My youngest daughter, Elise, and I found a bedraggled black kitten in a murky corner of the old red barn huddled beside an ancient water trough. Hay was stuck to its fur and its head slick in places from a calf’s sympathetic tongue. We carried the mewing puff ball down to the house and gave it a bath. Being mostly fur, it shrank considerably in the water and nearly disappeared.
After drying this soggy specimen of catdom, we bundled it up in an old towel and fed it the formula concocted by a local vet for orphan kittens: one cup whole milk, one teaspoon of vegetable oil, one egg yolk, whisk well and warm. Sometimes I use a tiny bottle, but this baby is old enough to lap and downed the lot I had poured into a shallow lid. We filled a canning jar with hot water, screwed the lid on tightly and tucked our swaddled charge beside the improvised water bottle back in the small closet in the laundry room.
Assorted farm coats, jeans and shirts hang on hooks up above and brush our heads as we kneel to peer into this den-like place. There’s nothing dogs like better for a bed than a worn coat with that barn smell still clinging to it, cozily tucked back into this closet. Cats prefer sunbeams but will make do. I’ve spent many hours on my knees helping to birth puppies, fuss over their care and tend kittens. Countless kittens and puppies, tiny terriers that could fit in a shoe box, medium size dogs and dogs that have grown too big but are still attached, have called this comforting space home. The narrow walls are gnawed and deeply grooved from the many inhabitants over the years. Every household should have such a place.
Fortunately our rescue dog, Mia, also likes her bed in the dining room because she cannot be trusted to kitten-sit. The formula rapidly dwindles. Not only that, she’s afraid of kittens. Silly, silly Mia. The kitten does not yet have a name because if you name a creature that implies that it’s staying, which this one very well may be. Sometimes you just need a kitten.
Oddly, it would seem that Mia always wanted a kitten of her own after all. She follows the minute puff ball around the kitchen and hovers over it with a worried look. Actually, Mia generally looks worried. I suppose from earlier traumas before we took her in. She has never had a small furry friend though and even tries to play with the kitten as it bounds around the kitchen in great excitement over everything and anything.
My mother made the observation that kittens and other babies can utterly give themselves to play in a way that the rest of us can’t because we’ve had the play smacked out of us by life. Now and then, I think we should all play as unreservedly as possible.
Photograph of a rescue kitten and baby barnyard goose by my mother, Pat Churchman