Two weeks ago Saturday, I paid a visit to my cousin, Dorothy. She's my second cousin, I believe. I'm not quite sure how those things work, though, so she may be my cousin once removed or twice removed or forcibly extracted or something like that. In any case, we're related, at least so far as I can figure out.
The visit was spurred by my Uncle Jim in Florida, who I'm pretty sure is actually my uncle, although I don't have any DNA to test, nor do I want any, thanks. Dorothy is my probable uncle's cousin, thus my inability to figure out exactly how we're related. Anyway, Uncle Jim told me that he had been speaking to Dorothy on the phone, and that she had mentioned having a large stockpile of photos and other family memorabilia. Since I have, by dint of writing this blog, become the default family historian, he suggested to her that I should probably be given these treasures. She agreed.
I phoned Dorothy. We set up a time to meet. It would be at her place, since I was more able to get to her than she was to get to me. Anyway, she was the one doing me a favor, by giving me the scrapbooks and such, so...
I hadn't seen Dorothy in quite some time. I believe the last meeting was about 10 years ago, but it may have been longer. On the phone, I suggested that we might go out for dinner when we met, but she said that she was on a strict diet and didn't go out to eat.
Dorothy is in the neighborhood of 80. She has had a partial mastectomy. She now has cancer in the other breast. She is bothered with macular degeneration, as well as osteoporosis and arthritis. Her heart is none too good - she's had 5 or 6 heart attacks, near as her doctors can figure - and she weighs 72 pounds. She is very petite, but that's still an alarmingly low weight. And, oh, yes, she also has lung cancer.
(That's how she said it to me, when I asked her about her medical conditions. It was an afterthought. She had truly forgotten about it for the moment.)
Having given you the bare facts, and probably alarmed you beyond belief concerning this woman's condition, here's something interesting: She still smokes. And why not? As the doctor told her, she's not going to get better, so why have the extra aggravation of quitting?
Better still: After visiting with her, I'm of the opinion - utterly non-medical, but I'll stand by it - that Dorothy isn't going anywhere soon. She's sharp as a tack and has interests that keep her going. She isn't confined to the house and she gets around very well, all things considered. No walker, no wheelchair, nothing like that. Not even a cane. If she hadn't told me about her various conditions, I wouldn't have known. She gives very little outward sign of being ill.
And then there are the cats.
If there is one thing that will keep Dorothy going, it's her being The Mad Cat Lady of Franklin. She says that's what some of the people in town call her. She says it with a smile. She knows full well that what she does, concerning cats, is something that could easily be considered insane. She knows, but she does it anyway. The reason? She's a very nice woman.
See, there is this pack of feral cats that lives in the woods behind her condo. Dorothy feeds them. She has names for every one of them. She also provides them with shelter from storms. Twice a day, she goes down into the woods and brings with her about 15 cans of cat food, as well as a jug of fresh water. There in the woods, she has set up a small shelter for these animals. She pours water in bowls for them to drink. She opens all the cans of food and puts the contents into bowls, laying the bowls in the shelter.
She does this all out of her own pocket.
There is a feline humane society in her area, and they have provided some help. They buy some big bags of dry food every so often, and that stuff is stored in tightly-lidded trashcans near the shelter. Dorothy gives the cats some of this dry food along with the canned. Also, the cat people try to catch some of these cats and spay or neuter them. Dorothy helps them to do this. Once spayed or neutered, the cats are released back into the wild - back into Dorothy's care.
She buys 220 cans of cat food a week. She is on a fixed income.
Crazy? I suppose it depends upon your own mindset. I think what she does is a lovely thing. She truly cares for these animals. Without Dorothy's help, most of them would be dead, or at least living in a way that shouldn't be called living. They'd be starving and diseased, as well as breeding more starving and diseased brothers and sisters. Instead, they have a guardian angel named Dorothy.
(I have to mention this: Dorothy isn't smiling in any of these pictures because she is missing some of her lower teeth. She feels she doesn't look very good when she smiles. I disagree, but I respect her desire to be photographed as she wishes. She is not as severe as she appears in these photos.)
Dorothy can't do much about her own situation. She's terminal - as are we all, when you get right down to it, of course. But, so long as she cares for the cats - so long as she keeps them alive - she has purpose and is useful. And is, one would think, worthy of some sort of special dispensation in the eyes of God. At least, if I were God, she would be.
As I say, she's sharp. She has no delusions. As a matter of fact, she is one of the most delightfully self-aware people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I wish I hadn't spent so much time not being in her company.
I’ll tell you the truth. I had some trepidation concerning seeing Dorothy. As mentioned, I hadn’t seen her in quite a while. I thought she might think the only reason I wanted to visit was so that I could get my hands on the family memorabilia. And, to a certain extent, it was true. She’s blood, but I had never been tremendously close to her. She’s almost 30 years older than me, for one thing. When I was a kid, we didn't visit her branch of the family as often as we did some others. Just one of those things, I guess.
Well, as soon as Dorothy answered the door and we started talking, I knew it had been a mistake to not be in touch with her. She was very close with my Dad when he was a youngster, and she remarked that I looked very much like him. I took it as intended, a compliment.
I was there only a few minutes when Dorothy said that she had to go feed the cats. I knew this was coming, as we had talked about it on the phone. I knew I was going to be arriving at her place close to feeding time. I was interested in seeing the cats, truth be told. I’ve always liked cats, and the idea of 25 or 30 of them in a wild pack sort of intrigued me. So, Dorothy loaded up a sack with cans of cat food, filled a jug with water, and off we went into the woods.
As we approached the area where the shelter was, I saw glimpses of various cats, but none of them were coming very close. Dorothy explained that, while the cats came right up to her and rubbed her leg and such, they probably wouldn’t come too near when they saw a stranger. A couple of them came within about ten feet of us, but most stayed a safer distance away. I saw them all around us, most staying semi-hidden among bushes or other camouflage. There were striped tabbies, tortoise shells, grays, orange and white spotted cats, and just about any other combination of colors you might imagine. One big solid black cat, obviously a Tom - and also obviously the king of this pack - sat on his haunches in the open, about 20 feet from us, staring imperiously, ready for whatever might happen, and no doubt expecting that, whatever it might turn out to be, he'd handle it. Damn regal-looking cat, he was.
I helped Dorothy open the cans and spoon them into the bowls. Being used to how house cats come running when food becomes available, I was somewhat surprised when these cats held their places. Dorothy took the lid off one of the big trashcans of dry food and scooped some out. She added that to the canned food. Then she poured water for them. One smallish cat, which must have been very hungry, then jumped up into the shelter and started eating, but she was the only one. The rest still wouldn’t come near while I was there. The King just stood his ground, staring at me disdainfully. After we began walking back towards Dorothy’s place, depositing the empty cans in a dumpster as we went, the cats cautiously made their way to the shelter. I assume The King waited until the others had jumped on things, so as to make sure he wasn’t walking into a trap. You don’t get to be The King if you’re stupid.
Dorothy explained that every week she drove to the supermarket and bought the food. Many times, people would see the amazing amount of cans in her cart and ask her how many cats she had. She would then explain about the feral cats. Sometimes folks were incredulous. Other times, they gave her money right there in the market, to help her defray costs.
As you might imagine, not everybody is thrilled that Dorothy feeds the cats. She said that there is one woman in particular, another resident of the condo, who raised quite a fuss about it. However, this problem was partially solved when a fence was erected near her apartment’s yard. The fence kept most of the cats from her space, so the war was pretty much in a cease-fire, at least for the time being.
On the other hand, there is another resident who takes over the feeding on those rare days when Dorothy is unable to carry out her self-appointed rounds; when Dorothy is having some sort of medical procedure, for instance.
Well, I’ve told you a lot about her cats, but that was only a small part of the visit. We spent a lot of time sitting on the couch together, poring through family photos and old newspaper clippings, and trading small stories concerning one relative or another. We laughed a lot. We both smoked our fool heads off. It was a real old-time family visit. No TV on in the background, nothing to distract a couple of relatives from catching up.
Dorothy in her teensI feel as though I may be doing Dorothy a disservice by telling you so much about the cats, but not about her. She is a former schoolteacher, with a Masters degree in education. She’s not just book smart, but also intelligent and witty. She was, until her various infirmities made it near impossible to keep up, a daily communicant in the Catholic Church. I may be misremembering, but I don’t recall her saying an unkind word about anybody – and some of the folks we talked about deserved a few unkind words, too. She is very much a lady, in the sense of the word which should convey a picture of a person with manners, someone who cares about other’s feelings, and who, at all times, carries herself with grace.
A Mad Cat Lady? Not for my money - and I gave her some, too, when I left, to help with the feedings. Maybe you feel as I do, that she’s a sweet woman to be caring so deeply about them. The fact that she KNOWS there are a whole bunch of folks who think she’s slightly cracked, yet she does it anyway, speaks volumes to me. She could abandon the cats and save herself some ridicule, but she continues to do what she feels is right; what she feels, I assume, is God’s work. I admire that greatly.
Her physical heart isn’t in such good shape, but her spiritual one is strong, beating steady, and full of love.
I hope I’ve captured our visit accurately, and portrayed Dorothy as the smart and caring person she is, because I’m going to send her a copy of this. I want her to know how much I truly enjoyed visiting with her, and that I’d love to stop by again, soon, and help her feed the cats. I’d like that, a lot.
Soon, with more better stuff.