I grew up in the country. Farm girl enough that I took my shoes off the last day of school and had trouble finding them again in September. Close enough to land and nature that I understood from an early age that life is a cycle and sometimes you’re the food.
As hayseeds, we had the requisite pets. Always a german shepherd on the go, so loyal and super smart. Rabbits – which is a cruel irony as I now battle them in my garden – and cats. The first cat I remember having was a marmalade tabby named “Kitty.”
I can’t recall if Kitty was male or female. Or in fact if Kitty was the cat’s real name (my memory lacks in crisp what it makes up for in extrapolation). But I have flashes of orange cat memories. Carrying it in front of me, hanging limp in my two hooked arms, it stretched out baking on the cracked pavement of the verandah. One day Kitty was nowhere to be found. I remember asking my mom where Kitty was. I remember my sisters clamoring for something, mom trying to unload groceries, and repeating myself “…where’s Kitty?”
I know the swirl a mother feels when doing three things at once with kids underfoot and major issues at hand. I know she needed a quick solution to the immediate problem which was the cat was dead, pancaked by a Jeep just up the road, and her three young kids were asking what was up. So mom told us Kitty had joined the circus. We stared at her, mouths agape. Mom said a circus had come by, that Kitty had joined and he/she was now gone off to have fabulous fun as a performing cat in the traveling circus, so we should be happy for Kitty.
The hysterics mom said, were quite surreal. Instead of happy claps and squeees for Kitty’s newfound exciting life, she instead witnessed the complete implosion of her children, as all happiness was sucked from our bodies, replaced with staggering sadness that we had missed the circus. In fact the scene was of such utter devastation that to rectify things, mom yelled over our sobs that it was okay and not to fret. There had been no circus, Kitty was actually dead.
The sniffles subsided, the birds began to sing again and someone asked what was for lunch. Onwards we all went. Thirty years later I haven’t explained life and death to my kids in terms of pets joining the circus. The timing of life’s major events have meant our kids were old enough for a frank discussion when their grandpa died. But I do treasure the memory. And I dearly love my mother, who when faced with telling me of the sudden passing of a person I treasured, softened the blow by saying “Mrs. Delaney has joined the circus…”