Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How the Kracker Cats came to be, part 6: The Whole Kitten Kaboodle takes control

Nabysko, Tryskuit and Kaboodle.

Synopsis: I, a despiser of cats, dreamed about a kitten; I flew home from Point Hope to see the kitten step out of my dream into real life; Nabysko argued that we should keep the kitten. I said "no!" To explain how I had been brainwashed to believe that I despised cats, I recounted childhood pet tradgedies involving a duckling, a robin, a kitten and a puppy.


"Please, Daddy, please? Mom thinks Kitty is pretty," Nabysko pleaded from the porch. It was only now beginning to dawn on me that my wife and children had met this kitten before, probably while I was still in Point Hope, or flying home.

"Go get me some more ham," I told Nabysko.

She scurried into the house, then quickly returned, gripping a 12-ounce package of lunch meat. The kitten looked incapable of taking big bites. I opened the package, then tore off a tiny piece of ham. I held it out to the kitten. Gingerly, nose twitching, head bobbing lightly it sniffed the food, then took the offering. It ate that ham in a way that made even one so hardhearted towards as myself feel sympathy.

Nabysko laughed. I tore off more ham. The process repeated itself. "Let me feed Kitty, Daddy!" Nabysko said, grabbing the ham from me. She tore it into little pieces, and forced herself between the kitten and me. I felt a little annoyed -- I wanted to feed the kitten! I thought about pushing Nabysko aside, but I figured that she might protest and cause her mother to become upset with me.

Nabysko would hold out a piece of ham, then, squealing with delight, recoil her arm as the little feline pierced the meat with its sharp canines and took it from her.

"Maybe that's enough ham," I said after she had fed the kitten about five small pieces. "Maybe it's too small to eat much meat. We better give it some milk." Nabysko quickly retrieved a carton of milk and a small bowl from inside the house. I poured the milk. The kitten went for it.

"Yep," Nabysko purred. "Looks like it's our kitty now."

Kaboodle, Nabysko, Tryskuit. My darling daughters! How did you grow so fast? Our beautiful first cat! We knew so little about cats - only that we loved you.

"Nabysko, we can't keep this cat," I said gently, trying to think of another reason. "You might get ringworm."

"I won't get ringworm," Nabysko said stubbornly. "You'll get ringworm if we don't keep Kitty."

Nabysko knew nothing of this childhood affliction that had so tortuously beset the child me, given to me by a treacherous kitten, and I did not know how to tell her.

"Daddy, please!"

“No,” I said emphatically. “We cannot keep the kitten.” At some point, we got up, went into the house and closed the door upon the kitten.

Come the next morning, I rushed to the back door, worried, but was relieved to see the kitten sitting on the porch. And so, as I insisted that we could not keep it, and Sunflower did the same, we began to feed the kitten regularly, to give it milk and water.

And then, on another day not long after, I again found myself sitting on the back porch with the kitten and Nabysko. Tryskuit was with us as well.

“Daddy,” Tryskuit stated emphatically. “We must keep this kitten. She needs a home. See how she loves us, Daddy? And we love her. All of us. You too. I can tell, no matter what you say.”

“Yes, Daddy,” Nabysko took up the argument. “You love her, too. We must keep the kitten.”

"I don't know," I said. "It's got a little more meat on its bones, but it's still mighty skinny. It would hardly make a good meal."

"Daddy!"

The girls knew that I regularly ate the flesh of many animals not found in stores -- whale, seal, polar bear, black bear, grizzly bear, beaver, muskrat, walrus. When we lived in the Lower 48, there were raccoon, skunk, rattlesnake, frogs -- I'd eaten them all, and all had proven tasty and healthy.

"Why not a cat?" I taunted them. "Surely, if properly prepared, a cat should prove delicious. I heard they taste just like rattlesnake, which, as everybody knows, tastes just like chicken."

"Daddy!"

Kaboodle sleeps on the bed I share with Sunflower.

Then came the arguments over names.

I suggested "Brunch . . . cooked with onions."

This was voted down.

"We're not going to eat her for breakfast, we're not going to eat her for lunch, or in between either," Tryskuit retorted.

“Her.”

Somewhere along the line, somebody had investigated the space between the kitten's hind legs and had not found much there but fur and so had concluded it was female. The kitten liked to sleep stretched out on its back, legs spread. I noticed nothing to contradict this observation.

"Well, darn it." I groped for a bad pun. "Let's just throw the whole kitten kaboodle into the stewpot."

"Kitten Kaboodle," Nabysko laughed. "The Whole Kitten Kaboodle!" From that day forward the kitten became known as:

“The Whole Kitten, Kaboodle.”

"Kitten Kaboodle.""Kaboodle."

"Bood."

The name Kaboodle offered several culinary possibilities, which I tried out on the girls. There was "Kaboodle and Noodles," "Oodles of Kaboodle," "Kaboodle Strudel" and, in a scrumptious cross-blending of species, "Minced Poodle and Kaboodle."

Toast Ed and Kaboodle nap on the couch.

As for Kaboodle, she spent all her time outside. She was not our cat after all, but only a visitor whose presence I barely tolerated. So why would I allow her into the house. Furthermore, she made no attempt whatsover to enter the house. If the door was open, she would stop politely at the threshold.

If Kaboodle wasn't on the front porch, she was under it, or on the back porch, or under the upside-down canoe. I reasoned that she needed some kind of shelter for the days of rain. We kept an old wooden, cable, spool with a large, cylindrical hollow in in the middle of it in the back yard. I build a cat sized home for her inside that cylinder and padded the floor with warmi blankets.

I then stuffed Kaboodle inside to show her that she had an exceptionally nice and cozy home in there. She promptly jumped out, and never stepped in again. Any other small place, even with nothing but rocks to lie on, would do, but my special gift was rejected.

One morning, a neighbor girl showed up at our house, scooped up Kaboodle, said this was her cat, and took her home. In the afternoon, Kaboodle returned. I then made the girls return Kaboodle to her rightful owner repeatedly. This process repeated itself several times.

"You can keep her," the girl told Tryskuit the next time we saw her. "We don't really want that cat. That cat is just trouble! I don’t even like that cat."

Neither Sunflower nor I had yet agreed that the cat could actually stay with us. In fact, when asked, I continued to insist that we could not keep her.

The weather was nice now, but winter wasn't far away. Living on the porch, Kaboodle soon would find herself facing temperatures far below zero.

One day, after she had been with us for about three weeks, Kaboodle followed me to the door where, as usual, she stopped and sat down at the threshold. I stepped inside, then turned to face her.

"Well," I said, "you might as well come inside. We can't leave you out there to freeze to death come winter."

Kaboodle's ears perked up. A look of pleased disbelief lit her face. I was a little stunned myself, for it appeared as though she understood exactly what I had said.

"Me?" she seemed to be asking, "Me? You are inviting me to come into your lair, where only humans are allowed to tread?"

"Yes," I motioned. "You. C'mon in."

Kaboodle stood up, raised her tail high into the air, pranced inside and looked around. Our house was now hers and she would be quick to take possession of it and to claim dominion over all its occupants.

Now every member of the family, from little Nabysko up to Toast Ed, became incapable of carrying on a conversation without somehow bringing the cat into it.

Toast Ed would return from pitching an American Legion baseball game and, if he did not see Kaboodle, would enter the house with a worried expression on his face. "Where's the cat?"

"Don't worry," his mother would say. "It's around here somewhere." Although he was entering his junior year, and prided himself on being one of the toughest football players at Wasilla High School, the sight of Toast Ed curled up on the couch sleeping with the cat curled up atop him or cuddled in his arms became a common one.

Fifteen-year-old Rye would run about the house dragging a string behind him, the cat happily in pursuit.
Thirteen-year-old Fire would engage in wrestling matches with the cat.

At night, Kaboodle would leap onto the top bunk with Tryskuit, stretch out on her long locks and go to sleep. As for Nabysko, every sentence became "kitty this" and "kitty that." Each night before going to bed, she and Tryskuit would ask me to tell them a cat story. I would then sit down on the bottom bunk with Nabysko, create a character and then tell its story.

I was always just as curious as the girls were to find out how these stories would develop and then end.

Tryskuit and Nabysko became obsessed with cat books, cat calendars, cat pillows, cat cards, cat cups, plastic cats, ceramic cats. And I, who so despised all these things, happily purchased all these things for them.

I bought more cat knick-knacks than was healthy, more than I could afford.


Kaboodle soon began to assist me in my work.


Monday, September 29, 2008

How the Kracker Cats came to be, part 5: I rescue a kitten from a certain drowning - I love it too much, it leaves me, I feel betrayed; I almost die

I have no pictures of Speedy, so here is a picture I took yesterday, in Anchorage, while walking from my car to find Nabysko at the protest rally that I mentioned yesterday.

As I prepared to enter the second grade, I stumbled across a cute little gray tabby while visiting my friend Gary Belkey, who lived on a farm just outside Pendleton. A "mouser" there had produced a litter of kittens. All but one had been claimed."If we can't find someone to take this kitten, we're just going to have to drown him," Gary's father said, radically altering the hero image I had previously held of him.

"Please, please, don't drown him!” I pleaded, “Give him to me."

"Well, I don't know. Maybe you won't take good care of him"

"I will! I will! I sure as hell won’t drown him!" I swore in bewilderment, wondering how this man’s mind worked.

"Well, all right then." He smiled.

I had this one figured out. The Belkeys would bring me home, with the kitten, my kitten. A kitten that was would be drowned if I, just me, did not keep it. No one could be hard-hearted enough to send such a cute, cuddly animal back to the Belkey's, to be drowned.

It worked.

Yet, once again, tradgedy waited

I could tell Mom was not happy with the idea, but she agreed, I could keep "Speedy." I named him “Speedy” because he sped all about. Mostly, what he was sped from was me. Whenever I came for him, my arms outstretched, ready to grab and love him, he sped away.

My last memory of Speedy is of him looking down at me from high up in a tree, where he had gone to escape my love.

I loved him too much, and so drove him away.


The Anchorage cat hopped onto a fence.

Shortly afterward, ringworms began to sprout throughout my scalp. "Cat's," the doctor told Mom. "He is getting this ringworm from cats. Keep him away from cats."

I then entered a painful and humiliating process of rehabilitation. My head was shaved bald. At school, I had to wear a stocking cap at all times, a fact which did not escape my schoolmates, who quickly capitalized upon the many possibilities this offered to heap ridicule upon a peer. Each night, I had to stand with my head over the sink, while Mom repeatedly poured vinegar over my head. It trickled into my eyes, and stung viciously. I screamed, howled, and fought, to no avail.

The world hated me. God hated me. I had loved a cat and it had sped from me, and left me sorely afflicted.

The worst came with our school Christmas program. I tried to get out of it, futilely so. On the dreaded day, I stood there with my class, not one other of whom had a bald head, covered with a white stocking cap.

In all of history, this became the first school Christmas program where not one father beamed as his darling soprano daughter sang out a beautiful solo rendition of "up on the housetop, reindeer paws." The beauty in the strains of "Silent Night" was lost on this crowd. Hearts did not soar when "all ye faithful" were beckoned to come. There was no rejoicing in the "harks" of the herald angels.

With no exceptions, the eyes of each parent bored into the little boy with the bald head and the stocking cap. They whispered, and murmurred among themselves and while their words reached my ears as an unitelligble drone, I knew exactly what they were saying:

"Cindy told me this boy was a hideous sight, but I never imagined."

Cindy, oh, Cindy! How I loved her! Cindy of the short plaid dress, the long blond hair. Cindy, who had been to Hawaii, who had regaled us all during show and tell when she danced the hula-hula with her mother, swishing and swaying so lovely in her little grass skirt. Cindy, who I planned to marry and grow to be 112 with. Cindy! I loved her so passionately that I was incapable of uttering even the simplest word in front of her.

"I never seen such a freak! Disgusting!"

"Do you really think it is safe to let Cindy attend classes in the same building with this boy?"

“Hell, no! I don’t think it is safe to let Cindy be in the same building, the same town. Hell. Someone should kick this boy out of America.”

“I agree! Get a rocket! Shoot him off to Mars! Cindy will be safe, then.”

"Cats, you know. he brought this upon himself, by loving cats."

"Cats, this boy is allergic to cats."

"Horrible!"

"This boy is allergic to cats."

From then on, this was the official word: I was allergic to cats. "Like a kitten, little boy?" some kindly but misguided soul would ask.

"Nope," I would answer steadfastly. "I am allergic to cats." And so, in time, I convinced myself that I did not like cats – even that I despised cats.


The Anchorage cat walks around on the fence.

With dogs, it was a different story. Although Mom did not like him, a dog had actually lived with us in the past, back when we had lived next to the Pendleton airport, atop a high hill. Tippy often went on extended walks, from which he would return full of porcupine quills that my father would then extract with pliers. We took Tippy with us when we moved to the house by the golf course, but he would not stay. He kept returning to the airport. Finally, to my grief and horror, the parents gave up on him, and let him live with the family that had moved into our former house.

They tried to consol me by pointing out the fact that Tippy had been an extremely stupid and worthless dog, and eventually, we would get us a smarter dog.

I refused to let them forget this promise. One day, not long after the disapearance of Speedy, I convinced my reluctant mother to take me to the animal shelter. There, I found Whitey, a little white mongrel pup adorned with light brown spots.

Whitey, I had to admit, was a far better companion than Speedy had ever been. He responded to love with love. I could hug him, wrestle him. He would not speed away. Yapping happily, he would pounce on me, wrestle me back, lick my face, and wag his tail.

He was my friend, for life.

Unfortunately, for Whitey, life was short.

Before he could even outgrow his puppyhood, Whitey suddenly began acting strange. He hid under the bed, and whined, for no reason. Suddenly - in shades of Speedy - he was afraid of me, and everybody else. When he did emerge from under the bed, he looked weak, walked spastic, and was not interested in food.

To make matters worse, ringworm sprouted all over him. I was certain that I had passed the same ringworm the cat had given me onto the puppy. The parents took him to the vet, and when they came home, they appeared serious, and grave.

"Grahmny," they spoke gravely, "Whitey is very sick. He has distemper. He is suffering terribly. The only way the vet can stop the suffering is to put him to sleep. It is not right to let an animal suffer. But before we let the vet put him to sleep, we wanted to talk to you, and hear your feelings."

"Putting him to sleep will end his suffering?"

"Yes."

"He won't hurt anymore?"

"No, he won't hurt anymore."

"I don't want him to hurt. The vet should put him to sleep."

Afterward, my parents had nothing but praise for me. What a brave boy I was! How noble of me to let this puppy's suffering end! How unselfish, how loving!

"Okay, now, when does he get to wake up again?"

Oh, the devastation! The devastation!


The Anchorage cat did not speed from me. 

In the midst of my bitter grief, I went to school, where the teacher showed us some film strips. One was about "Old Mother Hubbard." When she went to the cubbard, and there was no bone for her poor dog... I had to bury my head to conceal my tears, for they poured out of me.

I fell deathly ill after that. Measles broke out all over my body. Vessels burst in my nose. The blood flowed and would not stop. I grew faint. The parents rushed me to the doctor. The only way to stop nosebleeds such as mine, he said, was to press the offending nostril shut until the bleeding stopped.

In the evening, the bleeding started again. My older brother Weet, who, along with his twin, Fire Jr., normally took pleasure in such things as nailing me shut in a closet, locking me in the bedroom with him and shooting me with home-made blanks fired from his new .22 rifle, and in finding countless other imaginative ways to fill my life with terror, sat up with me all night, and stopped every nosebleed I got.

And then, as I lay so faint and weak, wondering if death was coming to me, Whitey came to me, wearing a red ribbon. I looked into the laundry room and there he was, sitting atop the washing machine, looking at me.

Yes, Mom agreed when I told her. Dogs do have spirits, just like people. Yes, you will see him after the resurrection. Yes, that was his spirit you saw. He wanted to let you know that he is doing fine on the other side.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Watson and Jumper of Barrow, revisited - story of Kracker Cats will continue TOMORROW

Watson, of Barrow, revisited.

BELOVED BILLIONS UPON BILLIONS OF READERS THE WORLD OVER, and on the space stations and all shuttles too: I fully understand that you are all going nuts, out of your minds, just waiting for the next installment of the story of the Kracker Cats.

Be patient! I will continue that story tomorrow. I left Barrow late last night (Friday), Sunflower picked me up at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage and then we drove home by way of Taco Bell and it was nearly 2:00 AM when we arrived at out house here in Wasilla.

I then learned that my youngest child, Nabysko, planned to participate in a protest gathering to take place on the Anchorage Park strip this afternoon and so I had to go into town to photograph her for posterity.

I will not say what she was protesting, for I know there are Sarah Palin fans out there and I do not wish to alienate any of you and besides, this blog is about cats, not politics.

Jumper, of Barrow, revisited.

I mention this only so that you will understand that I am very tired - no, one could say exhausted - and I spent the entire day in Anchorage, it is now midnight, and because of all of this I simply too wiped-out to put a Kracker Cat story together tonight.

But when something means as much to a daughter as this did to Nabysko and her father is a photographer, then that father must put his own comfort aside, he must delay his stories and go to town to photograph his daughter as she protests; once the protest is over, it is then only right that he go to a nearby coffee shop with she and her boyfriend and there sit inside for an hour or two so that the three of them can lay out the solutions for all the grave problems in the world, even if the politicians can't quite get there.

Jumper and Karla.

Once this is done, what else can a father do but accompany his daughter to the house of his other daughter, Tryskuit, who is off touring a swath of country from Austin, Texas, to Toronto, Canada? Still her cats need to be fed and that is why we went there - to feed the cats.

Afterward, it is then only right that the father then accompany the youngest daughter and her boyfriend to see the movie, "Tropic Thunder," a film that rises to the highest levels of absurdity.

I explain all this so that you, my billions upon billions of dedicated readers, will fully understand why I am too tired to write tonight - not even one word can I write, so tired am I. But tomorrow, I will continue the story.

Karla and Jumper.

This past Thursday in Barrow, I had the great pleasure of eating lunch at the home of Watson and Jumper, who long time readers will remember from that ill-fated trip that ended in me being medivaced 850 miles to the hospital.



Thursday, September 25, 2008

How the Kracker Cats came to be, part 4: To salt a robin's tail

Robin launches from a Wasilla power line.

Please note: This is a different story than the one I had promised. You will not meet the kitten that I referred to until my next post. The reason is simple. It is past midnight, I am tired and I can prepare this story faster than  the other. Too many days have passed since my last entry. Plus, it is a fact that the events reported in this story happened before I got the kitten, and so were a step along the way.

Spring came to Pendleton, and when it did, many robins moved into the golf course, where Mom and I often walked. “Mom,” I noted one day. “How beautiful the robins are! Listen to their songs, Mom! It would be good to have a robin. I would like to have a robin. A robin would be nice. It would sing to us every morning.” Even as I spoke, I knew Mom was about to deny me.

“Would you really like a robin, Grahmmy?” Mom asked, to my great surprise.

“Yes,” my hopes soared. “I would! I want one!”

“I know how you can catch one.”

“How?” I pleaded, “Please tell me how!”

“Sprinkle a little salt on a robin’s tail,” she answered. “And that robin will be yours.”

“And will it like me, Mom, if I sprinkle salt on its tail? Will it be my friend?”

“Yes,” she promised.

I hurried Mom towards home, where she pulled out a cylindrical blue box adorned with a picture of a girl carrying an umbrella as salt sprinkled down upon it. “Open up your hand,” Mom invited. I did, and she sprinkled a small amount of salt onto my palm.

Happily, I ran out into the golf course, eager to get my robin. I cannot recall how many days I did this and I stalked many robins, but all flew away before I could salt their tails. What had sounded so simple was so difficult, but I could not give up. And so, on a beautiful day, I set out once again, palm open and upward, determined to salt a robin’s tail and thereby win its friendship forever.

I had not been stalking long when I spotted a red breast, sitting very still in the grass. I dropped into a crouch, and, taking care not to spill my salt, tip-toed quietly towards it. To my amazement, it did not fly, but as I drew near, hopped ahead of me, quickly turning its head side-to-side to study me out of alternate eyes.

My excitement grew. “Hold still, little robin,” I soothed. “Let me sprinkle salt upon your tail!” With a great burst of speed, I dashed to the robin faster than it could hop away. I threw my salt at it, reasoning that at least at least a few kernels ought to fall on its tail. Then the robin was right in front of me, within my grasp! I reached out, but before I could clutch its feathers in my hand, another hand, one that was bigger than mine, grabbed me roughly by the shoulder and spun me around.

“What do you think you’re doing, little kid?” an older boy, carrying a BB gun in his free hand, asked. He had two friends with him, one of whom grabbed the robin.

“I sprinkled salt on the robin’s tail!” I squealed. “The robin is mine!”

The three older boys laughed. There was no mirth, but only cruelty, in their chortle. The boy shoved me to the ground. “You stupid kid!" he taunted. "That’s not your robin. That’s my robin! I shot it! I wounded it. Now I’m going to kill it.”

“No!” I pleaded. “Please don’t kill the robin! I will take him home. I will make him well.”

The boy propped his BB gun against a tree and took the robin from his friend. “You want this robin?” he asked, holding the wounded bird in front of me. Terror glimmered in the black beads that were the robin’s eyes.

“Yes,” I assured him. “I want it! Please don’t kill it!”

“If you want it, you can have it,” he laughed. Eagerly, I reached for the robin. “Not yet,” he pushed me away. He pulled a jackknife out of his pocket, whipped out the blade, then sliced open the robin’s red breast. He inserted his fingers into the wound and pried the chest open wide. The heart of the robin continued to beat.

The three laughed to see this beating heart in a robin whose short life was now over. The bully cut the heart out, then handed the bird, and the now stilled heart, to me.

“You can have it,” he laughed. “It’s yours! Enjoy your robin!” He then slugged me square in the teeth. The remains of the robin fell into the grass as I tumbled to the ground.

I stumbled home in tears. I had three older brothers - Ritz, four and a half years my senior, and the twins, Weet and Fire, Jr. - seven years older than myself. Although Fire, Jr., was the eldest of the two by a good 50 minutes, everyone always referred to them as “Weet and Pilot,” probably because Weet was a good head-and-a-half taller than his twin. Weet wanted to know why I wept so. I told the story. He took off into the golf course, found the three bullies and they soon discovered what it meant to be on the receiving end of terror.

In my younger days, Weet and Pilot tormented me ruthlessly. I could write a book based solely upon the terror those two put me through. Yet, in a crisis with outsiders, they always backed me up. They refused to allow anyone outside the family to bully me and get away with it. Bullying me was their responsibility and they took it seriously. Woe be to anyone else who dared to pick on their little brother.

Robin in my back yard.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Travel delay - will post again ASAP

Yesterday, I left home on my first trip since I got injured in Barrow on June 12. Yes, I am back in Barrow, to see if I can somehow pick up where I left off. I came yesterday afternoon and I brought the raw materials with me to continue my posts, but last night, my internet connection was so bad I could not even load a page.

As you can see, it is now loading - but extremely slowly. I just finished a hard days work - the first day of work as a photographer that I have put in since June 12 - and I am not only tired, but my right shoulder and arm is very sore. I was careful, but still I was using my real camera - the big, heavy, professional one - and I had to put my right arm through motions and tasks that it has not done since June 12.

I kept the sling on all day, but still used my right hand - not to bear the weight of the camera - but to snap the shutter. I have returned to the world.

Hopefully, if this connection remains, I will post the next story tonight, before I go to bed. I can't promise, though.

Before I continue on, though, I feel I might need to clear something up, just in case my last post gave the wrong impression. My Mom was an excellent mother - kind and loving, ready to sacrifice for her children and all those she loved.

She just didn't know about pets, that's all. Pets was a concept she did not grow up with, did not understand, and found most difficult to accept. None-the-less, she was a wonderful mother and I'm both thankful and glad that she was mine.

May she rest in peace, for the final years of her life were torment.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Origin of the Kracker Cats, Part 3: How little me was brainwashed to believe himself to be a cat despiser - Sub-series, Part A

I don't know how this picture ever came to be. It is little me, with a kitten. When you finish this sub-series, you will understand why I do not know.

"Kitty! Oh, Kitty!" A young, exuberant voice erupted behind me. It was Nabysko, then four. She plopped herself down and stroked the kitten with such vigor that I feared she would hurt it. "Kitty likes us, she wants to live with us," she begged. "I like this kitty, too. Daddy, do you like this kitty?"

"I don't know," I answered. "Look how skinny he is. Maybe if we fatten him up, he might make a good meal by my birthday."

"Not to eat, you silly Daddy!" Nabysko chided. "To live here! To be our friend! Please, Daddy. Please. Mom likes Kitty, too."

"Your Mom," I said with conviction, "does not like this kitten. Your Mom does not like cats, she can't stand cats. She would never let us keep this cat. Anyway, it belongs to somebody else."

It is not that I was born with a hard heart concerning cats. Quite the opposite. I came into the world full of tenderness for all the furred and feathery little animals. I loved them all, and yearned for them to come and live with me. It seemed that they were equally eager to come and live with me, for they were always following me home - puppies, kittens, ducks, and owl.

My parents had other thoughts. Caught at the right time, they might yield to a puppy. But no other animals. Especially not cats - horrid, horrid cats. Vile animals. Disgusting animals. Once a cat got into a home, my mother would assure me, you could smell it there, forever.

Mom had been raised on a farm in southern Idaho, and here view of animals was totally utilitarian. Animals all had their place – chickens laid eggs, or went into the stewpot or onto the stove. Sheep gave wool and lambs were particular tender for eating. Cows gave milk and converted well into steaks, roasts, and hamburger.

Horses were good for moving cows around, and dogs could help with sheep. Cats were fine – in a barn or grain storage bin, where they could hunt and kill rodents before those rodents ate generous quantities of grain and pooped and peed in what they didn’t eat.

But there was one place that Mom believe no animal ever had a place in – the house. The home was a sanctuary for humans only. Animals were a desecration to a house. The concept of “pet,” or the idea that an animal, even a dog or a cat, could be a friend and not a worker was a concept that did not exist in her head.

Yet, just when I was about to start the second grade, I did manage to trick her into allowing me to adopt a kitten. Had it not been for that event, perhaps I would not have then grown up believing myself to be a despiser of cats. The brainwashing might never have occurred.

I will relate that story, but first I will tell you of another tragedy, one that speaks of how my love for all animals conflicted with my mother’s pragmatism.

The story involves a duck.

I had just turned six and I lived with my family of seven in a tiny house at the edge of the golf course in Pendleton, Oregon. It was rodeo time, and the carnival was in town. While there were many terrifying and thrilling rides, the center of my interest was the duck tent. Sitting in front of a couple of hundred of the cutest little yellow ducklings were a couple of hundred ash trays. To get a duck of his very own, all a boy had to do was toss a dime into one of the ashtrays, then pick out the duck of his choice. Heck. With all those ashtrays, how could a boy not win a duck?

Excitedly, I ran for my mother. She refused to give me even one dime. “Those duck people are just crooks,” she told me. “They are hucksters!” - ready to take every dime I had. It was rigged. I would never get a duck, but those hucksters would sure get my dimes.

Mom believed in teaching us kids responsibility while we were young, and so, at that tender age, I had already been sent into the street to sell newspapers. In fact, I had been doing so for two years. Unlike my brothers, I was shy, and a lousy salesman, and I never did take too kindly to the idea of responsibility. I sold very few newspaper, and seldom brought home more than two or three dimes. Once, I only made a nickel. 

This so angered my boss that he slapped me. Then, as I crossed the bridge over the Umatilla on the way home, I dropped that nickel and it rolled off into the river.

But after seeing the baby ducks, I out my shyness aside. I went out and put the two hardest working days of my street-selling career, going so far as to walk into a couple of bars, where I had heard from my older brothers that a kid could not only make lots of sales, but collect some huge tips from drunken cowboys.

So I ventured into the cowboy bars carrying, my bag full of papers, and came out with a bagful of dimes.

I met this cat along the way, in Washington state, being admired by a phony duck. The experience was a bitter reminder of the ordeal that I had faced as a child.

On the final day of the carnival, I returned with my share of those of dimes, without my mother. If she had known about those dimes, she would have made me tithe ten percent of them to the church and put most of the rest in the bank – I could have kept just enough for a candy bar.

But these were duck dimes.

Knowing that putting a dime in one of the ashtrays was as easy as anything I could ever do, I indulged myself in a couple of carnival rides, then headed for the duck booth. I flung one dime after another into those ash trays and each time they slid right out and fell into the collection bin. I left with no dimes, no duck. With my heart broken, and tears forcing themselves from my eyes, I left the carnival grounds and ran, blurry-eyed, down a trail that ran along the banks of the Umatilla River.

Suddenly - a miracle.

"Quack!"

A little, yellow duck waddled up to me, and lifted its eyes to mine.

"Quack!"

It wanted to come home with me! It wanted to share my life! It wanted to be my best friend!

I took a step in the direction of home. It followed. Across the bridge and all the way home. And so as I walked home, the duckling followed me. I wanted to pick it up and carry it, but I reasoned that Mom could say that it was someone else's duck, and that in picking it up and carrying it home, I had done something dishonest, and I would just have to take it back to the duck tent. If it followed me, this was proof that nobody else wanted it, that it was my duck.

This logic was lost on Mom.

“No, Grahmmy!” she said, “this duck is not yours. It belongs to someone else. We must find out who and then you can return it to them.” It did not take them long to find somebody else willing to be that person. Just a few houses up the road lived a kindergarten mate of mine. Yes, his mother said, he had landed a dime in an ashtray, and had won a duck. He loved that duck so much! He brought it home and he just adored it, and the duck adored him, but, somehow, he had lost the duck. How his heart had broke. Why, this duck that sweet little Grahmmy found, this is the very duck! This is Larry’s duck!

Yeah, right. Even as a five year old, I knew that a little duckling like that would not have left this house, waddled all the way back to the river, crossed the bridge, then continued on alongside the riverbank until it almost reached the carnival grounds.

No. This was not Larry’s duck. This was my duck. Even so, Larry rejoiced, and took the duck into his home. My heart was broken now, and all the talk about how I had done the right thing, and how good this was for my character, could not mend it.

A kitten could, though, and I would soon have one.


Next up in Sub-series, Part B of Part 3: Betrayed by a kitten

Friday, September 19, 2008

Intermission: Taking a breather tonight, folks

Sunflower, little Wry and I went to town today. Now we are back, but it is too late for me to try to get another story ready. So I call, "Intermission!" I take a break. I might extend this break until Sunday night, because it is a fact that the number of visitors to this blog falls off on the weekends.

If I do, I will still post something, just like I am doing tonight with this picture of baby Wry watching Jim and Martigny wrestle and play. Also, I have three awards that some of you have honored me with, and so I will see if I can pay proper attention to them sometime over the weekend, and pass them on.

But I will be back with The Origin of the Kracker Cats, Part 3. I haven't decided on a title yet, but it might be something like, Kitten Faces the Stewpot or How it was that a sweet boy came to despise cats... 

It might be something like that. I don't know. I must find out. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

How the Kracker Cats came to be, part 2: A kitten steps out of a dream


One of the two cats that were living in a log cabin within rifle-shot range of the Bettles Lodge. I did not know about them, I did not care. I would take this picture on a subsequent stop in Bettles, years later.

I like to imagine what a certain juvenile kitten might have been doing on the afternoon of July 5, 1991, as I approached Wasilla from the north. I had hoped to make the flight home from Point Hope in about eight hours – certainly, I wanted to arrive the same day that I left, July 2. The first delay I encountered came in the form of heavy rains and almost zero visibility over the Kobuk River, and so I was forced to land in the village of Shungnak and overnight there.

I got out the next day and flew deep into the Interior, where the rain yielded to sun and dry conditions. So dry, that I flew between the plumes of smoke from dozens of forest fires. I landed in Bettles, located on the Koyukuk River, a short distance from where it flows out of the Brooks Range, the farthest north mountains in the country.

I stopped there to gas up and to buy a sandwich at the Bettles Lodge, and to slake my thirst with a Pepsi. Not only did I not know there was a kitten hiding out in the woods behind my Wasilla home, but I did not know that there were two cats living in a log cabin within rifle-shot range of the lodge. I did not know, I did not care, and if someone had told me I would have thought, “so what?”

Three years earlier, I had flown my now deceased father into Bettles and overnight there. This is him, with my airplane, the Running Dog. You can see it was a very small plane, but it was a good one. I loved that dog. I miss it terribly. I hate being stuck to the ground, or forced to fly only in other people's airplanes.

By the time I finished my lunch and drank my Pepsi, smoke from the fires had drifted in over the runway and had dropped visibilities below minimum. I had no choice but to wait it out – and it turned into a two-day wait. Instead of being home, I spent the Fourth of July in Bettles. Before the night ended, I think I became the only guest at the lodge who did not get wildly and loudly drunk.

I was invited to join in, of course, but I had a plane to fly, a family to reach. I just wanted to sleep, wake up, find the smoke had moved on, get into my plane and go. But the noise of drunkenness rose in a steady crescendo from the pleasant banter and shy laughter that begins a party to the screeching, yelling, shouting, off-key, bellering singing, bodies slamming against walls crunch that so often ends it - in this case, punctuated by the explosion of firecrackers and the screaming whistle  of rockets. On the night of July 4, 1991, there was no sleep for me.

I arose bleary-eyed in the morning to see hat the smoke had thinned out. I got my shot and I took it. Just before I left, I overheard the attendant at the Flight Service Station tell the pilot in front of me that an airplane had disappeared. He told him to keep his eyes open and to check the emergency frequency now and then, but he didn't say anything to me about it when I stepped up for my weather briefing..

Still, as I headed south, I reqularly checked the emergency frequency– and was I surprised when, as I neared the Yukon River, I suddenly heard “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” It was the downed but uninjured pilot. I relayed the message to the Civil Air Patrol pilots searching for him and they went and got him.

Finally, I put the Yukon, the Tanana, the Nenana and Interior Alaska behind me; I flew past the massive flanks of Denali, aimed the Running Dog at a saddle in the Talkeetna Mountains directly head of me and then flew right into it.

As I exited the saddle, the mountains dropped sharply away and the lake spattered Matanuska - Susistna Valley appeared before me. About ten miles dead ahead was the spot that held my house and family. Almost immediately, I came upon a bald eagle, gliding at my same altitude. It locked one eye into mine and although I was most anxious to get back to Sunflower and the children, I pushed the stick hard to left and put the Running Dog into a steep bank and did a 360 degree turn around that eagle. As I did, it rotated around a pivot point in such a way that it’s unflinching eye never left mine. 

The only sign that the eagle moved at all was the changing patterns of light and shadow that flashed across its face, body and wings as it pivoted to watch me pass by.

I then leveled my wings and flew a bee-line straight toward a certain small, familiar, patch of marsh. Just beyond that, in the midst of the birch and spruce woods, sat the little red house with the green canoe in the back yard.  

It is at this point that I like to picture what the juvenile kitten might have been doing. I picture it nestled down in the woods behind our house, napping happily in the splotchy sunlight filtering down to the ground through the branches, birch leaves and spruce needles. As I draw near, the juvenile cat hears a sound that it has heard many times before – the drone of an airplane.

It cannot know just what that sound means, but it is a common one in the valley and so causes the cat no alarm. Even as it keeps its eyes closed, the kitten turns one ear toward the north, to follow the drone as it grows louder and louder and draws closer and closer.  The young cat hears the Running Dog. I do not know it, but the nose of the dog is pointed right at that kitten.

Suddenly, the kitten detects something unusual in the sound. The roar stops altogether, and is replaced by sound of an engine idling, a propeller slowly spinning, and of wings gliding, slicing, the air.

As I approach the swamp, I pull the throttle all the way back to idle, then shove the stick forward, forcing the nose of the Running Dog to point downward towards the swamp. This puts the tiny, wood-framed, rag-clad, airplane into a steep glide. It picks up speed as it swoops down over the swamp until finally its wingtips dip below the tops of the bordering trees.

Now the sound is strange to the kitten. Not threatening, just strange. More gentle than the growing roar of before, but unusual, a sound that it does not understand. The kitten has heard the sound of raven wings, beating and slicing the air, but it has never the sound airplane wings swooping.

The kittens eyes come open. The kitten is calm but tense, as it tries to determine is this sound signals a threat.

Now, as the wheels of the Running Dog near the level of the marsh grass, I shove the throttle full forward and pull back hard on the stick. This causes the Running Dog to roar mightily. I climb up over the trees behind the house, directly over the spot where I like to picture the cat to have been sleeping.

To the kitten, this roaring, beating, noise can only be terrifying. The poor little feline jumps up, and then flees madly in whatever direction its feet first fall.

At least, that's what I like to picture. What I know for certain happened is that, as the Running Dog rolled to full power, I climbed upward over the tops of the trees and then over the shingles of the little red house, then climbed above it in a tight, spiraling turn. 

I did not know about the juvenile stray cat hanging out in the narrow strip of woods that separated our house from the marsh. If I had known, the thought that the suddenly roaring engine of the Running Dog might have sent that cat fleeing in terror would have delighted me. In fact, I almost certainly would have turned that airplane around to swoop back down upon that cat, to terrify it, to send it fleeing far into the swamp. I would have then climbed up, turned back and then dive down on that kitten for a third time; I would have grazed its ears with one wheel of the dog, and then blasted its face with prop wash.
 
That cat would have fled until its legs gave out and its lungs collapsed; never again would it have dared to return to the Kracker house; never would there have been any critters known as the Kracker Cats.

This blog would not exist.

But I did not know, so, instead, I put the airplane into a climbing spiral over the house until two little girls bounced out the front door, waving their arms excitedly. Behind them, an assortment of older, rowdy boys tumbled out, followed by a beautiful, raven-haired woman. All waved happily, then climbed into the mini-van, backed out of the driveway, and began the five-mile the drive toward the Anderson Lake Airstrip. 

I flew above them, weaving and lollygaging about the sky 500 feet over the mini-van, slowing down my forward motion. In this way, we would reach the airstrip at the same time, and they could watch me land - my wife and children always loved to watch me land.

Early in the afternoon of the day following my return, I stepped out of the house with a ham sandwich in hand and took a seat on the back porch. It was the kind of beautiful summer day that I fear folks whose lives are restricted to the Lower 48 cannot know. The sun was warm and the sky deep, clear, clean, blue. At long last there was no snow, no cold. The leaves on the birch trees had sprouted into their full splendor of green, and now hung translucent in the sun. Except for the chittering of squirrels and the calls and songs of birds, it was quiet and peaceful. All was pleasant. I felt happy, relaxed.

Then I saw it -- the kitten, walking out of the shadows cast by the leaves onto the spongy, mossy, ground. Painted over a base kitten coat of white were splotches of gray, marbled with varying shades of black and brown. The green eyes of the juvenile feline bore into my own as it padded softly, silently, straight toward me, stopping occasionally to lift or drop its head in a kind of bobbing motion.

I knew I should yell and curse and scare it away, or perhaps pick up a rock or a stick and chuck it at the animal. But I did not. I just sat there on my porch as the kitten closed in on me. 

Soon, the kitten stood at my ankles. It looked up at me, then meowed. Next, it climbed onto my lap, then reached up, placed its paws in my beard and began to knead. I placed two fingers on its head, between its alert and friendly. Its fur was soft, pleasant to the touch. I gently scratched its crown, then let my hand run down its neck to the top of its back. The kitten purred.

It had stepped out of my dream and become real. 

I did not know it, but my life had just made a fundamental change. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The kitten who stepped out of a dream to become real.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The "Real" blog begins! How the Kracker Cats Came to be, part 1: I dream of a kitten...

This is the quonset hut in which the dream described below took place. I took this picture at the noon hour on December 31, 2007. I had long since moved out. 

Shortly after Nabysko turned four, a dream came to me – a nightmare most troubling. It struck first during the darkness of mid-winter on a bitter night when the wind picked dry snow up from the ground outisde and hurled it in a driving swirl through the sub-zero air. There, the swirl streamed over the drifts that swept over the outer, corrugated, walls of a Quonset located in the farthest north neighborhood in the farthest north community on the North American continent.

That hut in Barrow, Alaska, was my second home. Perhaps, outside, the northern lights shimmered and flashed in the sky. I don’t know, because I was inside, all alone, fast asleep. As the nightmare began, all was pleasant. There was no darkness, no snow, no cold and I was not in the Quonset hut. Instead, I stood in the back yard of my Wasilla home, more than 800 miles to the south. Green leaves had sprouted into full splendor upon the birch trees, and now hung translucent in the sun, which radiated its light and warmth down upon them and upon me. All was pleasant. I felt content and snugly warm – as snug and warm as I actually was under the quilts that covered me, but I took the warmth to be that of the dream sun.

Then I saw it - the kitten - walking through shadows cast by the leaves upon the spongy, mossy, ground. The kitten had a base coat of white, dappled with splotches of brown, black and red. It’s big, pleading, slotted, green eyes bore into my own as it padded its way softly, silently, straight towards me, stopping occasionally to lift or drop its head in a kind of bobbing motion.

I knew I should yell and curse and scare it away, or perhaps pick up a rock or a stick and chuck it at the animal. But I did not. I just stood there as the kitten closed in on me. Despite myself, I felt an attraction towards this kitten. I wanted to hold it, to stroke it, to feel the softness of its fur. Soon, the kitten stood at my ankles. It looked up at me. “Meow,” it said, longingly. I reached down and picked it up. It’s fur was soft, pleasant to the touch. I placed a couple of fingers upon the kitten’s head, between it’s alert and friendly ears. I scratched it gently, then let my hand run down it’s neck to the top of it’s back. It purred. I liked this kitten. I felt a great desire to keep it, to have it for my own. Suddenly, the full horror of what was happening sunk in. I was a man who did not like cats. In fact, I despised them – or so I had been brainwashed to believe. My body shook with revulsion. I awoke with a start, and sat bolt upright in bed.

“Sunflower!” I shouted.

“What!?” she bolted upright beside me, then looked at me, worried.

“It’s a kitten!”

“Oh, Grahmmy!” she muttered. Then, before my eyes, her image dissolved and disappeared, as did our bedroom in Wasilla. I then realized that I had not been in the back yard with a kitten, nor even at home in bed with my wife. I was here, in the Arctic, alone in my Quonset hut, in the midst of a night of a day of a week of a month that was all night. Feeling both relieved and terribly lonely, I plunged back into my pillow and returned to the strange and welcome world of sleep. Thankfully, that sleep remained cat free for the remainder of my rest.

Yet, over the next few months, the dream, with slight variations, returned repeatedly – it did come to me in my Wasilla home, when I did sleep beside my wife; it came to me during my travels.

Come April, as the lengthening day began to utterly banish the night, those travels took me to the Northwest Alaska village of Point Hope for a three month stay. There, I ventured out onto the very edge of the shorefast ice of the Chukchi Sea with IƱupiat Eskimo whale hunters. Even there, in the tents of the hunters, the kitten returned to haunt my dreams.

I stayed three months and then, finally, it was time for me to return to Wasilla, to my wife and children. On the night of July 2, I spent my final night in Point Hope, not in a tent but a construction camp turned village hotel. Even then and there that kitten came. I was greatly disturbed, for I, Grahamn Kracker, Alaska bush pilot and photographer of whales and hunters, was not a man to be wasting valuable dream time upon a kitten. If I had to dream about a kitten, then I should at least dream that I was scolding it, shooing it away, kicking dirt at it. Certainly, in no dream should I have been charmed by it - yet I was charmed.

Disturbed, I awoke from the dream for the final time. It was a bit past midnight. I sat up in bed, pushed back the curtain and looked outside to see the sun gliding low over the horizon directly to the north, over the broken ice that still floated in the Chukchi Sea.

Come morning, I rose groggily and unrested from bed. I packed my gear, accepted a ride from the son of the whaling captain who had hosted me on the ice, and went to my airplane, which I called the Running Dog. As I did the preflight, I climbed atop the big, fat, bush-plane tires to inspect the top of the wings. I was both shocked and angered to see a series of holes poked through the aircraft fabric, each about one foot apart. The holes ran from one wingtip to the other. I wondered who would have done such a thing, and how. And then I saw, on one wing tip, a big pile of raven poop.

The vandal had left his signature. 

I pulled a roll of duct tape out of the airplane, patched the holes, climbed into the cockpit, fired up the engine, rolled onto the runway, shoved the throttle forward. The little airplane roared toward the sea, then lifted into the air over it. I turned to the southeast, flew low over the beach, wagged my wings at a group of friends who had gathered to wave goodbye, then climbed to 2000 feet and pointed the nose of the Dog in the direction that would take me home.

What I did not know was that I had pointed the dog at a kitten, a kitten that had taken shelter in the woods behind my Wasilla home.

I met this cat during that trip to Point Hope, but I was not thrilled. To illustrate how dense I was at that time in regards to cats, I will tell you that this cat lived with another, a Tortoise Shell. Yet, I did not photograph the Tortise Shell, even though I saw it many times when I had my cameras in hand.

I did not then believe a cat to be a worthy photo subject in and of itself. The only reason that I photographed this cat, Jets, is because he imposed itself upon the scene as I photographed the woman who, many years earlier, had rescued the kitten Jets from the Florida tide pool in which she found him drowning. 

The very next day, Connie moved to Alaska, where she fell in love with an Eskimo whale hunter named Steve. I became good friends with both. I was with Steve when he shot the seal that Connie butchers above. Had not Jets poked his head through the window, I would have flown away from Point Hope without taking a photo of a single cat.

That is how dense I was.

Jets has a big story. I will tell it one day.

Tomorrow: How the Kracker Cats came to be, Part 2: A kitten steps out of a dream

The "Real" Kracker Cat Blog launch will be Tuesday evening, Alaska Daylight Time

I promise.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Countdown to launch of the "real" Kracker Cat blog: One day! (plus one more day!) The Wal-Mart kittens, sad scene on drive home

This is "Little Fuzzy." Little Fuzzy is being cuddled by a red-headed lady who spotted the kitten as the family into which it had been born stood by their car in the Wal-Mart parking lot with a sign that said, "kittens."

The red-headed lady did not stop to adopt it, but only to hold it, to feel its warmth against her shoulder and then to move on, to do the same with some puppies being given away by another family elsewhere in the parking lot.

If I understood correctly, the kitten give-away had started with three kittens, but when I drove by, saw the sign, and stopped, two kittens remained - and they had been claimed, sort of, by still another red-headed woman (but not quite so red as the first) who had arrived on the scene shortly before I did.

Obviously, the girl who is giving Little Fuzzy away loves Little Fuzzy, but her home already has as many cats, or cat, (oh, my skills as a reporter are slipping! I did not learn this information) as the family is able to keep.

This little guy is Chimichanga, and the hand reaching in to pet him belongs to the woman who has claimed him - sort of.

This is the woman who has claimed Chimichanga and Little Fuzzy - sort of. Her name is Rhonda and I say, "sort of," because she is involved with a group that calls itself "Mat-Valley Kitties Rescue Group."

When she learned that these kittens were being given away at the Wal-Mart parking lot, Rhonda rushed right over. The rescue group makes certain that all kittens who come into their care get their shots, and they insist that all who adopt them spay and neuter the kittens, and agree to keep them as indoor cats only.

Even though she did not plan to keep them herself, Rhonda claimed the kittens so that she could be certain that they would wind up in homes that would do these things for them.

Did I ever mention that we got our Chicago from a family that was giving away kittens in the Wal-Mart parking lot? Chicago, of course, has all her shots, is spayed and is an indoor cat, but, when it came to Little Fuzzy and Chimichanga, Rhonda did not want to leave such matters to chance.

I left the kittens, stopped to visit the puppies, then headed home. I had not driven far before I came upon a tragic scene: a cat, lying dead on the shoulder of the road. I did not know what to do. I wanted to pick the cat up, take it home, and put it in that place in the meadow behind our house where I have lain the other dead cats that I have pulled from the roadside, but maybe the cat had people who would be looking for it; people who would find its body if I left it there a little longer; people who would forever wonder what had happened to it if I picked it up.

I decided to give them four hours to find the cat, who looked so much like our Pistol-Yero. After four hours, I headed back to the scene with rubber gloves and a plastic bag - I will not call it a garbage bag because I did not intend to put garbage in it. If necessary, I was going to put something precious in that bag.

When I arrived, the cat was gone. I will not judge the people of this cat, but will mourn for them, because I know nothing of the circumstance that led this beautiful little creature to wind killed by on the shoulder of the road. Also, people come to their own understanding of such matters as they come to them. The Kracker Cats were all indoor-outdoor cats until I lost Little Guy and Thunder Paws got killed by a dog right in our back yard. 

After that, the new kittens that came into the family all became indoor cats. Yet it is a fact that Little Guy and Thunder Paws led wonderful, happy, fulfilling lives and had many grand experiences that no indoor cat will ever experience. 

It makes me think of myself, and all the things that I have done that could have killed or crippled me (and then I finally get hurt when I stand on a chair!) I would rather have been killed or crippled, than to have lived the safe, sheltered life. 

Is it so different for a cat? Yet, because I have a selfish side to me, because I cannot bear the thought of going through the pain that I experienced with Little Guy, and Thunder Paws, both of whom had grand lives that no indoor cat will ever know, I have made their successors indoor cats.

Still, seeing this cat did bring home to me why it is good that there are people like Rhonda out there, doing what they are doing.