Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Oreo, A Tribute

We’re parents of a little girl who longs for a pet. Something to hold and love and take on adventures. Basically, the opposite of her brother. She adores any dog that comes onto our farm when folks show up to trade cattle. During Valentine’s Day she drew us a picture of a 4-legged creature inside a heart; I asked her what it was. 

“It’s the dog you won’t let me have. It’s in my heart.” Talk about marketing!

We haven’t made the commitment to a dog on a US highway (yet), but my parents lovingly brought three male barn cats to our farm last year. Since then, we’re on litter number four from those original three “males”. Truly, the gift that keeps on giving. It was in litter number two that Oreo (black, white, and round) arrived.

Oreo was…not right. He would sit in the middle of a busy barn lot and stare at the sun. He’d eat out of the cat food bowl by burying his head in the feed then looking straight up to the sky and sway back and forth like Ray Charles while he chewed. But Oreo wasn’t blind; we know because we did a sight test. Don’t ask.

Because Oreo didn’t run from the kids when they came to the barn, he became an instant farm favorite. This kitten experienced a whole lot of life with Caroline and Cyrus. He took many ATV rides. He was pulled in a wagon for hours. He was a frequent guest of the swing set clubhouse. He was carried around in a small Igloo cooler, full of grass, rocks, and cat food, so he could quickly go anywhere Caroline’s day took her.

In December we traveled to Kansas for Christmas with my in-laws. Upon our return, Oreo was nowhere to be found. This didn’t particularly surprise us, as we (Cody and I) knew the cat was vulnerable. In fact, we even told our chore help about him. “We have a slow kitten the kids love. You can’t miss him. He looks for ways to get killed in the barn lot. Do NOT run over this cat.”

For days we searched for Oreo in the haymow, the pasture, the barns, the rockpile and stock trailer. And we prayed for Oreo’s safe return from “hunting”, Caroline suggested. Of course, as parents we knew Oreo was not away on a hunting trip. Oreo was easy prey and Oreo was gone.

After about two weeks of mourning, which included morning and night prayer sessions and incessant talking about the missing cat, Cyrus had enough.

We were feeding cattle one evening when Caroline started talking about Oreo again.

“CARE-O-WINE!” Cyrus yelled, sitting next to her on the Ranger, unable to handle the cat talk any longer. “IT GOT ATED! IT GOT ATED BY A WOLF!” he screamed.

Caroline sat in silent shock.

I thought to myself while filling buckets, “Finally someone had the guts to tell her.”

Of course, this brought tears, and yelling back at Cyrus that he was wrong. The back-and-forth went on a few more seconds until he took it a step further:


“Cyrus, Cyrus, stop buddy! We don’t need to hear the details!” I tried to slow the roll he was on. Caroline was in tears, begging me to tell him he was wrong. I couldn’t. I told both that we have no idea where Oreo is, but we probably will never see him again. I also reminded them that we don’t have wolves on our farm.

There was not another word.

Until about five days after that day, when our building contractor asked me out of the blue, “Hey, are you missing a cat?”

I stopped in my tracks. The contractor revealed that he showed up to work on our house one day while we were in Kansas and saw a black and white kitten in the barn lot, dead. Not smashed, no blood, just dead. He disposed of it before we got back.

He probably deserved a large Christmas bonus for sparing us that sight when we returned home from our trip.

While Cody and I hated to hear Oreo had indeed died, we were glad to have some finalization to the matter.

After laughing and talking about all the ways that kitten was an unwilling friend to two rambunctious farm kids, including but not limited to wagon rides, gator rides, cooler rides, heavy petting, swinging, sliding, over-feeding and constant welfare checks, it’s cause of death was finally determined: exhaustion.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Home Renovation: Part 3

I was only there for two avocados.

“How’s that home renovation coming along?” a stranger asked me in the produce section three weeks ago. 

I quickly wondered to myself if I should be thrilled that one person read my contribution to the paper or if I should invest in better blinds? I watch too much Dateline.  

Due to my nature, I enthusiastically answered his question, “It’s going great! We still sleep in our own beds, I still have a kitchen and a working bathroom. The crew shows up five, sometimes six, days a week. We really haven’t been displaced yet.”

That was three weeks ago.

Last week I was working in our dining room/office/living room/toy room and Cyrus said something to his sister that stopped my typing. I scolded him and told him to not repeat it. He repeated it, while looking me in the eye.

“That’s it, buddy. Go to your room right now!” I instructed as I put my laptop on top of the potted plant, which was resting on top of the sewing machine, which was resting on top of plywood.

The three-year-old paused and looked around. “I don’t have a room,” he said softly, blue eyes starting to get wet.

Darn it. He’s right. His room is currently full of horsehair plaster and lath. But I wasn’t going to back down to those baby blues.

“OK, Cyrus. Then go to your bed,” I commanded.

Seconds passed.

He softly said, “I don’t have a bed.” Again, not wrong. Darn it.  

“OK, Cyrus. Please go to my bedroom and sit on the bed.”

Both kids looked at me like I was the 21-year-old substitute teacher. Nothing I said made sense and everything was up for debate. I was vulnerable and they both knew it. We were all treading water.

There was a war raging within the stripped-down walls of this farmhouse. Being the peacekeeper, Caroline grabbed his little hand and led him to our bed.

“I think Mommy wants you to take a nap here,” she said. He immediately laid down.

May we never forget the value of bossy big sisters in crisis situations.

I’ve watched home renovation shows on television for years, but I think I’m living in the outtakes. I never once viewed an episode where the mother stepped out of bed onto a child because she has nowhere else to store it. We’re running out of Rubbermaid tubs.

Never before have our children migrated into our bed in the middle of the night at this pace. If they roll north, they hit a dresser. If they roll south, they roll under our bed. They’ve figured out that a bit of extra effort will land them between mom and dad. We’re exhausted.

We came home two weeks ago and saw dust was covering every visible surface. The smell stopped my constant on-the-go mentality; I stood in the moment. I have so many fond memories of sawdust, grit, stain, square nails, lumber, caulk, saw blades running, shingles, splinters. 

Brother Luke and I,1980s

But because I’m now the mother, none of these things sound fun. They sound like a ticket to the emergency room.  I opened my eyes and bounced back to reality, quickly.

“KIDS. THERE IS PLASTIC OVER THE DOORS,” I announced. Neither child knew the relevance here. They had no idea that the house they remembered when we left at 7:30 AM was no more. (De)Construction had escalated while we were gone for the day.

“From now on, do not sit down. Do not touch anything. Do not take off your shoes. There are splinters everywhere. There are rusty square nails just waiting on your tiny little feet to find them. In fact, until Mommy says, you need to wear shoes in every part of this house. Except the new part which has new, clean floors. Always take your shoes off in the new part,” I instructed.

At five and three, they were confused. This was probably a day, and a side of their mother, they’ll never forget. Regrettably.

Today, we’re still living in the saw dust. Every day we come home to find what is gone, carried out into the large dumpster in our yard. Yesterday it was the floor. I could look down and see my old washer and dryer in the basement.

So, to the very kind man who asked how things were going three weeks ago: I wish to change my answer.

“It’s going great! We sleep four deep in our bed, I pack sawdust in the kids’ lunchboxes daily and every day is a new adventure.”

And I’m not sure I’d change a minute.