My family and I have been savoring these glorious days of early autumn, especially relishing in the coolness of early evening when we can take a walk without getting too hot or too cold.
On many evenings, my husband and I sit under our carport, watching as the foxes and a stray cat or two come up to scour our back lawn for the birds' bread crumbs or food our cat, Sammy, has left unfinished. Or we sit on the front yard bench and watch the neighborhood walkers pass by with their dogs or children.
Last night, I walked the short block down the street to my parents' house and visited with Mama on the front porch. Sammy walked with me, as he often does, but stopped before he got too far, distracted by a rival neighborhood cat.
The porch was quiet. We both commented on the mandevilla, still blooming across the front porch rail. I asked her if she was cool; she said "a little," but she liked the way it felt. I did, too. She noticed the intense red and orange glow as the sun started to set, and she even heard the call of birds as they settled in for the night. "Listen," she told me as she tilted her head towards the birdsong and smiled.
Earlier that day and even the day before, I had wondered if Mama was losing her hearing. She had stopped responding to my questions or directions. "Mama, will you please eat your chicken?" "Mama, do you still have a headache?" She'd just look at me with a blank stare, with no indication she had heard me and certainly no response. It happened over and over. A progression of Alzheimer's, I thought. And I'm sure I was right.
But, by ourselves last night, she was talking and answering questions. I know why. There were no distractions. No telephone ringing, no TV actor talking in the background, no one emptying trash or hauling laundry from one room to the next, no equally debilitated husband hollering for help or demanding attention. It was just the two of us, and we both loved it.
After a few minutes on the porch, I looked down the street and saw Sammy in the next yard. He was taking his precious time, sniffing the grass in his never-ending hunt for prey of any description, from grasshopper to squirrel. I called his name, and he came at a gallop. By the time he was in the yard, Mama spotted him. She reached down her hand, moving her fingers in an effort to get his attention and calling, "Here, kitty."
Sammy jumped onto the porch and made a beeline to Mama. First he rubbed against her leg and the outstretched hand, then he put his paws on her knees to test the territory and jumped up onto her lap. He rearranged himself until he got comfortable. Mama rubbed his back; I rubbed his head and under his chin, hopping he'd stay content and linger in her lap. He did just that.
Over the summer, Sammy would often choose everyone's lap except Mama's. She'd call him, reach down for him, and scold him when he wouldn't choose her: "You mean cat," she'd say.
I'd get so mad at him. I told my husband I wished I could bribe him. You know, "If you'll get in Grandma's lap and be still for 10 minutes, we'll go get a milkshake." There's no bribing a cat, of course. But things change, and over the last few weeks, Sammy almost always chooses Mama's lap.
Last night, she petted him and talked to him in a higher pitched voice than what she normally uses. The voice we all save for talking to babies and pets:
"Have you had any supper? Are you hungry?" she asked him at least five times. Each time, I'd tell her that Reggie had fed him both dry food and canned food and he shouldn't be hungry. "I don't have anything to feed you," she said. Mama always made sure man or animal was fed if they visited her house.
As she stroked the cat's fur, Mama talked about how pretty he was.
After about 20 minutes, Sammy fell asleep and drooped a little bit off Mama's lap.
"I sure don't want you to fall and get hurt," she said, looking down at the orange, purring cat in her lap.
He didn't fall but stayed put a little longer. Then he hopped up and stretched out on the cool bricks of the porch and fell asleep.
I stayed a few more minutes before returning Mama to the house and her spot on the couch beside Daddy.
I'm so thankful for these golden evenings of autumn and for a tomcat that can't be bribed.