Getting Catty With It

Cool Cat 2

Image taken from planwallpaper.com

Lately, I’ve been running into feline phrases, and this week, for some reason, I am driven to figure out their origins.

And there, I’ve done it again. I was going to try to build this essay slowly toward a focus. Instead, I’ve gone ahead and let the cat out of the bag.

***********

This whole cat-language obsession started a week or two ago. I published a blog post that said something about a thing being kitty-corner from another thing. My friend Marcie responded.

“I’ve always said CATTY-corner,” she wrote. “Have I been wrong all my life?”

I had heard catty-corner, of course, once or twice; it sounded wrong to MY ears, but I was betting it was kind of a regional issue. So I looked it up.

The Grammarist (http://grammarist.com/usage/catty-corner-kitty-corner/) told me this:

There are really THREE versions: kitty, catty, and CATER-corned. (The Grammarist prefers cater.) And they all come, the Grammarist tells me, from the Middle English catre-cornered, which means four-cornered. The term’s morphed through the years to today’s meaning–diagonally across the way,–and any of its forms are acceptable. The region in which we learn to use the term seems to define the choice.

So…no feline influence at all, at all. The Grammarist can keep her cater-,and Marcie can still use catty. I know, at this late stage and age, I’ll never switch from that ingrained kitty.

It is nice to know, for a change, that everyone is right.

And it gets me thinking about English as a catty kind of language.

*******

What about, for instance, the grand old term, ‘cattywampus’? There’s a word I’d love to throw into an appropriate spot. It comes, I learn, from a cobbling of Middle English and early southern dialect.

Will, on Quora.com (https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-origin-and-meaning-of-cattywampus) writes:

It’s a Southern American slang that is over 200 years old in origin. It roughly means askew or not in order and implies something totally deranged and screwed-up. Most recently I heard it applied to highway organization in and around Atlanta.

The word stole a little from Catty-corner and another Southern term Wampus (to flail about).

Oh, I’m looking forward to writing about something totally deranged and messed up, just so I can use this word…which also seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with a cat.

************

So….let’s put the cat back in the bag and see how it got there.

And, oh, the things I find out when I go digging. The first published use of “letting the cat out of the bag,” Matt Soniak tells me on Mental Floss, was in London Magazine in 1760. A reviewer was critiquing a book; its author must have been just about as discreetly inclined as I am. Matt quotes the reviewer as writing, “We could have wished that the author had not let the cat out of the bag.” (http://mentalfloss.com/article/31180/whats-origin-let-cat-out-bag)

So the term’s meant the same thing for a while as it does now: to let the cat out of the bag is to reveal a secret, probably at a too-early stage. I need to figure out where that all got started, and Matt Soniak gives me two possible scenarios.

The first has nothing directly to do with a cat…or a secret, for that matter…but it does go right to painful consequences. This explanation has it that the ‘cat’ was not a sweetly purring animal at all, but a whip: the cat o’ nine tails used to mete out punishments to errant sailors. The whip was kept in a bag to keep it from drying out; hence, when punishment loomed, when consequences were about to be bruted out,  the whipping one would have to let the ‘cat’ out of the bag.

Eeeeeeuw.

The second explanation does have to do with a cat, but it’s no less ornery. Vendors, back in the day, would sell live piglets to those who wanted to raise a meaty sow or boar. They’d pack those piglets in sturdy bags, where the little thing would wriggle and raise a ruckus—so much so that buyers wouldn’t want to open the sack and check on the little beastie’s well-being. If they did, the piggie might just jump out and run away.

So unwary buyers might get all the way home to find they’d been given a kitty instead of a piggie. This turn of events, Matt Soniak tells me, not only accounts (maybe) for letting the cat out of the bag. It is also the origin of the cautionary saying, “Never buy a pig in a poke.”

At least, there’s really a furry feline involved, to some extent, in this turn of phrase.

***************

And my mind wanders to Cat Stevens, and from there to the cat in the cradle, and I wonder about that—that game we used to love to play in middle grades and middle school: cat’s cradle. So I look it up. And find, again, the feline connection is pretty flimsy.

The game of cat’s cradle seems to have been around since ancient times. It may have been, The Times of India tells me, a good-luck game played by ancient Greeks on special days; the passing of the cradle from hands to hands also spread good luck.  (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/What-is-the-origin-of-the-term-cats-cradle/articleshow/1429029.cms)

Wikipedia suggests the game may have originated in China.

But the game’s name had nothing to do with a cat. Whatever the ancient Greeks or Chinese called it, the theory is that the title changed when Christianity became entrenched. “Cat’s cradle” was a morphing of “Cratch cradle.”  And a cratch, according to Merriam-Webster, is a manger.

So when we weave those strings around our fingers, we’re not making a bed for a kitty cat. No, we’re weaving a safe, soft place for the little baby Jesus to sleep.

Maybe that’s why I learned to play the game in Catholic school.

************

But surely some of our cat-language has feline roots. What about, I wonder, the pot of money called, in poker and in other places, a kitty?

I pull up a site called “Say Why Do I…” which has a promising picture of a cool cat in shades next to its definition of ‘kitty.’ And here is what I learn:

…although the term originated in poker games, it’s okay, now, to call any common pot of money a kitty. A PTA, for instance, might refer to the place they put fund-raising cash as its kitty. And there are, says “Say Why Do I…”, several theories for the way the term prowled into our language.

  • In the Middle Dutch Language, “kit” referred to the place—be it a bag or a barrel—where someone kept his tools. Card players borrowed that concept in an ironic kind of way. (“Say Why Do I…” tells me that language experts like this explanation the best.)
  • Or how about this? “Kitty,” back in the day, was a nickname for women who plied what some call the world’s oldest trade. When gents were playing cards in dens of ill repute, they would throw the money into the lap of a lady of the establishment. The money was held by a “Kitty.”
  • “Kitty” is also, the site asserts, slang for prison. So the money in the pot was imprisoned money until one card player freed it by luck or by skill.
  • And finally, there’s this possibility. Cockney slang is rhyming slang. (This reminds me of Basher, in Oceans 11, rhyming trouble with ‘Barney Rubble.’) So…money was often tossed, literally, into a hat. Cockney card players might rhyme that with kitty cat, and then shorten that to kitty…

…and again, no sign of a cat hair on ANY of these theories. Funny, isn’t it, how our language works?

http://www.saywhydoi.com/money-in-the-kitty-why-do-we-say-we-put-money-in-the-kitty/

***********

But, hey—what about that suave cat wearing the shades on the site I just left? What ABOUT the term, ‘cool cat’?

Ken Fishkin (https://www.quora.com/When-did-Americans-first-use-slang-to-equate-cats-with-coolness-as-in-the-phrase-cool-cat) asserts that it was jazz icon Louis Armstrong who popularized that phrase. Fishkin points to Armstrong’s song, “This Black Cat has Nine Lives” as evidence.

And that connection, at least, has a direct link to our aloof and oh-so-suave family pets. It’s their untouchably unruffled demeanor that makes humans want to imitate their coolth.

*******

Well, I’m feeling just a little bit disappointed in all the cat terms that are really not at all related to cats. I’m feeling snarky and cranky and like I want to be a little bit…catty. Mrrrreoow!

I look up catty, too. The Urban Dictionary tells me this is a gender neutral term (only women can, you’ll excuse me, be bitchy, the site suggests, but ANYONE can be catty.) It means to be “subtly or indirectly insulting.”

(https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=catty)

And here, too, the cat-connection is strong. Etymonline (https://www.etymonline.com/word/catty) tells me the term was first noted in 1886, and it meant “devious and spiteful.” It evolved, they think from cattish, which means, of course, “pertaining to cats.”

*****************

So…all those cat terms and all those kitty terms and only a passing glance to the animal I always believed they gave homage to. English—what a language: affected by region, by story, by sly and clever turns of phrases disguising slightly (or overtly) shady connections. It seems a little askew, doesn’t it? A little deranged and screwed-up?

I love the language, of course, but please just let me say this. When I go digging into it, I have to suggest: English is often cattywampus.

The Everyday Animals on Normandy Drive

Sunday supper was cleared away, the dishes and the table put to rights, and it was a golden night–clear blue sky, small breeze, soft sunshine.  A perfect night for a walk through the gardens, suggested Mark, and I agreed. He went outside with his book, to sit on the brick front step and read until I was ready.

I found him there with Max the cat, sitting in almost identical poses, heads thrust forward to survey the street.  He had just come out and sat down, Mark said, when he heard it–the yorrow-yowl of Maxie’s voice, the sound the cat makes when there’s something very important he needs to relate.  Max padded over from across the street–from where he’d been curled up on another neighbor’s cushioned porch chair. Max doesn’t live with that neighbor, either, but never mind–he’s an agent of the world who regards us all as his well-meaning, addlepated minions.

Mark is well-trained.  While I was washing up, he went inside and grabbed some shreds of frozen turkey from the freezer and brought them to the cat.  Max took them, Mark said, but he wasn’t thrilled.  He batted the meat around on the bricks, scowling up at Mark, narrating his disgust in a long feline warble, and then he sighed and ate the shreds.  When I came ’round the house and found the two of them surveying the street, Maxie looked at me suspiciously.

Mark got up and stretched, and Max’s suspicions were confirmed.

“Taking my feedwagon, are you?” he mrowled at me. He shook his head–Humans!  So boringly predictable!–and leapt nimbly from the steps to head to yet another neighbor’s house. Shirley probably had water and kibble waiting for him. And maybe there’d be a bunny or a squirrel to terrorize.

We set off in the other direction, rounding the curve by the old folks home, setting off the barking chain as we went.  The terriers at Sandi’s house yipped frantically as we went by.  I’m pretty sure they were saying,  Are you going for a WALK?  Without a DOG???   The regal gray parrot in its cage by the window started trilling along to the dogs’ cacophony.  As we walked by Phyllis’s house, Ace, beautiful long hair floating as he jumped up, barking at us questioningly.

We crossed the street, walked across the broad driveway, opened the gate and headed down the stairs.  Into the gardens. The noise disappeared; another world enveloped us as we walked down the stone steps to the first pond.

The tumbling rocks, the fountain and pond, made me think of the book I was reading, the second installment of Lady Trent’s ‘memoirs’, The Tropic of Serpents, by Marie Brennan.  I thought about the dragons in the book, so weirdly formed, so intriguing and so dangerous.  They had, the narrator told us, hazardous breath.  Lady Trent learns a lot about those dragons’ secret lives by traversing a waterfall that tumbles down a rockway that I see, in my minds’ eye, as much like this one–only magnified a hundred times or so.

We lingered by the fountain for a bit, soaking in the sound of the crashing water and making the transition to this secret world, hidden within the backyards and alleyways of our city neighborhood. And then we turned and went deeper into the gardens.  The hosta were pushing up blooms, and, nestled under trees, all shapes and sizes and color combinations of the plant vied to get their blossoms out there first.

After a week’s rain, everything was green and glossy, the grass thick and smooth.  There was a LOT of rain this week; swampy puddles lingered.  We were glad of the new pavers the gardeners had thoughtfully placed in our path.

We rounded the first turn, and there, in the gentle evening sunlight, was a woman in lacy, fulsome, bridal white, and a photographer posing her in front of dramatic blooms.  All alone on a Sunday evening, the bride turned and twisted, smiled and glowed.

We waved at her.

“The wedding’s NEXT week,” she called.  “We wanted to grab the sunshine while we had it!”

Another curve, a gentle slope, and we reached the rustic tea house, with its built-in log seats.  Those seats are commanding; we always stop, even if we don’t need a rest or the shade–clearly, the benches are built for sitters, so visitors: please sit.  The fountain’s plash was a gentle murmur here; we could just hear the muffled crash of the waterfall ahead and the muted sounds of people in cars going about everyday business on streets hidden from view by screens of green. For a moment we just sat, soaking in the natural sounds, letting go the manufactured ones.

Then Mark said, “Look.”

Not forty feet away, nimbling out of a leafy copse, were deer triplets, their spots still white against shiny red coats.  Daintily, they stepped forward, all legs and ears and twitching noses. I must have moved a bit; three heads swiveled in unison, and the babies locked eyes with us.

“Hello, beauties,” I murmured, and they stepped toward us.

“Are you out for your Sunday night walk?” I asked. “Just like we are?”

They ventured forward a few more steps, and then some kind of communication passed between them.  Their ears stopped radar-ing, and they put their little heads down and nibbled at the sweet grass.

“Mama must be close by,” murmured Mark. We watched the babies graze for a bit, and then stood up and stretched.  The fawns froze and cocked their heads; from the copse, we heard a guttural “KEKK!” and they sprang away, back into the green cover, and we walked on.

Deeper into the gardens we went, and, very close to where the path emerges into a crossroads, we met General Gruffy, the sad old Scottie dog who patrols the place.  He used to have a Scottie dog companion; that friend has been gone for two summers now.

General Gruffy has a name; I know I’ve heard it, but it never sticks; it flies off the walls of my mind as if they are Teflon-coated.  The dog reminds me of a character my godson and I created, oh yea, these many years ago, General Gruffy O’Grump, with bristling eyebrows, a brushy ‘stache, and gray, gray, gray, fur all over.

The General came to see us.  He is old, he told us silently, and weary; he misses his lifelong companion.  But until that trumpets calls for him, he will inhabit and oversee these gardens.

He’s lonely, though–with gentle dignity, he accepted our head scratches, suffered our chatter.  Then he wandered off on his way, sending us on ours.

We emerged into the sunny cut-through, followed the path through splendid backyards (I could not live here, where my backyard backed onto the garden path; I’d have to keep the space so pristine.  It just would never work.) Four squirrels danced and darted in the yard to our right–two gray, one black.  The last one, the smallest, had an ebony body and a tail that was a brassy brownish-red–a story there, I think, of species relations–diversity ambassadors in the Squirrel World.

To the left, a little girl in PJ’s sat at a picnic table with a rapt couple who must surely be Grandma and Grandpa. They waved to us, grinning, as little miss, brandishing a crayon, held forth with a never-ending stream of thought.

“We don’t think they ever let her talk at home,” Granddad called to Mark, and Mark replied, “That child clearly has important things to say!”

We crunched over the gravel, through the gates to the evergreen gardens, down the hill to our destination.  We had the Big Pond all to ourselves; we settled in on one of the comfortable, sturdy benches, and we watched the water spill down the slope and send ripples into the peaceful mirror.  Things stirred gently underneath the lily pads.  Gossamer-winged bugs skimmed the surface of the glassy water.  Children’s distant voices rose and faded.  Sunday night peace settled.

And the sun slid lower as we sat; dusk was falling.  We shook ourselves, and we wandered back the way we came: the grandparents and the little one had disappeared inside, an open coloring book on the picnic table the only evidence of their evening chat. We didn’t see the deer; General Gruffy had apparently called it a night. Even the squirrels were done, I guess, though the birds were battering the airwaves with their staccato evening talk. And a lone bunny, gaunt and twitchy, nibbled clover in the shadows.

By the time we emerged, out onto the driveway, out into the street, the fireflies were out, their flicker and response happening all around us.  The dusk deepened and their lights intensified–the magical twinkling of an Ohio summer. We walked home through that shifting light show.

The screen door slapped behind us as we headed inside.  We were greeted by our own little dog, whose head was cocked accusingly.  “You went out again?  Without me?

Mark took her outside for a last turn around the yard; she jumped into my lap when she came in, interrupting my knitting.  I watched Call the Midwife with a fine, silky, small dog’s head beneath my hand.  She sighed and settled in to my lap.

And the day was over, and the house was settled and silent; Jim came downstairs to say goodnight, and Mark read a book in a quiet corner.  I gathered up my dragon book, too, and, dog at my heels, headed upstairs to read for twenty minutes before sleep claimed me.

I read Brennan’s story about an imaginary but very believable rain forest, the Green Hell, and the imaginary, but very believable dragons, dun colored with slender-skinned wings, that fiercely inhabit it.  And I thought that our ordinary creatures are no less incredible: the talking cat, the curious fawns, the squirrels whose cultures have become so intermingled.  The loyal, weary, worried dogs who require only a head scratch or a kind word.  The bugs that send a flashing light out into the summer dusk. The birds that flutter and flourish, then still themselves for the night.

I love my fiction fixes, but truth, really, maybe IS stranger, and the wildly wondrous is, really, pretty close to home, so familiar that we, of course, have to take it for granted. I fell asleep with images of queen dragons swimming through murky water; I fell asleep to the sound of the little dog, sighing in her sleep, on the carpet next to my bed.

Walking in My Neighborhood, Several Stories Deep

Maxie, the newly appointed mayor of the neighborhood...
Maxie, the newly appointed mayor of the neighborhood…

I clip the leash onto the collar of my wacky little dog, Greta, and pull open the back door. Greta stiffens, and I look down to see Maxie, the new mayor of the neighborhood, standing expectantly outside the storm door.

Maxie is a black cat with a priest’s collar; his head is the size and shape of a squashed softball. He is sleek and talkative. He waits in the ivy, under the shrubs that line the drive, when I come home. As soon as I open the car door, he starts his approach, spouting a long line of complaints: Yowlyowlmewwwwrrrryowlyou! MEW.

He always ends decisively, waiting for a response.

I usually give him a little piece of frozen turkey from a baggie in the freezer; he accepts this, but seems none too thrilled.

Max lives with the Next-to-Newest Neighbors across the street–a lovely mom and her just-college age daughter. Max was the daughter’s friend’s cat. When Daughter’s Friend was going off to school, Daughter’s Friend’s Dad calmly informed her he was going to shoot the damned cat.

Apparently he wasn’t kidding; so, Maxie came home with our next-to-newest neighbor.

He’s an outdoor guy, Max: he only goes in when the weather is too cold for cats to sleep au naturel. Meantime, he prowls the neighborhood, making sure everything is safe. He spends a lot of time with Shirley, our elderly, widowed neighbor. He naps in her window well. She provides food and drink in case Max needs a little nosh.

Sometimes I’ll pull up the driveway and see Max sitting outside Sandy’s Florida room next door, staring hungrily through the window at her squawking gray parrot, who is not amused by the visitation. And for a while, Max decided he wanted to check out the Newest Neighbors’ home across the street. He would stand by their front door and warble insistently. From the house, deep ominous barks resounded. Maxie was unfazed, but the Newest Neighbors did not seem inclined to let him in to explore.

Today, Maxie glances at Greta on the leash, then looks at me in disgust. Really? he registers clearly. Walking that stupid dog??? He gives his sleek shoulders a shake and ambles off toward his nest in the ivy. Greta rumbles deep in her throat and pulls me toward the yard and the front walk. Let’s avoid that scary cat, she’s implying.

We head out to the street. Maxie forgotten, Greta settles in to a nice sniffing meander. We don’t get two steps before she finds a fascinating pocket of scent. We stop, and I gaze across the street, at the lights down below, twinkling out this early morning. A walk with the Grets is a stop and start affair.

Our neighborhood traces a ravine; my house is on the firmly planted side. Across the street, where Next-to-Newest and Newest Neighbors have their sparkling white abodes, the houses perch. Front yards are lovely; back yards drop off abruptly.

The ravine is long and steep and wooded, a refuge for a herd of deer who wander up, unabashed, almost daily. We watch the babies grow up during the summer; we watch the wary relationship between Senior Buck and Junior Buck. Greta snuffles up their scent, fascinated, and they obligingly leave lots of it around, sometimes in freshly steaming piles on the pine needle carpets in our backyard.

Woe to my plantings; they’re fast food for deer. But this Spring—hah! I have a recipe from my woods-and-fields-savvy friend Theresa. I’ll be dousing my hosta, my impatiens, my everything, with the Theresa Formula. Take that, you foraging deer.

There are gray squirrels and black squirrels in the neighborhood; they bore Greta, who just ignores them. There are bunnies, too, and chipmunks, — although, come to think of it, not as many sightings occur since Maxie’s moved in.

Having read her olfactory messages, the dog snorts and we move on. Phyllis’s house is the last on the street, ravine-side. It has a lovely side deck, between the house and a little woods. The driveway leads right up to that deck, which overlooks the ravine, and, at night, a beautiful light display: you can see the busy commerce and industry of Linden Avenue just below; off to the southeast, the lights of the city glitter in the night sky.

The way Phyllis’s house is situated, the street at the corner leads right into her driveway.

One night, shortly after we moved in–congratulating ourselves on landing in this quiet neighborhood–(Mark would stand outside at night with his eyes closed and his arms at his side, palms parallel with the ground, murmuring, “It’s so QUIET.” Our vacated neighborhood was NOT.)–I went to bed early, worn out from the strenuous haul of moving and unpacking. I was reading in bed, eyelids drooping, when the sirens began, a low whining that grew closer and closer.

And closer. Soon, one could hear speeding cars, tires on pavement, brakes squealing; that grew rapidly closer, too. And then, very close, a crash!

I heard Mark’s startled exclamation, heard him scuffing into his old shoes, heard the front door open as he ran out to see what was going on. “Oh. BOY!” Jim said; he was, I could tell from the placement of his voice, standing at the front window.

I considered going down, but knew the Markmeister had it under control. He would tell me the story when he came in.

And so he did. Hotly pursued by a police cruiser, a car drove up the street, couldn’t make the turn, and flew right on to Phyllis’s deck. The driver jumped out and ran into the backyard, where he didn’t expect a ravine. He tumbled over the edge.

Mark stood with Phyllis and her husband Terry as the drama unfolded. The hapless driver, thinking to avoid arrest, crawled up the ravine at the other end of the street. The police, who’d been nonchalantly watching his progress, cuffed him and threw him into the cruiser, called for a tow truck, and took all the necessary information from Phyllis and Terry.

Mark, who works for a county government unit and gets all the juice, brought the details home next day.

Seems Driver Man was from a notorious ne’er-do-well family. Needing some weekend drinkin’ cash, he called for a pizza, thinking he’d take the delivery guy’s stash. Driver Man lived in an isolated country locale.

Delivery Guy arrived, got out of the car, and was confronted by Driver Man, wielding a pistol. Delivery Guy was big, and not a man for nonsense. He slapped the pizza box into Driver Man’s face and took his gun away. Then, when the pizza box fell off Driver Man’s face, Delivery Guy popped him a good one.

Down went Driver Man. Delivery Guy pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. As he was talking to the dispatcher, Driver Man scrambled to his feet. Delivery Man popped him again.

Down, again, went Driver Man.

Now stop hitting him! the dispatcher purportedly said. Get in your car and drive back to work, and an officer will meet you there to pick up the gun and get your report.

O-kay, said Delivery Guy, reluctantly, but when Driver Man got up again, talking some smack, he couldn’t resist knocking him down one last time. By the time the police arrived, Driver Man had wobbled into his own vehicle, and the chase began.

They drove darned near all over the county before Driver Man flew his vehicle onto Phyllis’s deck, decimating it.

By the time the luckless felon crawled up the cliff, he was battered from the repeated poppings, scraped and cut from the fall down the ravine, and ready for medical attention and a comfortable bed in a cell.

The insurance rebuilt Phyllis and Terry’s deck, but it was one of the last times we saw him, that kind, friendly, helpful neighbor. He was hospitalized shortly after the Deck Event. He never came home. Now Phyllis and her sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren enjoy sitting on that deck, talking softly on starry summer nights. But we know how much they miss Terry.

Greta makes her mandatory sniff-examination of Phyllis’s rose bush; satisfied, we wander across the street and up the long curving driveway of the Helen Purcell Home. Helen Purcell had been the sickly daughter of a local family in the early 1800’s. Since she was puny, anyway, she was designated as the one to stay home and care for Mamaw and Papaw. Her siblings went to school, got married, moved away; Helen learned to sew. And she was pretty [I so want to say ‘darned’] good at it. She took in sewing and made a little extra money.

And then, the parents both died, and there was Helen, suddenly and sadly free. She packed up her sewing stuff and her belongings and she moved herself to Cincinnati, where she set up shop. And she succeeded; she was a sought-after seamstress, and an independent woman.

Until her brother got sick. Then Helen was called home–her role, after all, was to care for the sick ones. She left her beloved independent life. She nursed her brother, but she never forgot her taste of freedom. She, the sickly one, outlived all her family contemporaries. When she died, she left her estate in trust, to establish a place where women in need could recover from whatever vicissitudes plagued them. It was a healing home for independent women needing to get back on their feet.

Now it is a home for the elderly; not so very long ago, they agreed, finally, to admit men, too, and the facility offers independent and assisted living and managed care. The staff is lovely, the residents energetic; there is a van that takes people out and about, although many of the residents park their own vehicles in the long carport that faces our house. In the lovely common area, with its polished paneled walls and massive fireplace, there is always a jigsaw puzzle in progress, and always clusters of people visiting and laughing. Not bad neighbors to have.

We round the expansive driveway, and come out on Norwood Boulevard, near the Mission Oaks Gardens. The park, open to all from dawn to dusk, is reached by crossing the Hendleys’ driveway. The Hendleys had a vision of a winding, meandering park within the city; they bought the house and acquired grounds abutting their property, then acquired more, and the gardens grew. We walk there in the good weather, sometimes sitting in the rustic log tea house; we watch throughout the summer, as the plants shoot up and bloom.

There are rhododendrons, local of root; all kinds of hosta; native flowers and imported flowers; trees and shrubs. There is a vast conifer garden. There are two ponds with tall waterfalls, and there are benches and gazebos and many places where a bride can splendidly pose.

It is not a place for Greta to walk, though. I am not sure, prissy city dog that she is, that she’d even consent to walk down the grassy paths; she’s a sidewalk girl, my Greta. But it doesn’t matter: she’s not invited. The park is home to an aging Scottie dog, who greets all visitors and likes a bit of a scratch. When we moved into the neighborhood, there were a pair of Scotties; now this guy remains, alone. He’s awfully glad to walk a ways with a visitor to the garden.

But it’s cold and muddy January; this is not a Mission Oaks day. We walk the sidewalk by the gracious, Spanish-style home on the property instead. This house, with its lovely upper deck (what a great place for morning coffee, I always think) has a Past. It was the abode of a wealthy businessman’s mistress, who lived brazenly there and entertained her paramour while the respectable wife held court across town.

Deer at the Hendleys

Now the Mistress’s House is the gateway to a great gift to the community. You just never know, I figure.

We start down the street past the Hendleys’, but Greta abruptly changes her mind, turns around, and leads me home. We take the sidewalk, the fast way. We encounter no feline or otherwise furry friends.

It’s not a long walk, but it certainly is a story-filled one. We all know how exhausting stories can be to a tired little hound, one who has to protect a house all day and contend at times with an ornery neighborhood cat.

Greta waits patiently for me to treat her with frozen coins of hot dog once we are safely inside, and then she jumps up on to the couch, paddles down the throw, and snuggles up. I get my book and join her. She puts her heads on my leg and snores; I travel vicariously to Scotland.

We’ll find more neighborhood tales on future days, as we deepen our relations with our neighbors, share their memories, hear their adventures.  It’s one of the perks of coming to such a stopping place: here we can send down our roots, several stories deep.

*****************************************************************************

The cover photo on this site shows one of the ponds from Mission Oaks Gardens…