Hiring the Family Pets to Scare Away the Ghosts…

Curt Mekemson and pets

The Graveyard was just across the alley from our house. As usual, I am occupied with some of the our family pets.

 

Each summer I slept in our back yard. I would move out as soon as school was over and stay until school started, or longer if parents and weather permitted. At first I slept on the ground in a cheap cotton sleeping bag. The ground was hard, the nights cool, and the mosquitoes persistent, but these were minor drawbacks. I was free. If I had to pee, I’d climb out of bed and find the nearest bush. If I woke up thirsty, a convenient garden hose provided water. I would go to sleep watching the stars and listening to a giant bullfrog croak away in the ditch in front of our house. I would wake to cool morning air and chirping robins.

Life was good. And then it got better. The grandparents bought me a real bed— a wood framed, steel spring army cot complete with mattress.

Graveyard ghost

The thing about graveyards is that dead people are buried there. This seemingly innocent tombstone was once hidden among the heavenly trees that turned the Graveyard into a jungle. Except it wasn’t totally hidden. I could see it from our backyard at night. It was, um, ghostly.

My paradise was marred by one thing, the Graveyard. It was always there on the edge of my sight.  White tombstones glared at me. As hard as I would pretend, the cemetery and its frightful inhabitants would not go away. So, I developed an elaborate set of defenses. The simplest was to sleep facing the opposite direction or to hide under the covers, ostrich like. A more sophisticated approach was to locate the bed where I couldn’t see the Graveyard.  Our seasoned cars worked in a pinch, but they weren’t large enough. Bits and pieces of the Graveyard would creep around their sides, peek over their tops and slink under their bottoms. A trellis built by my father was much better. Its luxurious growth of honeysuckle created the perfect Graveyard screen. I set up a permanent residence behind it.

House next to graveyard

These were more tombstones I could see from our house, whose roof can be seen in the back of the photo.

But even the trellis wasn’t enough to calm my imagination. I decided to hire protection. It came in the form of various family pets. Their job was to chase the ghosts away. Payment was made by allowing them to sleep on my bed. Apparently, the scheme worked. At least no ghosts attacked me during the years I slept outside.

The downside was I didn’t have much room. Two dogs, three cats, and me on a one-person army cot constituted a menagerie, or a zoo, if you counted the fleas. It was difficult to move. At first, I was very careful not to disturb my sleeping companions. I became a circus contortionist frozen in place with body parts pointed in every direction. If this meant a restless night, so be it. It was a small price to pay for keeping the ghosts at bay.

Gradually, my attitude changed. I grew larger, the bed space shrank, and animals started sleeping on top of me. Meanwhile, the ghosts, who tend to hassle little people more than they do big people, became less a threat. Therefore, I needed less protection. Neither of these factors led to the final banning of the animal kingdom, however. It was the shameless shenanigans of Demon and Pat.

Demon, the alpha family cat, was as black as the darkest night. As such, she was appropriately named and attired for graveyard duty. In fact, she spent a good deal of her life there stalking mice, lizards, birds and anything else she could get her claws into with impunity. Captured prey would then be brought home for approval. My job was to dispose of the half-eaten carcasses. Depopulating the Graveyard was not Demon’s claim to fame, however; motherhood was. She had kittens often and everywhere. I suspect that half of the cats living in El Dorado County today can trace their lineage back to her.

Two instances of kitten production bring back vivid memories. The first took place on the living room floor. Demon was a young cat at that time and a neophyte at motherhood. Her impending delivery was quite apparent from her large belly and ceaseless exploration of clothes hampers, cupboards and other dark places.

With high hopes of avoiding a misplaced litter of kittens, Mother arranged her bedroom closet as a maternity ward. Several times each day it was my duty to show Demon her new home. I would carefully pick up the very pregnant cat, carry her to the closet, and deposit her in a box filled with well-used clothes. Demon didn’t buy the program.  It seems my bedside manner was faulty. She would climb out of the box, give me a glare, and stalk out of the bedroom.

When the joyous day finally arrived, I was home alone.  Demon was practicing her would-be mother waddle walk across the living room when she suddenly stopped, squawked and squatted. Neither she nor I was ready for what followed. After all, how prepared can a young kid and a first-time mother be for birth? In a massive surprise to both of us, a tiny black bundle of fur emerged from Demon’s undercarriage. Surging emotions paralyzed my seven-year old mind. One thought stood out, the closet! If Demon hadn’t memorized her delivery lessons, I had.

I jumped across the room, grabbed Demon by the nape of the neck, and raced for Mother’s bedroom. As fast as I ran, it wasn’t fast enough. In the middle of the kitchen the new arrival completed its journey and was heading for a crash landing. Somewhere, somehow between Demon and the floor, I caught a warm, wet ball of fur in my free hand. After that, the memory fades. I know the three of us made it to the closet. Demon accepted her new home and four more kittens followed the first, although in a less dramatic way. The population explosion was underway.

We have to fast-forward several years to Demon’s next memorable delivery. This one was outside and led to the bed-pet-ban. But first I need to relay how Pat the Greyhound set the stage. She joined our family as a stray. For weeks, Mother had watched this large, starving dog wander the countryside and survive by catching rabbits and squirrels. One day she stopped the car, opened the door and invited Pat home for a meal.

Pat the Greyhound

Pat looking regal.

“Oh, it is just until she gains a little weight,” Mother explained to one very disgruntled Pop. Later it became, “Oh, but it would break Curt’s heart if we had to give her away.” Mother was a master at manipulation. Pat, who I named after the local Greyhound bus driver, had found a home. Like all of our pets, she lived outside. It was Pop’s rule; pets were limited to daytime visitation rights only. The pregnant Demon had been an exception imposed by Mother. Since there were no leash laws, Pat was free to come and go as she pleased. Mainly she chose to hang around with her food dish in sight. For a dog that had lived out in the wild, she had impeccable manners. Thus I was surprised when she joined Demon in abusing her bed rights, but that’s a tale for next Friday’s post…

MONDAY’S POST: It’s back to the central coast of Washington where global warming makes a point

WEDNESDAY’S POST: A photographic essay on Scotland

FRIDAY’S POST: The animal kingdom is banned from my bed

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35 comments on “Hiring the Family Pets to Scare Away the Ghosts…

  1. Fast forward and the question is, “Are you able today to keep pets with all the traveling you do”? We rescued a 70 pound Chocolate Lab at the tender age of 5 and now 4 years later she has taken up the oh so cute habit of sleeping on my head! I have not had a full nights sleep since “Daisy Mae” took over my pillow. Suffocation forces me to crawl out from under her and I sleep or doze in a fetal position until the alarm clock says that’s all folks

    • Ah, Bradley, I am laughing at the thought of 70 pounds of Daisy Mae plopping down on top of you. Sadly, no, our life style does not support keeping pets, although we would both love to have a dog! –Curt

      • You, Peggy and GP can stop bye for a puppy love fest/Daisy Mae fix at any time. We then head for Pyramid to ooh and aah at the tuffa formations. Unlike Mono Lake there is a sense of presence, an eerie feeling about Pyramid Lake. You come up over the rise and twenty miles of bitter alkaline water stretches before you.We then head for the Gold N Silver, one of Reno’s oldest Cafe’s and it was mirrored on that Dinner’s and Dive’s show. Breakfast is on me!

      • We make it to Reno fairly often, Bradley, on our way hither and yon. Don’t know the next time, but breakfast would be fun. I like Pyramid Lake, and beyond it, the Black Rock Desert. –Curt

  2. Oh the birth of the kittens! That must have been an exciting time for your 7-yr-old self. We had a cat that was determined to give birth on top of all my sweaters on the shelf in the cupboard after she’d climbed up my dresses to get there. I learned to keep my closet door shut, and she gave birth in her appointed box in the laundry room. Your childhood sounds amazing. Waiting for the next installment!
    Alison

    • Ha, glad you defeated kitty’s plans, Alison. That would have been quite a mess! Cleaners, here we come. One thing, we were never bored as kids! Glad you are enjoying the series. And thanks. –Curt

  3. What a heartwarming story. Pat certainly does look regal, but the kitten birthing episode had me laughing out loud. What an adventure for a youngster and you tell it so well.

  4. I just love your graveyard stories. Just a few years ago Kim and I bought a tent and decided to test our camping skills in the back garden. What we failed to factor in was that next door had a cockerel and we were back in the house at first light!

  5. Love the part about sleeping outside and turning away from the cemetery! But really love the fact that you’ve not only witnessed the birth of a kitten, you’ve been a part of the immediately thereafter process. I can only say I’ve seen a cat give birth once, but it was memorable.

  6. Two of the four of us kids had a thing about sleeping outside; I was one. I have to say I was usually not as hardcore as you, sleeping on the screened porch couch most nights. Your story made me remember that blissful time even though I didn’t have all your ingredients (no graveyard) or the number of ingredients (only one dog). Very fun stories, Curt!

    • Peggy was like you, Lexi, sleeping outside on a screened porch. Different yes, and probably mosquito free, but still outside with fresh night air. Did you live in the country? Thanks! –Curt

      • Sort of. We lived about an hour outside Pittsburgh in a smaller town, but our neighborhood was new and the area surrounding it was full of woods, fields, streams, etc. Western PA in general is an outdoor paradise of hills and trees, and my dad had spent years on a farm and was very outdoorsy in that way and others, so we had a very “country” and free-range childhood. Lucky us!

      • Free–range childhood. I like it, Lexi! It will probably make it into my vocabulary. My ancestors hung out in Western PA for a bit before heading on to Kentucky, right after the Revolutionary War. I’ve been through the area enough to experience its woodsy nature once you get outside the urban areas. –Curt

    • Laughing. The ghosts were a bit hard to count, but there were certainly lots of Demons. She had a very unique twist to her tail. Many of her kittens had it as well. A couple of years ago I was visiting Diamond Springs and a black cat rubbed up against my leg. Out of curiosity I reached down and ran my hand over her tail. There was the twist. 🙂 –Curt

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