Cats in Winter

Our three don’t go out so we don’t worry about frostbitten paws or frozen fur. It’s been snowing so much lately, they would be wet if they braved the elements–little Julia the black and white, with a cute moustache and black goatee, next Maggie the square-faced, a calico like the oldest Tilly with motley shifts from orange to white to dark flecked with tan. Only Tilly suffers stiffness and lethargy when it’s 20 below as it’s been way too often this January. Five school closings in one month, surely a record, and most on Mondays.

     Yet all three know winter from summer. No open doors and windows to sniff the breeze. No delighting in cool linoleum. Instead Maggie hunkers down by the dining room radiator, and Julia leaps atop a few radiators upstairs with blankets or towels draped over them. Tilly has discovered a new warm spot recently–the laundry basket beside the radiator in a bedroom. One night in the dark I reached down for a bathrobe and grabbed instead a snarling cat.

     Especially Maggie’s fur stands on end with static electricity, except just after someone’s showered when the bathroom air is moist. They Julia begs to be cuddled–a piercing squeak, then once in arms, a half grunt, half purr and willingness to remain passive while her hair is patted backwards. I do the same to Tilly in early morning when I drink my coffee in bed and she comes to be stroked.  Her hair is the longest and finest of all three felines, but her willingness to groom herself has waned. Mats form along her belly, under her arms and under her chin. My theory used to be that she slept too long on one side–thus the mats. But under her chin doesn’t make any sense unless she rolls onto her neck to rest. Guess I don’t know all there is to know about each cat.

     We are so much part of a family it’s eerie. This has been true ever since Fran and I acquired more than two cats, which come to think of it was when we got married. We blended cats and kids. His Fluffy and Bart, my nameless calico–well she had a name but lived only a short time. I no longer remember, though her ghost is hovering just beyond memory.

     Winter is a quieter time. I listen to Frances Mayes’ Every Day in Tuscany not only in the evening but also at noon when doing my stretches. When Julia sees me pull the floor towel off the rack, she squeaks with excitement. I swing it at her like a torreadore’s cape, but she skitters away–this is NOT how things should go. Giving in, I lay it flat and she immediately take her position at one end. Frances Mayes amuses me as she pronounces Italian with a Georgia. twang, Not until listening to this book on disc have I realized how southern she is. Yet this light-hearted account of TWO houses in Cortona, a slew of friends who seem to do nothing but cook for each other and walk in the town’s piazza, is a fine antidote to this beastly winter.

     I tried quite a while ago to take partial possession of a small apartment in an Umbrian hill town, but after three months, understood I would never stay long enough to make the upkeep and mortgage worthwhile.  I need my one and only yard, outside the upstairs bathroom picture window, the eight trees I’ve planted over the years on the property, the slant of Midwestern roofs now covered with snow, and the certainty that all that I cherish is in one place. We could never take three cats to Italy like artist and writer friends take their big dog. Our cats define home, along with books, art works, the slant of light, the friends we’ve known for years, and of course my husband. Mine is not an expansive personality, at last not as expansive as Frances Mayes’. Yet it’s fun to hear about heat and swimming pools, and baby cingali or wild boars, tearing up a hilltop garden. I gave up growing vegetables long ago and plant only flowers and tend trees and cats.

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