In Providence: The Christmas Cat

If you bring up the cat, you’re likely to start a war.

“I’m telling you right now, that cat is not going in the photo.”

For years, the matriarch of his family swore off animals. She never let his mother or aunts have pets growing up. In fact, when any of them would try bringing home an animal, like children do, she would promptly tell them to return it to whatever alleyway or patch of woods from whence it came. She was merciless when it came to this.

“She wouldn’t even be in the same house as an animal. When she’d go over to my aunt’s house, she used to make my aunt put her dog in the back part of the basement. My grandmother would swear she could smell it if it wasn’t as far away as possible. She hated animals. Hated them.”

That is, until her husband died.

“People change after they lose their spouse. That’s what happens, but– She started feeding this cat that would come around to her back door. We didn’t know this. We didn’t know she was doing this. Then one day, my mother goes over to the house, and she sees a cat sitting on the kitchen table. On the table.”

I contacted his mother to confirm this.

“My mother wouldn’t even pet a dog. Not even a nice dog. Now she has a mangy cat sitting on the table. And I like cats, but this cat was mangy. I said, ‘Ma, where did you get this cat?’ ‘She was outside and I started feeding her. Now she’s mine.’ ‘What do you mean she’s yours? She’s a wild cat.’ I’m talking to her, and the damn thing hisses at me and goes to jump at me. I thought it was going to go right at my face. My mother walks right over, picks it up, and starts talking nice to it. I couldn’t believe it.”

Her mother denied that she’d ever had a problem with animals, and she started referring to the newly adopted cat as her “fourth daughter.”

“Not just her fourth, her favorite.”

She denies saying “favorite,” but I can’t say she was all that convincing when I spoke with her.

“They were all worried about me when my husband died. Checking on me all the time. I get a cat and I’m happy and they’re worried about the cat. You can’t please kids. You really can’t.”

According to them, they had reason to worry.

“She’s running home from family events, because she says the cat gets lonely. That cat never got domesticated either. If you went over the house, that thing would run at you. Jump on you. She almost clawed my son to death.”

Her son backs up this story.

“She went right up my back. I thought I was going to die. I wanted to call animal services.”

His grandmother disputes this.

“He’s being a chickenshit. The poor thing was just scared. He came into the house without knocking. You can’t do that. She thought he was breaking in. She was protecting me. That’s why she’s my favorite.”

The breaking point came when she wanted to have the cat in the family photo they take every year for Christmas.

“I told my mother, ‘The cat is not going in the photo.’ Now, we talked about having animals in the photo before, and she always said none of our pets could be in the photo, but now she wants her cat in the photo? I don’t think so.”

Her mother has a counterargument.

“Their pets were pets. She’s not a pet. She’s my baby. You’re telling me I can’t have my baby in the photo with me? She’s so pretty. Have you seen my daughter’s dog? That is an ugly dog. Nobody wants to see that dog. Everybody wants to see my baby. I got her a sweater. I got her a hat. A Santa hat. She wouldn’t wear it, but I was going to put it on my lap so people knew it was hers. It was going to be so cute.”

It became a war.

“I told her ‘Grandma, I can’t take a photo with that cat. It hates me. It wants to kill me.’ She told me that we can do the photo this year without the grandkids. That’s so the cat can be in the photo, but not me. That was her compromise.”

When the family wouldn’t back down, the head of the family simply refused to show up for the photo. They took it without her for the first time in decades. A few weeks later, they all received a photograph in the mail.

“My mother took her own photo — just her and the cat.”

I have to say, looking at the photo, she and the cat both look lovely.

“Are you trying to be funny? It’s the scariest s___ I’ve ever seen.”

Okay, so the cat looks as though it’s trying to escape from its owners arms, and the loving mother looks like she might be having a heart attack, but she got her way.

“That photo is not allowed in my house. I told my son, ‘Never let me see that photo again.’”

This year, they can’t take their family photo, because they don’t want to risk being altogether. It has caused the rest of the family to come around on the idea of adding one more sibling to the family.

“I call my grandma, and she’s chasing the cat around, keeping busy. And I’m glad she’s not alone. You know, we visit, and stand at the window, but I know it’s not the same. If my grandpa were still alive, it would be different, but if she didn’t have that cat driving her crazy, I’d be worried that she’d be getting lonely.”

His grandmother admits as much.

“Oh, if I didn’t have my baby? I’d be losing it. That’s for sure. The other day I was making her breakfast and the next thing I know, she sees a cricket in the house and she’s on top of the china cabinet, knocking everything down, breaking things. I had to stop cooking her eggs and go catch her before she destroyed the whole dining room. Never a dull moment.”

If you walk by a house on the northern side of Providence, you might see a cat sitting in a window, guarding the home of its mother and savior. It’s possible the cat will be wearing a Santa hat, but it’s not likely.

“She still hates that hat. I don’t even want to tell you what happens if I try and put it on her.”

Kids, right?