by Mary Jo Doig
I trudge from the old farmhouse, my slender arms embracing a worn cardboard box as a light drizzle is misting my bifocals, causing me to look out at a blurred world. On this, my final trip down the hill, I reflect that when Don and I said our vows more than two decades ago, we didn’t know that until death do us part might also mean the death of the relationship.
When I reach the stone wall, I turn sideways and step slowly down the broad stone steps placed more than a century ago by Scotch settlers. As I slide the final box of necessities into my car, I’m startled by a loud imploring meow. There, near my feet stands Harriet, one of the barn cats, whose long hair has, over time, become a massive tangle of burrs and knots. You look like I feel, Harriet, I muse.
The question spills from my mouth before it even forms in my mind. “Do you want to come with me, Harriet?” I say, reaching down to gently scratch her head, She—never in a car in her life to the best of my knowledge—jumps in, meowing loudly.
“Okay,” I say as I slide in the driver’s seat and turn to look at her, “we’ll take this trip together.” As I drive, the car quickly fills with the pungent odor inside the sagging barn behind us. I glance at her wide, apprehensive lime-green eyes, knowing how much she will hate her first bath. Perhaps it’s best that she doesn’t know what lies ahead.
At my new apartment, in tepid water, she squirms desperately to escape. Afterward I carefully cut away walnut-sized fur knots. Moments later she vanishes into the apartment and I do not see her again for three days.
A few months later the vet confirms Harriet’s pregnancy. “Just one kitten,” he says, adding, “and that’s unusual.” I smile, noting her bald places are filling with new growth. Her coat is shinier. She’s more peaceful.
I think: Harriet, the courage you gathered to leave all that was familiar is beginning to show good results.
Unexpectedly, the night before a painful Mother’s Day, I wake to find Harriet in the circle of my arm. Odd, I muse hazily, she always sleeps at my feet. Then I hear her breathing and suddenly, in awe, understand she’s in labor.
Wide awake now, I lay still in this darkest of nights, accepting Harriet’s clear invitation to share her miracle. When I hear a soft whimper, I know the new kitten has arrived.
Then I hear Harriet giving the newborn her first bath. With the lightest of touch, I stroke the kitten’s tiny forehead, desiring to communicate a wondrous, warm welcome to the world. I feel the kitten move and intense joy surges into my heart as I whisper, “All is well, Harriet.”
I named Harriet’s kitten Hilary. Today she turns 20. Happy Birthday, my sweet Hilary!
In 2000 Mary Jo resigned from a former career in the Catskill Mountains and moved 500 miles to a tiny cabin in the woods of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains where she knew virtually no one. There, re-inventing her life, she lived in solitude for two years and began writing the stories of her life, many that are woven into the memoir she’s currently working on.
Hilary thought it was a very long ride to Virginia, but she enjoyed the trip once she was released from the cat carrier. She also absolutely loves spending her own retirement in Virginia’s warm and wonderful climate.