I can still hear my Grandmother’s voice, “Cats are outside creatures,” according to Aunt Julia Weber. My grandmother told me that Aunt Julia loved all of her animals, horses, and, her collar-less dogs “Toddles” and “Big Charlie” who ran all over the farm at will, yet when called by name, in an instant, they returned to stand by Aunt Julia’s side. Toddles had large, expressive brown eyes and just a strip of white from the crown of his head down to his muzzle. He also possessed the curliest fur, while Big Charlie was very tall and he commanded a fierce front, yet he was as lovable and affectionate as Toddles. Aunt Julia had a penchant for her cats, also, and often times she could be seen strolling along with her dogs and cats parading and scampering after her one by one.
I was thinking of my grandmother and Aunt Julia today as I looked at my elegantly aging gray and white tuxedo cat. I too, would probably walk with him if it weren’t for the busy cars on the roadways. My grandmother told me this story that occurred around when Aunt Julia, who had been used to living on her ranch by herself, with her animals, and with her caretakers, Nellie and her husband. Her niece Helen, age 8 (who was my Grandmother), and her nephew, Charles Weber III, age 4 suddenly became her shared responsibility with her brother and in-laws due to the sudden death of her sister-in-law May Sinnott Weber, of cholera, in San Jose.
After living in the San Jose area, the Stockton Ranch in those days was marvelous. For years, my grandmother, her brother and their friends played in the Calaveras River, shot rifles at things that flew or ran, rode horses together and best of all Aunt Julia finally let them have their pets. My grandmother vividly recalled a story pertaining to the utilitarian back porch which may have been very much like the one that existed during the time I grew up in the 50s long after my grandmother moved the house 500 feet off of West Lane, and renovated the home in 1935, (after Aunt Julia’s death.)
According to my grandmother, the back porch was the center of the universe because it was the depository room where all things from the outside resided there for a time, whether it was fresh cut flowers and cuttings, freshly picked vegetables, eggs from the hen house, household tools made their way out there and even a litter or two of kittens resided there in her day. It had the deepest porcelain kitchen sink that one could imagine, encircled by a long wooden sideboard area. From bee stings to mud-lings, butterfly wings, to bird feathers, herb cuttings and cookie crumbs the back porch was central to anyone’s energy exerted in daily chores.
The “Back Porch” also, as it turned out was, the area where the dogs were fed or bathed in a large tin tub filled with warm water and it was probably the same one that I saw in my day at the Ranch, leaning in the corner at the end of the porch room. My grandmother’s and her brother’s outdoor shoes lined the base of one of the cabinets, just beyond a swinging, creaking door, atop of several wooden steps to the ground. I can imagine how busy that room would be with dogs prancing, ceiling hooks that offered vertical airspace where dried flowers hung with their stocks upside down, and garden baskets of every size and shape were suspended within a quick grasp, and even the cats were fed out there, laced shoes on and shoes off…
In my day, when I was 8 years old, (1960) an orange and white cat arrived one day at dusk. It was a feral tomcat and, of course the answer was no, I could not bring it inside my Grandmother’s home, “cats are outside creatures” and then my Grandmother proceeded to tell me a story about a cat, so similar in color and behavior, which also by coincidence arrived late one day when she lived in Aunt Julia’s home. Right away it took a liking to my Grandmother, although she remembered she was slow to accept its attention, having just lost her mother to cholera. It became apparent to Aunt Julia that the cat was becoming more tolerable, as its affectionate ways were growing on her little by little, and it was a good mouser. After a time that cat had succeeded in gaining my Grandmother’s attention, who, of course, then wanted it to be inside at night, because she argued the foxes would have it. One day, out came the huge tin tub, that Toddles and Big Charlie often bathed in, and Aunt Julia busied herself warming the water on the pot-belly stove in the kitchen, muttering to herself, just inside the door. As she poured the last watering can of warmed water into the tub, suddenly, as if on cue, a blur of orange fur parted the water and the cat submerged itself. It’s blue-green eyes sparkled and blinked and, after that uncanny moment, Aunt Julia relented and let that cat come in at night along with Toddles and Big Charlie, who often cuddled together in front of the fireplace in the living room.
That day, when I was 8 years old, the orange and white fluffy tomcat that took to me, (who, by the way, always terrorized and cornered my little four year old sister, by standing on his haunches with his paws on both of her shoulders, he stood face to face in front of her)… That Cat ended up in that very same tin tub, and much to my surprise, maybe a reincarnated spirit, he took to the water too. After that weekend, he went home with us, only to return when permission was granted. For many summers “that cat” accompanied us to Pine Crest where he swam daily from the shore, and when we took him back to the Ranch, sometimes I found him down in the Calaveras diverting canal stalking something in the tulles. I suppose it is quite uncanny that my grandmother and I would have so many similar coincidental experiences, and it really was fun sharing memories with my Mom and my grandmother, which is probably why she ended up choosing me to tell her stories to.