Wednesday, April 11, 2018

DNA - Part Two THE BARN


We sat there, dumbfounded, looking at my husband's DNA test results. At the top of the list, was a woman who - according to science - is my husband's first cousin. We didn't recognize her name. As first cousins, they'd share the same grandparents.  We clicked on her family tree. We didn't recognize any of her grandparents names either.

If you're just tuning in, before you go any further you should probably take a few minutes to back and read the last installment of the Mistress of the Mix - DNA Part One - where I began sharing my husband's journey to find his father. It's an incredible and touching story. But it's also gonna get read sad, real quick.

So back to Eddie and I, sitting in front of the computer. We didn't recognize the cousin's name. We didn't recognize the names of her parents or grandparents, either: Doyle, O'Farrell, Boren and Willis.

"These people are your grandparents, Eddie. Do you recognize anything about their names?"  He stared at the screen and shook his head. But I did. Somehow, I did. I couldn't tell you why my eyes kept going back to one particular name. I knew I'd come across it somewhere before, but it was stuffed so far back into the file cabinet of my brain, that I knew it would be impossible to ever retrieve the mental information.

So I picked up the phone and Facetimed the one person I knew would have the answer. Laura, Eddie's  middle sister.

I said, "Hey, Eddie and are sitting here looking at his DNA test results, and I have a question for you. Does the name Boren sound familiar?"

Laura started jumping up and down and shouted, "I knew it! I knew it! I knew it! I told you all along! It was the neighbor! That was the last name of the man mom used to disappear into the barn with! He was grandpa's next door neighbor!"

Indeed, as we looked into it further, we realized that the theory we had initially laughed off was correct. When Eddie's mom Margaret and her first husband Buddy split up, she and her two daughters went to stay with her parents, who lived in a duplex for Weyerhauser employee families in the little unincorporated community of Allegany in a very rural part of Coos County. On the other side of the duplex lived Ed Boren and his family.

Ed. His name was Ed.  My husband carried a last name that didn't really belong to him, but he had his father's first name. We'll never know if Margaret intentionally named Eddie after his biological father, or if Ed even knew that their tryst in the barn had resulted in creating a life, just like we'll never know if it was just a one time roll in the hay, or an affair of the heart that lasted years.

That's because they're all gone.

Margaret's remains are buried next to her grandmother in a little pioneer cemetery overlooking Emigrant Lake outside of Ashland. She passed two years ago when she tripped and fell while helping a friend up a short flight of stairs and hit her head.

Ed Boren's wife of 50 years, Faye, is also dead. We don't know for sure where her remains are located. But the funeral home that performed the cremation told me that they'd released them to Ed & Faye's daughter Vana who claimed that her intent was to bury her mother's ashes in a small cemetery behind their house, and they told me there's no reason to believe that she didn't follow through on that plan.

Except that Vana was arrested shortly after that and charged with murder. The story is so sad, so unbelievably awful, that I really don't even want to share it. I mean, we are talking about my husband's newly discovered half sister. So I'll try to be brief. But the murder she was charged with was her own mother's.

That's why the last name seemed somehow familiar. I'd read the headlines in the Coos Bay newspaper two years earlier, when Vana was in court pleading guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter for neglecting her bedridden mother until the bed sores rotted away her flesh, exposing ribs and the metal of her hip implants. The medical examiner said it was the worst case of elder abuse he'd ever seen.



The article in the newspaper started out like this. "Emotionally shaken and weeping throughout the proceeding, Vana Boren stood before Coos County Judge Martin Stone and admitted that she contributed to the death of her mother last year." Vana, in a jail issued red jump suit and metal shackles, threw herself on the mercy of the court, and is now serving a pretty light sentence, all things considered. She'll serve less than seven years.

And of course, there's Eddie's biological father, Ed. We know where he is too. Ed died fifteen years ago, and was laid to rest in the Allegany cemetery. I found his newspaper obituary that told us he had been a log truck driver for Weyerhauser. He left behind a wife, a daughter, and a dog named Dude. The obit said he took pride in helping his daughter show her horse in 4-H, and Ed looked forward to fishing on the Snake River every summer.

Over the next few weeks, we found out a lot about Eddie's real father. I used the names in the obituary to start looking for cousins and aunts that I eventually tracked down on Facebook. We wrote to his half-sister in prison. She still hasn't written back. But one of the cousins accepted my friend request. She admitted to stalking Eddie's Facebook page (its not as if we hadn't done the same to hers), and said she could totally see the resemblance between Eddie and her favorite Uncle Ed.

That was the first time Eddie broke down and cried. When she wrote the words Uncle Ed.

See, that's what everybody calls my husband. Uncle Ed. Not just his sister's kids. Not just my nieces. But all of the kids in the families that my husband has adopted over the years. His buddy's kids, the neighbor's kids that he babysat, they all call him Uncle Ed, and he prides himself on being everybody's favorite uncle. He's the one that buys the most enormous Christmas presents every year. He's the one that walks into the house, opens the fridge, and says, "Come on kids, let's go to the store and get some food to put in that thing."

He never knew where that kind of care-taking gene came from, because it certainly didn't come from the people he thought were his parents. But somehow, Eddie had become the fierce protector of those he thought were incapable of defending themselves, which has not always ended well for him. But that's another story that will probably have to wait for that book I'm slowly writing.

The misty Millicoma River, near Allegany Oregon.
A few Saturdays ago, while my husband was up in Coos Bay visiting his sister Laura for the weekend, I called him and asked him what he was doing. He said he was sitting in his car, watching a tugboat hauling its freight across the bay. I said, "Why don't you go meet your father?"

We still hadn't seen even a photo of Ed. All we had was a description of him and a rough idea of where he was. There was no street address, only GPS coordinates of the Allegany cemetery. We knew it was up the Millicoma River near a little cluster of houses just past the old store, where the road forks. I texted Eddie a Google map aerial shot of the community pointing out where I thought the cemetery might be located, and he started driving up the river.

The screenshot I texted Eddie showing the tiny community of Allegany at the fork in the road.

I told him once he got to the fork to look for a road that went up the hill past the houses, and to start looking for the graveyard. Maybe it was by the church. Then the phone connection went dead, and I didn't hear back from him again for hours.

I waited for an eternity before he called me back, with the news of an incredible experience. He said that when he turned off the road, he found the little cluster of houses and the church. But no graveyard. He got out, looked around, and saw nothing moving except for a few dogs. He was ready to give up looking and was heading back to the car, when a man exited one of the homes to calm his dogs, and called out to Eddie, gently confronting him about why he was there.

Eddie said, "Well, funny story... my wife bought me a DNA test for Christmas to find out who my father is, and as it turns out, he's supposedly buried in a cemetery up here, only I can't find it. I was hoping to visit his grave. His name is Ed Boren."

The man just stared at Eddie. Not the stare down of a suspicious man protecting his home any longer, but the stare of a man taking him in, and recognizing the shadow of his old neighbor in my husband. The man opened the door, and invited him in. They sat down, and introduced themselves. Blaine Messerle began introducing Eddie to Ed Boren through his memories. He told him about the time the motor on the boat quit working while they were fishing on the river, and they had to break off branches from trees on the bank to paddle back up stream. He shared more information about the family tragedy that had ripped apart the community. He explained that Ed had been sort of the commander in chief of Allegany. He was a man who never raised his voice, but didn't tolerate drugs or troublemakers. Then after Ed passed, it was his own daughter who brought drugs and trouble into the family home. Things that would make Ed roll over in his grave.
Eddie at the top of hill next to the cemetery, overlooking the Allegany valley.
When they parted ways and Eddie started back towards his car, the neighbor pointed out a  green house up at the top of the hill, with a gate beyond it."That was your dad's house," he told him. Now it belonged to someone else who was in the process of saving it from disrepair. It had been sold, along with Vana's horse, to pay the defense attorney. "Go through that gate, and on up to the top of the hill. You'll find the cemetery. That's where your dad is buried. It's on private property, but I'm giving you permission to go up there. And after you're done, go down to the road, take a right, and visit Roger Lott. First house on the left." Eddie said he didn't want to bother another neighbor, but the man told Eddie that he really should go talk to Roger, who had lived in Allegany all his life and knew everyone. He was certain to have more  information that could help, he said.

Eddie thanked him, saying "I hope its okay that I come up here from time to time and ask questions to find out information. I just never even met him, so I don't know anything about him."

Blaine smiled. "Well, you can get to know him through us."


 Eddie finally made his way through the gate, up the road, and parked his car next to the small Allegany cemetery. He scanned the 84 graves, wondering where to start looking for Ed's. When Eddie had started looking for his great grandmother's grave ten years earlier, he had started on the left (and of course hers was the very last grave on the right), but old habits die hard. So he tromped through the spongy mixture of tree needles and moss over to the far left, and there it was. The first stone he walked up to. Edward Boren. US Army. Sep 15 1927 - Nov 23 2002. A hunter and fisherman. Eddie, meet Ed.

I don't know what Eddie said as he met his father for the first time, kneeling at his grave, wiping away fallen leaves and moss creeping through the engraved letters on his gravestone, but I know he talked to him. That's so Eddie. I know he felt an incredible sense of peace and closure, finally having the answer to the biggest question of his life. And yet, there was a sense of loss for a man he never knew, and most likely never would have been given the opportunity to know. The tears that flowed from Eddie over the discovery weren't in anger towards his mother for keeping his father's identity a secret his entire life, and not for the confusion of realizing he wasn't at all who he thought he was, but rather for the missed opportunity to have a father who might have taken him camping, fishing or trudging through the woods looking for a legal buck. He never had that.

Eventually he left the cemetery, planning to skip visiting Roger Lott and just heading back home, reluctant to show up unannounced on another stranger's doorstep. But Blaine had been so sure that Eddie should visit him, that he found himself pulling up to the Lott house. He walked up to the porch, knocked on the door, and went through the awkward, yet almost identical experience of presenting himself to Roger. The door opened partially, and he was greeted initially with some suspicion. As soon as Eddie explained who he was, the old man squinted at Eddie, and then he nodded, and said, "Yep, I can see it. You're his. Well come on in," and the door opened the rest of the way. They ended up talking for three hours.

Roger Lott had known Ed Boren for about 50 years. Not only that, he also knew Eddie's grandfather on his mother's side, back when the two families lived on opposite sides of the duplex. Back when Eddie was conceived. He remembered the day Weyerhauser's yarder tower tipped over and landed on Eddie's grandfather as he tried to make a run for it, breaking his back. He told Eddie the history of Allegany and how the Lott family operated the dairy boat that not only dropped off milk in the mornings, but picked up kids and delivered them to school. Roger said that Ed was a heavy smoker, and had been diagnosed with lung cancer, but a massive heart attack had killed him before the cancer could.

Roger also addressed Vana's neglect of her mother that led to Faye's death, and how it impacted the community. He said that after Vana was arrested, people began to break into the abandoned family home and had stolen pretty much everything that wasn't nailed down. It was then that he got a funny look on his face, and said, "You know what? I have something for you."

As the community had come together to try to save the house from ruin when it became vacant, someone had grabbed an item off the wall from Ed's house and brought it to Roger, the self-appointed historian of Allegany. Something that had no value to the tweakers and vandals, and seemed a shame to throw away. Roger had held on to it since there didn't seem anyone left to give it to. Until Eddie came along.

Roger went across the room and picked up a large homemade frame that had been fashioned out of a couple of tree branches and some fishing lures, and fastened together with common nails and twine. He handed it to Eddie, and said, "I think you should have this, if you want it."

The homemade frame 
In the frame were five photos in a collage that displayed the life and career of Ed Boren. A man in a blue checkered shirt, jeans and an orange hard hat. A man who had the same hairline, the same belly, the same stance, the same proud, extroverted smile as my husband. In one photo he stood in front of his logging truck. In others, he was in the truck. The last photograph was older, a black & white from 1960. It was a panorama of the Weyerhauser logging operation up the river that showed not only Ed's logging truck, but standing tall in the distance was the yarder tower Eddie's grandfather had operated back in the day, before his accident.

Did he want it? Oh yeah, he wanted it.


It might seem strange that my husband found such great comfort in this artifact from a man he never met; a man who's only connection in his life was to provide the sperm that fertilized an egg. It might also seem odd that a man whom he never met, and will forever be separated from by six feet of dirt became a father figure simply by finally identifying who he was. However, when you consider that for 52 years Eddie thought that the sperm donor responsible for half of his DNA was either a wife beating spiteful kidnapper, or a terror inflicting heroin addict who died in prison, this new information indicating his DNA came from a pretty regular guy was a huge relief.

Although Eddie's creation story involved a man who sneaked into the barn with the neighbor lady when his wife wasn't looking, there are some striking similarities that made so much sense to Eddie. Ed loved his family. His sibling was his best friend. He was a fierce protector of his community. He was a man who loved to wear a hardhat and work in the forest. He played hard, and enjoyed hunting and fishing, taking his boat out on the river, and telling boisterous, exaggerated stories. He loved life, and was everyone's favorite uncle. These things are also the core of Eddie. As if it was in his DNA.

Eddie drove home with the frame on the seat beside him, feeling a great sense of closure that he never thought he'd have. Eddie was finally getting the chance to shut the barn door on the life he believed he was destined to be shackled to, and open a new door to living the life he had created for himself.

When I shared the first half of Eddie's DNA journey, I created a DNA playlist. I received a lot of additional great song suggestions from readers that I was fortunate to be able to incorporate into the DNA - Part 2 Playlist, along with a couple of songs about hooking up in the barn. And if you've got more songs or DNA journeys or questions of your own, please share them in the comments section below. Maybe I can even help you solve your own family history mystery.

 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

DNA - Part One

I probably shouldn't be telling you this. Not just because it involves my husband crying some pretty hard tears and spilling family secrets, but because it kind of gives away the ending... the end of the blockbuster movie about my husband's life, just before the screen fades to black and the credits start to roll. And there will be one. Someday. Mark my words. I'll have to write the book first, then adapt it for a screen play. But every time I sit down to put the story of his life into words for you to read, it starts playing out in my head like a movie.


Let me set the scene for you, the way I see it in the theater of my brain. In the movie starring Matthew McConnaughey or maybe Owen Wilson. Its a misty Saturday afternoon in March on the Oregon coast. Fog rolls down through the Millicoma River valley off the hills, logged long ago by Weyerhauser. Where the west and east forks of the river meet, there's a small community named Allegany. Its mostly retired loggers and ranch workers. There's a total of about ten houses not counting the barns, a church, and a post office.  The store shut down years ago, but its still there. Someone's living in it. There's a little graveyard, but its on private property. You have to know how to find it. Its just past the last house on the right, through a gate, past a clear cut and tucked back among the Douglas Fir and Myrtlewood trees.  Kneeling down at the first grave on the far left is a 52 year old man meeting his father for the first time. He wipes away the moss from the engraved words on the cement marker, and wipes away the tears falling down his face as he mourns the missed opportunity of a father-son relationship.

That man - the one on his knees - is my husband.

When he was born in the fall of 1965, Eddie was given the last name of a man his mother had already divorced, but Margaret went to her grave swearing that man was his father. Their paths crossed only once, and that was on a telephone line. It was Eddie's 14th birthday. He was living in Eugene with his oldest sister after getting kicked out of school for fighting. For punching the principal, actually. He was trying to get a fresh start in a new town where his reputation wouldn't follow him. Or any school where the principal would take him. The phone rang, and on the other end was a man who's name he recognized only because they had the same last name.

He got right to the point. "I'm calling to tell you I'm not your dad. Your old enough to know. It ain't me. Your mom and I were divorced a year before you were born (which wasn't true), and I was gone long before that."

That part was true.

Buddy had left, then come back later and kidnapped the middle sister Laura, who was almost four. He walked right into his in-laws house where Margaret had taken her two daughters after they split up, and grabbed her. Ten year old Kathy held onto his arm and wailed, pleading for her daddy to take her instead and leave Laura, or just take her too. Not because things were bad at the grandparents house, but because she was afraid of what might happen to Laura if Kathy wasn't there to protect her.

But Buddy shook her off, threw Laura in the car and drove off down the road, Kathy running after him, crying. Buddy ended up taking his little girl all the way to Colorado. Then once he got there, he dumped her at his mother's house, telling her that Margaret didn't want her because she was sickly. The grandmother didn't ask questions, she just cared for the little girl until the sheriff showed up one day months later and started asking questions. Then the FBI showed up, and Laura was returned to Oregon. At least that's how the story gets told at family gatherings. We always assumed that when Buddy returned to kidnap Laura, somehow Eddie was conceived. That maybe Eddie was the product of rape.

Buddy told Eddie that if he didn't believe him, he should check the divorce papers. He even told him where to look, saying they were probably in that metal suitcase Margaret kept under her bed. If he had, which he didn't, Eddie would've seen that Margaret was granted a divorce in July of 1965 for reasons of cruel and inhuman treatment, which was a recurring theme with Buddy.

Buddy said a few more unkind words about his ex-wife, Eddie called him a son of a bitch, and the phone call ended. And that was it. The only conversation he'd ever have with his father while he was alive.

Until the DNA test.

Eddie always thought there was a chance Buddy might've been telling the truth. He had no idea what Buddy looked like, had never even seen a photo. But his oldest sister is small boned with a thin nose and dark hair.  Eddie is considerably more solid with strawberry blonde hair and a ruddy complexion. She looks southern European, and he could pass as a Viking. Or look really good in a kilt. His nose is rounder. His belly is rounder. But maybe that's just the pizza and ice cream.

We were discussing those differences about a year ago while visiting with the sisters, musing over their potential lineage when I suggested a DNA test.

Eddie said he thought it might finally tell him if his real father was indeed Buddy, or if it was another man, specifically his mom's next long term boyfriend, Donald. Donald - whose nickname was Red - died in prison, so they were told. But the kids remember him. Oh, they remember him. But that's another story. One I'm saving for that novel. But the short story on Donald is that he was a heroin addict with a mean streak who inflicted the kind of trauma on his family that no kid should ever experience.

Laura offered the theory that if Buddy wasn't his dad, she thought the most likely candidate would be one of the neighbors mom was always disappearing into the barn with. We all laughed, but then Laura said she thought there was a good chance that they each might have different fathers, and perhaps they should all get tested. Kathy chimed in and said that when Buddy had kidnapped Laura, and she had begged him to take her along, Buddy's reply was that he didn't think Kathy was actually his daughter, and the only one he was positive was really his - was Laura. One thing the three kids that shared the Tompkins name knew without a doubt was this: whether they were all full siblings, all half siblings or somewhere in between, they were family. And that would never change.



Eddie unwrapped his DNA test on Christmas morning, spit into a tube, and got the results back a month later. In the meantime, I had done extensive research on both Buddy and Donald. I knew they had both gone on to father other children. I knew Donald had a daughter who, coincidentally, lived right here in Shasta County near her mother for a time. She's got about 14 Facebook accounts, a new one for each time she got out of jail and got a new smart phone. There was even a small write-up about one of her arrests a few years ago in the local rag. We were nervous about the idea of reaching out to her, so we didn't, until we knew for sure. But I researched the family just in case, and knew all the surnames of his direct ancestors going back a few hundred years.

I could take Buddy's family back to the 16th century. His ancestors were some of the first settlers at Plymouth Rock. More recently, I knew Buddy had a daughter Linda in Kansas. Far enough away that it was safe to reach out. She was pretty, with the same black hair and thin face that Kathy has. Those two looked like they could be sisters. We connected. I asked her if she'd be willing to take a DNA test, and sent her one.

I also knew that Buddy and Donald were both dead, and had been for years.

The day we got the test results back, we logged in to Ancestry, and clicked on DNA matches. Linda had gotten hers back the day before, so if they were siblings, she should be at the top of the list.

Nope. She wasn't there at all.

"Well, that's settled," I told him as we looked at the computer screen. "Buddy was telling the truth. He's not your dad."

Even though no sibling came up as a match, there was one - a woman - listed as a close enough match that she was most likely Eddie's first cousin. That meant they shared a set of grandparents. She only had seven people listed in her family tree. We didn't recognize the woman's name, and were confident that she was not a cousin on Eddie's mother's side. This was the link to his father. Her grandparents were Doyle, O'Farrell, Boren and Willis. Names that weren't found anywhere on any of the family trees I'd created over the past ten years. Not his mothers, not Buddy's, not Donald's. They were all completely unfamiliar.

"I always knew I was adopted!"

"You were not adopted, Eddie. Hang on a moment, let me figure this out."

I spent five quick minutes looking at the other DNA matches. There were plenty of other cousins who popped up, lower on the list, that I was familiar with. Names I recognized from Eddie's mom's family tree. Cousins I had been collaborating with on genealogy work for almost a decade. He definitely wasn't adopted. But he also definitely wasn't the son of Buddy Tompkins.

Then I went back to that first cousin. I clicked on her family tree, and looked at the information she'd plugged in for each grandparent. Not where they were born, but where they had died. Two in Colorado. One in New Mexico. And one in Oregon. Not just Oregon, but Coos County. Where Eddie was born.

"These people are your grandparents, Eddie. Do you recognize anything about their names?" He didn't. But I did. Somehow, I did. I couldn't tell you why I kept staring at one of those names, and just knew it was something I'd come across somewhere before, even though it was stuffed so far back into the file cabinet of my brain, that I knew there was no way I could retrieve the mental information that I knew I had. So I picked up the phone and called the one person I knew would have the answer.

Folks, this is what they call a cliffhanger. This is that moment when I encourage you to take a few minutes and let it all all sink in. But stay tuned. Because the rest of the story is coming in the next edition of the Mistress of the Mix. But until then if you know how this story ends, don't spoil the ending for others, and instead stream the Spotify DNA playlist below.



Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Who Ya Gonna Call?


These days, when I visit my parents in Southern Oregon, the first thing I say when I walk in the door is, "Where's that damned cat?" If you didn't follow my saga of Lint, my dad's cat, back in January, let me catch you up with the short version of the story (although you can read the entire cat tale right here):

On the very day my mother returned home after a three month stint in rehab after getting hit a car, my dad's cat went missing. And the cat carrier. Things didn't add up, and through some seriously savvy detective work, my sister and I figured out that my mom's hired caretaker for the day was actually a cat burglar. After a couple of weeks we made a few phone calls, visited a few shelters, and eventually called the police. Although she denied involvement with the disappearance, a few days after the police questioned the young woman, the cat miraculously showed up 15 miles away in another city in a random lady's backyard. 

The cat carrier did not miraculously return, so my sister purchased another one. A soft sided carrier that zips open on one end which Lint loves so much she often sleeps in it.

Since her return, Lint has been the subject of a lot of attention, and my dad has finally begun teaching her some nifty tricks that are decidedly un-feline like. If you command her to sit up, she gets up on her hind legs and begs. If she demands entry into the house from a locked door, my dad will say, "Go AROUND, Lint." And dangit if she doesn't do exactly that. All the way to the other side of the house. And she fetches. I wish I had a video of it. If you throw her a ball of paper, she'll run, pounce on it, and then bring it back to you and plop it down so you'll throw it again. I think she learned it from my dogs.

She also generally rushes down the front steps to meet me at my car whenever I pull around the corner and up to the house, her little red bell tinkling as she runs toward us. 

But last time I visited, there was no tinkling of a bell, no little black cat running in our direction to meet us at the driveway. So my first words when I walked up onto the deck and through the sliding door into the house was, "Where's that damned cat? She wasn't there to greet me."

"I dunno," said my dad. "She's around here somewhere."

I plopped down into a chair and started talking to my mom, who likes to situate herself in one of those Scandinavian half barrel leather chairs that swivel around. She always sits facing the side of the house that's all picture windows and sliding doors so she can get the best view of the mountains on the other side of the valley from their house, perched on the side of the highest hilltop in town, looking down into the backyards of all their neighbors below.

A few minutes later something caught her eye, and she yelled for my dad to come look. We didn't see anything - at first - but eventually my mom's finger pointed out something high in a tree on the edge of the property line between my parents house and the neighbor below. It was that damned cat.

We estimated that she was about 30 feet off the ground at this point. But there was a lot more tree if she wanted to go higher. And she did. My dad and I walked out onto the cantilevered deck, and when the cat saw us, she crawled out even further on the branch, trying to get closer to us, but even when she went as far as a cat could go without falling off the end, she was still at least 20 feet away from the house, and even higher off the ground.

The rest of the day was spent trying to figure out a way to coax Lint out of the tree. And I already know what you're thinking. Nobody ever saw a cat skeleton up a tree. I get it. 

But you don't know my mother.

Every few minutes my mom - who stayed in that chair all day long - would say something to the effect of, "Well, what are we gonna do to get that cat out of the tree?"

Using that line about nobody ever seeing  a cat skeleton in a tree didn't work on her.

We devised all kinds of plans. The caregiver (a new and improved caregiver) and I went down into the backyard and stood at the base of the trunk with treats, calling the cat and trying to coax her back the same way she went up. There was quite a bit of movement in the right direction, but at one point Lint slipped, grabbed onto the branch for dear life, and decided she was fine huddled right where she was.

My daughter came over in the afternoon, and we came up with another bright idea that involved a long rope, a basket, a rechargeable battery pack from a remote controlled toy car that no one has played with in years, more cat treats, and my dad's weird rubber band collection. "Finally," said my daughter, opening up a drawer and removing a huge handful of used rubber bands of all sizes that in their previous life were wrapped around a newspaper, "Papa has found a use for these things."  

We secured one end of the rope to the heavy battery pack using about 30 rubber bands.  The other end we tied to the handle of a basket. Then we stood on the deck (and of course the cat was intrigued enough with us that she turned around and headed out to the end of the branch again), and took turns trying to pitch one end of the rope over the branch. The idea was to successfully hoist the basket up into the tree, that the cat would get into the basket by its own free will, and then we'd lower it down to the ground. Instead, we fell short on most of our throws, got the rope tangled in small branches the few times it landed anywhere near the tree, and we decided to stop altogether after almost taking out the neighbor's window. 

Frustrated and defeated, we reeled in the rope and convincing ourselves that if we just ignored the cat, she'd eventually come back down when she got hungry enough, we headed back in the house.

Meanwhile, back inside, mom had turned her barrel chair into a command center, and had surrounded herself with several phone books (who even has those anymore?) and a couple of senior resource directories, and was making phone calls. She was not giving up, dammit. It was 4pm on a cold Saturday afternoon, and she was not going to let the sun set without rescuing that feline. As I slid the door shut I heard mom leaving a message with her phone number, and I asked if she was calling the fire department.

"Don't be silly," she said. "I'm calling the window washers."  

It was kind of a brilliant idea, actually. It just seemed so cliche to call the fire department, but who else ya gonna call? Window washers actually made sense. Guys with ladders who aren't afraid of heights.  I was kind of impressed that mom had come up with this idea all on her own.

And then they showed up.

Three guys. One ladder. A blanket, a can of cat food and a bag of catnip. 

And these weren't just ordinary guys. I mean, they were, but they were actually incredible to behold. I felt like I was in a time warp.

They were freaking rock stars. 


And by that, I mean one looked exactly like a negative mirror image of Guns N' Roses front man Axl Rose with long, straight, jet black hair and a blue bandanna around his head, black jeans and a black leather jacket. Straight out of the 80's. 

The next guy seemed to have arrived directly from a 1992 Nirvana show at the Crocodile Cafe. Shaggy blonde hair, blue and white flannel over a dingy white t-shirt and jeans. He even smelled like weed.

And the third,  oh the third. My favorite. He was a dead ringer for Prince. When he went back to calling himself Prince, in the 2000's, straightened his hair and kept his bangs long. He had the perfect coffee and cream skin, a pencil thin mustache, and if I remember correctly, eyeliner. This guy - who could seriously make a living at parties as an Artist Formerly Known As impersonator - was clad in black skinny jeans and a Batman shirt. Anybody remember when Prince did the soundtrack for one of the Batman movies? Yeah. That happened.

Well, they did turn out to be super heroes.

The sun was starting to go down and time was a wastin', so the Cat Busters scoped out the cat in the tree, grabbed a long ladder from atop their station wagon, and headed down to the back yard. After a short huddle to figure out a game plan, they sprang into action. Axl stashed the can of cat food in his pocket, and started climbing the ladder, as Prince and Kurt Cobain held it in place. 

After he'd reached the end of the rungs, Axl started shimmying higher up the tree and out onto the long branch. Perched 20 feet further out on that branch, the cat just stared at him. Prince and Kurt left their post, and unfurled a thick blanket. I'm not sure if this was a measure meant to soften the landing of the cat or Axl, but either way it was adorable, even if it was futile.


Axl opened the lid, and stretched his arms out toward the cat. He inched a bit further out onto the branch, hoping Lint might get a whiff of Fancy Feast. He coaxed. He cooed. He said, "Here, kitty kitty." He argued with his fellow rock stars about what to do next. 

And then I remembered the cat carrier. Lint loves her cat carrier, right? It occurred to me that there was a slim possibility (instead of an absolutely zero percent chance if it was any other cat in the world) that Axl might be able to persuade Lint to get into the cat carrier, even if it was 40 feet off the ground. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My daughter ran down into the back yard and handed over the cat carrier to the rockers, and Cobain climbed up with the carrier. Axl shimmied back down the branch to the trunk, and grabbed it along with a long metal pole which I believe normally had a window cleaning squeegee attached to the end. He slung the strap around his neck, and climbed back out again in the growing darkness, stopping to rip open the bag of catnip.

I know, its super hard to see. But that's Axl down at the bottom, a bag of catnip in his mouth, ripping it open.
Way up at the top, that's Lint. The other rock stars are still holding the blanket, out of frame.
Axl climbed as high up and as far out as he dared, and - while holding the pole - reached around for the carrier. He unzipped the end, and then reached into his pocket and pulled out the bag of catnip. He waved it in Lint's direction, and then tossed the bag into the carrier, all while holding on to the tree. Then he unslung the carrier, slipped the long pole through the shoulder strap, and started slowly pushing it along the branch towards the cat.

And damned if that cat didn't just get up off her haunches, walk over to the cat carrier, and climb inside of it. 

She gingerly tested it to make sure the entire contraption wasn't going to tip over sideways and crash down to the ground (although Prince and Kurt Cobain were standing underneath holding the blanket again just in case). And then the second smartest cat in the world - because the smartest would've never gotten stuck up  a tree in the first place - just climbed right in. 

Axl ever so carefully used the pole to pull the carrier back towards him enough so that he could zip the door shut, then he backed himself down the branch, to the ladder and finally down to the ground as the audience applauded wildly, all three of us. 

When they brought the cat inside and let her out of the bag, I was amazed at how unfazed she seemed to be. But the guys were pretty stoked with themselves, and despite the cat's nonchalance about the whole episode the rest of us were totally impressed. 

After all the high fiving and going over their crazy scheme that actually worked, I said, "So this afternoon, were you all just sitting around getting high and watching Ghostbusters or something, and when my mom called, you thought, 'Heck ya, we can do this. We've got nothing else to do. Activate Wonder Triplet Powers!' and then you jumped into the Cat Busters mobile and saved the day?"

Axl, Prince and Kurt looked at each other and smiled goofily and said, "Yep, that's pretty much it!"

I asked how much they wanted, and they said they had no clue, they'd never done anything like this before, usually they were in the window washing business, not the cat saving business. I think they would've honestly done it just to be able to tell the story to their friends next Thursday night at Buffalo Wild Wings. but we took up a little collection and ended up with about $100, which they seemed happy with. They handed us one of their window washing cards, and I told them they should really think about getting business cards made up to advertise their new skill. 



Meanwhile, Lint remained nonplussed. She was stoned out of her gourd now, rolling around in a pile of catnip inside the cat carrier. 

That damned cat.

A crazy cat story like this one deserves a streaming playlist that is just as crazy. Check out Here Kitty Kitty, which weaves together a bunch of popular hits from each of my rock stars, plus some of the best kitty themed songs that I haven't already shared in the past. And then there's the songs that take it up a notch and unleash the catnip, from albums designed specifically to relax cats that are stoned on the stuff. Not even joking. You can't make this stuff up.





Monday, January 29, 2018

Super Blue Blood Moon


Its not just a blue moon. Its not just a blood moon. It's not even just a supermoon. This week we'll be treated to all three at once. Hold onto your socks and get out your cameras people, because what Mother Nature has in store for us this Wednesday evening is a Super Blue Blood Moon. And it should be pretty impressive.

First of all, this month will feature a regular old blue moon. There are a few types of blue moons, but a basic blue moon is when two full moons occur in one month. And yeah, these things only happen once in a ....blue moon. Which is not as rare as the phrase might lead you to believe. The last time we experienced a blue moon was in July 2015. And this year we'll actually get TWO of them. The first is January 31st, and the second one falls on March 31st. And then we'll have another in a couple of years.

It's even more rare when a blue moon coincides with a supermoon. And if you're wondering why that's all one word, you can check out all the sciency stuff here. But a supermoon occurs when the moon and the earth come as close as they can possibly can without bumping into one another. This result is one of those moments where you almost run your car off the road while staring at an impossibly large and ultra-bright moon in the sky. That, my friends, is a supermoon. It happens about once a year all by itself, and its superAWESOME. Definitely a highlight for moon gazers.

But wait, as they say on all the late-night infomercials, there's more!

This Wednesday, there's a lunar trifecta in the works, which combines a blue moon and a supermoon and a total eclipse. Or, as they say in la langue de lunar, a blood moon. This happens when the moon passes through the Earth's shadow and turns reddish in color... thus the whole blood thing.

Put all of these things together, and you get a SUPERBLUEBLOODMOON.

But wait. It gets better.

Those of us here in Northern California are going to have the best viewing experience of pretty much everybody. Oh, and here's even more good news. Because this is a lunar eclipse (and not a solar eclipse), it's safe to view. No flimsy cardboard glasses needed.

It really is a once in a lifetime event. In fact, the last time all of these things converged to create an event that was as out of this world, this is what was going on in the world:

Jesse James, circa 1866
  • The outlaw Jesse James held up his first bank
  • President Andrew Johnson vetoed the civil rights bill (and Congress vetoed his veto the next month)
  • Rootbeer was invented by Charles Hires
  • The first rollerskate rink opened in Rhode Island
  • The Civil War was officially declared over.
  • Popular music at the time was being written by Gabriel Faure, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and Jacques Offenbach.

That year was 1866. More than 150 years ago. Back when my great great grandfather was ten years old. Maybe he saw it from his home in Pilot Grove, Illinois.

If you're planning on viewing the super blue blood moon, you'll have to get up sort of early to get the full experience, but at least you'll know that Californians, Alaskans and Hawaiians will get the best view of anyone in the United States, with the sky party starting at 3:45am Wednesday morning. I know. That's early. But don't let that stop you from setting up a couple of chairs in your back yard Wednesday evening to take in the extra large, extra bright full moon. The fantastic effects should still be in play until shortly after 7pm (Pacific Time).

If you plan on checking out the display, don't forget to set up some speakers, and stream today's Super Blue Blood Moon playlist on Spotify. I'm a little bit over the moon over it. And a special thanks to Barbara, JoAnne, Adrienne and my dad, who all offered up some worthy suggestions to add to a moon themed playlist I put together a few blue moons ago.


    Thursday, January 18, 2018

    Stay You


    Today we said farewell to our son.

    He stood in a room with eight other young men and women, at attention, hands clasped behind their backs, as a man in head to toe camouflage led them in an oath:

    I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

     And just like that, he's a Marine.

    I had tried to talk him out of it. Well, actually I simply asked him if he was really sure it had to be the Marines. I knew he was bored, not being challenged by any of the things he'd done since graduating high school: a semester at Oregon State, the EMT program at Shasta College, night manager at Tops Market and shift supervisor at Five Guys Burgers in Eugene. I knew he thought going into the service would give him a chance to see the world and hopefully provide some marketable skills. I said that if he really wanted to serve his country, protect our borders and be a hero to Americans every day, that the Coast Guard was an excellent choice.

    But no. He had made up his mind. It was the Marines. And he wasn't doing it alone. He and his best friend Kurt were signing up at the same time, guaranteed to be partnered up together during boot camp in a buddy program. But after that, all bets would be off.

    His dad drove up to Oregon last week to help Jesse clear out his apartment and bring his belongings - and Jesse - back home to spend his last few days of freedom with family. He'd already visited his grandparents and his other mom (his real mom, Krissy, who gave him his eyes and beautiful hair) in Bend before heading down to California.

    Then the three of us headed back across the border again, to the Military Processing Center in Portland. It's located right under the path of jets taking off and landing at the nearby airport, where Jesse and his fellow recruits would head to immediately after taking their oath. Next stop: basic training in San Diego.

    We drove to Portland in almost total silence. What do you say to a young man who's signing over control of his every move, perhaps even his life for the next four years? How do you tell someone you've watched grow from a child to a man that you're pretty certain the president who's orders he is pledging to obey has more concern about the size of his nuclear button than my son's life?

    You don't say anything, that's what.

    Then suddenly, we arrived. It was hours after he was supposed to be there, and there was barely a hug before he was gone, disappearing into the hotel. All he had was his backpack. He even left his coat in the car, knowing he wouldn't need it anymore.

    It was hard not to cry right then. But his dad held it together. I held it together. We would see him again the next morning at his swearing in ceremony. But now the clock was ticking down its last few minutes.

    When it got really real for me was about five in the morning, in the pre-dawn hours when all my fears magnify and hold sleep hostage. I stared at the ceiling, thinking about how it would go. Would we get to hug him goodbye again? Would I get the chance to express my hopes for his future and my fear for his safety, two violently strong emotions battling a war in my brain? What exactly were those feelings, and how could I possibly tell him how I felt without coming across as inappropriate in a room full of future Devil Dogs?

    That's when I cried silent tears for a son that I hadn't conceived. The son I didn't even meet until he was twelve. I won the lottery ten years ago when I started getting to spend summers and holidays with the kid who later became my stepson. He's smart, he's handsome, he loves to cook, loves to read dystopian youth novels. He watches The Walking Dead with me. He thinks Emma Stone is a babe. When a situation arises, he is always patient, never quick to react. He's even-keeled, never loses his cool. He's a rock-solid natural born leader, and has always stepped in to pick up the slack without whining or even balking. If I ask him for his honest opinion though, he won't hold back. And he's never mean. He trusts me, I trust him, and he's made smart choices 95% of the time. I know exactly how lucky I was to have this relationship with my stepson, and I don't want to lose this prize. I want to keep him safe forever just the way he is. A healthy, whole, handsome, well-adjusted young man with everything ahead of him. And how would I say any of this without crying big ugly tears in the processing center? Might as well get them out of the way now.

    At 9:15 we arrived at the military processing station, which swears in recruits for all branches of service together before shipping them off to bootcamp. After going through an inspection process that gives airport security a run for its money, we were finally allowed in. I got the extra pat down because my shirt set off the metal detector and Eddie was told to take his toy P-38 Space Modulator Death Ray Laser Gun off of his key chain and deposit it in the garbage can outside. We traded our drivers licenses for badges, and that's where we met up again with Jesse and his mom Krissy.
    The P-38 Space Modulator. We plucked it back out of the garbage can on the way out.
    We ended up sitting in a room with a few dozen fidgety young recruits and their families for several hours - long enough to watch Lake Placid vs. Anaconda on a muted TV screen. Bad as it was, at least it got the entire room laughing in unison more than once. The recruits - who looked younger and younger the longer they sat with their families - were finally summoned out of the room, and another hour later we were summoned to join them.

    There they stood, the nine of them, waiting to take their oath.


    Moments later, it was over. We were given a few minutes to pose for photos with our babies, our future soldiers, before they all disappeared into a side room again for another half hour before Jesse came out with all of his remaining personal possessions except for the clothing he had on. His cellphone, wallet, all of his money, even his toothbrush was handed over. He told me he was only allowed to keep his ID and social security card. Even the clothing he had on was disposable, because as soon as he got to San Diego, even that would disappear. Everything from here on out would be standard government issue (which is where the word G.I. comes from).


    He told us to expect a phone call in the middle of the night. He told his dad to answer the phone with Hello, and say nothing else. He told us that he would be yelling. That it would be alarming. But this was standard protocol. He would yell something at us, and then he would hang up, and that way we would know that he had made it to bootcamp (where I assume there will be a lot more yelling, just like the meme below).


    Indeed, that night the phone rang at 11:49pm, from an unknown number in San Diego. The call lasted fourteen seconds, and we barely recognized the voice on the other end, because I've never heard Jesse shout. In fact, we couldn't really understand anything he was shouting at us (so I looked it up). Apparently he was telling screaming at us that he had made it to San Diego, and that we shouldn't send him any packages of food. What we did hear was that we wouldn't get another phone call from him but to "EXPECT TO RECEIVE A LETTER IN TWO TO THREE WEEKS! GOODBYE!" And then the call was disconnected.

    So that's it. Our baby, the young man that Krissy, Eddie and I all share is going through a life changing endurance test for the next 13 weeks, and all we can do is imagine what it has to be like for him. And that's not easy.

    As Eddie, Krissy and I stood with Jesse, hugging him tight and telling him we loved him, I remembered back to early in the morning, when I hoped I'd have one last moment to talk to him, to tell him how important he is to me. And I realized that this was that moment. He was giving me everything but the clothing on his back. He was becoming the property of the USMC and flying off to San Diego, and I only had one more minute to speak my piece. So I grabbed onto him, and blurted it out.

    "Jesse, I've been thinking hard about what I want to say to you; what I wish for you to get out of this experience. Obviously I want you to come out of it alive. And I want you to come back whole. But what I really want is for you to remain the amazing person that you've grown up to be already. What I want most of all is for you to come back the same person as before."

    Krissy's head was bobbing up and down, and she said, "This is exactly what I've been thinking too! Jesse, I want you to come back just the same or better. Don't let them change you, promise me. You're perfect just the way you are."

    And of course, we said this knowing that he will go through incredible changes. Not just in the next 13 weeks. I think for him, bootcamp will be a breeze. He comes across as totally unflappable. I hope he really is. What Krissy and I were really saying is that what we both are hoping for the son we share is that over the course of the next four years he can keep the demons at bay. That he can handle whatever's to come without suffering psychological damage that haunts him for the rest of his life and takes away his happiness and the light in his eyes. We want him to stay sane. To stay emotionally even-keeled, and stay grounded.

    I hugged him one last time, kissed him on the cheek, and said, "Jesse, just stay YOU."

    And then he was gone.

    Stay You. That's today's curated playlist. And although the playlist and the column are titled "Stay You," the songs are all about saying goodbye. You've probably got a lot more to add, so bring it on. My heart's not quite in it this week. I know you'll understand.




    Thursday, January 4, 2018

    The Cat Burglar


    You've heard stories of dogs traveling thousands of miles across the continent to find their families who moved to another state. I even had a cat that once left our new house & crossed two very busy streets to return to his old hunting grounds after I was evicted from my first apartment (ironically, it was for having a forbidden feline).  There's even the famous story of Charles the Cat, who ran away from his home in New Mexico while his owner was gone for a few weeks, and showed up in Chicago eight months later.

    And then there's Lint.

    Lint is my dad's cat. She's about eight months old, a black domestic short hair who was fostered by one of my sister's friends as a teeny kitten before being adopted by my dad. She's a fabulously interesting cat. Not very well behaved, but I attribute that to my dad's parenting style, which is to bellow from his seat on the couch. That's how he disciplined me & my sister when we were teens, and that's how he has disciplined the cat. So, just like me, she's a rebel. She jumps up on the counter tops, she does whatever the hell she wants and leaves a mess of popsicle sticks, candy wrappers and knocked over plants in her wake. Occasionally she draws blood while sharpening her claws on my father's pant legs, and every once in awhile she stays out all night. Just like me when I was a teenager.

    What I'm about to tell you about my dad's parenting style (regarding the cat) is not going to make him very popular with you, and I almost considered leaving it out of the story altogether. But I think it's important to know this information, so I'm not gonna pussyfoot around it. But please, try to hold your judgment until I'm through, and bear in mind a couple of things:
    • My dad is 86, and can barely get around. He's got bad hips and bursitis. So yelling at the cat is pretty much all he can muster up these days.
    • My mom was hit by a car in August, and has spent the past 4 months in rehab.
    • My dad is a rocket scientist. Kind of a mad genius. He's also a tinkerer & an inventor.
    • My dad loves his cat. Photographic evidence below, but as my father's friends have become fewer and fewer during these last sunset years, this cat has provided a lonely man some much needed companionship and both of my parents hours of laughter and joy as they are constantly humored by Lint's constant antics.
    Mom finally came home from rehab in December. My husband and I traveled up to Oregon to help her transition back home.We had already spent countless hours on our last trip to my folk's the week prior cleaning, organizing and moving furniture around to accommodate my mother's limited mobility and her new walker. When we arrived at the house with mom, a young caregiver provided by an agency was already there, waiting with my dad and the cat. 

    I walked into the kitchen and noticed a cheap wooden mouse trap -set- on the counter. And another by the fruit bowl. And another on the kitchen table. I confronted my dad, wanting to know why he would set mouse traps out in the open, where a human finger or a cat's paw could easily get broken, and he yelled, "That's exactly what the trap is for...the cat!"

    I know. I was just as horrified as you are. I've got a lot of crazy cat lady friends who are probably tearing their hair out right now. I thought my dad was totally losing it, even though he explained - in rather rude terms - that this was the plan he'd devised to train the cat to stay off the dining room table, and off the kitchen counters. I told my dad that it wasn't cool, not cool at all, and Eddie and I went around and set off all the traps and collected them in a pile. 

    What my dad didn't tell me was that he had altered the mouse traps so that they wouldn't really do any damage to the cat, just make a lot of noise and scare it, with the eventual goal of deterring it from venturing onto the counter and creating more chaos. He didn't tell me this, he didn't tell my mom, he didn't tell my husband, and he didn't tell the young caregiver. I wish he had. It might have saved a lot of drama.

    Turns out, the caregiver - let's call her Jane - loves animals. Jane had animals of her own, she said, and she was somehow connected to a pet boarding facility that also grooms animals. I know this because there was some discussion that afternoon about the idea of her taking Lint to that facility to have her nails buffed, so that my dad would quit springing leaks every time the cat got a wild hair and scrambled up his legs. Someone even went so far as to get the cat carrier (which Lint often sleeps in) and moved it near the sliding door in case she was able to get an appointment with the groomer. I wasn't around for this discussion, because I had to go to work that afternoon. But I remember seeing the cat carrier when I returned, and someone told me why it was sitting across the room from its usual place. That was when my dad told me that the cat had been let out earlier in the day while I was gone, and hadn't come back. Jane told me she was thinking about walking around the block to look for her, and I said, "No, I think you should focus on taking care of my mom. That's your priority. The cat will come back."

    I was wrong about that.

    That evening my husband and I left for a few hours to attend a talent show at my niece's elementary school. But when we returned, mom was asleep, the caregiver had left at the end of her shift, and Dad told us that the cat still hadn't returned. We thought maybe Dad shouldn't have set mouse traps. He thought maybe we shouldn't bring our dogs to visit (but contrary to my dad's thoughts on the matter, we believe Lint really likes my dogs. She follows them everywhere, and for the most part they ignore her).

    This time we were all wrong.

    My first real hint that there was something more going on than the cat pulling a disappearing act on its own was when we realized that the cat carrier was also missing. It took a family meeting to realize that none of us had moved it from its perch by the door, but yet it was gone. It was as if Lint had packed her bag and moved out.  

    Over the weekend, we walked around the block calling her name. We reached out to all the neighbors and asked if any of them had seen her over the past few days. Nobody had. We started looking in places throughout the property where Lint might have become trapped. Closets. The garage. My dad's car. But we also never found the cat carrier.

    My dad was devastated. The trusted companion who was by his side every day, gone. The cat that it had taken him more than a decade to convince my mom (who's slightly allergic to cats) to agree to let him have, had disappeared. Sure, she was a troublemaker. But she was his troublemaker. At first he blamed her distaste for my dogs. But that cat carrier didn't walk out the door on its own.

    Slowly it dawned on everyone. The more we looked for the cat carrier, and the longer we waited for Lint to return, the more we became convinced that Jane the caretaker was an actual cat burglar. It was the simplest, and therefore most likely scenario, and I am a firm believer in Occam's Razor. That's the theory (which I first found out about in the Jodie Foster/Matthew McConaughey film 'Contact') that the simplest answer is usually the correct one. And since all the other theories depended on some pretty complicated concepts, I went with the simplest one. Jane.

    Animal lover that Jane proclaimed to be, she probably thought she was removing the cat from an abusive situation and providing it with a more loving home. In reality, she was committing robbery, and depriving my dad of his best buddy. Setting aside the chaos of the day my mom came home from rehab and my dad's bad decision based on his inability to get around quickly enough to properly discipline the cat, there's a lot of love between these two. All the proof you need is in this photo, snapped while the two were catnapping:


    So you can can see why my sister and I weren't about to let it go. My sister - being in closer proximity - called the agency that had supplied the caretaker to report that we suspected she had taken the cat. They were skeptical and couldn't believe we would make such an accusation...until we told them that the cat carrier had also gone missing. The agency interviewed Jane, didn't think her story completely added up, and suspended her from any future shifts until the catastrophe was sorted out. They also suggested that we call the police. And she did, but not until we called Jane herself to let her know we thought she might know where the cat was, and that we didn't want to go to the police, but that if we were unable to reunite my father and his cat, that we would continue our pursuit.  Jane denied everything, of course. And before contacting the police, my sister may or may not have paid a visit to the pet resort/grooming place, posing as a potential client, asking to tour the feline facilities.

    The Craigslist Ad. I left out the part about the carrier.
    Meanwhile, I created a Craigslist ad, checked the online listings for the local cat rescue organization, the Humane Society and the Animal Shelter (all totally different agencies), then called and asked questions about cats matching Lint's description, and sent my dad on an afternoon-long field trip to check out the cats for himself. Half-grown, female, all-black, short-haired domestic cats are everywhere. And there were a few dead-ringers, but my dad knew. None of them were Lint.

    They say curiosity killed the cat, but I couldn't help myself. I wanted to arm myself with as much information as I could about Jane. So I did a bit of internet sleuthing. I found her Facebook profile, filled with nothing but funny cat and dog videos. I poked around a little further, and found what I believed to be her address. And within a few blocks, her mother's address. I didn't do anything with this information, but I admit that I harbored fantasies of sitting outside Jane's home late at night, waiting to see if Lint might make an appearance. But I didn't. But I thought about it.

    Finally, enter the police. You might think that a case of suspected cat (& carrier) napping wouldn't be taken very seriously. But the police were on it. They interviewed Jane immediately, and I'm betting she was as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs as she continued to deny any involvement in the disappearance. There wasn't a lot more the cops could do after that. Other than continue to monitor Craigslist and the shelters, neither could we.

    And then the incredible happened. We got a phone call from the Humane Society. Lint had been found. The way we heard it,  within a day or two of the police interview, a black cat showed up in a woman's backyard, terrorizing her own cat, and demanding entry. But once the woman opened the door, the cat ran into the house, looking for some human love.  She definitely wasn't feral. The cat seemed in good condition, well fed, but was missing a collar (Lint was wearing a red collar with a bell the day she disappeared). The woman pulled out her own cat carrier, plopped the cat into it, and took it to the shelter to see if it belonged to anyone. They scanned her for a microchip, and within half an hour my father and his cat were reunited. Those microchips. They truly are the cat's meow.

    The thing is, Lint wasn't found anywhere near my dad's house. The woman who's backyard Lint ended up in isn't even in the same city. Lint ended up fifteen miles away from my dad's house in the west side of Medford. Fifteen miles from my dad's house, but about a half mile away from Jane's.

    Jane will probably never be collared for her four-legged crime, but I hope she'll think twice before taking it upon herself  to relocate someone else's beloved pet in the future.

    As for Lint, my parents say she seems to be better behaved now. She doesn't jump up on the counter as much, and she spends more of her time purring and relaxing instead of sharpening her claws on my dad's pant leg and knocking cups off the counter. Its as if this whole experience has served as a catalyst to help Lint pull her fur together.

    I was surprised at how many purrfect cat songs there were to choose from when putting together the playlist to go along with today's column. Hope you enjoy the Cat Burglar Playlist by clicking on the play arrow below, and if I've missed any good ones, feel free to list them in the comments section below.

    Thursday, December 21, 2017

    Santa's Secret Is Out Of The Bag


    "By the way, she knows." That was what my sister whispered out of the side of her mouth to me as we walked across the restaurant parking lot after a meal with our families the weekend after Thanksgiving.
    "Who knows what?" I said.
    "Lena. She knows. About Santa."

    My niece Lena, who had just turned ten, perked up at the sound of her name and turned around to see what we were talking about. I called Lena over to me and said, smiling broadly, "Is that true? You know the truth about Santa? That's fantastic! I've been waiting and waiting for you to figure it out!"

    Her slightly befuddled look told me right away that Lena didn't understand why I would be happy to learn that she'd finally confronted her parents to get some real answers to a few difficult questions for a kid. It was actually not even about Santa initially, but she needed some answers about the tooth fairy after discovering an old bag of Halloween candy which the tooth fairy supposedly absconded with the year before, which led to a discussion about Santa (and most likely the Easter Bunny).

    "I'm so happy Lena, I really am."
    "Why?"
    "Because now you know that Santa is you." I grabbed her hand as we walked over to the car and I said, "I mean, Santa was a real guy, once upon a time. They didn't call him Santa then...but Saint Nick was a real person. And after he was gone, people kept his spirit alive by continuing on the tradition he'd started of leaving gifts for children at Christmas. So yeah, your parents are Santa. Well, they used to be Santa. But the thing is, now that you know, you get to be Santa. You are the one who gets to carry on the spirit of Christmas by becoming Santa."

    I can't tell you the relief I felt when Lena got a huge, eye brow raising smile on her face as I told her about how, now that she knew the truth, she was going to get a peek behind the curtain and learn the tricks behind the magic of Christmas.

    "It's kind of a big responsibility. Do you think you can handle it? Because now you are going to become Santa just like we have been since we found out. You're going to join the ranks of a lot of big kids and adults. Are you ready for it?"

    She said she was, and so I told her that I had some very special tools to give to her when we saw each other next.

    The Secret Santa Toolbox

    A few weeks later, we ventured north again, and this time I brought the box. A tin box with "Believe in the Magic of Christmas" on the top, and it was filled with everything Lena needed to become Santa.

    Lena inspects the contents of her Santa toolbox.
    If you've been reading the Mistress of the Mix for a few years, you might remember that one of my favorite magical traditions of Christmas is growing candy canes from seeds on Christmas Eve. We’ve been doing it since my college-aged daughter was little, so Lena has been a candy cane farmer since as long as she can remember.

    I went into pretty extensive detail about it in Yes Valerie, There Is A Santa Claus, but as a refresher, all you need are candy-cane seeds (a handful of starlight mints) and a bottle of magic elf dust (red sugar sprinkles). And there’s one more ingredient: the magic of Christmas. Because you can knock yourself out planting candy cane seeds all year long and pouring sprinkles on them, but they’ll only grow into candy canes one night a year, and that night is Christmas Eve, when we’re surrounded by the magic of Christmas.

    I have to admit that I was kind of giddy when I presented Lena with her very special pre-Christmas gift. With nobody else around except for me and her mother, Lena opened the tin as I shared some super secret Santa stuff with her.

     I explained that becoming Santa is a pretty important responsibility, because the job entails becoming the keeper of magic and keeping it alive for younger kids until they learn the secret of Santa on their own. “And once they do,” I told her, “then your job is to pass that responsibility on to them so that we keep Santa alive for future generations. Can you do that?”

    Lena (who had lost her voice that evening during her school talent show) nodded solemnly and whispered, “Yes.” I told her that when Sophia was young I kept the magic. When she was 14 & Lena was 4, Sophia took over the job. And now that Lena was 10, she was going to become the keeper of candy cane magic for her young nieces, 5 year old Maggie and 2 year old Nora, who just happened to be visiting for Christmas this year.

     I told her that it was now her responsibility to share the contents of the tin with Maggie and Nora, and pass on the story of how to grow candy canes on Christmas Eve. In fact, she would supervise the whole operation.

    “But now that you’re Santa, I have something else to give you,” I said, and pulled out a red bag filled with candy canes. I explained that the heaviest responsibility of being Santa was to remember to go out after the little ones were safely tucked into bed to replace the seeds with grown candy canes. “You need to find a special place to hide this bag. Because this bag is only for those who carry the magic. Don’t ever let Maggie and Nora or even any of your friends see what’s in this bag.”

    I told Lena that she also had to be prepared to answer any questions that Maggie and Nora might throw at her. Questions like: Do we plant candy canes inside or outside? With the wrapper on, or off? Lena already knew the answer to that question, because she’d asked it herself the first year she’d planted candy cane seeds, so she already knew that if you plant a candy cane seed with the wrapper on, you get a full grown candy cane with the wrapper on. And if you remove the wrapper before planting it, you get a sticky, sappy gloppy mess the next morning. I told her that I was in favor of encouraging scientific experiments as long as you stay one step ahead, prepared for the outcome.

    I reached into the bag and pulled out a handful of candy canes in wild colors like green, blue and purple. “For example,” I told her, “when restaurants started handing out mint chocolate flavored starlight mints, I started stocking green and brown candy canes. And when Sophia asked me one year what would happen if she planted an already grown candy cane, a giant candy cane appeared in its place the next morning.”



    “One just like this one, “ I said as I handed Lena a two inch thick, foot long candy cane. “Better be prepared for that one.”

     I spent the next half hour passing on all my magician’s secrets, answering all of Lena’s questions, so that she can be as prepared as possible for the enormous task ahead of her. And she's as ready (and excited) as Rudolph on a foggy night. It was like a whole new world had opened up to her, just when she thought that her Christmas dreams would be gone forever.

    Lena shows off her gift.

    I hope the magic of Christmas is alive in your household this year, for the young and old, and those who are just learning the real secrets of Christmas. As you enjoy your holiday, I hope you'll click the play arrow on the Spotify Stocking Stuffer playlist below and enjoy some curated music from Mistress Santa!