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Shifting Sands

Tabby cat

In 1977 Mum, my sisters and I lived in a cute duplex house in the Perth suburb of Maylands.  It was a great place to live, near the river and close to our primary school. Mum decorated the house in the fashion of the day with orange carpet and purple wallpaper, although it may have been the other way around. One afternoon Mum gave us packets of flower seeds and instructed us to plant them. In a few weeks the front garden was a riot of old fashioned flowers like stocks, nasturtiums and sweet peas. We spent hours playing fashion shows in the garden with our Barbie dolls, the flowers making a glamorous backdrop to the festivities.

Our happiness was complete when Mum let us have a kitten. He was a pretty tabby with big green eyes and lovely tiger stripes. I am sure we gave him a cute name like Tiger or Fluffy but he was soon re-christened Killer because he killed things. A lot of things. Barely a day passed without our finding a clump of lifeless feathers, a lizard’s head or the backside of a mouse lying on the doorstep. We found Killer’s habit distressing but in 1970’s Australia, cats and dogs lived outside, not in the house. Micro chipping and enclosed cat runs were in the more environmentally aware future.

One afternoon we came home from school to catch Killer in the act, with a small yellow bird clamped in his jaws. We grabbed him and managed to rescue the bird, which wasn’t hurt but couldn’t fly away. This bird was different to his usual victims and we guessed he had snatched it from our neighbor’s aviary. After a quick conference we decided not to turn KIller in to the neighbors, which meant we had to keep our new bird a secret from Mum, who would have made us return it. Besides, we had always wanted a canary.

My sister (the middle one) remembered the old birdcage rusting away in the disused chicken run. Before long we had the canary safely in the cage and hidden in the back garden with a generous supply of Jody’s budgie food. We may have been too liberal with the food because in a matter of days the canary had grown to an astonishing size. He was almost busting out of the cage. Reluctantly we confessed to Mum, who came to evaluate the situation and informed us, with much hilarity, that our “canary” was actually one of our neighbor’s chickens. Sadly we returned our battery hen to the bemused neighbors.

A few weeks after this incident Killer’s murderous activities came to a sad end. We woke one winter morning and realized he was missing. Four days passed and still no Killer. On the fifth day Mum opened the front door and found Killer huddled on the step. He was obviously very sick or injured. Mum scooped him up and ran up the road to get help. My last glimpse of Killer was his tiger tail dangling under Mum’s arm. I knew I would never see him again.

How did my mother handle this turn of events? She told us Killer was fine and had gone on a holiday. My sisters (aged five and six) accepted this, especially after Mum reassured them Killer had telephoned her. He was having a wonderful time. As the oldest child, I was more skeptical because we didn’t have a phone. Over the next few months, Mum kept to her story and by the time it dawned on us Killer wasn’t returning from scuba diving in the Maldives we were used to his absence and eventually forgot about him.

Current parenting advice is to be honest with children about what I have dubbed the “three D’s” –divorce, disease and death. In this post GFC world, parents could add debt to the dreaded trio. Discussions about death and the possibility of an afterlife (dogs go to heaven- the jury is out on cats) can be shaped to fit the family’s spiritual beliefs. My husband attempted this with my stepdaughter (who was four) following the death of Thumper, the guinea pig. After a formal funeral and burial complete with heartfelt prayers and a pop-stick cross they returned to the house for a solemn afternoon. The silent contemplation of life’s mysteries was broken by my stepdaughter wanting to know when she could go and get Thumper, as she wanted to play with him.

Mum’s desire to protect us wasn’t unusual. A surprising number of our friends had destructive dogs that went to live on a farm, kindly arranged by the vet. Children learn the harsh realities of life soon enough. My mother evaluated our lives and decided the death of a cherished pet was something we didn’t need to be dealing with. I never did find out what happened to Killer (karma, I suspect) but I like to think of him on his eternal holiday, chasing mice. I just hope he has enough credit on his phone.

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  1. May 11, 2013

    You got some reflection going there but also some humor. I wondered why Killer was a ‘He’? Synonymous with the killing tendency I guess? :))). I always say its a more challenging role to be a parent than to be a wife or husband. The pathways are not clear any more, so one threads carefully in reaching decisions that should be in the best interest of a child. May ‘Killer’ continue to rest in peace (in hell or heaven?)

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    • May 11, 2013

      Killer stayed with his cat mother quite a long time before we got him. Apparently mother cats teach their youngsters to hunt and kittens who are removed from their mothers at a young age never learn the skill particularly well and tend not to hunt. I never had children but it must be a nightmare trying to explain everything kids are exposed to these days. We lived in a much more innocent time and Mum was able to shield us more than parents can now. As a teacher, I was often shocked at the things parents expected teenagers to be able to handle. Really, there are some things kids just don’t need to know!

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      • May 11, 2013

        But Sadly Kids know almost everything we fear, the only challenge is they cannot handle it. Looking back at me life in the past 30years, the only thing that came new as I grew up was the politics of life and the cunning nature of human beings. Every other aspect of life that was meant to be hidden to kids were thrown in our faces. You don’t need to be protected from death or violence when human corpse litter the street sometimes, and when you see violent happening everyday in your home and on the street. Like you said, Nigerians are hustlers. Maybe my age mates in another region would tell a different story. You are a very confident woman to stay without having a child. My culture cannot imagine anyone being happy that way.

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    • May 11, 2013

      I’ve never regretted not having children but I was a teacher for 20 years so had no illusions about parenthood. None of the women I worked with had children and my mother never pressured any of us to provide her with grandchildren. She has two- twenty years apart. I imagine children growing up in Nigeria would see a lot more than children in Australia.

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  2. Trish toovey #
    May 11, 2013

    Killer had cat ‘flu. The vet said he had a chance but he only lived a week. He was comfortable and passed away naturally. I got my very first credit card (Bankcard) to pay for the vet! He had a good life albeit not that long. Remember one Saturday lunch I had cooked a meat meal, and one of you girls asked where our dog Patchy, was? I don’t know how this idea started in your little minds, but suddenly Tina said “are we eating Patchy?” As if! There was much screaming and crying, and I had to retrieve Patchy from the back garden to prove he was alive and well. Goodness knows what sort of person you thought I was…. There was some story about the meat smelling like him. I think it was at this stage Tina became a vegetarian, which she still is to this day.

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    • May 11, 2013

      He was a bad cat, really, but we loved him. I remember the Patchy incident! Tina made a comment, “that smells like Patchy” then someone asked “Where is Patchy” and it all kind of kicked off from then. You actually started giggling at one point. They were fun days in that house. I often catch myself laughing aloud when I think of them.

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