornery old child- and dog-hating bit of white nastiness that lived for many years under my bed and almost only came out to eat and poop. He had a yellow eye and a blue eye, and it only made him scarier. When you looked at him in the dark, you could only see the white ness of his face, but no ears and no eyes. His head looked like a skull. He had no tolerance whatsoever of sneezing, by anyone for any reason. If you tried to find him there was only one place: under my bed. I think his hair is still there today. When he didn’t hiss in your face with this catty death-breath, he would growl. He was a terrible, unhappy animal and we never, ever knew why.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Sugar lived to the age of 18. My mother called me the morning she had to put him to sleep, pretending to ask permission. By that time, I was in graduate school, and I lived in another state and had two cats of my own. I was very sad that day, and pointed out to anyone who cared to hear that I’d had the cat almost as long as I’d had my younger brother.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


You should know that Francis was named for his resemblance to Frances the badger from the children’s book “A Birthday for Frances.” Unlike a badger, our Francis had a glorious striped fluffy tail that seemed at least 2 ½ inches too long. He was beautiful, but has also very stupid and walked into walls and ran from sounds no one else heard. He died before he was ever really an adult, succumbing to one of those terrible cat illnesses with a fancy name no child would ever want to remember.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Sugar out-lived his brother by many years, and also outlived other cat companions Sesame and Francis. Francis was the kitten we kept from Sesame’s litter, and he was kept because we thought he wouldn’t live. Sesame was rescued from someone or someplace; no doubt my mother would know, but she took that and so many other details with her when she died April 13, 2004. Sesame was wild, that I remember, and would not agree to doll clothes or carrying. Soon enough she turned out to be pregnant (do we call cats pregnant?) and delivered her litter over spring break while we were out of town. My grandfather, H. Richard Nussbaum was in charge of keeping track of her progress, and the kittens were delivered in a box of sandpaper in our basement. Once the kittens were weaned, Sesame was given away, along with the kittens. I am sure a reason for her departure was provided to me, but what it was I no longer recall.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Playing with Sugar was the best. First, you had to find him and catch him. He was a big cat, and even carrying him upstairs might have been something. I was very, very small when I was little. I was so small that when I was in kindergarten, and in first grade, and in every other grade of elementary school, I stood in the class picture on the end in the front row. The year that I was breathing and my stomach is all round and full of air, you could see it. The years that we wore sneakers and socks with our dresses, you could see it. The year that I scratched my arm you could see that, too. Once I got Sugar trapped in my room, I would undress the baby dolls with the flannel night gowns and the sleeping caps. The gown from the little doll fit on Sugar, but he had to wear the bigger hat. Then you tried to make him sleep in the doll beds, but of course he never would. It was then that I discovered all the things you can do to cats: how they react when you put a sock over their head, how they can’t walk if you tie something around their belly, and how fast they can run when they have a dress on. In retrospect, I don’t think I was very nice to my cat Sugar, but I loved him very much, and I can say for sure that if I ever really hurt him he would have scratched me hard and run off. Cats, after all, are hunters. If house cats were bigger and we were smaller, they would hunt us, catch us, play with us, kill us, play with our dead bodies some more, and maybe eat us, but maybe not.

Monday, December 7, 2009


At the end of first grade, I got two kittens for my birthday, which made me gloriously happy. They were brothers who came with the names Sugar and Spice; changing their names might have been something a creative loud-mouthed family like mine would do, but we couldn’t agree on anything else, as loud-mouth argumentative families are wont to do. The cats were black, short-haired fellows with yellow eyes whose mother had been found in a trash can in Tan-Tar-A or Sarasota (whichever resort town it was, she was named for it) and had been brought home by a family friend of my parents. Their mother rewarded her rescuers with a promptly produced litter of three. Their sister looked like a Siamese, like their mother, which meant that Sugar and Spice grew up to have long, snouty profiles and one had a loud voice. Spice suffered some sort of superficial wound to a front leg as a youngster and thereafter had a large white patch on his leg surrounding a bald, scarred, spot, did not live as long as Sugar, but he lived long enough to wear doll clothes and ride in carriages and generally do the duties of a small girl’s cat, as Sugar did.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


The crows were probably the worst of my problems in first grade. They swooped at me when I walked, tiny and alone to school. Sometimes I would sit on the step outside the back door of our house crying to be let back in. My heartless mother would lock me out, so it was school or nothing. Sometimes school was cool and amazing, like the day I found the book “Little House on the Prairie” in the library and read it. Or like the times Mrs. Anastasoff would get out her guitar and sit on her desk and sing to us. Or the day the war was supposed to be over, when kids ran up and down the halls saying “The war is over!” I didn’t know there was a war. I really didn’t. I only knew about World War II, which had been over for a long time.