"What's in the box, Mommy?"
She smiled mysteriously as she buckled her seatbelt. "You'll see when we get home." But she couldn't hide the tell-tale sounds coming from inside the small cardboard box...
"What are their names, Mommy?"
"Honey and Ginger," she said as two ginger fluff balls tumbled out of the box onto the kitchen floor and skittered beyond the reach of several eager pairs of hands.
The kittens quickly adjusted to their new home. Except for one slight problem...
"What's that yucky smell, Mommy?"
"The baby's carseat is not a litter box!" declared Mommy. Ignoring the protest of three children, she whisked the kittens off to a neighbouring farm. "They will stay warm all winter there," soothed Mommy. "All the farm cats snuggle up with the goats to sleep at night."
All except Ginger, that is. When a severe cold snap hit in January, he didn't make it. Honey barely survived. Daddy came home one day with a scrawny, bedraggled wisp of a kitten, and Mommy nursed her back to health.
Honey was Mommy's kitty after that. She cried and hunted all over for Mommy and slept on her bed while she was at the hospital having a baby. She had her own first litter of kittens under the covers at the foot of Mommy's bed and narrowly escaped having them sat on by a very surprised Mommy.
"I'm scared, Mommy!"
Indeed, who was playing the piano in the middle of the night? Mommy gathered her small daughter up in her arms and took her to the living room where, in the soft light of the lamp they saw Honey walking up and down the keyboard.
"There, you see, it's only Honey! She did that when your brother was practising yesterday afternoon. Silly kitty wanted to play a duet with him. She walked all the way down the keyboard before she plunked herself down for a nap."
In subsequent years Mommy lost count of how many times Honey played what became known as "Feline Rhapsody."
"What's she doing, Mommy?"
Mommy laughed at the sight of Honey, lying across the opening of a small cardboard box, her kittens stretching up from within to nurse.
Honey was not only a wonderful little mother, but a model grandmother too. In her first litter was a blonde tabby the children named Valentine, who gave birth to a healthy litter of four at the incredibly young age of eight months. Honey, raising a new litter of her own at the same time, regularly checked on Valentine's litter. And that young mother would glare at her reproachfully as if to say, "They're fine, Mom... go back and tend to your own brood!"
Valentine died unexpectedly when her kittens were barely six weeks old. The children chose one and gave the others away. By now Honey had been two weeks without a litter. She surprised everyone by adopting her little grandson immediately, nursing him as if he were her own.
Honey and Goldie were inseparable. She continued to nurse him through her next pregnancy, and wanted him with her when she gave birth. She nursed him along with her new kittens, and well into yet another pregnancy!
"Why aren't they friends any more, Mommy?"
They were a comical pair - he was as big as she was and still nursing. But that is where it ended. Honey decided she'd had enough, and kicked him out. From that day forth, she wanted nothing to do with him.
"Where is Honey, Mommy?"
Next morning Honey came home, and hid in the basement to nurse her wounds. Four deep gashes on her side were mute evidence of a nasty encounter with a large dog. As for her tail...
"The bone is crunched and splintered at the base. We have a choice - amputate her tail or euthanize her." The vet was apologetic.
Perhaps because of that experience, Honey never accepted Teena, who joined the family several years later. She would wait in the darkness of bathroom doorway or one of the bedrooms, and leap out at the poor unsuspecting dog as she walked past.
Then came a day when Honey was thirteen years old, and plagued by arthritis and asthma...
"What's in the box, Mommy?"
And Mommy wiped away a tear as Daddy and the big boys dumped the last shovelful of dirt on the small mound under the spruce tree.
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