Hemingway’s love of cats is well-documented. It is said that he had nearly 60 cats at Finca, his Cuban home. Visit Key West and you are likely to encounter some of the six-toed descendants of Hemingway’s cats. The mythology of Hemingway suggests that he regarded these six-toed varieties as an omen of good luck.
Writers, it seems, like preachers, are always looking for the mystical for signs of impending doom or bountiful blessings. For all his machismo, Hemingway was every bit as superstitious as any Appalachian seer.
Superstition was my first religion, as I suspect it is for most people around the world. Before I was Baptized in the Blood, I knew better than to walk around the back of Aunt Cil’s rocker. That was bad luck. Same as walking behind a ladder. Or ironing on Sunday, Or stepping on a crack. Or breaking a mirror (7 years of bad luck would ensue for that egregious error). A ring around the moon meant someone you love will soon die. Tell a bad dream before breakfast and it will come true. Death comes in threes (This one seems to always be true, especially if it’s famous people). Brush your hair a 100 strokes before bedtime or risk it falling out. Sleep on a feather pillow and if you are a good Christian, the feathers will form a crown.
Superstition was our mountain kin ways of explaining the whys of life to themselves. What they couldn’t rationalize through a superstition, they always attributed to the mysterious ways of God.
“Lord knows,” was a common refrain.
As was, “It’ll all work out in the end. Remember Romans 8:28?”
Aunt Cil died many planting moons ago. I’ve been ironing on Sundays for decades now. If the ironing has cursed me in any measure I’m unaware. I can usually find some other reason for why things happen the way they do. Put a 14-pound dog up against a 160-pound dog and you run the risk of somebody getting hurt, and it won’t be that big dog. A ring around the moon is more an indication of the weather conditions or the pollutants filling the air, than a predictor of the future.
Still, every now and again, I return to my Appalachian roots and begin to suspect that there are unseen haints at work on my behalf, working that good thing out like Romans 8:28 promises. Although as every granny-woman knows, if it ain’t worked out yet, it’s because it ain’t the end yet.
Some of you know that over the past month, we – our family – lost both our beloved dogs. Sweet Portia fell ill and had to be put down. Then last week, a dog next door attacked our mini-Aussie and killed Flash. Portia and Flash were older dogs – 13 and 12 – so we all knew that we were on borrowed time with these two. Flash didn’t really show his age, but Portia had aged quite a bit over this past year. I was dreading coming home from Europe because of how much I was missing Portia. Then having Flash die the way he did was so awful and traumatic. A horrible incident that will bother me for the rest of my life.
I was glad we had a trip out-of-town planned for Memorial Day after that incident. And despite what ]vthat fool of a president says, for Gold Star families like ours there is nothing “Happy” about Memorial Day. The only time I’m ever going to be “Happy” about remembering someone’s death is when this fool of a president passes. I don’t care if that remark hair lips Granny, it’s the Gospel truth.
We made the trip north to Wenatchee. Our youngest daughter and her son joined us. It never rains in Wenatchee but this weekend it was an absolute frog-drowner. All weekend long. We took the boys swimming in the hotel pool. We played games at their house. We ate Pho with chopsticks. We took naps. On Sunday, the girls and I decided we would have some Mom-daughter time and squeeze in a little shopping while Tim napped along with the boys. That was our honest-t0-gosh plan.
So imagine Tim’s shock when I called him from the store with a story about a Cat Rescue woman at the new PetSmart store right next door to the Marshall’s where we had intended to go shopping.
We’d gone into the pet store on a whim. “Just to check out the new store,” I told my daughters. We encountered the Cat Rescue woman as soon as we walked inside the door. She had crate upon crate of cats of all sizes and colors. None with six-toes that I saw, though. And a couple of crates with pit bulls and German Shepherd pups in them.
The girls and I walked past all that, past the parrots and the finches, turned the corner and was making a beeline for the exit when my non-dog-loving daughter Ashley called out, “Oh, Mom, look! There’s another crate. And look how cute that dog is.”
“You should hold it,” Konnie encouraged.
“I can’t hold it,” I protested. Still, I leaned in and touched the nose of one of the several tan-colored dogs. The yellow sign pinned to the crate identified the dogs as “ChiTerrier”, along with their adoption fee.
I didn’t count but there must have been six or seven puppies in the crate. Only one of them had long curly hair. He didn’t look a thing like the others, who did look like they were mostly Chihuahua. The Cat Lady, that’s what she called herself, didn’t know hardly anything about the dogs.
“Dogs can have up to 15 fathers,” she said.
“Their mother is a slut,” I said to my daughters.
The Cat Lady pulled the non-Chihuahua dog from the crate and handed him to me. Konnie swears the Cat Lady told us they came from a trailer court over in Moses Lake. I never heard that part. I was too busy with the pup the Cat Lady handed me.
“He’s pretty cute,” Ashley, the non-dog-loving daughter said. I didn’t realize it then, and I’m not sure she did either, but Ashley was undergoing a conversion experience right then and right there. I handed the puppy to Ashley and stepped off to a corner to call Tim.
“I found a puppy,” I said.
“What kind?” he asked.
“I don’t know. The rescue person did a DNA test but it hasn’t come back yet. He’s cute though. Even Ashley thinks so.”
Tim was silent.
“Can I get him?”
“Him? I thought you only wanted a girl dog.”
“He’s the cutest one,” I said.
“If that’s what you want,” Tim replied. After 41 years of marriage he knows Happy Wife, Happy Life.
Ashley ran off to get a bowtie collar. Konnie found the dog food. I paid the rescue fee. We never made it to Marshall’s.
“Who needs shopping when we have a puppy to entertain us?” Konnie said.
“Wait till your grandsons see what you came home with!” Ashley interjected.
Ashley kept the puppy the first night. She said he was the perfect pup, never whined, and was happy all night long, sleeping in his crate next to Sullivan and Austin.
Yes, I know Hemingway, the writer, was primarily a cat person, but he loved his dogs, too. Recounting the loss of his beloved Black Dog, Hemingway told A. E. Hotchner, a bunch of Batista’s soldiers, looking for guns, raided his home in Cuba:
“They barreled in here in the middle of the night and poor Black Dog, old and half blind, tried to stand guard at the door of the Finca, but a soldier clubbed him to death with the butt of his rifle. Poor old Black Dog. I miss him. In the early morning when I work, he’s not here on the kudu skin beside the typewriter; and in the afternoon when I swim, he’s not hunting lizards beside the pool; and in the evenings when I sit in my chair to read, his chin isn’t resting on my foot. I miss Black Dog as much as I miss any friend I ever lost.”
Hemingway, the pup, is here at my side now, a constant reminder that even in the midst of grief, we need to reach for hope.
Or as Hemingway, the writer, summed it up: “It’s silly not to hope. It’s a sin.”
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain, Mercer Univ. Press.