I’m staring into a refrigerator wondering if the possum on the patio would prefer a pork chop or cottage cheese for dinner. What’s wrong with this picture?
Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I thought I’d stay with mother while I recovered from a leg surgery. Like so many Islanders, she’s a little nuts when it comes to animals. She has eight cats and two dachshunds. I imagined I’d help her fill her long days with fun projects from Rachael Ray. We’d organize the closet crammed with picture-filled shoe boxes and cry and laugh together, one Kodak moment after another. Ah, ignorance is bliss.
Relaxation? It ain’t happening here, babe. The days start at 5 a.m. when the entire house is awakened by the call of Orlando, the big black-and-white tuxedo cat. He’s recently neutered, but he still keeps his king-of-the-house attitude. An 82-year-old woman staggers past my bedroom to the kitchen. Cats and dogs follow her. The three cats, who have controlled my sleep positions all night and refused to be kicked off the bed, hear the distant sound of a can of cat food popping open and run right over my face to get to the kitchen.
Does Mother put down a large pan of food, like I would, to feed animals? No, no, that would make sense and be too easy. Each animal has a dish with his or her name on it and gets fed in different locations according to who gets along with whom. The fat dachshund gets the low-calorie formula; Magic, the Persian cat, gets the hairball formula food; Ginger, the orange tabby, gets the low-ash formula; two of the four grey cats get kitten chow because they’re older and need softer food. It takes a half hour to get everybody fed. This happens three times a day. If I wait my turn and behave myself, I can get a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs with a side of Friskies Seafood Paté.
Following breakfast, Mother takes her medication. How complicated can this be? I figured one, two, three minutes, tops. No. There’s a reason Mother is a healthy, vibrant senior—it’s called better living through chemistry. Seniors have a whole system when it comes to taking their meds. I learned not to disturb Mother unless I was on fire. Following the medication hour, Mother cleans the kitchen. Immaculate? You could perform surgery on the kitchen table.
By now it’s mid-morning. The three male cats have been sleeping in their spots in the living room since breakfast. They rise every half hour to make a quarter turn and resume sleeping. It’s spring, and even though all the cats are neutered and spayed, the females still start to look for places to have a litter. As my granddaughter once said of her great-grandmother’s house, “Kitties is everywhere!” Indeed, they are, every corner of every closet, in hatboxes, in cabinets—in every nook that you look, kitties is everywhere.
As we approach midday, two cats get sick somewhere, which triggers multiple trips to the washer and dryer in the cellar. There’s a few cats who seem to have the job of escorting Mother everywhere, which is especially tricky on the stairs, but they do a fine job of making her nearly fall while giving her just enough space to regain her balance.
At noon, after the animals are fed, I can have a soup and a sandwich. But I notice that I don’t have a bowl with my name on it. What makes the cats better than me? I can jump on Mother’s bed and follow her around the house, probably even use the litter box…I think she loves the cats more than me.
I’m hoping she’ll sit down in the afternoon. We could watch a movie, read old issues of her Cat Fancy magazines, work on our genealogy tree, or anything that qualifies as quality time. Mother says yes. Right after she finishes cleaning. She sweeps, mops, vacuums all afternoon. I help where I can, but she goes over my areas because I may have missed something. There might be a grain of sand that escaped her vacuum. It’s a Higgs-boson vacuum. It has enough suction to create a black hole if you hold it in one spot long enough.
By dinnertime, I’m exhausted from watching Mother all day. I can safely say that at age 82, she can out-work men half her age, and I can out-work men twice her age. Dinner is nice and the leftovers, if any, are saved for Ollie the possum, who cruises the patio at night. No leftovers? We find something for him in the fridge.
I have a three-digit I.Q., I have a degree, I’m staring into a refrigerator wondering if a possum would prefer cottage cheese or a pork chop for dinner…what’s wrong with this picture?