One stormy night, when I was about thirteen, I heard the anguished cry of an animal, above the howling wind. I ran downstairs to tell my parents, who dismissed me as ‘romancing again’, for even then, I was an avid story teller.
I so vehemently denied that I’d imagined it, that my mother – who’d been relaxing in her dressing gown – exchanged sheepskin moccasins for gumboots and pulled on a riding mac and gloves. I did the same and followed her to the shrubbery beneath my bedroom window. She held aside the bushes, while I trained a torch so that we could search under them. Of course, whatever it was that had been making the noise, had fallen silent – instinctively holding it’s breath, perhaps, in fear of falling prey.
‘There’s nothing there, Jacqueline!’ Mum was anxious to return to the warmth of the house. Then two pinpricks of torchlight reflected back at us. She reached in, cautiously scooping up a tiny creature, black as the starless night and just as damp.
Returning inside with it held away from her, she thrust it at my veterinary surgeon father, who’d stayed indoors to restrain our two black Labrador bitches. ‘It’s a vole, I think,’ she said, with obvious distaste.
She was wrong. When we examined it in the light, it turned out to be a newborn kitten, no more than a few hours old. Stretched out from nose to tip of tail, she fitted in my mother’s palm and had not even learned to suckle. Dad went outside, without the dogs, to search for the adult female. It must have been she who made the noise I’d heard and, if he found her, she could nurse her baby – and any others that we may have missed. He was gone for quite a while but came back empty-handed.
While I went to find a disused shoe-box, Mum cradled the kitten in one hand, warming diluted milk to drip into her mewling mouth. Tenderly, she wrapped the tiny scrap in cotton wool and laid her inside the box, on one of her old cardigans. This make-shift incubator was then placed on the warming rack above the Rayburn. My mother – who had always maintained that cats gave her goosebumps (and not in a good way) – got up throughout that night and those that followed, to feed this fragile infant, willing her to live.
Like most challenges she took on, Mum succeeded. After the first uncertain week, ‘Tarra’, grew livelier by the day and was soon tormenting the Labs, who responded with the instinctive gentleness of their breed. She lived for 18 years, leaping in and out through open casement windows, climbing trees and curling up with the dogs at night. She even came on holiday with us every year, to a caravan on The Mull Of Kintyre.
But we could only ever guess where she came from and how she ended up outside our house, in the remote Welsh countryside, on that hostile night.
Fast forward more than forty years.
In the middle of 2011, I was experiencing facial pain of unknown origin and – after full investigation – my doctor deduced that I had never entirely finished grieving for my mother. It was true that I had been thinking about her a great deal, always with deep sadness and regret. Nine years after her death – and more than twenty since that of my father – I still had no photos of them on display. I was unable to tap into the happy memories, that I knew I must have, and I was at a loss.
Then, one day a grey and white female cat, who had been hanging around our garden for a while, followed The Artist and I into our house. Until then she had scarpered, whenever we approached, scaling high fences rather than submit to a friendly touch. Deducing she must be starving to overcome her reticence, I offered her sardines mixed with rice. She wolfed them down, one wary eye on the open door, through which she scooted, as soon as her hunger was satiated.We didn’t see her agin, for a couple of days and wondered whether she’d returned to her rightful owners.
Then, one morning I was reading my Angel cards and – as I turned over ‘Power Animal’ – I heard her miaowing outside the kitchen door.
Step by timid step, she has become a part of our lives – she doesn’t seem to have a home and no-one has reported her missing. We call her ‘Summer’, because that’s when she came in – to sit on my lap and purr frequencies that calmed me; to give me something to look after, when I was feeling low. Much like my mother had Tarra to focus on, at a time when I was growing away from her.
Summer taught me something important. She developed a bald patch on her neck and – when we tried to tend it, she ran away – returning only when hunger drove her. We rang the RSPCA help-line, listened to their recorded message, advising that we leave her alone – so we did just that. When she eventually re-appeared, her wound had almost healed. Once she was feeding again regularly, it soon closed up, the fur growing back within days. She knew what was best for her and withdrew until her body renewed itself, as it was programmed to do. She had no knowledge of penicillin, so she tended to herself.
And I have done that too – retreating from all things counter to my natural healing process, focusing on achieving balance. And, thankfully, I’ve reached the point where I can think back on my childhood, remembering – with laughter – the parents who taught me to respect and care for the planet and the life that inhabits it.
The Artist and I never take Summer for granted, reminding each other that she’s not our cat. We even refer to her as ‘the cat, who isn’t our cat’, in conversation. She’s merely choosing to be with us right now and – in return – we give her loving care. If she comes back today, we’ll welcome her with treats and be uplifted by her quirky-cat-behaviour, like sleeping in the sink.
We know nothing of her past; we do not worry about her future.
She is my Power Animal and that’s all there is to know.