31 days UNFILTERED – aunt jerry

Day 30

The real bummer about yesterday’s cat shenanigans (if they wanted a ride into town, all they had to do was ask) was that I spent most of the night coughing and cat luring so when my alarm rang at 5:45am, I knew I couldn’t make the 8-hour round trip to Pennsylvania with my mom.

Yesterday my mom and dad visited my Aunt Jerry (my dad’s aunt) in Western Pennsylvania. I was supposed to go. But with the no sleep and the ugly cough, I had no business visiting a precious ol’ gal in a hospital.

Aunt Jerry was one of the few women who provided for my dad growing up when his own mother could not or would not. All of my “dad’s side” memories feature Aunt Jerry, the star of every trip-to-Pennsylvania episode. The baked apple pie on the counter, ready for dinner, the scrapped dough rolled into tiny balls and baked with cinnamon and sugar, a teaser of what was to come. The crinoline petticoats from when she and her late husband used to go square dancing, if you added up all the hours Morgan and I have spent in Pennsylvania, the majority of that time would be us dressed up in those skirts. The hours spent around her kitchen table, all the generations, shoved into her tiny kitchen, the shits and damns flying quick and sideways, never have I heard such an old lady cuss so much. Her under five foot frame, a tiny cannonball of hospitality, opinions, generosity, four-letter-words, and love.

She had been living in a retirement community until recently when her back started to collapse, putting her into the hospital. Her already frail bones breaking, the pain cruel, the prognosis crueler.

My parents made arrangements to visit her, not expecting it to be as bad as it is. A sedated shell of a lady, my mom and dad both devastated by the reality that Aunt Jerry’s days are few.

The pain medication kicked in during the final few minutes of my parents visit, gracing my dad with a small gift from his beloved aunt. My dad was giving his cousin, Susan (Aunt Jerry’s daughter), his business card so that she would have his contact information. Aunt Jerry wanted to know what he was giving her. My dad told her, and Aunt Jerry insisted, “Read it to me.” They did as she asked, and before Susan could tuck it into her purse, Aunt Jerry insisted again, “Put that on my board.” She was referring to the bulletin board in her room that displayed the cards she had received during her time in the hospital. My dad reasoned, “But it’s just my business card. It’s only a bunch of phone numbers.” Aunt Jerry didn’t care, “I want it on my board.”

I wasn’t there, but in my vision of the story, I can hear her demand, “Shit, Steve, put it on my damn board.”

That’s my Aunt Jerry. Fiercely determined to show her pride of her family.

Mom called tonight and said that it’s just a matter of days. Hospice has been called and papers have been signed and there’s nothing left to do but wait for Aunt Jerry’s body to stop.

I’m terribly bummed I didn’t get to see her yesterday but then again, I’ll always remember her as the tiny ol’ spitfire who always greeted me with a quick hug and forever love.

Love you, Aunt Jerry. Get up there, give ’em heck, and dance on those streets of gold.

31 days – UNFILTERED – 2am

Day 29 (yes, I know I skipped 28.)

I must have been pretty desperate, climbing out of bed at 2:00 in the morning, throwing on clothes, surely something on backward, and driving four miles into the town Kroger. My constant coughing was either trying to kill me or make me want to kill, so I surrendered myself to the drug aisle.

On my way into town, about a mile from respiratory relief, I heard a noise that made me question my consciousness.

“Meow. Meow. Meee-ooowww.”

nononononononononononoooooooooo.

No.

This cannot be happening.

I prayed my way into a gas station, my heart pounding as I parked and turned off the engine. I began walking around my car, making clicking noises, trying to lure a cat from out under the hood.

It was the middle of the night when the crazies come to life so no one seemed to mind that I was talking dirty to my car, “Come on, baby, it’s me, come to mommy,” but at least one dude seemed intrigued.

“Hey, you having some car problems?”

“Well, not exactly. I think my cat is under the hood of my car.”

He looked confused. And disappointed.

“How long you think you’ve been driving?”

“Oh gosh, maybe three or four miles.”

His question made my mind see dark, for the first time I realized I had been driving – who am I kidding, I had been hauling ass – for four miles, trying to get to Kroger so I could finally sleep.

Mercy.

I looked at my new friend, and I gave him no choice. “Hey, since you’re standing there, I’m gonna pop the hood, but I’m super nervous. So just stand there, will ya?”

He took a step back, hesitating, “Sorry. I just really like animals.”

He kept some distance but stayed close while I nervously lifted the hood, please-God-please-let-her-be-okay. As the hood released, there she was.

“Oh my gosh, Millie.”

My Millie girl. Not even an ounce of panic in her eyes. There was my Millie girl, as if all she needed was a ride into town.

I scooped her up and brought her in close, and as I stepped back to shut the hood, little Rusty boy squeezed his head up from behind.

“Oh my goodness. They’re all in there.”

“How many cats do you have?” I had almost forgot about my new friend.

“Three. Only three.”

With Millie in my arms, my friend reached for Rusty, scooping him out, and together we peered down, both expecting to see number three.

But no Ginger.

I turned back to my friend, “You think, I mean, if something happened, you think . . . you think we’d smell it?” Not the kind of thing you ever expect to ask a stranger at 2am.

“Yeah, sure, I’m sure we would.” He had his phone light out, peering into the maze of steel, hoping or not hoping to find number three.

No Ginger.

“I’m just gonna take these two back home. Thanks so much. Really, thanks for your help.”

I put the two cats in the car, and we headed back home, my heart not fully recovered from the scare.

Ginger, where are you?

I pulled into our drive, parked, opened the car door, and scooped Millie and Rusty off the passenger seat. As quickly as I set them down, my Ginger girl ran out to greet us. I could tell she was as worried as I had been.

Call me crazy or deliriously exhausted, but I swear I saw them group hug.

It was now almost three in the morning, and I still had to run to Kroger. I pulled back onto the road, my mind finally at ease and my heart trying to catch up. I glanced out the window and there they were, all three cats, one right after the other, running up to the porch.

Oh, thank God.

There’s no greater peace than to know that all your babies are safely home.