I’m Just Saying: When family (and cats) escape a hurricane

Published 3:50 pm Thursday, September 14, 2017

I may have achieved a real sense of what it might have been like to have lived in a covered wagon this past week.

Like countless others, Paul and I took in family evacuating from Hollywood, Florida: Paul’s niece, nephew-in-law, toddler daughter (no one cuter. I know Great Aunts are supposed to say that, but that is one, cute kid) and two of the biggest cats I’ve ever seen drove 14 hours to escape the wrath of Hurricane Irma, only to be met by that cranky old woman as she followed them to the foothills of the Blue Ridge albeit much weakened.

It should be said that our cabin is a scant 1,500 square feet and with five humans, Rosie our Jack, and a total now of seven cats, it felt as if we were all living in an episode of ‘Hoarders,’ winding our way past the child’s play pen, toys, highchair, luggage and stumbling over cats the size of a Kia.

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I’m not kidding—if you caught a glimpse of one of these felines out of the corner of your eye, you’d ask, ‘Did someone park a car in the kitchen?’ Giving credit where credit is due, I will say that both ‘Murphy’ and ‘Nick’ were exemplary guests residing quietly under a bed or generally, in the kitchen, their eyes full of hope.

“Your mother will feed you,” I mentioned to, I think, Murphy, although they are identical: both black, both with bellies that undulated across the floor. “Whoever you are.”

“You can tell the difference because Nick is actually a calico,” Katharine pointed out. “On his belly he has a couple of spots of tortoiseshell.”

“How could I possibly ever see that?” I countered. “I don’t have a lift rack to hoist him up.”

“You’re fat shaming him.” Katharine said. “That’s not very nice.”

“Actually,” I replied, gently pulling Rosie away from Nick who began eyeing her suspiciously, the way a hawk will perch on a fence and let its eyes sweep across a field as it contemplates dinner, “I’m fat shaming you. You’re the one responsible. What are you giving them? Groupon certificates to The Golden Corral?”

The funny thing is that if you happened to be standing behind this athletic family at the grocery store check-out, your eyes would marvel at the contents of their shopping cart: organic everything. No junk food whatsoever. No soft drinks, no white bread, no hamburger meat. The little girl has fresh fruit for breakfast and loves it. You would see wild caught salmon, lentils, blueberries and oranges, 2 percent milk, Greek yoghurt and a nice pinot grigio.

But somehow the cats are sneaking out at night and going through the drive thru at Burger King and chowing down on Whoppers.

“I hope you don’t mind but we have to give Murphy a bath,” Katharine explained. “He wet himself in the crate during the drive and his feet really smell.”

“Sure,” I agreed, “Just plop him in the sink.”

Katharine stared balefully at the sink.

“I mean the tub,” I amended, realizing for Murphy, the sink would appear no larger than a soap dish.

And Murphy dolefully accepted his bath because he was too big to fight with much effort, and two, because the ensuing tidal wave would drown us all.

Their four day visit was actually a most enjoyable time. When a small house is that crammed with people and pets you give up trying to be neat and just let go and enjoy one another’s company. We laughed a lot, the men cooked, we women sampled different wines, the child enthusiastically tackled ‘Elsa’ in her ‘Frozen’ coloring book, and we gave each other as much space as possible with daily excursions. All the while holding our breath as we watched the news chronicling Irma’s path of destruction. They were lucky—no damage whatsoever to their stout, mid-century home and as they packed up their SUV to return home it was sadness I felt instead of relief.

Waving our goodbyes, I watched as Murphy and Nick, who must have been sprayed with cooking oil to fit inside their respective crates, were loaded last and peered at me out the back window.

“See you guys,” I said. “Drive safe. Don’t eat any small children.”

I swear Nick smirked.