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By Alexandra Faer Bryan
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Alexandra Faer Bryan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Mystery Begins
The first time dad took me to see my grandmother at the assisted living home is still a vivid memory for me. I was worried about her and wondering how we would spend our time together. Dad must have noticed.
He said, Now, your grandmother is all right, really she is. She is very healthy, she is just forgetful lately. She can't live alone anymore. She needs to take medications every day and she can t remember to and that is not good for her health. She is even forgetting to eat and is leaving her front door unlocked!
I knew what he meant. Sometime she would ask the same question over and over again or repeat what she had just said a few minutes earlier. Admitting that I was worried, I wondered aloud about what we would talk about during our visit. That was when the mystery began.
Dad just smiled and said, With the way that you love animals, you should ask her to tell you the story about the green kitty.
A green kitty! Dad, you must be joking. There is no such of a thing as a green cat.
He just grinned and wouldn't tell me anything else. By the time we got to her room I was bursting with curiosity. My grandmother had taught me long ago that whenever anyone told me Curiosity killed the cat the answer was Satisfaction brought it back. She was just that free of a spirit. As soon as we were all seated I asked her about the green kitty.
Didn't I already tell you the story about my green kitty? was her response.
No, Grandma, I don t think that I ever heard about any green cat.
Now, that is a good story, definitely one of my best. But it has slipped my mind right now. Just let me tell you about another story that came into my mind instead, and maybe the green kitty story will come back to me.
I know that you have seen the house where we lived when we were young, the one next to the Flint River. You might not believe it, but it was originally a farm and the town of Riverdale was so small it only had one flashing yellow traffic light.
Anyway, one summer day my younger sister, Ruth, came running into the house screaming, Snake, snake, there's a snake on the porch!
As the family tomboy, I had to go out and check to see if there was indeed anything to be upset about.
So, I went out on the porch. There was an old cardboard box on one corner of the porch where we kept hickory chips for the grill. I looked at it and saw a little green head sticking out of one end of the box and a little green tail sticking out of the other end.
Acting like a bit of a know it all, I yelled into the house at Ruth, THAT S NOT A SNAKE. IT'S NOTHIN' BUT A LITTLE OLE GREEN LIZARD, and I kicked the box.
The next thing I saw was a five foot long copper belly water moccasin snake shooting out from under the box!
Well, I know that teleportation is possible because I was instantly across the porch, standing up on a chair, and then I was the one screaming, SNAKE, SNAKE, THERE'S A SNAKE ON THE PORCH! Grandma finished the story off with a sweet giggle.
After I finished laughing at the thought of her being able to move so fast, she said, You know, my godparents used to call our 30 acres of land the Snake Farm because we were always seeing so many snakes. Because it was right next to a river some of them were of the poisonous variety. My father taught me at a very young age that if the head of a snake is more like a triangle then it is probably poisonous. We talked a little longer until it was time to leave.
Chapter TwoWell, at Least it was a Cat
Because the assisted living home was not close to our house, we generally only got to see Grandma on Saturdays or Sundays, but we always tried to include her on birthdays and holidays. So, it was a whole week before I had another chance to hear her story about the green kitty. I was anxious for the green kitty story and skipped into her room and bounced up beside her on the small sofa in her room. Her eyes were very clear and she was, as always, very happy to see me. Grandma seemed to act younger than when she lived alone. In some ways, she was much more childlike and fun lately!
Okay, Grandma, have you been able to remember the story about the green cat? was the first thing out of my mouth.
Now, I don't want you to think that I am just teasing you, but I still can t remember that story. How about another cat story? I agreed and she started talking.
"Once, when your dad was about ten, we had this male cat who was an unfixed/neutered. He was beautiful with long, black and white fur and we called him Mr. Pretty Boy. People warned me about not getting him fixed, but his father was had never became a problem.
One winter, my boyfriend and I had to go to south Georgia to see his mother because of an emergency. We had to leave the cat at home alone. We hoped to only be gone for two days at the most. We knew the car needed to be worked on, but it would have to wait. We made the trip down there without any problem. It was the trip back that finally killed the car. What was supposed to be a two day trip became a five day ordeal!
For car trouble, it was a very convenient breakdown. We stopped at a grocery store when the car began to overheat and turned it off to let it cool down. It would never run again, but we would not know that until much later. The store was across the street from a twenty-four hour restaurant which was next to a small motel which just happened to be two blocks from a badly needed bank teller machine. The small town turned out to be very convenient, indeed!
The store clerk gave us her neighbor's phone number so we could have him look at the car even though it was a Sunday. He assured us he could replace the water pump early the next day and that we would be on our merry way by noon. So, we decided to stay one night and wait for the repair. Of course, the pump turned out to not be the only problem. Again we thought that with one more part we could leave on Tuesday. Tuesday was second verse, same as the first. We finally called my sister and asked her to just come and get us. She drove down on Wednesday.
We finally got back to the house late Wednesday. Mr. Pretty Boy had only about three days worth of food, but fortunately and unfortunately, he still had plenty of water. It was fortunate for his health that he had the water. But is was unfortunate for me. Mr. Pretty Boy had not only torn up every plant I own and pulled down every curtain, drape or mini blind in the house, he had sprayed every window yellow with urine. Every window! When we opened the front door, a yellow cloud and haze wafted out into the twilight. The smell was pure skunk. It was like a chemical war zone.
To fully appreciate this you must know that my sister has a phobia about public bathrooms. She waited the entire trip, both ways, about seven hours, just so she could comfortably use my bathroom. When she stopped to let us out she was literally walking crossed-legged toward my house. She got within about fifteen feet of the door, saw the vapor cloud, wrinkled her nose, turned around and said, Never mind, never mind, I can make it home, walked crossed-legged back to her car and left.
Even though it was thirty degrees, we had every window open in the house for two days. It was a good thing that cat took off when I opened the door or I might have changed my religion about harming animals. He didn't come back for three days: smart cat!
From that day on, that cat was know as Mr. Smells Bad!
We all laughed at the thought of that. Then dad told a story about when he had car trouble but he only had to sit in the car for an hour waiting for a tow truck. It wasn't nearly as impressive as Grandmas story.
A caregiver came by and told us it was time for lunch and we all ate together in the dining area. Then, it was time for us to go back home. Grandma promised me when she gave me her good-bye hug that she would try very hard to remember the green kitty for the next visit.
Chapter ThreeMothers Day Visit
The next visit was Mother's Day and we picked Grandma up to take her out to dinner. The aide had helped her to dress in her best clothes, and you could tell she had had her hair done. She knew it was Mother s Day and special and was just beaming with happiness when she saw us. My father was taking all five of us out for dinner; grandma, my aunt, my mother, my father and me.
The ride was uneventful but luckily my father had asked my great-aunt Helen to get there early and we didn't have to wait long for a table. After we were all at a table and got our drinks, mine was a chocolate milkshake, we started to talk. First, Grandma and my mom opened their Mother s Day cards and read them out loud. I was very glad they both liked them because I had made them myself. Then aunt Helen opened a card because it just happened to also be her birthday. Dad commented on how this always saves on party expenses when you combined events.
Because it was Sunday, it helped my grandmother recalled another event which happened on a Sunday. With a big smile on her face, she began her story.
We used to raise white German shepherds. Once we had twenty-two puppies at one time. They looked like clouds floating across the pastures in the distance. One dog, Lady, had ten, and the other, Anne, had twelve.
White German shepherds are known for their fear of thunder and these dogs were no exception. Anne was especially terrified by thunder. Now, you know how my parents house was built partially underground and the kitchen window is about three feet above the top of the table and level with the ground outside. Back then we did not have air conditioning and it was common to leave windows open.
On that Sunday, a summer storm came up and had unusually loud thunder which rumbled and made Anne panick. She jumped right through the kitchen window screen and landed spread eagle on top of the Sunday dinner! She stood up, looked at me, and I could tell she knew she was in trouble. You could see her deciding, What the heck, I'm dead anyway. I'll have a good last meal! So she quickly snatched up the Sunday roast beef from the platter and ran off with it in her mouth. I knew she was in serious trouble, so I ran to the door, opened it and let her get away! She went off and ate the whole thing herself.
Aunt Helen said she didn't remember that happening.
Grandma said, You were away at college when it happened. I guess I never told you the story. We ate fast food that day!
She really enjoyed telling me that story and then you could just see it in her eyes that another story was coming.
The first dog my sister and I had was Wags, a stray red chow mix we took in from the neighborhood. She was a very good protector, but she was also prone to bite our visiting friends whenever we played a game of tag in the yard. In fact, two classmates came up to me at my thirtieth high school reunion and both said, I remember your dog biting me!
And I have a third friend who can say that, too! I replied.
Wags had several litters of puppies, but we ended up keeping only one: my dog Princess. Princess did not look at all like a red chow. Princess had short, blonde hair and looked more like a small Labrador retriever with some terrier traits. You can see Princess picture on the back cover
One day, Helen was sick and had to stay home from school and I went to school by myself. Shortly before school let out, Mom and Helen noticed that Princess was barking loudly outside our house. They looked out the front window and saw that she was barking at a snake. Your great-grandmother was also very afraid of snakes. She and Helen began to worry about what might happen to me when I got home from school. Would I see the snake in time to avoid being bitten? But before my mom could decide what to do, Wags saved the day.
Outside, Princess was jumping, barking and running all around the snake. Helen said she almost appeared to be dancing. Her mom, Wags was sitting at the front steps at least twelve feet from both the snake and Princess. Suddenly, the snake started to strike at Princess. Almost instantly, Wags launched herself through the air and landed just behind the snake. She picked it up by the back of the neck and shook it hard from side to side. When she let the snake go, it clumsily, almost drunkenly, took off away from the house and the dogs and went over the hill. Mom and Helen were so relieved because I got home from school just a few minutes later.
I asked her if she could tell me any stories about her mother because it was, after all, Mother's Day. She didn't have to think for even a minute before she told the next story.
During the Great Depression it was a common thing for children to go skinny-dipping because people were too poor to afford to buy clothing just for swimming. Girls went together and the boys went to a different point in the creek. Your great-great-grandmother Pope had a farm, and there was a creek for swimming. All the older members in the family still say to this day that the coldest water in the world was in the Pine Knot Creek near Grandma Popes farm.
One day, my mother, her sister, and two of her cousins were skinny-dipping. They were also playing a game where they would take turns diving between each other s legs. They had been doing this for a while when a water snake came up and noticed the game. It was a very friendly snake who wanted to get in on the fun. So he swam between my aunts legs. My mom was the first to notice the snake and she screamed. He began to follow one of the girls. All of them got out of the water, and my mother was so scared that she just kept on running. She got almost all the way back to her grandmother's house before she realized she had forgotten to put her clothes back on. She had to go back and get her clothes by herself because all the other girls had waited to put their clothes on before leaving the creek.
There is another even older family story about some cows. Your great-great-great-grandfather Tayler had a farm that grew sugar cane, and he made a living making syrup from his crop. He was a very religious man, and one Saturday when they had harvested more cane than they could process, he left it unfinished through the day of rest, Sunday. In the summer heat that sugar cane turned very quickly into alcohol. All of that leftover sugar cane became a great big still.
Now, most people think of cows as very docile animals. Seems this is just not true about drunken cows. When they are drunk they have a real attitude. After ingesting all of the ferment juice they could swallow, they went on a rampage. They took down the outhouse, a portion of the porch, several sections of fence, the chicken coop and went trampling through most of the remaining crop. No one dared to try to stop them. They said that they kept only clean and sober cattle after that!
Aunt Helen said she had a dvd with that story from a family reunion that she recorded years ago. Mom said she had recordings from other family's reunions that she would love for me to see.
This does remind me of another story about snakes which involves your great-aunt Helen. You know that Helen also has a deadly fear of snakes. She is just terrified of them. When she was living up in north Georgia and working as a special education teacher, she rented half of a house with the landlord living in the other side. One day she was playing cards at her home with a young girl, Linda, who was about ten at the time. Helen was sitting beside the girl on the floor while they played. Suddenly she looked over when something green caught her eye. It was a little green garter snake. Helen said she just had time to acknowledge that there was indeed a snake in the house when she realized she was standing across the room and was on top of the kitchen table. To truly appreciate this amazing feat of human agility one must understand that my sister s idea of exercise at the time was sitting in a bubble bath reading a good book.
She was ashamed to notice that she left the child behind. She started screaming until the landlords wife heard her calls. The landlord and his wife came over to capture the snake. The wife told Helen, I had to come and see what my husband would do. He is as afraid of snakes as you!
Dad decided that was enough excitement for one day, so I didn t get anymore stories on that visit.
Excerpted from Green Kitty by Alexandra Faer Bryan Copyright © 2010 by Alexandra Faer Bryan. Excerpted by permission.
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