I had always said I could never be fond of a cat because cats are annoying animals. Around our farm, as I grew up, the cats were wild and pesky. To make matters worse, when I married, my mother-in-law owned a cat; or, to be more specific, the cat owned her. It bothered me when the cat demanded it be served like a queen and my mother-in-law indulged its behavior. So, from experience, I felt I would always dislike cats. Then I met Oliver.
I had gone out to my mother’s house to help her with her garden. I was trimming some trees for her when a little yellow kitten came out of a hole near the tree’s roots. It was crying, and tried to climb my pant leg. I didn’t want to touch it, afraid its mother wouldn’t take it back, so I used my foot to push it back into the hole. But no matter how many times I did, it kept coming back. Not only that, but its cry was joined by a whole chorus, and I soon had a whole litter of kittens around my feet. Besides that first yellow one, there were four others of assorted greys and blacks.
I moved away from that tree so their mother would return, but I kept watch from a distance. No mother cat ever came, and by the end of the day I realized none ever would. I knew that if I didn’t feed them they would die, so I put them in a box and took them home.
They were so small we had to feed them with a doll bottle. Although they were starving, it was hard to get them to understand how to eat. At least it was for all of them except that first yellow one. He latched onto that bottle and drained it quickly. As much as we tried, we eventually lost the other four even as the yellow one thrived.
I insisted that I would not be a nursemaid to a kitten, but when the children started school, I was home alone with it, and I couldn’t stand to see it be hungry. I would tuck it in the nook of my arm and feed it its bottle like a baby. Soon it trusted me and didn’t want anyone else to feed it.
The family felt I should be the one to name it, so, using all of my creative genius, I declared it would have the name of “Cat”. My family was disgusted and wanted me to do better, so I changed the name to Oliver after the orphan in “Oliver Twist”.
As Oliver grew, he decided he was my cat. He would follow me like a dog when I went out to do chores. If I ever sat down, he was immediately on my lap. This became quite a feat as he grew.
But the thing that really endeared him to me was his personality. He was not like other cats. The other cats would fight for a position at the food bowl, but he would wait patiently for his share. The only times I ever saw him growl was when we had a new batch of kittens. He would then push the bigger cats away and make them wait until the kittens had eaten first.
Each night, as the air would turn cold, the kittens would leave their mothers and curl up with Oliver instead. He was much bigger than the mother cats and had more fur to keep the kittens warm.
Sometimes when a mother cat didn’t have enough milk for all of her kittens, she would abandon one. When she did, Oliver would bring it to me. He knew from his own experience that we would feed it. Over the years Oliver raised many batches of kittens, more than any mother cat. The only thing he wouldn’t do was to lick them clean, but, then, that was the one thing I refused to do for him when I raised him.
Then came the day I came home from work and found out Oliver had died. As I went out to do chores and he wasn’t there following me, I sat down on a bale of hay and cried.
I realized that I had truly learned to love an animal that I never thought I could.
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