This book has nothing to do with beauty, unless it is the inside kind which most people don’t understand. It is not about well-reasoned and carefully considered decisions. Don’t read it looking for logic or order. It is about heart and the amazing and wonderful fact that not all the best things in life happen when we are young.
My Dad had known early in his life what he wanted to be and worked with the one goal of becoming a physician. It is all he ever wanted to do. He gave his life and his best care to his patients and his family. He worked so hard and cared so much that he very nearly wore himself out. He found himself working two jobs in his late 50’s because the new job needed him to start before the old job was able to let him go. He had a heart attack; the kind that usually kills instantly. Thankfully, he survived and this story is about what happened when my Mom and Dad decided Dad should try retirement.
It took a few more years to plan and arrange. Together they decided that they would buy an RV, trailer a small car and hit the road for a year. The first and the biggest illogical retirement decision they made. My Mom was small in stature and, while fairly handy, she was not physically strong. My Dad is an excellent Doctor but is mechanically hopeless. Very few in the family could imagine how they would survive a year of RV travel or even understood why they would want to do this to themselves. Their idea was to see the country and visit everyone that they had ever known who was still alive and in the continental US and Canada. They thought they would start with Dad’s kindergarten teacher, then in her 90’s. Makes sense, right?
Finally the summer before the start of their trip arrived and with it came the RV – a nice Class C with room to sleep six (so they said) if you could figure out how to convert the café table and bench seats into a bed. It never slept more than four. The last weeks of work were counted down. Short test trips were planned to work out the “kinks.” The summer was enjoyed and the house readied to be closed up for the year.
In an odd twist their home and a summer house were opposite one another on a piece of land at the edge of a lake that had been in my mother’s family since the 1890’s. My great grandfather built the summer house in 1896. When my sister graduated from high school, Mom and Dad fulfilled a long-held dream of converting a small structure on the property (originally a barn) to a winter home just big enough for the two of them. The summer house had walls of single-board thickness and no insulation. Each fall the water was turned off, the wrap around screen porches shuttered and the house hibernated until late the next spring. In its glory months the summer house was wide open to the surrounding woods and water. Its porches were wonderful places for long naps and dreams perfumed by the scent of pine. It was the setting for childhoods as close to perfect as humanly possible.
The houses and the lake were the well-loved home of several generations of our family. It is hard to imagine leaving such a place but it is true that there can be no new experiences of life as long as the familiar is held too closely. My parents were ready for new places and new experiences and they looked to their futures with excitement and confidence.
Elsewhere in the small town, in the weeks/months when all this planning was coming to a conclusion, another drama played out. The details are unknown but it is certain that a litter of kittens was born. We will never know if they were wanted or not; we will never know if they were all exposed to the elements to survive as best they could or if one was lost by accident. All we do know is that after several weeks on his own a tiny kitten found us.
My sister and several friends had come to the summer house for their vacation, to see the new RV and to send our parents off with best wishes on their adventure. I was planning to arrive at the weekend. In the afternoon of a day spent at the beach, my sister headed back to the summer house and found herself being followed by a tragic figure. A very dirty, bedraggled, thin and desperate kitten was struggling to keep up with her all the while screaming at the top of his lungs. He was hurt, hungry, and spending the last of his little store of energy to attach himself to this young woman. Did he know of her fondness for animals, particularly cats? Did he sense that she would do anything to help him survive? He chose well the human being upon whom he would bet his life.
Up the hill and around the corner of the summer house they came, the kitten meowing for all he was worth and she calling for help and support. Mom, Dad, Sister and kitten met on the back porch and took stock of one another. A quick decision was made. My sister dressed and she and Dad took the tiny morsel of cat off to our local Vet. A closer look revealed that he was young, too young to be separated from his mother. He was injured. The damage to his face was obvious. Hope that he might be saved was shaken and Dad and my sister began to think that the Vet would recommend that the kitten be euthanized. Back at the summer house Mom was thinking what should be done with this unexpected visitor. She was determined to find a safe place for this kitten.
The Vet looked the kitten over, noted the injuries and the flea infestation but knew there was room for hope. He dipped the kitten for fleas, prescribed an antibiotic cream for his damaged eye, handed Dad a can of cat food and sent them all home. The Vet knew my parents. He knew them to be good, loving pet owners who had been without a pet for a number of years. He didn’t waste much time worrying about this kitten in their hands.
Dad and my sister found themselves back in the car with the now damp kitten. The sad but final solution was no longer available and they had to go home to face my Mom and find plan B. Mom met them again on the back porch. Her intention was to stand firm, find a good home for the kitten, but not allow it to find its way into her heart. He really wasn’t looking very promising. It was impossible to tell exactly what color he was through all the caked on dirt. The fleas were dying and falling off of him. His good eye was green. Mom was not eager to have him in the house but, clearly, he couldn’t be left outside. He was made comfortable on the side screened in porch. An old litter pan was found and filled. Dishes of water and cat food set out. New concerns for his health arose when he tried to eat. He was desperately hungry but seemed to have some nerve damage to his face and jaw. He tried to grab chunks of food but banged his face on the dish, the floor, everywhere. It seemed more food was smeared on his face and the floor than went in his mouth. Strangely, this bothered the humans watching him but the kitten was unconcerned, didn’t cry or whine, and just went about eating the only way he knew how.
I arrived to hear the story of the kitten’s arrival from my excited and concerned family and met the little guy. He was quite a sight. But, he was purring! He was sitting in the midst of these excited people and purring. Given the suffering and frightening experiences of his short life you might have expected him to be hiding and hissing. Instead he was exercising considerable social skill to calm and reassure these people. He was the most ingratiating filthy cat I had ever met. That is how the little kitten’s first day ended except that in all the excitement he seemed to have acquired a name. I don’t remember how it happened or who suggested it but he became George, short for Curious George, and that choice never seemed to need further explanation.