Monday, October 17, 2005


When I was about thirteen, my Ohma, or grandmother, brought in a stray cat she had been feeding for a few months. The cat was well-behaved, and rather nice-looking; it was all black with a white patch just under its jaw. She lovingly named the cat “Pusser,” a name that I suppose all crazy old women are destined to give to their first adopted stray cat. The cat ended up costing quite a bit of money, after all the shots and spaying had been taken care of; this was all quite a feat considering that my grandfather had for decades been allergic to cat hair. How my grandmother managed the feat, I’ll never know, but she managed to acclimate my grandfather to the little stray well enough for him to overcome his allergies, or at least subdue them enough that the cat could come into the house and upstairs to the living area.
You may be thinking how quaint and in fact rather cliché this story is starting out to be. “Oh, an old woman brings in a stray cat, and teaches her formerly stodgy old man husband how to love a new and unfamiliar animal in the process.” Right. This is the same grandmother who, when I was a boy of about eight, drove my brother, my two cousins, and myself on a trip to Hershey Park. (In Hershey, PA, with tons of chocolatey-themed goodness to get all the little portly ones sufficiently addicted.) On the ride down the highway to Hershey Park, a passing car blared his horn at my 50-some year old grandmother. Not in the least taken back by the rude driver, my grandmother, rather than muttering to herself or proclaiming “Oh, me!” like other, “normal” grandmothers might, instead leaned out the window and, shaking one fist quite vigorously, yelled “Ah, blow it out your ass!” Needless to say, mine was not a typical family, and my grandmother wasn’t the typical cookies and ice cream type.
So, after much mocking for the acquaintance of a stray, (which would only increase as her habitat eventually increased to encompass a full seven reformed strays, limited only by the fact that she lived in a rather isolated community on the banks of the Susquehanna) my grandmother brought Pusser into the house, and we all came to gradually accept her as one of our own.
My grandparents lived several hundred miles from my childhood home, so it was only a few times a year when my brother and I would have the chance to visit their home and witness, for a few days, or perhaps a week at a time, the insanity of the Pennsylvania Dutch upbringing that had produced my mother. Every time it seemed to me I grew to understand my mother a bit more – a weird eccentricity here, a penchant for twisted humor there, over the years the pieces gradually accumulated to paint a rather clear picture of her upbringing and consequent quirks. I suppose these are the quirks that were later impressed upon myself, and twinged with a bit of that colder, northern Pennsylvanian darkness, made me into the well-developed psychopath I am today.
One day, however, my brother and I were visiting my grandparents and were treated with one of the more memorable lines of that time period. Bear in mind this was the height of the Clinton era, so there were many a memorable phrases being tossed around. However, this particular one, either for its lunacy or its personal anecdotal quality, would always stick with me.
My brother and I were sitting in the living room of my parents house, and my grandfather had gone to town for some reason or another, and Pusser had snuck out an open door at some point in the preceding hour or so. Ohma was scampering around trying to find out where the little devil had gotten to, while my brother and I took the more relaxed approach, approximated by “whatever” and “she’ll come back eventually.” However, my grandmother was not so easily convinced, and so she set out about searching for the cat.
At some point, my grandmother realized that the cat must be outside, so she walked out onto the balcony of the house, and, with neighboring houses only a few hundred feet away, began calling for the cat.
“Pusser! Pusser! Here, puss, puss, puss. Where are you, puss? Here, puss! Where’s my little pussy?”

It was too easy. It had been set up so plainly for us, and despite the disturbing ramifications, we couldn’t resist rolling a ball at those pins. Without missing a beat, my brother and I turned to look at each other, each paused a second, and then in unison uttered:
“If she can’t find that, she’s got a real problem now.”

Yes, easy. Yes, childish. But we were children, and it was impossible not to remark in some way after that setup.

The cat ended up coming back, of its own accord, several hours later. We never mentioned what we had heard to my Ohma, or to my Opah when he returned, or for that matter to our parents when they came to get us. It was hardly necessary. It was a trivial comment and needn’t be shared. Of course, that didn’t prevent us from bringing it up in hushed tones to each other for the remainder of our trip.


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